Cardboard Addiction: Acquire

Who runs Snacktown?
by Sam Desatoff

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Update: So, it has been pointed out to me that I have made a glaring rules error in this review. When two chains merge, it’s actually the stockholders in the SMALLER company that get paid out, not the larger. Obviously, this changes the game completely, as it makes the smaller chains more appealing. I will play the game with the proper rules and update this review accordingly. Mr. Magoo, out.

It’s easy to overlook a game like Acquire. Dull box art, a less-than-exciting game board, and a theme already dominated by mainstream juggernaut Monopoly all combine to create one unassuming package. But getting this one to the table proves that there’s room for more than one real estate tycoon in the world of board games, and thanks to its accessibility and elements of strategy, Acquire gets the edge.

Released in 1964, Acquire treads on ground that will feel vaguely familiar to anyone who grew up playing Monopoly; the real estate theme draws many comparisons, especially given the lack of other suitable options in the genre. But where Monopoly relies heavily on the dumb luck of dice rolls, Acquire offers players the chance to flex their speculative muscles as they attempt to spot patterns in an ever-changing stock market.

It’s a rather simple game to understand: players fancy themselves less-racist versions of Donald Trump seeking to found the next great chain of hotels. Everyone takes turns playing randomly-drawn tiles from their hands onto the board’s grid. Each tile represents a hotel, and two adjacent hotels represent a newly-founded chain. There are seven possible hotel companies, and players can buy stock in each company. When two chains meet, a merger takes place and the larger chain eats the smaller one. Whoever has the most stock in the larger chain gets a payout. The player at the end of the game with the most money wins. Simple.

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The accessibility of Acquire plays a large role in why the game is so well-suited for people who may not be familiar with the world of board games and just how complicated it can be. My wife and parents are a prime example, so I decided to try the game out on them. I am pleased to report that it was a success.

Turns have a simple structure: play a tile from your hand of six, then buy stock. Buying stock is optional, but if you see that one chain is growing, and it looks as though it will swallow up a smaller chain nearby, it might make sense to buy stock in the bigger chain. If you’re not careful, though, you can Kanye West yourself to bankruptcy by buying bad stock.

Speculating on which chains will grow and which will shrink is a big part of the fun of Acquire, and although you might have little control over which chains grow and which shrink, the fluctuating market does a satisfying, terse job of mimicking the real-life stock market.

A good example comes from my game with my parents. Early on, a couple of chains were both growing at a relatively equal pace. My mom had founded the chain Sackson (which I am only just realizing is named after Sid Sackson, the designer of Acquire. How’s that for research?), and I had founded the Tower chain of hotels. During one of his turns, my dad bought up stock in Sackson (which, in an affront to Sid’s good name, somehow got twisted into “Snacktown” during our play) after playing a tile that saw that chain merging with, and eating up, Tower. For the remainder of the game, Snacktown grew unabated like some kind of five-star virus. All the while my dad went full on Wolf of Wall Street and flaunted his riches as majority stock-holder while my mom was left to wallow in her poverty, occasionally asserting that “founded Snacktown!”

This brings me to one my my major gripes with the game: depending on the situation on the board, it may be apparent who will win fairly early on in the game, especially if you play with open stocks and money. Granted, there is debate as to whether or not stocks are public knowledge, but it’s not that hard to notice which stock have been snagged over the course of the game. We chose to play with open stocks, and it was plain to see that my dad, with all his Snacktown stocks, was going to win pretty early on.

The game can also stall while players analyze their hands and attempt to parse out just what effect each tile will have on the market, but this did not diminish my enjoyment of the game as I myself was analyzing my hand on my opponents’ turns.

Another complaint I have is the low quality components in my edition of the game. All the cheap cardboard makes the game feel flimsy and fragile. I don’t usually nitpick component quality like this, but after seeing facncy, 3D versions from past printings online, I became unreasonably jealous. Too bad they’re stupidly expensive these days.

Gripes aside, Acquire is a simple and fun stock-market/real estate simulator. Yes, randomness is a large part of the game, but that element is almost necessary when dealing with something like the stock market. I suppose you could say the same thing about Monopoly and the housing market, but I never wanted to chuck Acquire out the window and firebomb it until my front yard was a smoking crater.

There is something deeply satisfying about making a profit off of a risky stock purchase, and chasing that high drove me for much of the game, even when it was clear I stood no chance of winning. For this reason, I plan on keeping Acquire in my collection. It’s rare that a game that sees my parents so lively yelling at one another as they argue over who is responsible for the unyielding spread of Snacktown. And isn’t watching your parents verbally and physically abuse each other reason enough to break out a game every once in a while?

 

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