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Friday, January 06, 2006


Games that begin with "A" for 600, Alex.

Comments on one new game, and two old games with a new perspective.

Acquire- I have hated Acquire for years. In a nutshell it is dry, dry, dry, dry.

In Acquire players vie to make the most money by buying stock in hotel chains and merging those same hotel chains. Players owning stock in the smaller of the two merging companies earn money buy selling their stock back to the bank, or exchange stock from the smaller company for stock in the bigger company at a rate of 2:1.

Yes, it was a ground breaking game where players didn't actually control business, they merely owned stock. Yes, it could be called the original German game. Yes, I realize Acquire hasn't been out of print for over 40 years. But no, I didn't care for it.

I can't put my finger on it, but...

...I played Acquire again recently and didn't hate it nearly as much. I had a feeling that I was actually in control of my destiny in this last game. I don't remember ever having that feeling in a game of Acquire.

I still lost, in fact I probably came in 4th out of 6 players. I'll end up playing again because my wife likes the game. I still won't suggest playing it, but who knows? Given another 20 years, I might yet come around.

Acquire has always struck me as a game that had impossible tactical and strategic situations.

Tactically, there is no way to anticipate which chains will merge from turn to turn, even if you are holding tiles that would allow you to merge two business chains. If you hold off playing the connecting tile in order to buy stock in the smaller company the board has a tendency to change in unexpected ways, and rarely in a manner advantageous to you.

Strategically, forget it. The random tile draws and the inability to predict where your opponents might place tiles make strategic planning impossible. Guessing which stock to buy is more of an art than a science. Towards the middle of the game it becomes apparent which business are likely to become large enough to not be absorbed by larger business, and which businesses are likely to be merged. Still, due to the random tile draw, and the likelihood that all the good stock has been bought up, that knowledge does little to help tactical or strategic planning. All you can do is the same thing the other players are doing; guess which of the available shares will pay off the most and buy them.

Africa 1880- Africa 1880 is a negotiation and alliance game that you might call Diplomacy-lite. Players develop colonies and move control tokens around a map of Africa, instead maneuvering Armies or Fleets as in Diplomacy. Players negotiate with each other then write down their moves which are revealed simultaneously. Unlike Diplomacy, players are completely at war or completely allied with every other player. There is, for example, no allying with Britain to fight a common enemy in the south, but squabbling with Britain in the north. If you ally with Britain you are allied for the entire turn in every territory you share with Britain.

Each player takes the role of a 19th century European nation and starts with one territory on the coast of Africa. On his turn a player can either develop the territory (each territory takes between 1 and 4 development tokens to become a colony and once a territory becomes a colony other players may not enter it) or send an expedition to a neighboring territory. Players must also state whether they are allied with or at war with every other nation.

If two nations occupy the same territory they both remain if they are both allied or both at war with each other. If one player declared he is allied, and the other declared war, the person declaring an alliance removes his control token from the territory.

If multiple nations occupy a territory, each nation that is allied with more of the occupying nations than he is at war with remains in the territory.

If a territory is completely developed it becomes a colony if all occupying nations are allied at the end of the round. Colonies are worth victory points for occupying nations.

I had only played Africa 1880 with 3 and 4 players in the past. Neither number made for a satisfying game. It was clear to me at the time that the sweet spot would be a full compliment of 6 players, but the game just wasn't good enough to suggest playing again, even when there were 6 players available.

I got to play again recently with 5 players. (As a note: When the decision to play was made we had 6 players, but 1 player had to bail on us before the game started.) The 5 player game started out interesting, but didn't stay that way for long. As alliances were coalescing and negotiations were starting the game seemed to have real potential. As the board filled with control tokens, it became apparent that the players who could form an alliance of 3 against 2 would steam roll the smaller team, and anyone who switched alliances would be in a position to get his butt handed to him by his former friends.

Five players was definitely better than three or four, but still it is a game that should be reserved for those times when you have exactly 6 players.

With the right group I can see how Africa 1880 might be a pretty good game with a full compliment of players. With 6 players, alliances could either coalesce with two teams of three or three teams of two, with more options available to form new alliances and break old alliances as the game progresses.

I will give it another chance if we get the right group together. It would have to be a group that I wouldn't hesitate to play Diplomacy with. Negotiation and alliance games should absolutely never be played with overly sensitive players, and you know who you are.

Australia- (Forgive me, but I don't have Australia in front of me as I write this. Due to the amount of luggage space we were allowed on the flight home, several of the games I bought on vacation had to be shipped home in the mail and haven't yet arrived. Without the rule book in front of me, I will skip my usual, cursory overview of the rules to avoid putting my foot in my mouth.)

Picked this game up while on vacation. I had one chance to play it and my biggest comment is: It's better than I thought it would be after reading the rules.

Judging from the rules, Australia looked like a stinker. The windmill rules seemed out of place, and the airplane-movement/placement-of-rangers/on-a-map-of-Australia system seemed like a lame, tacked-on mechanic in the manner of a Colovini-esque abstract.

The game is basically an area control game. Players place rangers on the board to exert control over certain areas. Random tiles placed on the board at the beginning of the game specify requirements for both conservation and industrial control over each area.

In a nutshell, the windmill is turned to the next highest number when a tile is revealed with a windmill printed on it. As the tile requirements are completed, tiles are placed on the windmill track. When the track is full of tiles the windmill is scored. The player with the most rangers on the windmill track scores the number of points on the windmill.

Who decided that the windmill rules were for an advanced game, anyway? Granted, I have only played one game of Australia, and none of us appreciated the number of points that you could accumulate by placing rangers on the windmill track, but 15 minutes into game the first game it is clear that the windmill turns a one-dimensional, area-control game into a game with deeper tactical and strategic options. The windmill rules are not so overly complicated that a learning game without the windmill is required. In fact the windmill changes the game enough that you would have to completely recalculate your notions of the game if you learned without the windmill.

All in all, Australia was an average game. Seemed like a game that would get played a couple times then be easily forgotten.


Hey, don't forget Axis and Allies . . . .
Maybe in the "Games that begin with "A" for 100, Alex", article.
D'oh. You're right, of course.
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