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Subject: Acquire - Another Mixed review by Casualgod rss

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David Debien
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Introduction

I have been aware of Acquire for about as long as I have been gaming, since about 1983 or so. Somehow, I never played the game until recently.

For the longest time, what kept me away was the dull look of the game. I mean this game board doesnt exactly inspire confidence:


Image by Raiko "banraix" Puust

When I discovered BGG a few years ago, I immersed myslef in the many games reviewed on the site and was intrigued to find this old game so highly ranked in comparison to the newer generations of games. At the time, I was enamoured with Catan, Puerto Rico and Caylus. So, to find this dusty Excel spreadsheet of a game holding its own against these glitzy new Euro games was a bit surprising and, indeed, intriguing.

The years went by and Acquire and I kept missing each other until last month. I recently made acquaintance with

Edward Llewellyn
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and, along with his teenaged son Ian, we have been playing almost once a week now for well over a month. Ed has been away from the hobby for a while (close to 20 years) and his collection includes mostly older games. He kept bringing up Acquire and after about the third time, I took him up on the offer and boy am I glad I did!

My inaugural game of Acquire was a 4 player game and due to the drop dead simple rules of the game, I caught on pretty quickly and by the third, or so, round, I was starting to comprehend the strategies inherent in the game. I ended up winning this first game, barely beating Ian by a few hundred dollars. Every game of Acquire I have played since has been fairly close and the winner has never been obvious until the final tally (or it was obvious and I was wrong, haha!).

Components

The component quality for various issues of Acquire have varied widely, with the 1999 Avalon Hill version going for $100 regularly on eBay.

Even in the highly sought after AH copy, the game is not going to cause an ATer to swoon. Euro gamers are going to frown at the dull, spreadhseet like board, the hundred or so gray (or black) colored tiles, the card board stock shares and the monopoly like money.

After playing Ed's lovingly played 1968 copy of the game and taking a look at the horribly shoddy 200X version of the game on store shelves today, I ebayed myself a 1963 copy of the game for $30 delivered and am very happy with it. Indeed, my copy had never been played as the stock shares and money were crisp as the day they had been printed.

Theme

In Acquire, players represent Hotel magnates, investing in large hotel chains which only go up in value as they grow. Eventually, Chains will merge and huge payouts will be made to the share holders in the smaller, gobbled up, chains, allowing them to re-invest their hard won dollars in new up and coming Chains.

Ok, so does the theme come through in the game? No, not really, players are investing in blocks on a spreadsheet like board and buying bits of cardboard. For theme junkeys, Acquire is going to appear extremely dull. The game is basically an abstract played out on a grid.

How Acquire is Played

I am getting ahead of myself...let me take a moment, for those who havent played it, to talk about how the game is played. I am going to simplify a few things in my rules run down by a tiny smidge to keep it short:

The board is a grid (see the awesomely rocking pic above) numbered from A-1 to J-12. Also included in the game are tiles, with one tile for each of the grid co-ordinates on the board. Each round, on their turn, each player places 1 tile (from the 6 they have randomly drawn and kept secretly hidden from the other players) on the board and then buys 3 stocks. Finally, the player replinishes the spent tile by drawing from the pool of available face down tiles. That's it!

Really, that is all there is to it mechanically. Now, for someone who plays a lot of modern games, with their 1000 different bits and a bazilion different player options on each turn, the sheer simplicity of Acquire's central action mechanic is shockingly simple. How can a game this good (and strategically complex) be so simple? I think there is a lesson to be learned here for many modern board game designers.

Now, when a tile is laid so that it is orthagonally adjacent to another tile, it forms a Hotel Chain. The person that first creates a chain receives 1 founders share.

As the game progresses, Chains will grow and in doing so their shares will go up in value. Eventually, two chains will meet and merge, with the smaller chain being bought out by the larger one. What this means is that for those with shares in the smaller chain, they receive cash value for their shares, plus a bonus for the person(s) owning the most and second most shares of stock in that chain. For the people owning shares in the larger chain, the value of their shares likely just went up significantly due to the Chains growth in total number of tiles, but they receive no cash.

Once a chain has 11 or more tiles, it becomes safe and can no longer be taken over by a larger chain.

Once all the chains on the board are safe, or if any one Chain has 41 or more tiles, the game ends.

At this point, all remaining chains are cashed out as if they had been merged and this where a lot of the money is to be made, especially for those players with large stakes in the largest Chains.

It is worht noting that in my copy of the game, the entirety of the rules are printed on the inside of the boxlid. This includes the 2 player variant rules. So, Acquire can be learned from the rules in about 5-10 minutes and taught in even a shorter amount of time.

