Tag Archives: Hasbro

Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money) – Acquire review

There aren’t many games out there that I’d call stone cold classics. There’s Power Grid, of course – that’s a given when you’re in my house – but one game that definitely deserves that very heavy mantle is Acquire. Originally released by 3M way back in 1962, this release from the legendary Sid Sackson still stands up to this day – and if you’ve not played it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

The premise is simple: invest in some (or all) of the seven available companies, grow them, organise takeovers and get paid. Whoever has the most cash at the end is the winner; it’s so straightforward it hurts. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to see this hit a table in the early sixties. Even now it feels spectacularly tight to play, a near perfect game with just a little hint of randomness to keep you on your toes…

Acquire is for between three and six players – there are rules for two but they aren’t perfect, you really need more to truly get the full experience. The play board is a 12×9 grid that will eventually be covered in tiles placed each turn. These tiles represent the companies players will be investing in that will (hopefully) get bigger and bigger, making plenty of money!

Turns are simple. A single tile is placed from a player’s hand of six. If that tile is adjacent to another that isn’t part of a group, a new company is formed (as long as there’s one available). That player receives a free share in that start-up, then is allowed to purchase a further three shares in any of the currently active companies on the board. A new tile is drawn and play moves on… see? Easy.

If a tile is placed that links two (or more) companies, it’s merger time. Players only have a limited amount of cash at the start of the game and mergers are the ONLY way you can get more money for further investment. It’s really easy to find yourself high and dry with stacks of shares but not a penny to spend – and it WILL happen. Eventually though, mergers will occur: the larger company eats up the smaller one, then investors in the soon-to-be defunct concern will get some much needed money. Maybe.

The iconic 1968 edition, manufactured by 3M. Best cover ever, no?

The two players with the most shares get a bonus payout, as if they were the president and vice-president. Then (beginning with the player who instigated the merger) you go round the table and decide what to do with your shares. You can either:

  • Sell your shares, the value of which is determined by the size of the company pre-merger.
  • Trade them in, two for one, for shares in the newly-massive company.
  • Keep them in the hope that the company may be relaunched at some future time.

You can do any combination of the three options, each one having good and bad points. Getting money is always important, of course – without it, you’re stuck and can’t keep investing. However, it can sometimes be a good idea to perhaps keep a couple of shares back, especially early in the game when there’s a very good chance companies will rise from the ashes. The skill to getting ahead in Acquire is knowing when to switch strategies, pull the trigger and just go for cash. It’s the American dream in game form.

As play moves on, companies will get larger and larger. Once they get to eleven tiles in size, they’re declared “safe” and can’t be taken over, but can still devour the opposition. The game can end in one of two ways: either when all companies on the board are safe and no more tiles can be legally placed, or when one company gets to forty-one tiles or more. It’s down to the active player to call the game as over – they then get to finish their turn, and it’s followed by a mass payout session. Every active company is dealt with as it would be during the game, with money going to the president and VP, then all shares get sold.

I’ve been playing Acquire for a few years now and every game has been different. It’s got to be said I prefer the free-for-all massacres of five and six player games, but it really doesn’t matter how many people you have sitting around that table. Each time is a different experience even though the gameplay remains constant – the tiles will always be placed, the mergers will always happen, but the story is always changing.

The drawing of the tiles are Sackson’s only nod to randomness, emulating the fickle nature of business; sometimes the game just won’t go your way, but you should still be able to stay in with a shout through clever share purchases. Obviously life is a bit easier if you’re triggering mergers yourself, but you can still end up as the winner despite not ever being the majority shareholder in any company.

The best version (I reckon). You see this in a store, you buy it, RIGHT?

Acquire is a game that rewards careful, clever play – but it also requires an investment of time. It’s truly a game that improves with experience, maturing as you play more and more, learning when to merge companies and – often more importantly – when to hold off. Choosing to play with secret information adds yet another level to the game: keeping your shares and cash under wraps brings in the need for a good memory, but that’s really for those who enjoy a more masochistic time amongst friends. Keep it simple for your early plays. There’ll be plenty of time for pain later on.

Having been around for so long, Acquire has been available from many producers and in plenty of different versions. I’m far from a game snob – they exist to be played, not to be kept in a safe – but for me, you’ve got to play the Avalon Hill / Hasbro version released in 1999. It’s an explosion of multi-coloured plastic brilliance, a beautifully over-produced tribute to one of the finest games ever made. The latest version, all cardboard chits and (comparatively) understated design just doesn’t feel the same despite the fact everything’s exactly the same under the hood.

It's all so... beautiful.

Acquire, to reiterate, is fifty years old this year. Despite its age, I honestly believe it’s one of the greatest games of all time and it deserves its legendary status. I also think it would be a fitting tribute for Hasbro to release a beautifully realised fiftieth anniversary edition of the game, with a production quality that lives up to how good this game is. Something that Sid Sackson would be truly proud of.

The campaign starts here.

For more information on Acquire, I heartily recommend listening to Ryan Sturm’s excellent How to Play Podcast. Episode 28 covers this often overlooked masterpiece and Ryan really explains the strategies behind the game in detail – check it out for yourself on iTunes or at http://howtoplaypodcast.com/episodes/episodes-21-30/episode-28-acquire/

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Rest in Pieces – HeroScape review

It’s got to be said that games can often come across a little difficult to grasp. Personally, I always found miniatures gaming tricky to get a handle on. Perhaps it’s down to the time I first walked into my local Games Workshop when I was about 12 years old…

I was excited. It had taken me weeks to build up the courage to open that glass door. I’d walked past that place every day on my way to and from school, saved up the meagre pocket money my parents gave me, ready to jump into a world where I knew I’d be accepted. A nerdy kid at the end of the 1980s? Where else would I go?

