I started The Eleven as a series in 2013. It was originally conceived as lists of eleven items each month (published on the 11th at 11:11). So far, since then, I’ve managed to post eleven editions of The Eleven each year, minus December since I traditionally take a bit of a break during that month. It became pretty tough to come up with a new topic each month, and in 2017 I started doing year long topics so I could plan everything out. So in 2017, it was games of the year for every year since 2007, and in 2018, it was game artists you should check out.
This year, I considered going back to the old format. I had a few list ideas, but I quickly fell into the old rut of wondering how I would keep it up for eleven whole months. I also very seriously considered, and almost decided on, just taking a hiatus from the series, possibly permanently. It’s a lot of work, and I wanted to focus on other things.
In the end, the suits decided not to cancel The Eleven, so we’re back for Season Seven! This year, the format is going to be a bit different. As with the last two years, there will be an overarching theme for the series. However, rather than doing a series of eleven lists, this year will be one long format list with an item revealed each month. Our topic? Game Changers.
So what does that mean? In this case, I’m looking for games that came out and changed the way we look at the hobby. Games where you can look back in history and point to them, saying, “That’s it. That’s when everything changed.” I have chosen eleven games that I think really made a difference in the way the world of board games operates, and will be going through them chronologically. So before you write me to ask angrily why your favorite game hasn’t been talked about yet, check to see where we are in year order. If it came out in 2005 and I’m only in 1977, maybe you should be a little patient.
On with the show! We’ll start in 1964 with
Acquire is a game by the legendary Sid Sackson. Sackson is well known as not only a game designer, but also as an author, a game collector, and (according to his BGG profile) an excellent dancer. Over a long and prolific career, he created a number of classic games: Focus (1963), Bazaar (1967), Sleuth (1971), Can’t Stop (1980), I’m the Boss (1994), and many others. His book, A Gamut of Games (1969), is still cited as one of the gold standards in board game literature – it’s not more than a collection of small games (most invented by Sackson, but some invented by his friends), but is written very well and has some great insight into game design. The German version of Focus, which was released in 1980, was the third winner of the Spiel des Jahres.
But we’re here to talk about Acquire. The game began life as Vacation, a game about luxury hotels. It was signed by 3M in 1963, and after changing the name to Acquire, they started selling it. The original board had a world map and wooden tiles, as opposed to later editions that had more of a generic abstract map and plastic tiles. Avalon Hill picked up the game in 1976, and Hasbro bought it from them in 1997 (they ended up buying all of AH in 1998). The plastic Hasbro version from 1999 is the favorite of most Acquire players, with a 2008 Wizards of the Coast version being seen as a definite decline in quality as they went with all cardboard. The most recent version, from 2016, went back to plastic.
The game is generally played on a 12×9 grid, with each space labeled with a number and a letter (like 1A or 12I). The most recent version changes that to a 10×10 grid. You’ll have a hand of six tiles, with each matching one of the spaces. On your turn, you’ll place one of those tiles on the the corresponding spot. If you create a grouping of at least two tiles by doing this, you form a corporation (the hotels were changed to companies when Hasbro got a hold of the game). When you form a corporation, you automatically get a share in that company’s stock. You can end your turn by buying up to three stocks in any companies, and that’s your turn.
When two companies touch, a merger happens. The bigger company swallows up the smaller company, and anyone with stock in that company can sell off their stock. That company could pop up somewhere else on the board later. When a company reaches a certain size (10 or 11, depending on the version), it is safe and can no longer be swallowed up. When all corporations are safe, or one corporation has reached a size of 41, the game is over. Players sell off all of their remaining stock, with shareholder bonuses for the major and minor holders. The player with the most money wins.
Since this game is now 55 years old and we’re still talking about it, clearly it’s a significant title in tabletop gaming history. But why is it a game changer?
In 1964, when this game was released, Monopoly had been a thing for 31 years. There were countless knock-offs on the market, and it had been defining what a board game should be for years. It of course was not the only game out there. Risk was available, as was Diplomacy, Clue, Yahtzee, and other games. But this was something different. It was a strategy game. There was a good amount of luck in the tiles you had, but there was stock market manipulation, there was a high level of economic strategy, and there was a scowling dude on the cover.
In other words, this was the first Eurogame.
It’s hard to deny the impact of Acquire on the modern gaming hobby. It made the focus of the game the making of money, and not in the take-that way you saw in Monopoly. There was no attacking your opponents, there was mitigable luck, and it was not a player elimination game. There was company elimination, but as no one specifically controlled one company. And there were no dice! It was really quite revolutionary, and that’s why I think it was a game changer.
If you’ve never played a game of Acquire, I’d encourage you to seek it out. Maybe try to find an older edition than what is currently available – my understanding is that fans really dislike the component decisions made in those versions. If you’re interested in learning more about the game’s history, I found a couple of good articles – one at Opinionated Gamers, and one at Acquisition Games. For more on Sid Sackson, his obituary from 2002 has some good info. And do try to find a copy of A Gamut of Games – it really should be required reading for people in the hobby.
Hope you enjoyed this first part of the Game Changers series. Join me every month on the eleventh for a discussion of some more of the giants in the industry, as well as other posts throughout the year. Thanks for reading!