Strategy vs Luck

I am half a dozen games in now and I am just now starting to feel like I have a grasp of strategy.

First is tile placement. This is the more straight forward part of the game, strategically speaking. Usually, you don't want to place tiles that grow Chains in which you have little to no investment. Also, you do not want to merge two Chains in which you have little to no investment. So, typically, you want to grow companies and merge companies in which you have stock and hold onto tiles that increase the size of other companies until you can get shares in them. You cannot control the tiles you draw from the pool, so this is where the luck quotient comes into Acquire and some have complained that Acquire has a good deal of luck. I disagree as I have consistently seen the people with the worst tile draws come in first or second place.

Most of the complaints come from not getting a fair shake of tiles that found Chains. The founder's share + 3 shares you can purchase in a Chain in the first round it is created gives the founder a fair leg up over other players. There are 7 Chains allowed on the board at any one time, so if the same 1 or 2 players keep getting those lucky draws that allow them to found new Chains over and over, it seems they will have a significant advantage in the game. However, I feel that by spreading themselves to thin accross many chains, this allows the shrewd investor to come in behind them and take the first position in share ownership in the key Chains that stand to be merged.

Holding onto that merging tile long enough to invest in the Chains you will merge is key. But, beware, someone may swoop in and merge one of the Chains you are eyeing to a completely different chain. Or, alternately, the chains may both become safe in the meantime, so timing is critical!

See, I told you, completely straight forward. Ha!

Now, stock buying is the tough part of the game and this is where the game is won and there is little to no luck here. Strictly speaking, the number of shares owned by other players is supposed to be closed information, while later editions of the game has left this up to the players. Some people do not like memory components in a game and I completely get this, but as a person with a pretty good head for remembering numbers and adding sums, I prefer to keep this info hidden.

Predicting which Chains will be merged and how many shares everyone owns is huge. When a Chain is merged and bought out, the money you get back out of it by selling your shares is going to be fairly close to what you put into them (unless the Chain has grown significantly since the shares were purchased) but the majority of money is made by being first or second in share ownership to get the bonus payout. At the same time, your initial stake at the start of the game ($6000) will run out fairly quickly and so being in on an early merge and having majority or secondary stake holder position is very important. Running out of money in the mid game can be a killer!

Making things even more interesting, being the share holder in the company that only Acquires other chains is not the best thing either, as you get no payouts for being the merging Chain share holder. Sure, your share values go up considrebly, but without the cash injection you get from being bought out, you can find yourself high and dry on cash in the mid to late game. So, keeping a portfolio of both large and small chains is crucial for vistory.

Aside from the memory component, basic math is going to be a huge skill for players. Understanding the relative value of shares and what makes or does not make a sound investment is going to rely on 50% intuition and 50% arithmatic.

Who Can Play Acquire and how Long Does It Take?

The simple mechanics of Acquire make it a likely candidate for family game night, but I would not recommend it to the younger audiences due to the deeper strategy and the admitedly bland theme and components.

I have one player in my group who is famous for his analysis paralysis and I will not play many complex games with this person as he can increase playtime by as much as 50% in many instances. While he still takes his time in Acquire, I cannot say that he has ever been paralyzed by his choices, so I believe Acquire is a good game with decent amounts of strategy for the AP inclined.

Playtime is about an hour, so this makes it a great game to fit into a long night of gaming or for when you have time for more than a filler, but not enough time for a longer game.

There is an official 2 player variant, but it introduces a luck variant that I am not too fond of so I will play it in 2 player mode when requested, but I will not be the one suggesting it.

So, why do I love Acquire?

First off, I love elegant games and I put Acquire near the top of the list in this category as far as modern games go. The fact that Acquire pulls off so much with so little is a big plus for me. Also, I love stock speculation and cash management and Acquire offers both of these in a very pure format.

The game can be taught to new players in 5 minutes. Downtime is non-existent as you are always interested in the tile-lays and, more importantly, stock purchases made by your opponents.

There is no player elimination and, indeed, everyone feels fully engaged in the game up until the final cash out and score tally.

The game play is fast enough to never get dull and watching your fortune grow from $6000 to $40k plus in the span of an hour is fairly invigorating.

Conclusion

Acquire is a drop dead simple to learn (and teach) game that plays in about an hour. For a game that plays and teaches so quickly, it has an amazing amount of strategic depth.

Acquire is not a game for everyone. The dull components and theme, combined with drop dead simple game play, will turn off people who prefer their games to be complex and full of beautiful components.

