Acquire – Game of the Month Review


Acquire
  


Designer: Sid Sackson (1962)
Publisher: 3M, Avalon Hill/Hasbro, and Others
# of Players: 3-5
Play Time: 60-90 min
BGG Rank/Rating: #63/7.41
Weight: Medium Light
Category: Gamer’s Game

I almost feel stupid about writing a review for a game that is as well-known and freaking old (like, 12 years older than me, especially when my wife is telling me all the time about what an old man I am) as Acquire.  But anyway, I had such a great time in getting to play and figure out this classic while it was the Hypermind BoardGamers’ Game of the Month! for June that I really wanted to give it some attention in the form of a review.


Game Basics  (click here for complete game rules) 

The goal of Acquire is to have the most money.  Players take on the very abstracted role of being investors in a collection of companies, who must buy stock and engineer mergers that benefit them more than their opponents.  Since different versions of the game have different ideas about what kind of companies are being bought and sold, I tend to use “hotel chain” and “corporation” interchangably in this review.

There are two main things going on in Acquire: stock buying and tile laying.  In fact, that’s what you do on pretty much every turn.  First, you play one of the 6 tiles that you have in your hand, and then you can buy up to 3 stocks in any hotel chain currently on the board. 

Tile-Laying

The board is made up of a 12×9 grid numbered from A1 to 12I, and there is exactly one tile per space on the board.  At the start of your turn, you must play one tile from your hand.  If it’s an isolated tile, then nothing else happens.  But if you are able to place it next to at least one other tile, you can choose to start one of the available hotel chains. Doing so gets you one free stock in that company, and makes it available for you and everyone else to buy more.

Tiles can also be added to hotel chains already on the board.  The size of a chain determines the value of its stock (both to buy and sell), but since you must play your tile before buying stock, adding to the size of a chain will increase its cost if you want to invest in it that turn.  You can also place a tile that merges two hotel chains, but I’ll cover that a little later.

Buying Stock

You can then buy up to three shares in any active corporation.  Based on the chart to the right, you can see that there are three different “quality” levels for the hotels, and that based on how many tiles are currently in the chain, there is a certain price per share.  But remember that you may only buy shares in this phase; the only time you can sell shares is when a chain is merged into a larger one, so let’s talk about that.

Merging Corporations

So, when you place a tile that connects two hotel chains, they are merged into one.  Specifically, the larger chain will take over and assimilate the smaller one.  When this happens, the first and second majority stockholders in the smaller company get Bonuses as detailed in the chart above.  Plus, starting with the person who caused the merger and going around the table, players may choose what they want to do with the stock that they currently hold in the smaller company.  The choices include:


  • Keeping the stock, in hopes that they or someone else will restart the corporation later in the game
  • Selling the stock based on the pre-merger size of the corporation
  • Trading in the stock 2:1 for stock in the larger corporation

Note also that once a hotel chain grows to be 11 or more tiles in size, it is considered “safe”.  This means that it can never be consumed by or merged with another safe chain.  Therefore, certain tiles that would connect safe chains will become unplayable throughout the game.  Most versions allow players to discard unusable tiles at the end of their turn just before they draw back up to 6 tiles in their hand.



A “Safe” Corporation

Game End

Any player may end the game during their turn is either:

  • All corporations on the board are currently “safe”, or
  • Any one corporation is 41 or more tiles in size

At this point, each corporation on the board is evaluated to determine who is the first and second majority shareholder, and bonuses are paid to them based on the chart.  Then, all shares for active corporations are cashed in at the current value, and whoever has the most money wins!

Strategery


First of all, Acquire is not a “stock market” game.  Share value is not dependent on supply and demand, but rather on the size of the corporation.  And since you can only sell shares as a result of a merger, it is very easy to get money-poor very quickly.  Because of this, you have to be careful not to over-diversify.  If you hold the 3rd most shares in several different chains, you’re going to get screwed.  Getting majority bonuses is the key to the early game of Acquire, so be sure that you’re in the position to get them.

But to get these bonuses, you have to also be invested in corporations that will be bought out by larger ones.  And that only happens when the correct tiles are played to physically link them on the board.  Since the tile-laying part of the game is mostly luck-driven, however, you can’t rely on your ability to draw and play tiles in order to do well.  Instead, you must evaluate the positions and sizes of the corporations and make some speculation about which ones are most likely to become consumed.  Proximity, potential points of contact, relative size of the two chains, and number of current investors are all important to consider.  

To further mitigate the luck involved, it’s important to foster “alliances” with other players.  I cautioned against over-diversification earlier, but there is a balance to be struck between going too far in that direction versus putting all of your eggs in one basket.  It’s generally better to have the second majority in three companies than to have the highest majority in one.  While the payout for the single first majority is greater than any one other payout, you will have a greater chance of getting a consistent cashflow from the three.  Mainly, this is because you will have twice the chance of drawing specific tiles when two people are looking for them.  But also, it’s a lot easier to work for second place than for first.  Always keep in mind that there are 25 stock certificates for each hotel chain, so 13 or more is a definite majority, and 6 or 7 is almost always good enough for second place.

