Reviewed by Herb Levy
ACQUIRE (Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro Gaming , 2 to 6 players, ages 12 and up, about 60 minutes; $39.99)
Have you ever wondered where and when what we call “Euro” gaming began? Everyone has their own sense of it but I would argue the this style of gaming took root way back in 1962 when designer Sid Sackson had his creation published by 3M (yes, the Scotch tape people) as one of the first games in their adult game line. That game presented a new way of play on several different levels including NO dice rolling and a game targeted for ADULTS. Since that time, the game has seen a boatload of editions with the latest one appearing now. The game? Acquire.
In its original form, Acquire was all about building hotel chains, buying and selling stock in them and making mergers. In this new version, hotel chains have transformed into corporations and, in a sly wink to the game’s designer, the action takes place in “Saxon City”. As in the original, 7 entities are in the game but the names have been changed. We now have Bolt, Echo, Etch, Rove, Fleet, Nestor and Spark. But the names are unimportant. What IS important is the game play.
For the most part, play remains unchanged. Players begin with $6000 in cash and each draw a tile from the pool with the closest tile to 1-A becoming the first player. (Drawn tiles are placed on the board as the opening “seeding”.) Then, everyone draws six tiles which will be their starting “hand”. On each turn, a player will place one tile on its corresponding spot on the board, buy up to three shares of stock in any active corporation and end the turn by drawing a new tile from the pool.
If a placed tile not be adjacent to another, nothing happens. If a newly placed tile IS adjacent to another, “unaffiliated”, tile, a corporation is founded. The active player chooses one of the 7 corporations not already on the board and this new tile grouping becomes that corporation, marked by the headquarters (HQ) of the appropriate corporation. That player receives one share of stock in that corporation as a “founder’s bonus”. If tile placement simply adds to an already established corporation, you’ve just made that corporation bigger (and, potentially, more valuable). But if tile placement connects two established corporations, you’ve triggered a merger!
With a merger, the smaller corporation joins the larger one. (A corporation of 10 or more tiles is safe and may not be merged, a change from the original minimum of 11.) With a merger, the HQ of the smaller corporation is removed from the board (it can be reestablished as a “new” corporation later in the game) and players who own stock in the now defunct corporation will receive payouts in one of three ways:
- They can KEEP the stock in this eliminated corporation in the hopes that the vanished corporation will be reestablished, thereby making that stock valuable OR
- The stock may be SOLD to the bank, the value determined by the corporation name AND its size OR
- TRADE in the stock of the defunct corporation for stock in the newer, bigger, corporation at the rate of 2 old for 1 new.
As in the original game, stockholders in the merged corporation get stockholder bonuses (as detailed on the information card on the game, the bigger the corporation, the higher the bonus.) In a change from the original game, not only is there a bonus for the player with the most and second most stock in the merged entity, but there is now a “tertiary” bonus for the player with the third most stock in that corporation.
Play continues until either all active corporations are “safe” OR one corporation has grown to be 38 tiles or larger (another change from the 41 tile requirement of the original) although, if no one “calls it”, the game can continue. When the game does end, though, players will receive primary, secondary and tertiary bonuses for stock holdings in all active corporations. Finally, all players sell back their stock to the bank for the current stock values. The player with the most money wins!
This new edition of Acquire presents for the first time a two player variant which makes the bank the “third player”. In computing stockholder bonuses, a tile is drawn and the number on the tile indicates how many shares of stock the bank “owns”. Payouts are then made accordingly. This is not a Sid Sackson design addition (and no credit given for whoever came up with this). While it does make a two player game possible, it also adds a significant luck element. Whether that degree of luck is palatable to you is a matter of taste.
There have been several beautiful – and highly sought after – editions of Acquire including the Acquire “big box” edition Avalon Hill/Hasbro did back in 1999. In a “tip of the hat” to that one, this new version uses thick, plastic tiles as well as color-coordinated corporation headquarters pieces. (For some reason, orange “banners” to insert into the HQ pieces for no apparent purpose are also included.) But one of the driving factors in Acquire is tile placement and, previous editions, notwithstanding, there have been some changes on this front.
Traditionally, Acquire has always had a 12 x 9 playing area, usually neatly “gridded”, to hold 108 tiles. (See the photo above left.) This new Acquire has opted for a 10 x 10 gridded board reducing the number of tiles to an even 100. (Picture above right.) Do fewer tiles equate with lesser playing time? Is this a way to differentiate this edition from those that had come before? Something new for the collectors and “completists” among us? Or, more prosaically, is this change done to make that square board fit more easily into the square box? Speaking of the board…
It is vitally important to be able to tell at a glance the relative positions of tiles and open spaces available. While the 10 x 10 board is sturdy and attractive, it is also at first glance nearly unreadable! Everything is single color and the “artistic” font used on the board hard to identify. This same hard to read font is used on the tiles to no particular advantage too. You need to get really “up close and personal” (as with the picture above) to clearly see the files and the board slots. Fortunately, as tiles fill up spaces on the board, this becomes less of a problem but still….this is an obstacle to play that should never have happened. (You may have to do your own “graphic design” and color in the numbers and letters for ease of play.)
Had it not been for the odd graphic choices, board layout and the game variations that don’t do anything to improve game play, this new edition would have rivaled the “grandeur” of the Big Box edition. It doesn’t quite get there. Fortunately, Acquire is such a strong design that these are relatively minor “blips” on the radar. Players still need to decide when, where and how to invest, whether to keep stock or cash it in and all the action not based on the roll of the dice. The core of the gameplay is alive and well which, after all, is the most significant consideration. Having the game readily available and in print is cause to celebrate.
Acquire is one of those watershed games – a game so revolutionary for its time, so far-reaching in its effect that its impact is still felt today. This is a game that belongs in every gamer’s library, truly a masterpiece of game design. If you don’t already have this gem on your shelf, then this new Acquire is one well worth acquiring. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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