Dale Yu: Review of Acquire (2016, Avalon Hill)

 

Acquire (2016 version, Avalon Hill)

  • Designer: uncredited on box/rules; Sid Sackson designer original version
  • Players: 2-6
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 45min
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Hasbro

acquire-box

Acquire is one of my all-time favorite games – it still holds a spot in my top 5 all-time.  It was one of the first “Euro” games that I played, though my initial introduction to it was thru a 3M bookshelf game that I picked up at a garage sale or flea market.  This design has stood the test of time, shown by its multiple reprints and international licensing deals over the years.

When I was contacted by Hasbro to take a look at the newest version, I was definitely intrigued to see how the game had evolved.  The rules booklet and box do not have any design credits anywhere to be found – however, someone has clearly worked on the game as it is not quite the same as before.

I’ll start by going over the differences between this game and the original version.  That way, folks who are familiar with Acquire can read this part and then skip to the opinions.

1) The board is different – the board is now 10×10 rather than 12×9.  This means that there are 8 fewer tiles in the game

2) It’s not hotels in this version, but rather companies: Nestor, Spark, Etch, Rove, Fleet, Bolt, and Echo.

3) The payout chart is different!  First, the amount of payouts increases faster than in the original game.  Further, the max size of a hotel chain is now 38+ instead of 41+

4) Companies are safe at 10 tiles now, not 11.

5) The top three owners of an absorbed stock now get paid, not just the top two.  In the old version, first place got 10X current share price and second place got 5X.  Now, First gets 10X, second place gets 7.5X (rounded up) and third place gets 5X.

6) The game rules actually specify that players decide before the game on open or closed holdings.

OK, for those new to the game, how does it play?  Setup is simple. Place the empty board in the middle of the table. Place the 100 tiles face down in the box (or on the table) and mix them up.  Each player starts with $6,000 and are given a price reminder card.  Each player draws a tile and places it on the board.  The player closest to 1A (the upper left corner) goes first.  Finally, all players draw 6 tiles from the supply and stand them up on the table in front of them to form their initial hand.

On each player’s turn – there are three distinct phases, always done in order:

1) Place a tile (and possibly merge) – a player chooses one of the tiles from their hand and places it on the matching space on the board.  If the tile does not touch any other tiles, nothing else happens.  If the tile touches an already formed corporation, it becomes part of that corporation.  If the tile touches at least one other unincorporated tile, a new company is formed.  Take one of the available corporation markers and place it on top of the tile.  You also get one stock of the company that you just formed.  Note that if there are no corporation markers available to be chosen, you may not play a tile that would cause the creation of a new corporation.

It gets a bit more complicated if you place a tile that is directly between two corporations – you will trigger a merger!  The smaller company (in number of tiles) will be absorbed into the larger.  If there is a tie, the active player gets to choose which is absorbed.  Note that companies that are 10 tiles or larger are considered “safe” – that is, they may not be absorbed into other companies, no matter how much larger they might be.  The players with the most, second and third most shares in the smaller company are calculated, and payouts are made according to the size of the absorbed company.  (If there is only one shareholder, that player gets the 1st and 3rd place payouts together).  Then, starting with the active player, each player who holds shares in the now defunct company gets to choose if they want to keep their shares (awaiting the next founding on the company), sell them back to the bank at the current price, or trade them in 2-for-1 for shares of the new company.

ViviLnk

ViviLnk

2) Buy Stocks – the active player now can buy up to three stocks.  You are limited to buying shares of companies that are currently active – that is, companies whose corporation marker is currently found on the board.  The price of the share depends on the company as well as the current size.  Refer to the player payout chart to find the current rate.  You can buy any combination of shares that you like, and you are not obligated to purchase any.  In fact, if you have no money, you must wait until you earn some money in a later merger before you can purchase more shares.

3) Draw a tile – Draw a face down tile from the supply and add it to your hand.  If you draw a tile which is located between two “safe” corporations, it cannot be played to the board.  Reveal this to all players, discard it face up, and draw a new face down tile from the supply.  You might draw a tile which is temporarily unplayable, i.e. a tile which would form an eighth active corporation – these tiles are not discarded.  You must hold on to it and wait for a legal opportunity to play it.

The game ends when a player declares the game over AND one of the end-game conditions is met: that is when all active corporations on the board are safe OR at least one corporation is 38 tiles or larger.  There is no obligation to declare the game over on your turn even if one or both conditions are met.  However, whenever a player does successfully declare the game over, all companies pay out.  First, second and third place in shares is calculated for each company, and payouts are made per the chart.  Then, all players sell back all their shares at the current market price.  The player with the most money wins.

acquire-in-play

My thoughts on the game

As I mentioned at the top, the original version of Acquire is one of my favorite games of all time.  I wish that I could say the same for the 2016 version, but there are a number of things that hold it back.

The board size is no issue.  It is about 7.5% smaller (8 fewer tiles), but the max corporation size, safe size and payout jumps on the chart are scaled back proportionately.  If nothing else, the current size of the board promotes a slightly faster rate of mergers.  That seems to be a slight improvement.  Unlike the original version, it seems less likely to have the one or two dry spells of 15 to 20 tiles where everyone is waiting for the next big merger.  In times like this, it pays off to be the player who has money to still buy shares, or to have a particular tile that triggers a merger, and you wait for the right opportunity to play it.  This tension was one of the best parts of the game.

