Saturday, February 12, 2011


2008 Edition
 Well, dagnabit, I done gone ahead and run ahead of myself—just finished the blog for next week’s game (The Age of Exploration) only to realize that I had yet to write up this week’s game. So I’m going to turn back on myself and then publish both at once. Lucky you!

Acquire was first published in 1962. Some have called it a classic. Certainly, being almost continuously in print for almost 50 years makes a good case. So does being in GAMES Magazine’s Hall of Fame (along with universally beloved games like Scrabble and Risk).

One of my garage sale finds.
On a personal level, my purchase of Acquire marked the beginning of my boardgaming renaissance. In the spring of 2006, there was a garage sale at the end of my street in front of one of the local apartment buildings. Along with the usual detritus, there were three boxed games for sale: Starfarers of Catan (German version), Drunter und Druber (ditto, obviously), and Acquire.

Asking price for each game? $2.00.

Folks, this was the Find of a Lifetime. In the five years since then I have tried to recreate this moment—once even getting rear-ended as I slowed down trying to see if there were games for sale at a garage sale on Lawrence Avenue West. But I never have, and I suspect I never will, top that moment.

1999 AH edition (the one I got at the garage sale)
I’ve often wondered what the story was behind that sale—my guess was that the games belonged to a former roommate of the sellers who simply had no idea what an appropriate value for those games was. Or they were disgruntled, and trying to rip said roommate off (a la the urban myth of the $20 Cadillac).

In any case, bringing those boxes home rekindled my interest; soon after, I discovered TABS, and the rest is history.

In the years since I have played and enjoyed the game quite a few times. Like many Sid Sackson games it takes ten minutes to learn but a lifetime to master, with just the right balance between luck and strategy to keep players involved all game long.
Since the game involves money and shares, players must agree beforehand if they want to play with open or hidden information. The choice is important, because the game plays very differently depending on the choice.

With open money and shares, players have perfect information, which makes it less about players’ memory and more about calculation—but can result in Analysis Paralysis for players who always must have the Perfect Plan. With hidden money and shares (my gaming group’s preference), the game can be frustrating for players with imperfect memories (that is, most of us) but in the process becomes more suspenseful. 

1968 edition
As I’ve said before, Sackson’s genius was in creating games where players have Interesting Decisions every turn, and Acquire is no exception. The first is deciding which of your six tiles to play on the orthogonal grid. The next happens if someone plays a tile which merges two chains. If you own shares in the chain that gets gobbled up, you can cash them in, keep them, or trade them in for shares in the gobbler at a two-for-one ratio, increasing your stake in what is now a larger and hence more valuable chain.  The final one is which shares to buy at the end of your turn. Since you can only buy a maximum of three, you can’t buy out a holding except if there are fewer than four shares left to buy.

Acquire does not pretend to be a business or stock exchange ‘sim’—there is little that is realistic about it. But it is a superb game which requires many of the same skills which a good broker should have: knowing when to get in and get out of a holding; knowing how to minimize risk; knowing how to leverage your rivals’ weaknesses for your own gain.

A different AH edition
In the game we played this week, I benefitted from at least two mergers initiated by other players in which I was the sole beneficiary—I’m still a bit mystified why they made those choices, actually. And still I was unable to translate those early- to mid-game gains into a final victory, mainly because I ploughed most of my profits from those mergers into a holding which never expanded or got ‘eaten’—which meant at game’s end that I had a huge stake in a tiny company, which is far less valuable than a second-place stake in a huge company.

And that is the beauty of Acquire—the core structure (those Interesting Decisions) keeps players engaged, but every game is different because of the randomness of the tile draws. So I can’t help but wonder why the game (despite being around almost 50 years) remains far less on people’s radar screens than Monopoly. I honestly think it’s mainly a matter of timing; Monopoly came out thirty years earlier, and so enjoyed a long stretch of popularity without serious challenge. Had Sid Sackson been born thirty years earlier, we might well be looking at toy store shelves filled with Beatles Acquire, Horse Acquire, Los Angeles Acquire...

...hmmmm...maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all that Monopoly came out first.



  1. Have you ever heard the full history of how Monopoly developed? Basically the guy credited with "inventing"it actually copied it from Quaker elders.

  2. "The Landlord's Game" was patented by Elizabeth Phillips in 1903 and originally published in 1924. She was a Quaker, and invented the game as a learning tool to spread the gospel of the single tax theory of Henry George.

    How much Charles Darrow cribbed from it, and how intentionally he did it if he did it, will never be known. But there's a picture of the board in "A Gamut of Games" and it looks an awful lot like Monopoly...

    Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting.