Origin of ACQUIRE 1964 Part I
The Origin of ACQUIRE
1964 – Sid’s Vacation is “Acquired” by 3M (Part I)
1963 was a whirlwind for Sid Sackson. He began the year as a little known game inventor and ended the year with one of his game ideas being sold in major stores in eight large cities in the U.S. But was the final product of ACQUIRE really going to be Sid Sackson’s game? There is part of humanity that sees more than others. We tend to call them “artists.” The problem with artists is they are usually starving while they are trying to sell their art. This is where the corporate world takes control. Artists want to be known for their creations, corporations have the money to make this dream a reality. The downfall is that the corporations then own the rights and creativity from the artist and usually leave them with little or nothing. The Beatles do not control the usage rights to their music, neither does Taylor Swift, and Sid Sackson could do little as 3M changed his idea to fit their vision for profit.
To recap from the previous article, Sid had an idea for a game called “Vacation.” 3M had an idea for a game called “ACQUIRE.” 3M’s idea must not have been too good. Sid’s idea was brilliant. So, corporate America decided to take Sid’s creativity and fit it into their mold. Sid had an idea that the game would play out on a board that depicted different continents and the tiles would reflect different cities around the world. 3M had other games they were looking at for the Bookshelf Series that could use the same tiles that they could fit into Sid’s idea, so they altered Sid’s idea. Sid had the idea to distribute stock at the beginning of the game to cause mystery throughout the game of who is in control and also, at the same time, increase the mystery and strategy by staggering the number of stocks in each company. 3M had obviously already made the decision, when they put out the test market games in December of 1963, that they were going to shy away from Sid’s idea of distributing stock at the beginning of the game. Evidence of this was that they printed all the stocks on the same color paper instead of white and yellow as Sid had designed.
Sid wrote in his diary on January 18, 1964, “(Received) statement from 3M on ACQUIRE. Disappointing.” It is interesting to ponder what Sid was thinking at this moment. The test market games had only been on sale for the month of December and they sold $1,029.80, or in today’s money approximately $8,300. Sid’s 5% commission was $51.49, or approximately $420. Not bad for some extra income in a month. Yet it may have been all the hype for the game and the fact that it was in such major stores that Sid had higher expectations.
On January 21, 1964 Sid wrote in his diary, “To I/S Bill Caruson from 3M there. Talked about ACQUIRE. Final decision will be made sometime in February. Bill Caruson says that ACQUIRE sold the least of all their games but got the most favorable comment from the questionnaires.” 3M had already taken a lot of liberties with Sid’s idea, and more than he even knew at that time, yet they still proceeded to tell him that they weren’t sold on his idea. Caruson tells him this even though the 3M promotional picture that was used in December of 1963 to promote the game of ACQUIRE already depicted a different box and board than the one that was being sold in the test market games. 3M was already progressing on the game of ACQUIRE but they wouldn’t tell Sid.
The rapid progression that was happening at 3M became evident when Larry Winters, the designer of the game Auction Block, received six copies of “ACQUIRE” a few days later by mistake that were heavily damaged. He brought them over to Sid’s house on the 7th of February and Sid sorted through them the next day and was able to make five complete games. By the 12th of February, 3M had sent Sid six more good copies. These games were different variants of the game. 3M was testing many different versions and wanted Sid to try them out and offer his feedback.
On February 21st, Sid received a letter from Caruson. This letter covered many different aspects about 3M’s desire to make changes to the game. It also illustrated how fast things were moving at 3M since the games had arrived to Bill Winters over a month before yet it is not until now Caruson is telling Sid the reason for them. “I have recently tried many variations of the game; and I would like to have you try them out, if you have not already done so, and give me your thinking on some possible changes.” This letter finally explains the reason for sending 6 games to Sid. This is also where the idea to not distribute stock at the beginning of the game is introduced. “At the beginning of the game do not distribute any stock. Realistically, in investing money in any venture that has not been developed yet, you would not possess any stock. Instead distribute an additional $3,000 to each player.”