One last thing about majorities, however, and that is to remember that if a person is the sole investor in a corporation when it is acquired, they get both bonuses.  So always make sure that someone else holds at least one share in it.  Plus, if you can get a second majority with one share, it’s a great return on your investment.

In the mid- to late-game, the most important decision you must make is when to switch from looking for quick cash to investing in the end of the game.  Early on, when one of my corporations is bought out, I almost always keep the shares and try to restart it later.  That way, for my initial investment, I will have the chance to get multiple payouts.  As the board tightens and new starting spots start to dry up, however, you have to decide when you need to sell or trade them in instead.  Having a tile that will let you immediately restart it clearly lets you push this a little, but sometimes even that is not foolproof if you aren’t the next player.  

Now, obviously, the best thing to do is to accumulate a ton of shares in a really cheap company and then trade them in 2:1 for shares in a huge company that is worth 3-4 times as much.  But you can also easily get stuck with shares that don’t appreciate in value at all if all the shares in the larger company have already been bought (or stocks that are worth nothing if you can’t get it restarted).  So in the end, figuring out this timing is a pretty organic thing based on the state of the board and the actions of the other players.

And finally, remember that money is power.  When you get some, especially from a fresh merger, immediately use it to get a majority in another company.  Be evil!  Prey upon the weak and steal their companies out from under them!  Use any advantage you get and leverage it to take control away from other players.  It is just a game, after all, so they shouldn’t get too mad at you…                


What I think…
 

As I said from the first time I played it, I really like Acquire a lot.  Sure, it’s got some old-school clunkiness to it in a few spots, but it feels incredibly modern to be 47 years old.  At its core, play is very simple and even, though I hate to use the cliche, elegant.  It is incredibly interactive and competitive, and navigating its course requires equal parts of analysis and intuition.     

One specific thing that I find really cool is how the game naturally falls into specific phases, separated by some pretty drastic tipping points.   At the start of the game, players place tiles and start the first few hotel chains.  Most of the time, these chains grow in number and size pretty much in isolation, and everyone eventually runs out of money buying up stock in them.  Then, all the players wait with anticipation for the first merger to happen.  And almost every time, within a round or two, other mergers start happening all over the place.  There’s some mathematical term for why this happens (which, of course, I can’t remember or find right now), but it’s related to some critical mass of spaces becoming filled on the board.

So anyway, you then enter the midgame, where everyone is trying to cause mergers and restart corporations all over the place, looking to claim majority bonuses and sell off useless shares.  That is, at least until the next tipping point is reached.  But this one is a psychological shift, when a critical mass of players begins to think that the endgame is near.  All of a sudden, people start trading in or selling off shares of their merged companies, and invest all their money in the “safe” hotel chains instead of ones to be consumed. 

The way I see it, doing well in the game is all about doing a good job in anticipating and managing these tipping points.  It makes me freaking excited just thining about it!  But as much as I like it,  Acquire is not a perfect game, and I see two main problems that can sometimes tarnish the game.

First of all, the random tile draw occasionally does really screw players over.  As I mentioned earlier, I generally think that Acquire does a good job of balancing luck with planning and skill, and making wise choices with your investments can mitigate the whims of randomness.  There is also a hand-management aspect because you do have access to 6 tiles at all times.  However, I have been in a game or two where one player was consistently hampered because they didn’t get the tiles they needed.  So don’t think that Acquire is a perfect-information, total control kind of experience.  You need to roll with the punches and accept that sometimes your fate can be decided by the draw.



My deck of stock certificates when I was a “runaway leader”

The bigger problem that I see is a rich-get-richer / runaway leader tendency.  Players that get an early influx of cash from mergers have a distinct advantage over everyone else, because they can immediately reinvest that capital and potentially steal away control of other chains.  Conversely, missing out on early mergers can put you in a poor-get-poorer (or dropaway loser, as Lawnjob on BGG put it) situation as well.  But again, I come back to the fact that while this occasionally might be out of your control, it is more likely due to superior planning and execution by the leader.

One other little issue with the game is the clunkiness that I mentioned earlier.  Dealing with all the money and making the payouts (especially at the end of the game) can be very fiddly.  But in the big picture, it’s a very minor drawback and is barely worth mentioning.

But all things considered, Acquire is a game worthy of the respect and “classic” status that it has earned, and I hope to make it a regular part of my gaming life from now on.



      
The Verdict! 

Thirteen different people in the Hypermind BoardGamers have played Acquire, with their lowest rating being 6 and the highest being 9, averaging out to an 7.60 out of 10.  

Rules: While the merger mechanics are a little confusing at first, everything else is dead simple to explain.
Downtime: Simple turns with limited information equals short downtime.  
Length: We’ve played 10 games that averaged right at 63 minutes and with an average of 4.5 players per game.  Even in the longer games, however, time always seemed to fly for me.
Player Interaction: While you can’t necessarily attack other players directly, there is constant competition for control of hotel chains and jockying for manipulation of the board.  
Weight:  Medium Light
GamerChris’ Rating: Acquire is a briliant, modern classic, and I rate it an enthusiastic 8.5
 

1 Comment


  1. I agree. One of the all-time greats. And surprisingly good with 6 people. Sackson designed the modern Euro in the early 60’s and this game deserves worldwide recognition.

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