Sackson's best known games are probably those originally published by the 3M Corporation from the early '60s through the middle '70s, and of that batch, the most popular was the classic game, ACQUIRE. It's hard to imagine anyone's list of Top Ten Games that doesn't include it. The game was originally published in 1962 and has just been rereleased in a new spiffy version from the new Hasbro Avalon Hill. Scroll down a bit if you want to get to my comments (mostly positive) about this new edition.
The game is played on a 12 X 9 grid, with squares going from A-1 through I-12. Each player has a hand of six tiles drawn at random, and each turn starts with the placing of a tile into its corresponding square on the board. These tiles represent hotels, though the theme is arbitrary. As soon as two hotels are placed adjacent to one another, they form a chain. The player who initially creates the chain gets one share (out of a total of 25 available) of stock in the new hotel chain. After placing a tile, each player is entitled to purchase up to three shares of stock in any chain currently on the board. As additional tiles are placed adjacent to a chain, increasing it in size, the value of that stock increases.
The plot begins to thicken when the chains grow large enough to touch one another. When this happens, the two chains merge, with the larger one taking over the smaller one. The player with the most stock ("majority stockholder") in the chain that's being swallowed up gets a substantial bonus at the time of the merger. The player in second place ("minority stockholder") in the chain gets a smaller (but still substantial) bonus. Then, the players who held stock in the swallowed company can either sell their stock for what it was worth at the time of the merger, trade it two-for-one for shares of the new parent company (if available), or keep it in case the chain is formed again. The only thing that the stockholders of the new parent company get is an increase in the value of their stock, which only helps them at the end of the game when all stock is sold back to the bank to determine the winner.
The game comes with an Information Card, displaying all the different stock prices and bonuses at different levels, and I have created a new, much easier to read version of it. Click here to see it. Feel free to print it out and use it with your copy of the game! (If you've got the new Hasbro Avalon Hill version, click here.)
ACQUIRE is also a game that has inspired a great deal of controversy over an issue that's not terribly clear in the rules. Should stock holdings be openly displayed so that all players can calculate how many are necessary to reach the majority positions, or should they be held secretly, like a hand of cards? My bias is toward the former option, since I don't much care for memory-dependent games. I think that removing the element of memory from the game frees it up to be about purer issues of strategy. However, there's also an argument that can be made for the other position. Click here for a very nice discussion on this point by Kevin Maroney.
A word on the various editions of the game here. Perhaps the rarest and most expensive edition is the 3M edition which was made with wooden tiles. This will probably set you back anywhere from $100 to $250, depending on how lucky you are. (Of course, you could also find it for a buck in a yard sale...) This is a bit nicer than the commonly found edition with the plastic tiles that was made by both 3M and Avalon Hill. Is it worth all that extra money? Well, I've got one, and I'm glad I do, but it's fundamentally the same game playing experience. I suppose it depends on how much of a crazy collector you are. On the left, you'll see an odd box design that the pre-Hasbro Avalon Hill used briefly, and on the right there's the newer version that they had in print for a few years. Although I've seen the sealed box many times, I've never actually seen one open, and have never heard anything good about it. Apparently, it uses flat cardboard tiles on a big board. But since Avalon Hill was recently bought out by Hasbro, that one is now mercifully out of print and has been replaced by a brand new, totally revamped edition.
I should probably call this critique of the new Hasbro Avalon Hill ACQUIRE "Quibbles and Bits," since I do have quite a few quibbles with it, and the main difference is in the "bits" (which is what the Brits call their game pieces). But before I start complaining, I must say that Hasbro is to be applauded for once again making this classic, essential game widely available again, and that's the important thing. I also must say that their new edition is probably the nicest one ever made, and that you'll certainly enjoy playing it. Anyone who's ever played chess with one of those tiny little magnetic sets knows the difference that larger, more attractive game pieces can make to a game.
What's different? Well, first of all, they've changed the theme from hotels to high tech corporations. This actually makes a lot of sense, what with all the new "dot com millionaires" out there demonstrating every day that a great way to make money is to be bought out by a larger company. And it's certainly more au courant than the hotel business. I'm actually surprised that they kept the dollar amounts the same!
