Sunday, November 26, 2017

Dave Reviews: Hotel Chain Magnate


In the world of corporations, you eat and grow, or get eaten and die. And by die, we mean earn a bunch of payout money for the business you started that you can use to grow again, because that's what getting eaten means for people, which is what corporations are.

Acquire is ancient by board game standards, originally a 1964 release that's seen multiple reprints over the years. The concept of the game is simple: start companies, buy stocks in whatever ccompanies exist, and use those stocks to make more money than your opponents. The value of a company is based on how many tiles it takes up on the board. Thus, if you get stock in a business that's only two tiles big, and it expands, your stock immediately becomes more valuable. This is how we think about stocks working--you invest, the company grows, and your stock is worth more.

However, Acquire has a different twist on this. If you focus on the companies that are going to survive forever, you won't win, because your money will be locked up in stocks that won't earn you anything until the game's over. In the short term, you need to have stock in smaller companies that will merge and be taken over by the larger companies, because when the merger happens you earn a bonus based on how much stock you have in that company compared to everyone else. If you routinely are the largest stockholder in companies that get eaten, you will make bank. Furthermore, you can turn those stocks into stocks of the bigger company on a two-for-one trade basis, or you can keep them for later; companies that go down early can get started again later, and with a limited amount of stock in each company, having some already in your possession gives you a head start when they do.

It's one of those games with mechanics that work at odds with the theme. Look at the major corporations we're familiar with: Microsoft, Apple, Walmart, Target, Amazon. The heads of these companies, and especially the founders, are some of the richest people on the planet because their companies either pushed their rivals out of the market or just bought them outright. Getting on the team that wins early, before it's clear they'll be a winner, is key. Being a major shareholder in a company that gets absorbed by a larger one can be highly profitable, and plenty of people in that situation are doing just fine, but they never really get to the same level of wealth.

In Acquire, it's not that there's no upside to getting in on the ground floor of a company that becomes too big to be overtaken—the stocks will be some of the most valuable at the end of the game, and you'll probably be the primary stockholder, giving you the biggest bonus—but rather that the best way to succeed is to angle your way into being the biggest stockholder in companies that get bought out while also making sure you have stock in those bigger companies for the end of the game. Very little costs you money, the rewards for getting bought out are considerable, and those rewards are crucial to having the resources to be set up well for the end game. It's incongruous with how we understand that an economy works, which makes it very easy to for new players to get completely off-track by doing what feels logical, but isn't in relation to this game.

As a pure game (ie. mechanics, balance, etc), Acquire is pretty good. You constantly need to track how much stock is available, try to remember how much each person has of a given stock (fairly easy with three players, just about impossible with five or six), plan when and where you want to create mergers with the tiles you have in hand, and do your best to suss out whether or not someone will beat you to that merger. If there's a mechanical issue, it's that starting a company gives you a substantial boost (one free stock and the ability to buy three more immediately, which you can leverage into just about guaranteeing yourself primary ownership), but drawing a hand of six tiles for the 10x10 board makes it quite possible that someone in a large game will simply not get the opportunity to make a company early enough for it to matter. Even though it plays up to six people, you may want to max the game out at four if you wish to minimize the odds of this problem occurring.

However, whether or not this is recommended largely depends on your approach to games. If you're a person who cares about the story a game tells, the clash between Acquire's gameplay and what it represents might get in the way of your enjoyment. The game's not complicated, and after a play through you should understand how the strategy works, but that doesn't mean the strategy is going to feel right if you're trying to perceive yourself as a CEO doing her best to become a capitalist god. If you just want a way to test yourself against your friends and the paint on the board doesn't matter, go for it.

Score: Five failed companies out of the seven in the box.

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