zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Showing posts with label economic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economic. Show all posts

Friday, May 6, 2011

More Economic Game for Your Money: Acquire

If you want to challenge me in a game (other than chess), this is it.  Why?  Because I will always play, and I always lose.  I don’t recall ever winning a game of Acquire.  It isn’t a difficult game, but I haven’t found a winning strategy.  In fact, most games of Acquire in our gaming group are won by the same player – Kay’s brother.

2008 Edition (photo by sbiliby)
Nonetheless, this game is the only game (again, other than chess) that I have rated a “10” on BoardGameGeek.  My definition of a “10” (quoted from my profile on BGG) is:

I have loved these games for a long time. I expect to always love them. If I am ever forced to live in a retirement community with a closet for a room, I will make sure I somehow have a copy of these games with me.

Acquire definitely fits; I am always stoked to play.  Like Monopoly, it is a game about making money in the hotel business.  The rules are about the same in complexity, though very different mechanically.  Where Acquire beats Monopoly is in game length and player participation.

In Acquire, each player has a “hand” of tiles and some money.  Tiles placed on the game board during play abstractly represent the growth of various hotel chains.  On your turn, you will select a tile from your “hand” and place it on the board, generally creating or growing a hotel chain.  After placement of the tile, you may buy up to three stock certificates of any hotel chains on the board.  No one actually “owns” a hotel chain, just stock certificates.  At times, the tile being placed will connect two hotel chains.  At that point, a merger occurs, with the smaller hotel incorporated into the larger.  The player owning the most stock in the smaller chain gets a big bonus and the player with the second most a smaller bonus.  All players have the option of selling the stock they own in the incorporated hotel chain to generate income.  Play continues until one of the end game conditions is met; generally the game is played until one hotel chain reaches a size of 41 tiles.  At that point, all assets are converted to cash, and the player with the most money wins.

1968 Edition in play (photo by Matthew Gray)
Note that there is no die rolling.  The key to the game is having an idea of what hotel chains your opponents are interested in growing, and predicting which hotels will merge and which will grow based on that information.  Should you capitalize on that information, and try to gain one of the top two stock owning spots for that chain, or should you try to build your own chain?  Is there a middle ground?  Don’t ask me!  Remember I lose!

1968 Edition (photo by toh!)
That’s the game in a nutshell.  The rules are not much more complex than Monopoly.  The decisions are far more varied and interesting.

Acquire, however, plays in roughly 90 minutes.  It is not the four hour marathon Monopoly can be.  Turns are relatively short.  Often, players are involved even when it isn’t their turn due to the mergers.  Players are engaged the whole time.

Let me rephrase that: All players are involved the whole time.  There is no player elimination in this game, which is another huge improvement over Monopoly.  In fact, if Acquire were to be premiered today, it would be labeled a European style game.  It has no player elimination and is somewhat abstract.  With money acting as the victory points, the game has mid-game scoring (mergers) and end game scoring (final tallying of assets).  While I am not a huge fan of the thematic abstraction that Euros tend to be designed on, it seems to fit here.  After all, trading in stocks seems to be a little abstract in the real world, too.  However, Acquire was originally published in 1962 by 3M (imagine that!) before Euros were big in the US, and was pretty unique at that time.

One point Acquire loses to Monopoly is in number of players.  For any meaningful interaction to occur, the game requires three players.  There are two-player variants online at BoardGameGeek, and they work pretty well, but it’s not the same.  Additionally, this game might not engage the kids, even though they might grasp the rules.  For casual gaming and families with kids over 10, it will be great.

1999 Edition (photo by andreo)
One note about purchasing:  The current version of Acquire can be purchase at a game store, either brick-and-mortar or online.  However, older 3M versions (particularly the 1968 version) can often be found on eBay or in thrift stores for a bargain.  The components are somewhat different – some say better – but the game play is exactly the same.  So if you tend to haunt those places anyway, it may be worth your while to look for a copy.  If you find the 1999 version for a reasonable price, you found a treasure!  (And please let me know!)

Vital Statistics:

                Ages:                     12 and up
                Time:                     90 minutes
                Players:                 3-6

It’s Your Move!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mass Market – Monopoly

Promotional Image
Every month I try to take one posting to talk about a mass market game.  This month is Monopoly; do I really need to review this game?  Yes, Monopoly is worth looking at, since it is such an influential game in society.  Granted, Prince William and Prince Harry weren’t allowed to play it, but so many people are familiar with the game that idioms such as “Do not pass Go” have sprung from it.  However, Monopoly does suffer from several problems:  a) the game is long and has player elimination, b) house rules extend the length of the game and c) there are better economic/real estate games to play.  It’s sort of like cheese pizza.  It’s never bad, but there are better things to eat.

Player elimination in a long game is just a bad idea.  If Monopoly is the chosen for of entertainment for the evening, people are guaranteed to be sitting around with nothing to do but watch at some point.  After a few hours, one or two players will be eliminated, with a few hours to go before the winner is declared.  Worse, this is a game that telegraphs the ending.  So often you know who win before the game is actually over, leading to everyone being bored in the end game.

