Manufacturer Hasbro/Avalon Hill
Year 2000
Designer Sid Sackson
Acquire Box

Acquire


A classic game of corporate mergers. Originally published in 1962 by 3M, re-themed and stylistically updated by Hasbro/AH

Background

Acquire is one of the all-time classic games, created by Sid Sackson, one of the all-time classic game designers. Originally the theme was that of competing hotel chains, but the recent Hasbro edition has updated the theme to 21st Century corporations. The board has been given the Hasbro/AH plastic attack, though the gameplay hasn't changed. I haven't ever played the newer version, so I will be referring to "hotel chains" in this review. Substitute "corporations" if you feel the need. In Acquire you are building hotel chains, buying stock in the companies that run them, and trying to merge chains to increase the value of your holdings.

Jump to my opinions

The Gameplay

Acquire consists of a 9 x 12 square board, and each square has a corresponding tile, marked with the grid coordinates of the board square. Everyone draws a tile, and these are placed on the board. The player who draws the highest tile becomes the starting player. Everyone draws a hand of tiles, and the game begins. On your turn, you must play a tile onto the board. If the tile you played is adjacent to another tile on the board, (that is not already a part of a chain), you must create a new hotel chain. There are seven different hotel chains you can create, with two of them being very swanky, (and therefore high priced), three middle of the road chains, and two "economy" chains. If all seven companies are already on the board, you cannot play a tile that would create a new chain, (these are called "unplayable tiles"). By creating a chain you receive a "founder bonus" of two shares of stock in the newly created chain.

After playing a tile, you have the option to buy three shares of stock in any of the chains on the board. These need not be chains that you have played a tile on, you can buy stock in any chain. the price of each share is based upon the "luxury" of the chain, (mentioned above), and on the size of the chain, (number of tiles that make up the chain).

After the stock purchase phase, you draw a new tile to replace the tile you played.

Pretty simple mechanics. The twist comes when a tile is placed that would connect two existing hotel chains. In this case, the larger chain takes over the smaller one. These mergers are the meat of the game, and the only opportunity players have to actually get more cash. When a merger occurs, the two players with the most stock in the smaller chain get a bonus of cash, which varies based on the size and quality of the smaller chain. Then each player who holds stock in the smaller company must decide what to do with their shares. There are three options.

Selling the shares is fairly straightforward. Based on the quality and size of the smaller chain, a player receives cash for each share. While this is often the least desirable thing to do, it is the only way, (other than the majority bonuses), to get more cash, which you will need to keep buying stock throughout the game.

Trading in shares allows a player to trade in two shares of the smaller chain for one of the larger. this tends to be the most advantageous thing to do, but there is a limited number of shares of stock in each company, and once all are gone, this option vanishes. However, having a lot of stock in one of the cheap chains, merging it into one of the luxury chains, and getting shares of that chain, is one of the most common strategies in Acquire.

A player may also keep the shares in the hope that the chain will reform later in the game. As a merger eliminates one of the two chains companies, (but not the tiles it consisted of), that chain can be reformed somewhere else on the board. Thus by holding on to stock, a player can recreate that chain somewhere else on the board, and start off with a large majority in that chain's stock.

When either one chain grows to a certain size, or when all chains on the board are "safe", (a chain with 11 tiles is considered "safe" and can't be merged out of existence), the game ends.

The Scoring

When the game ends, all players receive cash for their shares, based on the size and quality of the chains, as well as majority bonuses. The player with the most cash wins.

Why this game is so great

I really don't know. But that is not to say that it isn't great, it is. I just can't put my finger on why. Acquire has simple mechanics that lead to subtle complexities. A good player will consistently beat a weaker player, yet the luck of the tile draws can give the weaker player a chance. Acquire simply has it's own elegance that lifts it into the realm of great games.

Why others don't agree

Many people feel that the luck of the draw is too extreme, and that Acquire comes down to 'who is going to draw the "lucky tile"'. I have felt this way at times, but upon reflection, I think I can see when this feeling occurs. If all the players are constantly buying three shares of stock on every turn, soon they will all be out of money. At this point, whoever gets the tile that will merge a chain that they can claim cash from will be at a tremendous advantage. The key is not putting yourself in a situation where you are out of cash. Especially in the early game, not being the majority holder in a company that gets merged is no big deal. Sure, you'll have a bit less cash, but if the other players have run themselves out of cash early, you can often gain a commanding position by being able to capitalize on the developing situation on the board.

Also, many people don't like Acquire because it leads to the Usenet flame-fest that is the "open holdings versus closed holdings" debate. This is an endless argument about whether it is better to play Acquire with each player's shares being open, and available for others to count, or closed, where each player's shares are hidden, and only those with card-counting skills will know what everyone has. I won't go into it any further than that...

Recap

Strategy:  8
Complexity:  6
Fun:  6
Overall:  8

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