I opened the door to step into my future, eyes wide with excitement at the huge variety of stuff on offer. All around the store, games were set up that I’d never seen before – space battles, orcs, a weird American Football thing… It was amazing, but all too much. I was overwhelmed, turned on my heel and didn’t set foot in the place for another year. Instead I went to the local comic shop and blew all my cash on back-issues of 2000AD. I regret nothing.

I now know the reason I was freaked out. It was a total sensory overload. All over the place were these huge rulebooks that I just knew I wouldn’t be able to handle. Nowadays I’m fine, give me a couple of hundred pages to work through and it’ll be grand, but back then I would have been so much better with something that could hold my hand all the way through – what we’d now call a gateway game. What I really could have done with was HeroScape.

I’ve been working on this review for a little while, but events have taken place this week that has made me want to finish it off. Sadly Wizards of the Coast, the current publishers of HeroScape, announced on November 3rd that they’ll be discontinuing production of the game. After the stocks run out in the warehouses and stores around the world, that’s it – there’ll be no more. Click on that link before reading on and you’ll notice that the news was broken on the HeroScapers site (an incredible resource) by none other than Plaid Hat Games’ Colby Dauch, designer of the splendid Summoner Wars. Colby used to work on HeroScape before launching his own company and has many good things to say about the game – I only hope that I can be as verbose as him.

What is it about HeroScape that makes it so good? There’s lots to praise in that box, but as usual the main thing to talk about is how entertaining a game it can be. I’m not just talking about the actual playing – the whole HeroScape experience is a thing of pleasure. When you first open the box (and there are several different starter sets – this piece focuses on the one I own, Rise of the Valkyrie) you may well be slightly daunted. You’re presented with a mass of pre-painted figures, both factual and fictional, from all kinds of time periods along with an enormous selection of hexagonal tiles with which to build your scenarios. It’s quite a scary prospect, but you’re also provided with a well written rulebook which guides you step-by-step through the game – none of your GW-style being chucked into the deep-end here – from building the board through to playing the actual game. There’s actually a couple of ways to play: a basic game for those who want to start slowly and build up, along with advanced rules for those who prefer something a little meatier. Both rulesets have the same basic premise, however.

Players build armies up to a certain points value – the pre-painted figures mentioned earlier come either as individuals (called heroes) or groups (known as squads) and are worth different amounts. By spending all your points, you build up an army of random characters that you then set upon your opponents. Scenarios may have a certain objective for you to fulfil in order to win – gain control of an area or destroy all your opponent’s fighters, for example. It’s a very simple introduction to the world of miniatures gaming, with easy to use rules that make for quick play.

Each hero or squad comes complete with a card to represent their stats – having all the information to hand is very useful, so you’ll never have to dive through a weighty book trying to figure out if you’re within range of smashing an enemy’s head in. You each have three rounds per game turn (chosen by putting numbered tokens on the cards, with a fourth dummy token to try and throw people off your plans) to move around the board, attack or pull off special abilities. Combat is resolved swiftly through the use of custom dice with attackers looking to throw skulls and defenders aiming for shields. If you run out of hit points, your piece is removed from the board – there are often modifiers to take care of, but the basic principle is very simple.

Now, an apology of sorts. I’ve referred to the playing area as a board, which is something of a disservice. HeroScape is actually played on a 3D modular landscape which, when set up, looks brilliant. Rise of the Valkyrie comes with enough terrain pieces and buildings to play a wide range of scenarios (plus you can always just make your own up too) but veteran HeroScapers will often say that bigger is better. Take a look at the BGG page to see all the expansions that are available: it’s right here.

Back? Overwhelmed? I’m not surprised. Thankfully, you don’t need any of those expansions to experience HeroScape – a starter set like Rise of the Valkyrie is more than enough, but the options are there. And man, there are a LOT of options. In fact, even with the beginning sets you’ve got choice – there’s another basic one called ‘Swarm of the Marro’, the Marvel branded ‘Conflict Begins‘ and the D&D version called ‘Battle for the Underdark‘. All are completely compatible with each other, as are their expansions – however, many players think that the addition of D&D to the line was a bit of a money grab by Wizards of the Coast and that it sullied the game a little. Having not tried anything past the original Master set, I can’t say whether it did or not, but everyone’s entitled to their opinion – do your research by checking out HeroScapers.com and see what’ll fit best for you.

On the subject of the online HeroScape community, it’s not often you come across a group so vocal in their love of a game. As well as being welcoming, they’re also incredibly creative and innovative in their development of scenarios and battle maps for use by… well, anyone who happens to stop by. The game may well have been discontinued but you get the feeling that these guys will never stop supporting it. Such passion is to be respected.

HeroScape is a fantastic introduction to miniatures games and I’m sad to see that WotC have decided to stop making it. Thankfully there’s enough copies of it out there still that it makes it simple to get your hands on it, but if you’re properly interested in playing I’d try and grab a Master set quickly. It’s not an expensive game to play – I actually got my set brand new for under £10, and you can grab as-new sets online for around the same price if you’re lucky. I’d certainly recommend giving it a go, even just once. The sheer pleasure of taking your time setting up a huge battleground is worth the asking price alone. It’s even better that there’s a solid game in there that’s fun, doesn’t take a massive amount of time to play and won’t leave you with a melted brain. Here’s hoping that an astute games company out there tries to acquire the licence and keeps it up and running.

HeroScape was originally released in 2004 by Milton Bradley / Hasbro. It was co-designed by Stephen Baker, Rob Daviau and Craig Van Ness, with additional work through expansions by countless other individuals. The final expansion, Moltenclaw’s Invasion, will be released on November 16th 2010, then that’s it! However, if you’d like to get involved in the campaign to keep HeroScape going, visit the HeroScapers.com site – who knows what could happen?

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