Our other version.  (Image by Dean)
The problem is magnified by house rules, both intentional and unintentional.  Intentional house rules are things like money in Free Parking.  This is actually against the written rules, but many people include these house rules as an attempt to solve the player elimination problem.  The catch is that it just prolongs the inevitable; players eventually have to be eliminated for someone to win.  It surprises most people, but there are unintentional house rules too.  The most common one is the rule that landing on a property is the only way to buy it.  According to the official rules, however, if the player who lands on a property chooses not to buy it, the bank puts it up for auction.  This should speed up the game, since the properties will be sold sooner.  However, I know that I have never personally played in a game where that rule was followed.

A Monopoly spin off that is supposedly pretty good.
Let’s take a moment and talk about ways to speed the game up.  First of all, get rid of all house rules.  Demand that debts are always paid in full; no one gets off light to stay in the game.  If the game still needs to move faster, the official rules suggest shuffling the properties and dealing them out.  Of course, that could set up an uneven game from the start.  Hasbro tournament rules put a 90-minute or two hour time limit on games.  In these rules, the winner is determined by adding up all assets at the end of the game.  Somehow, none of these ideas seems to be particularly satisfying.  I have another idea, though some people won’t like it.  Play a different board game.

I will suggest two real estate games to replace Monopoly.  The first is For Sale.  I haven’t played this game yet, (but it is high on my list) so I won’t review it in any way.  It’s worth mentioning solely on its reputation.  The game is for 3 − 6 players ages 8 and up.  (The BoardGameGeek entry is here.)  It plays in 20 minutes.  The other is Acquire, which is one of my favorite games.  I will review it next time, so you will have to wait a couple of days for the details.  Both are currently in print.

Of course, if you love Monopoly, than by all means play it!  There is a saying amongst amateur astronomers, “The best telescope isn’t the one with the best optics, it’s the one you will use the most.”  The same goes for everything else in life, including the games you play.  After all, there is a reason Monopoly has been around since 1933!

It’s Your Move!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Poker Chip – It’s not just for gambling anymore…

I hate paper money.  Not greenbacks*, but rather the pink-backs, white-backs, blue-backs or whatever color money it is that comes with a particular game.  Inevitably, they get bent, torn or mutilated.  Then, you are playing a great game with one of the major components in nasty shape.  I am talking here about the aesthetics of playing a game.  Casual gaming with friends and family ought to be a great experience, not just competition.  Having nice components is like having great glassware – always using the same paper money for a great game is like always drinking wine from the same paper cup.  Let’s get out the glassware after all!

This is not without its drawbacks, however.  There are three issues in using poker chips that you can easily deal with, if not just ignore.  I will briefly talk about them, and then help you get around them.

The first thing that comes to mind is the number of different bills used.  Monopoly for example, has denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500.  That’s seven different denominations.  My poker chip set has four colors; I have seen sets with five.  Thinking about it though, is there really a need for all of that variety in Monopoly?  With a decent quantity of four colors of chips, you could easily play with denominations of 1, 10, 100 and 500.  Maybe 1, 10, 50 and 500 would be better.  With five colors, you get the best of both: 1, 10, 50, 100 and 500.  I cannot imagine that dropping the 5’s and 20’s will make much difference.

Another minor issue is the fact that everyone can see how much money you have.  In some games, that’s open information that everyone can see, in other games that information is closed.  Many times, that information can be played either way; players decide before starting.  If it needs to be hidden, screens can be made to hide poker chips, though that requires work that I am not willing to put forth.  (And remember that I make tuckboxes!)  A simpler alternative is to hide some of the chips in one hand.  My personal favorite is just to mix them up so that they are hard to count from across the table.  No matter the solution, it really isn’t a major issue.

How do players remember which color chips have what value?  This is probably the most bothersome concern.  Yet even this isn’t too bad to work out, and is a bit of work I am willing to do.  My second favorite game, behind chess, is Acquire.  Acquire was designed by the late, great Sid Sackson, (who by the way had a reported collection of 1800 games, so my collection is still small!) and has been around for almost 50 years.  It has four denominations of money: 100, 500, 1000 and 5000.  So:

Red        =  100
White    =  500
Blue       =  1000
Black      =  5000

Originally, I thought that assigning them in patriotic order would be a great mnemonic for American players, but it wasn’t.   I ended up remaking the player aid that comes with the game.  My version of the player aid has monetary information right on it, giving each player a reminder right in front of them. 
My Acquire play aid - with the denominations at the bottom

 In fact, my paper money for Acquire is still in the wrapper.  We have always used chips, and everyone seems to like it better.  I certainly do.  Now, the ceiling fan can stay on in those hotly contested games!  For Monopoly, I would take a simpler approach, and just put out a bill of each denomination with its corresponding poker chip on top.  (Money in Free Parking is for sissies...)

I will add one more thing.  I had plastic poker chips I inherited from my parents.  I found heavier clay chips on sale, and replaced the plastic ones in the poker chip carousel I have.  The heavier chips just feel better.  They are worth the minor expense, particularly since there are so many games that can use them. 

Do yourself a favor and try poker chips.  Break out the wine glasses.  I am confident that it will make a better experience for everyone at the table, even when you are playing poker.  And when you play poker, don’t invite me.  Thanks, but one of my former hobbies is card magic, and for some reason I always get accused of cheating!

It’s Your Move!

* For those of you from countries other than the United States (a whopping 20% of you!) and aren’t familiar with the term greenbacks, it is a nickname for the US dollar.