The Board Games of Sid Sackson

Serious game players may recognize the name Sid Sackson. A civil engineer by training, Sackson loved games of all kinds and collected—and played—huge numbers of them. His experience with games made him an expert when few others made careers out of gaming. Beyond his expertise in games and game play, he also invented games, many of which have stood the test of time and are still in production. These are three of note:

Many consider Sackson’s game, Acquire, his finest work. It was first published by 3M Corporation as part of its bookshelf games and became the best seller of that series. In simple terms, players buy stock in and purchase hotels and hotel chains. Smaller hotels merge, stocks are traded for shares in the hotel chains, sold outright, or kept. The game ends when the largest chain exceeds a specified size.

The hotel overlay hides the abstract nature of the game’s strategies—acquiring capital, timing investments, and measuring risk. Acquire was named to GAMES magazine’s buyer’s guide Hall of Fame and won countless other accolades and placements on great games lists.

An abstract race game very different from Acquire, Can’t Stop is a favourite of gamers and designers worldwide. With elegantly simple play, Can’t Stop uses four dice, three tokens per player, and a game board. Players race their tokens from the base of the board to the top, and the first to claim three columns wins. But players risking further dice rolls may lose spaces they’ve gained.

Sackson was praised for his clever use of dice and for a pure example of the gaming concept “push your luck” in a fast and fun way. First published by Parker Brothers, it has since been released by over 20 other publishers in many languages and versions.

Players of Bazaar, another game from the first 3M bookshelf series, collect and trade gemstones in a foreign marketplace. Equations at the start make each game different. Players with gems purchase wares representing scored points. The bazaar theme overlays another clever Sackson strategy game. Like other Sackson games, many publishers have purchased rights to publish Bazaar in different languages and under different titles.

In a review of Sackson’s games, one must also consider his books. Many are games themselves, but his A Gamut of Games stands out — it has never gone out of publication. The book describes all kinds of games, from forgotten traditional games to Sackson’s own designs. The book is a must-read for serious gamers and game collectors.

Sid Sackson’s legacy is available for research at The National Museum of Play at The Strong in Rochester, New York. There are housed his journals, in which he recorded notes about games he played, game industry people he corresponded with, and articles and books he read. Sackson himself indexed his journals! The archive also contains correspondence, notes, game descriptions, and publications created or used by him.

Of course, The Strong’s collections also hold many of Sackson’s published games and hundreds of game prototypes. The Sid Sackson Portal further provides an online link to his journals, which are in the process of transcription. In fact, anyone can sign up online and transcribe the journals within the Portal project

— there are still plenty of years yet to be transcribed. Serious gamers and scholars of games and game theories can thus learn about Sackson and his career, benefit from the expertise of an early gaming mind, and contribute to scholarship about him.

Note: If you buy something using the eBay link in this story, we may earn a small commission.