Others have decried the game as having too high a dgree of luck, but I couldn't disagree more strongly (except in the 2 player variant).

There is a memory component that bothers some players, which can be removed by playing with open stock information, but I feel this eliminates some of the deeper strategizing in the game.

On the other hand, many gamers will find a stock speculation game stripped of all unnecassary components, offering a pure cash management and tactical tile laying experience that does not over stay its welcome and rewards shrewd gameplay with victory.

My rating of Acquire after 6 plays: 8.5/10.
As a 2-player game, my rating drops to 6/10.
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Seth Owen
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Classic game and I never have trouble introducing it to new players, Really ahead of its time in many ways, especially with the mininal rules and short playing time. Very good review.
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Andy Andersen
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Outstanding review. I only play with 2 95% of the time, so I'll pass.

I certainly appreciate your 2P comments and rating.

Thank you.
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David Debien
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Orangemoose wrote:
Outstanding review. I only play with 2 95% of the time, so I'll pass.

I certainly appreciate your 2P comments and rating.

Thank you.


Hi Andy,

I always try to keep in mind 2 player game-play in my reviews since so many players play with their partner for most of their games.

To elaborate, in the 2 player variant, when 2 chains merge, a random tile is drawn and the number on the tile is used to determine how many shares of the merged company are owned by a fictional 3rd player in determining the payouts for most and second-most bonuses. In the 2 player games I have played with my wife, she consistently got lucky and drew 1's and 2's in merges where she had majority holdings and got the majority payouts, while I consistently drew 9's and 10's and thus lost the majority share holder bonus to this simulated 3rd player.

There aren't enough merges during the game to even out luck of the draw in this case, so the winner is usually going to be determined by these tile draws.

Your kind words, as always, are appreciated!

DD
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Andy Andersen
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Thanks for the further explanation. I appreciate it.
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Bill Gallagher
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casualgod wrote:
Once a chain has 12 or more tiles, it becomes safe and can no longer be taken over by a larger chain.

It's actually 11 or more tiles.

Good review!
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David Debien
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Yuglooc wrote:
casualgod wrote:
Once a chain has 12 or more tiles, it becomes safe and can no longer be taken over by a larger chain.

It's actually 11 or more tiles.

Good review!


Fixed. Thanks for catching that!
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Grant Johnson
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David,

Wish I knew you hadn't played. This is one of the old time games I grew up playing.
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John Herrera
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A while back I also wondered why this game was ranked so high and finally bought the cheap reprint. For a while I was playing Acquire almost every weekend with my family and friends and discovered the fun and reason for its ranking.

Good review - thanks, now i need to go and find my copy and start playing it again.
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kamf wrote:
We always play with open stock and open money - that's how I learned back in the 70s. I do not think it slows the game down and it puts those of us with memory deficiencies on an even playing field. (Would anyone play Alhambra without being able to see the other players Alhambras?) Great game.


I agree. I think that random tile draw and not knowing what is in your opponents' hands is enough hidden info for this game. Asking how much stock of a certain corporation everyone has takes like twenty seconds and allows you to make educated decisions quickly. Analyzing the board position takes longer than that.

It doesn't add depth, just difficulty.
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Todd Redden
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kamf wrote:
We always play with open stock and open money - that's how I learned back in the 70s. I do not think it slows the game down and it puts those of us with memory deficiencies on an even playing field. (Would anyone play Alhambra without being able to see the other players Alhambras?) Great game.

We play with open stock and closed money. It makes choices much more evident during game play and eliminates AP for such prone players. Money is the victory condition and keeping it secret makes the winner more of a surprise at game end. But, the game is great fun no matter how you choose to do it.

We lay our stock in rows so no questioning is required, you can look around the table and easily see how much of each stock all players have. You can also see their stack of money (face down) which gives some idea of how much, but not exact information.
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David Debien
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ldsdbomber wrote:
Quote:
almost once a week now for well over a month


so, 3 or 4 times total? whistle

nice review, thanks, this is also a game I'm intrigued about, shame it's not really a 2P affair!


Ed and I have played more than that. I am really bad with the passage of time as I get older.

In any event, we only played Acquire the one time. Since then, I acquired my own copy and have been playing it with family and friends.
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Andrew Simpson
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tmredden wrote:
kamf wrote:
We always play with open stock and open money - that's how I learned back in the 70s. I do not think it slows the game down and it puts those of us with memory deficiencies on an even playing field. (Would anyone play Alhambra without being able to see the other players Alhambras?) Great game.

