The Five Greatest Financial Board Games #2: Acquire

To celebrate the week before Christmas (and give you a few great last minute gift ideas), Money360 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.

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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