New Game Weekend: Acquire

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Acquire was designed by Sid Jackson and published in 1964 as part of the 3M bookshelf series. Produced from the early 1960s through mid-1970s, 3M’s games were a bit of an oddity outside their core office, medical and industrial supplies business yet they hold a solid place in the hearts and history of the gaming community. Along with classic board games like Go, Backgammon and Chess, the 3M bookshelf games also introduced the early trivia game Facts In Five, the election-themed Mr. President and economic strategy games like Acquire. In 1976, the 3M games were sold off to Avalon Hill which was subsequently purchased by Hasbro in 1998. The chain of ownership of Acquire through the years made for multiple international editions as well as a more recent period of the game being out of print until Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast made the game available again in 2008. For a game based in the economic mechanics of buying and selling, Acquire itself has passed through several acquisitions itself over the past five decades.

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Various editions of Acquire from the 1960s to 1990s

I had a chance to play the modern incarnation of this venerable game on a recent weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. The latest edition of Acquire consists of relatively underwhelming card stock and paper components that is short on charm but does keep the price just under $30. The game board presents a grid of building lots marked with a number and letter combination which coincide with a set of tiles with the same markings. In turn, players play tiles and may opt to construct an available corporation once two contiguous lots are available. Constructing a new corporation gets the player a free stock certificate plus the opportunity to buy up to two more shares at the starting price.

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My first game of Acquire in progress

On a turn where a new corporation is not being founded, a player may instead buy up to three shares total among the existing corporations. As chains of tiles are built out, the value and cost of a stock rises. Over the course of the game, existing corporations expand and larger corporations merge with smaller ones once their chains of building lots intersect. When corporations merge, players with stock may cash out, convert shares at two to one for the new coronation’s stock or hold the old stock for when (or if) the gobbled up company finds a new space to start again on the board. Once a corporation grows to a chain of eleven tiles it becomes safe from a take over, and the game ends once every company reaches at least eleven tiles in size. Stocks are cashed in and money is counted to determine the winner.

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Stock certificates, tile rack and reference chart from Acquire

Acquire’s staying power rests in its simplicity coupled with a lot of strategic and tactical play mirroring something like actual investing. As in the real world, timing, location and having cash on hand to strike when an opportunity presents itself are all key factors in Acquire. The game is also almost purely competitive, and the rules as written offer no opportunity for side trading or off-board deals. Placing a tile is usually a direct benefit to the player or may be a defensive move against another player’s expansion. Swooping in to buy stock to become a majority shareholder right before a merger can cut someone else out of a hefty payout. A merger or expansion of existing companies may also benefit multiple players. The ability to quickly convert cash earned into a new investment and then flipping that into more profit rules the game.

While the modern incarnation of Acquire pales next to past editions with their better components, the game itself remains strong. The buy-sell cycle of investing hasn’t changed much over the years. For a game with a fifty-year history of itself being bought and sold, little has changed with Acquire either.

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Games Take A Vacation

I’m currently midway through my family’s annual summer vacation week on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and as always, games are on my mind. Renting a vacation house often gives an odd insiderish view to other people’s lives. The weird assortment of kitchen gadgets (who needs three waffle makers?), the hodgepodge of furniture, the collection of beachy knickknacks and bookshelves of worn bestsellers all seem to exist in various forms in the homes we’ve rented over the years. I always wonder how much this conglomeration of stuff reveals about the unseen owners who cash our rental checks each year and how much it tells me about my fellow vacationers.

Piles of games also usually inhabit vacation rental homes. Cottage owners probably provide a few games to start. Over the years families may pick up a game at a local gift shop and then leave it at the house for the next renter. For rainy days away from the beach or late nights after the sand has been rinsed off sunburned bodies, games hold a pretty consistent presence in the vacation home experience. I would hazard to guess that families who hardly ever find themselves playing board or card games together at home do so as part of their sacred vacation ritual.

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Games found in vacation rentals usually fall into a few broad categories. First, there are standard playing cards. Adults and kids alike can find many games for cards, from a calm game of Go Fish with a toddler to a game of Poker on the screened porch for the grown-ups after the children are tucked into bed. The house this summer has no less than ten decks of cards, including two unopened packs and a sailboat-decorated double set like the ones my grandmother and aunts used to use to play Bridge. Cribbage boards are also pretty commonly found along with cards, although I personally know few people who know how to play the game these days. Poking around in drawers and shelves this year revealed five cribbage boards, including two folding portable ones and a folksy handmade version with holes drilled into a slab of age-darkened wood cut into the shape of a whale (pic below). Tucked in a desk drawer I also found a set of five standard six-sided dice still sealed in their dusty package. Like so many items in a vacation home, I wondered at the story behind these dice. Why were they purchased? Why have they been left abandoned for so many years without use?

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The second class of vacation games fall into what I call “American Classics.” These are family-friendly board games like Life, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Checkers and Clue. To these I’d also add word games like Boggle and Scrabble, the dice game Yahtzee and Dominoes, all  of which were with us in this year’s house. Nostalgia and tradition resonate with these games, each offering a familiarity to vacationers year after year. These classics also give the flexibility for  games to be played among family members of all ages and the chance to introduce a new generation to an old favorite.

This year we also found a copy of Mastermind at the house, a classic board game outlier I’d never encountered in a rental cottage before. I hadn’t played in probably 30 years but was glad to find my eight-year-old son was an old hand at the game from playing a school. While not very challenging for me at this point, I was more than happy to pass an hour with this classic deductive code-solving game as part of a rainy day of indoor activity.

Finally, there’s the modern adult party games like Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Scattergories, Balderdash and Outburst which grew out of the boom in adult board games in the 80s and 90s.  These games are light on rules and big on group participation, making them the perfect thing to fill rowdy late nights for adults well into their gin and tonics or local summer brews. A copy of 1967’s trivia game Facts In Five was in the pile at the house this year, perhaps the result of a local yard sale find in the past.

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Along with packing the car with luggage, beach gear and bikes, we usually stow some games for our annual week away. This year, we hauled along several games from home, including Small World, Civilization (pic above), Settlers of Catan and the horse racing game Winner’s Circle. My kids and wife have developed a liking toward well-designed strategy games and can even be found delivering sneers and eye-rolls at the mere mention of a game like Monopoly. A simple deck of cards or a heap of Parker Brothers classics just don’t make the grade when there are grand civilization-building strategies to be played, even while on vacation.

Like many vacation home renters, I often fantasize about owning my own funky little cottage on the Cape. Part of this fantasy is how I’d decorate it with only the most thoughtful and interesting collection of furniture, useful yet surprising books and top-of-the-line kitchenware. Added to this list would be a set of well-curated games, short on too many classics and filled out with the best Eurogames there are to offer. Maybe a couple basic Dungeons & Dragons books and a bag of polyhedral dice sitting on a shelf would inspire some vacation role-playing. I’d be sure to throw in the occasional retro game for irony, but my hope would be be that my renters would be pleasantly surprised by having their minds expanded while on vacation.

But then, I wake up from my real estate dream and realize most people probably don’t want a challenge on vacation. A deck of cards or a familiar board game is what most folks will ever want on those few precious days away from home each year. For me though, gaming never takes a holiday.