We play with open stock and closed money. It makes choices much more evident during game play and eliminates AP for such prone players. Money is the victory condition and keeping it secret makes the winner more of a surprise at game end. But, the game is great fun no matter how you choose to do it.

We lay our stock in rows so no questioning is required, you can look around the table and easily see how much of each stock all players have. You can also see their stack of money (face down) which gives some idea of how much, but not exact information.


Our group plays on occasion. We play with closed cash and just showing a single card of a hotel chain to indicate share ownership without disclosing the total number of shares. Everyone is free to count the remaining shares in the bank but players do not disclose their totals.
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Dan Rivera
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While the number of stocks each player has is hidden information in the original rules. The number of stocks left is open information so it is very minimal memorization exercise since you know how many of any given stock you yourself have.
Acquire plays best with hidden information since it adds to the speculation aspect of the game itself. With open information it becomes far to easy to know when to make or not make merger decisions.
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I am also an Acquire fan, own the fancy-pants '99 AH version. I love the accessibility combined with the deep potential for strategy.

The luck factor is a two-way street, as exemplified by a game I played two weekends ago.

I got lucky early in the game, and was able to found 2 or 3 companies early, gaining bonus shares and holding the majority in them fairly easily.

However, by midgame I had run out of money, and could not find a tile to merge one of my (majority held) companies to get an influx of cash.

So I spent almost the entire game playing a tile, drawing a tile, go, as those initial companies never got absorbed for a payout.

However, they did a fair share of absorbing other companies, paying out other players while growing my stock values. I just never had any cash at all until the endgame. With the final merger, I was majority shareholder in a 42 tile, top-tier company. I ended up winning handily, but played the most excruciating, boring game I can imagine to get there.
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ldsdbomber wrote:
http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/OpenandClosed.shtml

an interesting older article on open/closed. I totally get his point in El Grande but I still like dropping the cubes in the castillo!

!Totally off topic alert!
It is often overlooked, but El Grande's rules state that all players' Caballeros in the Provinces should be kept in one big mixed-up pile such that it's impossible to tell how many any one player has there.
 
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Peter O
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No Theme?!

casualgod wrote:


Image by Raiko "banraix" Puust


I find this image to be very thematic of my impression of what it is to work for the accounting department of a major hotel chain.

Seriously, a good review! I remember enjoying the two player game with my dad back in the 80s. I don't remember if we used the 2p varient rules or not.
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tmredden wrote:
We play with open stock and closed money. It makes choices much more evident during game play and eliminates AP for such prone players. Money is the victory condition and keeping it secret makes the winner more of a surprise at game end. But, the game is great fun no matter how you choose to do it.

We lay our stock in rows so no questioning is required, you can look around the table and easily see how much of each stock all players have. You can also see their stack of money (face down) which gives some idea of how much, but not exact information.


Strangely enough in my group nobody has ever tried to count up anyone's money, regardless of how much sense it might make. I mean if someone only has $200 in front of them somehow you'll obviously know it and take the opportunity to unseat their majority but other than that we seem to focus on analyzing the board and stocks.
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Todd Redden
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alfonzo54 wrote:
tmredden wrote:
We play with open stock and closed money. It makes choices much more evident during game play and eliminates AP for such prone players. Money is the victory condition and keeping it secret makes the winner more of a surprise at game end. But, the game is great fun no matter how you choose to do it.

We lay our stock in rows so no questioning is required, you can look around the table and easily see how much of each stock all players have. You can also see their stack of money (face down) which gives some idea of how much, but not exact information.


Strangely enough in my group nobody has ever tried to count up anyone's money, regardless of how much sense it might make. I mean if someone only has $200 in front of them somehow you'll obviously know it and take the opportunity to unseat their majority but other than that we seem to focus on analyzing the board and stocks.

I agree, but if money was displayed openly then it could have more of an effect on who you were competing with, and such calculations could slow down the game. More important is how much of which stock each player has. If not open information a lot of time is lost calculating (of course no rules state you can't keep a crib sheet and record each player's stock acquisitions as they are made) so why not keep them open? Memorizing hurts and most players don't bother, which makes the game outcome a more random event with closed stock unless any players have such keen memorizing skills. Anyway, this has all been thrashed out many times before and there will never be ultimate agreement. The previous link to the well written "Open/closed" essay was great and probably no more arguments need be made.
 
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another BGG user has come up with a pretty good 2P acquire variant. My GF doesn't really play boardgames anymore so that kinda kills it for me, but I remember enjoying my one 2P play of acquire. I suspect it is much better than the 2P variant in the rules.

ACQUIRE 2-player
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