Sid Sackson's Acquire is among that rare few of games still in circulation that is unquestionably deserving of "classic" status. It receives extremely favorable reviews from a broad diversity of gameplayers, but more impressive than any short period of favor is its amazing durability. The game has been printed and reprinted now for more than forty years, and has found new devotees each time.
Acquire is played on a 9x12 grid, the squares in the grid each denoted by a number and a letter (They thus range from 1-A to 12-I.) Each player throughout the game has six tiles, each uniquely representing a square.
The game play is simplicity itself. Each turn consists of: place a tile on the board, deal with the consequence of any mergers that are created (more on that later), buy up to three total shares of stock, and draw a new tile to replace the one laid down. The game thus tends to move quickly, because each player's decisions are straightforward. One knows that his first action will be to place a tile; the only question is where.
The object of the game is, as in many Sackson games, to make the most money. One does this by investing in hotel chains and profiting when mergers take place. Each time two tiles are placed side by side, a "chain" is formed, and the player who made the chain is entitled to name it and to get a free share of stock. Later in one's turn one has the opportunity to buy stock in any chain on the board, whether created by that player, or by someone else.
The game turns when a tile placement connects one chain to another. When this happens, the chains "merge" -- the larger chain takes over the smaller chain. Whenever there is a merger, bonuses are paid out to the leading stockholders in the smaller chain. They also have the opportunity to hold their stock in the small chain (hoping that it reappears on the board), trade it in for stock of the new parent chain, or sell it back to the bank.
As chains get longer, the price of a share of stock increases. At game's end, bonuses are paid to the leading stockholders in the chains left on the board, and everyone can cash in their stock in any remaining chains. Most money wins.
Playing a game of Acquire is a straightforward but deep blend of tactical play in space, combined with financial management. Each time one buys stock, one is in effect "betting" on the mergers that are likely to take place. In turn, which mergers take place is a function of how skilfully the players play the tiles that they draw.
It often seems to newcomers that luck is heavily present in Acquire, because much is decided by the placement of a connecting tile. Statistically, however, Acquire tends to be won quite regularly by the most skilled player. Whether one has tiles that can connect existing chains, set up new chains, or simply to create awkward choices for other players, each player usually has some good opportunities. Moreover, each player has the same amount of information about the future arrangement of the board. A good player will be in a position to profit from the mergers that take place, regardless of whether his own tile placements create them.
The evolution of an Acquire game is aesthetically satisfying. Chains are born and grow in two-dimensional space. They begin to collide and to swallow one another up. Remove the game's investment elements, and it could just as easily have been a game about the evolution of amoeba-like life forms. Reportedly, the game evolved from one a young Sid Sackson made to amuse himself, involving European national powers growing and absorbing one another. It is transparently a very adaptable schematic.
If Acquire has a flaw, it is in the harshness with which it punishes poor play early in the game. If one is shut out of the early mergers, there is very little chance to catch up. In this game, opportunity breeds success, and success creates the next opportunity. Leave the early opportunities all to your opponents, and you are cooked.
Acquire can be played with three to six players. Optimal strategy varies according to the number of players. My personal theory is that the smaller the number of players, the more one should strive to be the leading shareholder in the smaller chains, profiting from each merger and building up cash. With more players, one wants to be the leading shareholder in the larger chains, profiting at game's end. This unverified theory is based on how frequently one gets to move between mergers: cash is king in a game with few players, because each player can spend his way into a position to profit from the mergers he can virtually force. In a six player game, mergers are more likely to take place between one's own moves, and there are fewer stock-buying opportunities per person. One therefore needs to bet more foresightedly on the chains that will be powerful at game's end.
Acquire is unquestionably one of the most addictive games ever published. Many a game-player tells of frittering away his college days playing it. It is light and casual, but deep. The rules are easily grasped.
Though there are other Sackson efforts that I like even more, Acquire is without question Sid Sackson's most enduring gift to the gaming world. Were I to recommend a single game on which to base a gaming collection, this would be the one.