The Five Greatest Financial Board Games #2: Acquire

To celebrate the week before Christmas (and give you a few great last minute gift ideas), The Simple Dollar is reviewing five board games that not only are a blast to play, but teach valuable financial lessons as well. All of these games should be easily found at a department store or a gaming specialty shop (check your local yellow pages). Other games in this series include The Game of Life, Monopoly, and Modern Art.

AcquireAcquire
Avalon Hill

While yesterday’s choice was a fine example of a market at work, it didn’t capture the elegance of true competition, mergers, and acquisitions, the kind of moves one expects to see from a large scale market. Thankfully, the number two choice turns the magnificent beauty of an open market into a really compelling game.

How the game works The board is a grid of 120 squares. Upon these squares, players take turns laying tiles out of their “hands”; this is all much like Scrabble. Each tile has a letter and a number in it that refers to a specific square on the board, so you choose the tile from your hand that best improves your situation on the board. Tiles that are next to each other represent corporations, and players can buy stock in these corporations. Over time, as more tiles are placed, corporations grow (a group of adjacent tiles has another tile added) or merge (a tile connects two corporations). When corporations merge, the larger one swallows the smaller one, and so the smaller one can cash out their stocks or receive stocks in the larger one. The game ends when the market is full (i.e., no more tiles can be placed). The player with the strongest portfolio of stocks and cash wins.

In other words, the game represents a market, with corporations merging, investors capitalizing, people holding insider information (like in Scrabble, you know what your tiles are, but the other players don’t), and people diversifying their portfolios. It’s an incredibly enjoyable simulation of the wild ride that is Wall Street.

What sorts of lessons about finance does this game teach?

Buy low, sell high You win the game by doing this well. If you know a corporation is going to grow in the future, you can do very well by buying stocks in it.

The only kind of information is insider information The tiles you hold for yourself are your insider information; you know some elements of where the market is headed that other players do not, and you can choose to guide corporations in these directions. For instance, a handful of tiles that can help one corporation means you have a ton of information about that company, and thus buying stock in them early means you’ll turn a nice profit.

The market is complicated Once you get into the game, many layers of strategy begin to reveal themselves. How long do you hold onto certain tiles? Should you force a merger now? Do you cash out or take valuable stock in a huge corporation?

Startups are insanely lucrative but very risky It is this aspect of the game that so effectively parallels the stock market. When companies start up in the middle of the game, there’s a chance that the holders of the stock will get very rich. There’s also a chance that they’ll barely be worth the paper they’re printed on. Does the investor have inside information?

Mergers often pay off better for the acquired than the company that acquires. Quite often, it is the investors in the smaller company that gain the most in the long run with a buyout. This is true not only in this game, but in real life.

Acquire is deliriously fun and a great abstraction of how the real market works. If you want the challenges and the joys of stock investing in a board game form, Acquire is a wonderful choice. Plus, it may be my favorite game of all time.

So what could possibly top my favorite game of all time on this list? Tune in tomorrow to find out.

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  1. J.D. @ Get Rich Slowly says:

    While this is a great game, it can also be difficult to find. The older editions are far superior — they possess durable plastic pieces. I’ve found old copies of the game for sale at garage sales and thrift stores for less than $5/each, but that’s just luck. You can buy copies off eBay for $30-$80.

    Recent editions are made with poor-quality cardboard tiles. I don’t recommend these editions, but if you can’t find anything else, buy one. New, they go for around $40, I think. You can find them on eBay for $150.

    The game is currently out of print.

  2. J.D. @ Get Rich Slowly says:

    Oooh…

    After doing more digging on eBay, I see that the $150 version is a shiny deluxe edition with fancy molded plastic pieces. NICE.

  3. Acquire’s good.

    Number 1:

    1830?
    Age of Steam?
    Diplomacy
    Empire in Arms?
    Traders of Genoa?
    Buy Low, Sell High?

    I still think you should reconsider Life, which has no choices in it. That doesn’t teach anything, except how to do what the board tells you to do.

    Yehuda

  4. Trent Trent says:

    Yehuda: Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope. :) You’re on the right track, though.

    Also, JD, I have that very molded version, and it’s also still available on the shelf at a local game shop! $150? Time for a profit, I think.

  5. Power Grid, perhaps? While not a favourite of mine, it is an excellent demonstartion of supply and demand, and the importance of cash flow.

  6. Chris Farrell says:

    Interesting. I love Acquire, but it is out of print in the US, and not trivial to find. I can’t imagine that situation will last for long, though, as this is an all-time classic.

    I do wonder if this game is as strong in the finance department, however. You say it teaches you to “buy low, sell high”, but in Acquire it’s actually very hard to sell high – you can only sell stock when companies merge. Also, I’m not entirely convinced of the message about risky start-ups; in Acquire, the way to lose is to invest in established companies, because cash is so tight and because of the strange way in which stocks only become liquid when companies are merged. So you have to invest in start-ups, it’s just a question of which ones. I think Acquire is a wonderful, classic game, and the bit about insider information is true and a critical part of the game, but I think Modern Art is a more effective teacher about markets. Both Modern Art and Acquire have interesting financial workings, but Modern Art doesn’t teach you anything that’s explicitly wrong (that I can tell!).

    My pick for #1: Settlers of Catan. Has to be, right? You’ve done personal finance, markets, money management … now you need one for macroeconomics. Settlers of Catan is a wonderful game for thinking about the value of free trade, as well as the economic cycle of boom and bust.

    It would only be fitting. The Landlord’s Game, which would eventually become Monopoly, was originally designed as a “message game” (like the Game of Life), this time to demonstrate some of the ways in which capitalism and free markets are *undesireable*. Settlers of Catan then shows us why we need them.

  7. rodgerlvu says:

    After doing more digging on eBay, I see that the $150 version is a shiny deluxe edition with fancy molded plastic pieces. NICE.

  8. weber says:

    Acquire is addictive & rocks. I play online w/ others which is the best. Check out this site & share others you know of that are currently up & working.

    gametableonline.com

    The statement above about Life is wrong b/c in the older version you could gamble each turn on the market(cardboard 1-10 numbered peice), but Life is still not very worthy of a mention here.

  9. rob b says:

    I’m many years late with this comment. But why not? I just need to tell Trent that the grid consists of 108 (9 X 12) squares – not 120.
    How come nobody picked up that deliberate mistake? Are you still there?
    I have played Aquire since 1969. Surely that’s a record? Do old grandpas still play board games other than Scrabble?

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