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Subject: Intro to Acquire rss

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Mark Stretch
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Over the years there have been many economic board games published. A lot have quickly vanished but a few have proved popular and have endured. Amongst these is the Sid Sackson game Acquire. This was first published by 3M thirty years ago, and has gone through various incarnations since then and has been published by Avalon Hill, Mayfair games and others over the years. It is now part of the Hasbro stable of games, and is enjoying an upsurge in popularity after they published a deluxe version last year.

Acquire is one of those games which has very simple rules yet a lot of strategic depth. Like Settlers of Catan there is some luck in the game, but this is small compared to level of skill. This is what makes the game so enjoyable to play and means that it has a lot of replay value.

The game is played on a grid (from A1 in the top left corner to I12). There are 108 tiles each corresponding to one of the squares on the board. There are seven companies in the game, each of which has a marker token and 25 shares. The companies are split into three categories, 2 expensive, 2 cheap and 3 intermediate in value. To start the game, everybody takes a tile and places it on the board to give a starting position. It also conveniently decides the order of play with whoever drew the tile with the first letter starting. Each player then draws 6 tiles and takes their starting capital ($6,000) from the bank and the game is ready to begin.

Each player on their turn does the following three things in order:
1. Play a tile on the corresponding square on the board.
2. Buy up to three shares in any of the floated companies (can be three of the same company, 3 single shares from different companies or a 2-1 split), provided there are the shares left in the bank.
3. Take a replacement tile to bring you back up to six.

Companies are formed when a player plays a tile which is adjacent to one of more other tiles. Whoever plays the tile chooses which company to form and places the appropriate marker on the chain. They get a free share in that company and the company is now floated. The share price is dependent on which chain was floated and how many connected tiles there are making up that chain. As more tiles are added by the players to the chain the share price slowly increases.

As the game goes on various companies will be formed around the board. Sooner or later a player will play a tile which links two (or occasionally more) companies. In this case the larger company takes over the smaller company (in the event of a tie the survivor is chosen by the person playing the tile). The token of the company being taken over is removed and the surviving company will end up a lot larger as a result.

However there is a benefit for those owning shares in the company being taken over. Bonus are paid out to those with the most shares in the former company. Whoever had most shares gets a bonus equal to ten times the share price. Whoever had second most gets half that as a bonus. In addition, starting with whoever played the tile, all players get to dispose of their old defunct shares. They have three options:

1. Sell them for face value (this is the only time that shares can be sold).
2. Keep them in anticipation of the company being reformed later in the game.
3. Trade pairs in for a single share in the surviving company.
Should a player wish they can do a combination of the above.

Once a company has eleven or more tiles in its chain then it is safe and can no longer be taken over. If there are a number of such chains then any tiles that would merge them are unplayable and should be discarded to be replaced at the end of your turn.

The game ends when either all chains left are safe or one chain contains 41 or more tiles. At this point, bonuses are paid out for the companies left (as happens in mergers), and everyone adds up the value of their cash and shares. Whoever has the most is the winner.

As you will soon realise if you play the game, it is all about managing mergers. You will soon find yourself short of cash. Thus you need to arrange for one of the companies in which you have shares to be taken over. Of course you also want your companies to be large by the end of the game, in which case you need them to take over other companies. This trade off between capital growth and income is one of the key areas of the game.

Acquire will play with any number between 3 and 6. It plays best with 4 as that provides the most challenging position with regards to capital growth versus cashflow. Other numbers give a different feel to the game. With fewer cashflow is even tighter. With more players tend to be cash rich as mergers happen faster.

As mentioned at the start, Acquire has proved very popular over the years. In Britain the longest running tournament is at ManorCon which has been running since the mid 1980s. Also popular is the tournament at the Mind Sports Olympiad, which this year was a very multinational affair attracting players from Germany, Italy, Japan, England and the US.

Acquire is also popular enough and simple enough to be played online. There are various places to play, the most user friendly being Paul's games though others such as netset also exist.

The various different editions of the game over the years haven't changed any of the mechanics of the game. They are basically cosmetic changes. In this, Hasbro have done a very good job with the latest edition of the game, as this version looks and feels far more deluxe than previous versions. The only change with the game which Hasbro introduced and players didn't like was changing some of the company names to make it up to date and losing some of the old favourites as a result.

For more information about the game and details of these and other UK and foreign tournaments visit here.
 
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Joltin' Joe
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Terrific article!

One correction, however: Acquire was first published forty years ago, not thirty, in 1962.
 
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