This change in theme brought about a change in the names of the chains. One nice touch is that they named one of the companies "Sackson," although why did it have to be one of the little cheap ones? The other cheap one is "Zeta;" the three mid-range chains are "Hydra," "Fusion," and "America;" and the top price ones are "Phoenix" and "Quantum." This change is surprisingly easy to adapt to for oldtimers like me who have played this game in its original incarnation so many times.
As you can see from the photo above, the board is quite handsome indeed, and the little skyscraper caps for the chains are a very nice touch. The cheap chains are short and squat (red and yellow in the photo), the expensive ones (turquoise and purple) are tall, and the mid-range ones (blue, green, and orange), are in the middle. ACQUIRE, more than any other I can think of, is a game in which you spend a lot of time just staring at the board to analyze the possibilities, and the fact that the board is about 50% larger and so much nicer looking makes this a pleasure, and somehow seems to make those possibilities more apparent. These tiles are hollow, and fit over raised bumps on the board, rather than being solid and fitting into indentations like the old ones did. There's also a very handy rack which holds the stock cards and the building caps. Another cute tip of the hat to the hallowed history of this game is the fact that the serial number on the bills is "AH4FUN4U," just as the old 3M games said "3M4FUN4U."
Also, the rules have been rewritten and are wonderfully clear.
So, what could there be to quibble about? Well, a lot, actually. To begin with, the plastic that the hollow tiles are made from is very thin and flimsy. They don't stand up well, and when you're mixing up the draw pile face down on the table, it's so easy to knock them over. I worry that one will fall on the floor and get stepped on. I imagine it'd crush like an eggshell. And still, they're too bulky to fit into a paper sack like the old ones did. Heavier plastic would have been nice. Even nicer would have been to go to the system used in the German Schmidt Spiele version (see below), which has all of the tiles identical and blank, with cards bearing the letter-number combinations. That way, you have a hand of six cards rather than 6 tiles in front of you, and you play a card from your hand onto the discard pile and then place a tile in the corresponding square in the grid.
That nice rack that holds the stock and the building caps is terrific, but don't you think they should have also put slots for the money? Then it would have really been the perfect banker's tray.
And the information card is every bit as confusing as it ever was. Click here to get my version, newly adapted for the new Hasbro Avalon Hill edition, which you can print out and use with the game. Trust me, you'll find it much easier to grasp at a glance.
But here's the part that really galls me. On the back of the box, in the tiniest print imaginable, it says "GAME DESIGNER: Sid Sackson." Now, I know that crediting game designers goes against the long-established Milton Bradley / Parker Brothers / Hasbro grain, so I should probably be grateful for this, rather than annoyed that they have it in microscopic type. They actually must have had to go to a lot of trouble to make it that small. I mean, it's only half the size of the line that says "Color of parts may vary from those pictured!" And I don't understand that, especially from a business standpoint. When Hasbro bought Avalon Hill, among the other assets they acquired were undoubtedly the rights to Sackson's other 3M games, such as BAZAAR, VENTURE, SLEUTH, MONAD, and EXECUTIVE DECISION. And since they already own Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, we must assume that they also still have the rights to CAN'T STOP and DOMINATION as well. So wouldn't you think it'd make sense to promote the Sackson name rather than hide it? I just don't get it.
But again, sure the tiles are a bit flimsy and awkward, and sure the rack isn't perfect, etc., etc. This is still the most handsome edition that's ever been made, and the fact that it could have easily been a lot better shouldn't detract from that. And the fact that this new, bigger box is already in lots and lots of stores is a very good thing. So what if the picture on the box looks like John Davidson after overdosing on steroids?
There's one more version well worth mentioning. This was put out in Germany by the Schmidt Spiele company in 1993. They actually rethought some of the basic concepts of the game mechanism, and improved upon them dramatically. Rather than drawing tiles with a letter-number combination on them, and having a hand of tiles in front of you, this version uses cards with all the letter-number combinations on them. Your hand is a hand of cards, and when you play a card, it entitles you to place one of the variously colored and shaped hotel pieces on the grid. A side benefit of this is that in the unlikely but possible event that someone put a hotel down in the wrong square, you can just look in the discard pile to find out what was actually played.
