Saturday, November 17, 2007

Featured game: Acquire

Acquire is the signature game from the late noted game designer Sid Sackson. Like many classic designs, the premise is simple, the execution elegant, but the gameplay entrancing.
Essentially it's a game about accumulating money through holding stakes in growing and merging companies. Depending on the version the companies are styled "hotel" chains or hi-tech forms, but the business the companies are in isn't important because the game is really about the mergers. When it was first published in 1962 corporate mergers didn't have the high profile they do now in popular culture, but the idea is pretty familiar to folks now.
The key to winning is to be the majority or second-place stockholder in the merging companies, earning various cash or stock bonuses.
Aside from a limited production initial 3M edition the rules to Acquire have been very stable from the bookcase 3M edition through various Avalon Hill editions to the Hasbro/AH edition of 199, which is the most handsome version. One nice touch in the 199 edition is the renaming of one of the companies in the game after Sackson.
One interesting point of variation was a difference in the number of players accommodated by the rules. Multi-player games have to balance two contradictory forces. On the one hand, it's normally better to have more players because it makes the most use of interplayer interaction. On the other hand, with too many players there can be a lot of down time. This can be mitigated somewhat if there is a chance for player interaction during every person's turn, such as in Munchkin or Naval War. Still, having too many players will tend to bog things down.
The 1962 bookcase version seems to think that more is better. The game specifies that it is for 3-8 players. The "sweet spot" seems to max out at 6 however. To accommodate 7 or 8 players the game reduces the amount of money each player starts with. The game board for the 1962 version is only 9 by 12, so crowding 8 players around the board doesn't seem practical and even 5 or 6 is probably too much.
The 1999 AH/Hasbro version uses a much bigger board and specifies that the game is for 2-6 players. When there are just two players than the "market" becomes a kind of dummy player that can can end up being the majority stockholder on occasion.
I haven't had a chance to play Acquire at the extreme ends of the player numbers, so I am not sure how well the adjustments work, but it's interesting to see the problem addressed.

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