However, the change in the payout structure destroys any of the tension in the game.  In the original version, there are only payouts for first and second place.  It was imperative to get in on one of the early mergers so that you wouldn’t run out of money in the early parts of the game.  Now that the top three places are rewarded, there is a whole bunch more money floating around in the economy.  It is rare for anyone to run out of money now.  While this might feel better to novice gamers, it removes one of the main strategy points of the game.  You can now limp along with just a share or two in the companies and continue to get more money to keep going.  The increase in money also makes buying shares of larger companies a much easier decision.  Yes, those shares have the highest possible payout at the end of the game – but it’s not quite as tense when you have twice as much money as you might have had in the old version.  You just buy whatever shares you want now.

The other thing that detracts from the game is the board.  For whatever reason, the board is a molded, unpainted dark gray plastic affair.  You cannot read the letter on the spaces AT ALL.  Sure, you can extrapolate where the tiles are supposed to go by counting from the starting corner, but there’s no reason for it to be so difficult to see.  And, you don’t really want to be making it known which space you’re trying to read because then you’re giving away information about what’s in your hand.  I have seen some people paint their board lettering with liquid paper or white paint – and it’s much better that way.  But this shouldn’t be an aftermarket mod – this should have never left the production plant like this.

ViviLnk

Sure, it looks out of focus.  But in reality, it’s that hard to read

If you look at this picture – you can see a home-brew mod to make the letters readable… but this shouldn’t have to be done by the end user…  https://boardgamegeek.com/image/3338784/acquire

So – if you were new to the game, this is probably still a decent game, and much better than many things you’d pick up at the mass market toy department.  But, for anyone who has played the original version, this takes much to the strategy and tension out of the game.  It’s kinda like playing Settlers of Catan, but deciding that rolling a 7 does not trigger the robber but instead gives all players three extra cards.  Or maybe playing Dominion and just saying that you can discard Curse cards when you draw them.  Sure, most of the rules are the same, but you don’t end up with anything like the original.  At least, it’s possible to play the original payout rules with the slightly smaller board, and that is an interesting variant due to the slightly more rapid merger rate – but after playing the new 2016 ruleset enough to review this game, I can safely say that I’ll never play it the new way again.  

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Greg S.:  Saw the new version and, as you say, the board was atrocious.  An incredibly poor design choice.  Haven’t played, but based on the changes you list, I see no need to. Why, oh why would Hasbro tamper with a recognized classic?

Jeff A.: It is inexcusable in this day and age for a designer, who is arguably one of the fathers of modern board games, to be given no credit on the box and in the rules of one of his signature games. Would we do the same for classic books, leaving off the author’s name on such seminal works of literature like Moby Dick? Then again, after reading Dale’s review, perhaps Sackson would not have wanted to be associated with such a poor update of his original creation. Fortunately, I have an older version of the game.

 

Joe Huber (1 play of the new edition): While I generally agree with Dale, there is one advantage to the new edition which I plan to take advantage of before I let it go.  Back in 1997, Schmidt almost released their own variant on Acquire where players received cards, rather than tiles; each card gave an option of four different places to play; the board was divided into four quadrants, with each card referring to a space in each quadrant.  While it would be possible to play this on the original board, by not using one row, it will work much better on a 10×10 board.  (Not rated, because I rate all games based upon the version I enjoy the most, rather than the individual editions.  Acquire I rate as “I love it!”.)

 

Ratings from other Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.
  • Neutral. Dale Y
  • Not for me.

 

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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6 Responses to Dale Yu: Review of Acquire (2016, Avalon Hill)

  1. Marc Gilutin says:

    I think it’s a dangerous sign that they “forgot” to credit the designer.

    Sent from Miphone

    -Marc

    >

  2. Kind of sounds like the change in payouts from Union Pacific to Airlines Europe, which also sucked out a lot of tension. Do they think modern gamers are wimps? :)

  3. Gil Hova says:

    I wonder if they loosened the economy in order to make the game a little friendlier to new players. I’ve taught new players who were turned off by the fact that once they spent their cash, they were just drawing and placing tiles until they lucked into a merger. Of course, skillful play means being careful with your cash at the start of the game, but I wonder if this change was meant to make the midgame “dead zone” a little more palatable to new players?

    Out of curiosity, how many players did you play with? 2 payouts seems to work great up to 4p, but I’ve always felt that you needed a 3rd-place payout when playing with 5 or 6. Perhaps the economy for this version tightens at higher player counts? I’m sure 3 payouts with 3 or 4 players would be way too loose, of course.

    (And yes, I am a big Acquire fan, but I’m always curious about the rationale behind design changes like this.)

    (Also, geez… put Sackson’s name on the box. And give credit to the development team too!)

  4. Dale Yu says:

    To reply to the above

    1) Marc – not sure that they “forgot”. This is mass American market gaming. Both Hasbro (Milton Bradley, AH, etc) and Mattel routinely leave the designers off the box. Even the hobby games – look at your Nexus Ops. No mention of the designers there. I think this is normal practice for them.

    2) Martin and Gil – Yes, I think that the changes were made to make the game more forgiving. This is my supposition tho as I have had no discussion with the developer/designers on this. It does keep players active in the game as folks can buy shares, but there is no longer any tension about the mergers. In the original rules, sure – there was often a time where the game was a bit stagnant – just drawing tiles and waiting for mergers. It has now been replaced by a time where there isn’t much to do because all the extra money has caused all the available shares to be bought.

    3) Gil – I played with 4 and 5. I don’t know the rationale for the changes, and sure, some of my dislike of it is due to my love of the original version. Is it nostalgia? maybe. Is it gamer-snobbiness? Can’t rule that out either.

    • Gil Hova says:

      Yeah, it seems like a well-intentioned tweak that backfired. They replaced one dead zone with another. Game development is hard!

  5. farmerlenny says:

    Thanks for the review! The changes do sound disappointing.

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