This letter addressed another aspect of the game that was sometimes, but not always, clarified in the rules of later editions of the game. “Also, in order to give the game a faster start, we have the tiles that are turned over to designate who goes first actually placed on the board.” Mr. Caruson also explains another reason why he does not want to distribute stock at the beginning of the game. “I am proposing these changes would be to permit us to print the stock certificates on lighter weight material, since shuffling at the beginning of the game would no longer be a factor. This is almost going to be a must if we are able to produce the game profitably.”
This introduction of “lighter weight material” into the game of ACQUIRE didn’t come to fruition until the 1966 production runs. It was not a good decision. It seemed that the games produced in 1966, with stock certificates that didn’t have wax coating, were a factory error. This letter suggests that it was a corporate decision to try and save money. This move by 3M severely cheapened the game of ACQUIRE with those production runs. Just because 3M eliminated the idea that the cards would be shuffled and dealt out doesn’t mean the remaining cards weren’t going to be handled continuously and wear out quickly. It is an age old trade off in business, do you make cuts in production costs hoping to maintain, or increase, sales with an inferior product.
Three days later on February 24th Sid wrote in his diary, “They want to make changes to ACQUIRE to eliminate dealing shares at the start so that paper can be used instead of cardboard. They want to allow purchase of as many shares as you wish on a turn. This is horrible. I was thinking of having 25 “stock option” cards which are dealt out at the beginning, instead of shares.”
In this last statement resides the crux of the question of will ACQUIRE be a “good” game or will it be a “great” game? Sid was trying to make it a great game while 3M was trying to make it a good game. Sid’s ideas and suggestions were based on the aspect of fairness to all players in the game while 3M was more concerned about economies of scale. It was at this point, in the history of the game of ACQUIRE, that expediency of time to get the product to the market did not allow adequate time for thoughtful thinking. Sid’s idea of distributing stock at the beginning of the game was his way of giving the players “the opportunity to make choices, and the chance to overcome the disadvantages of unlucky tiles by astute purchasing of stock.” Sid was concerned about keeping the game fair.
It would appear, looking at the makeup of Sid’s original idea, that the necessity of dealing stocks at the beginning of the game was predicated on balancing the practice that players are essentially “given” stocks at the time of merging chains. Sid and Caruson both agreed that giving out stocks before companies are formed is illogical. They should have then realized that giving out stocks to a vanquished company, which in some cases allows them to assume majority in the conquering company, is also illogical. Without the balance of the free shares distributed in the beginning of the game, then the rule that allows players to trade stocks from the vanquished chain 2 for 1 in the conquering chain increases the “disadvantages of unlucky tiles” and also hampers “the opportunity to make wise choices.”
These two issues were paramount in Sid's mind to create a great game. It seems plausible that Sid initially envisioned that the 2 for 1 rule would give the players a semblance of the stock market by giving them the ability to trade stocks. Yet this rule often ends up in giving a player an unrealistic, and lucky, way of gaining control of the game. By simply eliminating the 2 for 1 rule, Sid would have eliminated his need to distribute stocks at the beginning of the game or even now to try and conceive the practice of “bonus” stocks." There were other realistic methods that could have been created to trade stocks during game play other than the 2 for 1 rule. Time was not being allowed for deep thinking of game play when production costs became important and this exercise in game creation had gone beyond 3M wanting strong input from Sid.
In his letter, Sid again addresses his distaste for the loss of mystery in his game while trying all the different variants, even though the changes by 3M are inevitable. “Since there are no dealt out certificates and consequently no unknown factors, we decided to eliminate the placing of certificates in neat piles. Instead we fan them slightly so that all players know exactly where they stand at all times.”
On May 1st he entered in his diary that he had received a check from 3M. The statement from 3M had a total of $1,147.39 in sales while Sid’s 5% royalty payment was for $57.37 which was not much more for the first three months of the year than they sold in one month at Christmas. He also wrote that he introduced the stock options into the game. “Worked will even tho we didn’t finish due to time limitations.” Through the rest of the month of May, Sid continually tried his different ideas for the game.