As you can see, the arrangement of letters and numbers is the same, but there is a plastic grid that snaps onto the board, and holds the hotel pieces in place. One of the coolest things about this is the little signs that go into the top of one of the buildings in each chain. They really give the whole thing a Vegas feel, and it's a lot easier to visualize the separate chains of hotels, mainly because you're looking at a board filled with plastic pieces that look like hotels, rather than a grid with black plastic (or wooden) squares with letters and numbers on them. The names of the chains are slightly different (the expensive ones are Continental and Prestige; the mid-priced ones are Luxor, Imperial, and Oriental; and the cheap ones are Airport and Festival), but the way the board is laid out, it's easy to remember which is which. The unsold stock certificates go on the board, and the top two are the expensive ones, the 3 mid-price ones are in the middle, and the two on the bottom are the cheap ones.
The only drawback to this is that the hotels come in various colors, and the sea of color on the board is a bit confusing. Still, it's gorgeous. And of course, it's out of print and very hard to find.
There have been a number of attempts at computer versions of ACQUIRE, and the best of them for the PC is available here for a free download, thanks to the generosity and programming skill of George Crawshay of the UK. It's available as either raw QBasic code (44K) which requires QBasic to run, or as a compiled EXE file (123K) which will run by itself on a PC. If you don't want to modify the code, I recommend the latter. For a change, Mac users aren't left out in the cold here, as there's a version I've been told is very good called "PowerPlayers," and you can download it here. Also, the late Avalon Hill put out a PC-DOS version that's a bit crude, but if you want it, it's here. Thanks to Rick Keller for that one. And thanks to Kevin Worth, here's another PC-DOS version you might like. I have a feeling that the new Hasbro Avalon Hill will be coming out with a computer version of their own before too long.
Now, here's a historical note not many people know about. When ACQUIRE was first issued in 1962 by 3M, the rules were radically different. The familiar three-tiered price structure of the chains wasn't part of the game, but there were differing numbers of certificates for each chain, in gradual increments ranging from 22 to 35. And 60 of the 200 certificates in the game were dealt out to the players at the start of the game. There was no bonus for starting a chain, and you could only buy one share per turn. If you're interested in looking at these original rules, I've scanned them and made them available as a Microsoft Word file. Click here to download it. Note: if you want to try to play ACQUIRE using these original rules, you'll need a second set to supply all the extra stock certificates. Thanks to Keith Hebert for tipping me to this.
Finally, here's some wonderful news! At last, there's a way to play ACQUIRE online with other users! Actually, there are now TWO ways. The first way is called NetAcquire. Go to this link, and download the NetAcquire software, wonderfully designed by Lorne Nicol of Kensit Technologies. It helps if you're on ICQ, as that's how you find hosts, and chat with the other players during the game. I've played this, and it's absolutely terrific! This version uses the old names of the chains, and the old colors, which I find preferable. However, it's difficult to chat with the other players (you've gotta also be running ICQ or AOL for that), and you've got to know the IP address of the player hosting the game. These problems are solved by the other version, which is from a new company called PaulGames, though it uses the new chains and colors. They use their own server, so you don't need ICQ. They've also got a built-in chat feature that's great, and all you have to do is run it and it'll search the server to see if there are any games currently running, or let you start one and wait for other players to find you. You'll find it here. It's a surprisingly small file. At this point, neither of these programs runs on a Mac.
Typical of Sackson's games, ACQUIRE is a brilliant mix of luck and strategy. Also typically, it's a game that can be played casually or seriously, and is enjoyable either way. Recently, Sackson devised a variant of the game called the Special Powers Variant, and renowned German designer Wolfgang Kramer published a terrific game inspired by ACQUIRE called BIG BOSS that is as beautiful to look at and handle as it is fun to play, and I highly recommend it. The original BIG BOSS edition is long out of print and hard to find, but there's an updated version called ALCAZAR that adds elements, while allowing you to still play the original BIG BOSS.
Click to see if Funagain Games has:
The New Hasbro / Avalon Hill Acquire, The Classic 3M Acquire, The German Schmidt Spiele Acquire, or Big Boss.
Next is "Bazaar"...