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A Gnome's Ponderings

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Musings about 3M and Sid Sackson

Lowell Kempf
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One thing that has happened to me since I started becoming involved in board games is that now I have an easier name remembering the names of board game designers than I do movie stars. (George Clooney? Did he design Hansa Teutonica?) I’ve also become interested in the history of games and gaming, as well as the development of mechanics and concepts.

Since I like euro-games, this led me to the American company of Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing and Sid Sackson. As near as I can tell, they were creating the modern European family game years before that became a category for gamers to use to divide themselves up

I’ve made it a point to try to get every game that Sid Sackson made for 3M and play them. Actually, I’ve made it a point to try and play every Sackson game I can get my hands on. The 3M ones have just been relatively easy to get my hands on and get on the table.

One thing that I have noticed about Sid Sackson’s designs is how tight and balanced they are. There is not an ounce of fat on most of them. Everything in the rules and on the components is needed and there is barely any fluff. You can see his background in engineering coming out in his designs.

The ones that have hit the table from 3M are: Acquire, Bazaar, Executive Decision, Monad, Sleuth, and Venture. To be honest, I think that’s everything that they published of his and they are all neat designs.

Acquire, of course, is the giant of Sackson’s ludography. It’s considered the ur-eruo by many and, if you’re bothering to read an entry with Sid Sackson’s name on it, then you’re already familiar with the game. It’s a game that I played before I ever found out who this Sid Sackson guy even was and it’s a game that I would never turn down.

Bazaar is a game that I first stumbled across on BSW. Afterwards, I spent years looking for an affordable copy of either the 3M version or the Avalon Hill version, eventually finding one for $5 at a garage sale. It’s amazing how variable prices can be.

Bazaar is a game that takes trading with the bank to its ultimate degree and the scoring is specifically designed to make hording a bad idea. The score you get for trading in coins for cards is based on how many coins you have left over. The more change, the fewer points. Since the trading tables change with every game, every game is about figuring out how to be as efficient as possible with what you have to work with.

Executive Decision is a stripped down economic engine that is run entirely by player decisions. There are no random elements, although other players decisions can create more chaos than any die roll would. As a concept, I like it quite a bit. However, one player can throw the balance off (admittedly, usually to their own detriment) so much that I find it to be a very fragile game.

Monad is a card game where you are trading up cards until you get the highest value item, the monad discs. It’s brutally clever since the pool of cards is very limited and the order cards can be taken is very restricted. It’s a game that is full of interaction and indirect conflict. Unfortunately, it is terrible for my colorblind eyes and I found playing it gave me a headache. My group has discussed how it could be redesigned with symbols instead of colors.

Sleuth – Sackson took the basic mechanics of Clue back in the 1960s and created the purest, most streamlined application of a deduction game I have ever seen. I have yet to see it done better.

Venture was the hidden gem in my exploration of Sackson’s 3M designs. I mean, Sleuth and Acquire have strong reputations but I hadn’t even heard of Venture until I started trying to get as many Sackson 3M games as I could. I understand that Gryphon games is going to reprint it sometime, which is good. This game has been out of print for ages and it shouldn’t be.

Venture is a wonderful game of money management and set collection. The cards themselves are brilliantly designed with all the information you need clearly on them and well organized. They are amazing in their functionality and the game is just as good. I can’t wait to get this back on the table. I am shocked that Venture isn’t more widely known and praised.

Sackson was one amazing game designer.
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