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Friday 8 September 2023

Friday Filler: Big Boss

The Golden Age of Industry has dawned. As skyscrapers—and profits—soar to new heights, now is the time to build your fortune . Launch companies and invest in new industries to earn capital. Buy shares of burgeoning businesses and reap the rewards of lucrative mergers. If you play your cards right, you’ll forge a legacy worthy of the title Big Boss. Big Boss is a radical departure for Funko Games. The publisher is best known for its generally family friendly, more mainstream titles that provide a combination of intellectual property and thematic game play which is attractively packaged and designed. Big Boss is a classic Euro-style board game about setting up companies, expanding them, purchasing shares and increasing their value, and occasionally, merging companies. It also has a bit of history attached to it. Big Boss is designed by Wolfgang Kramer, best known—along with Michael Kiesling—for the Spiel des Jahres-winning board games, Tikal and Torres. It is specifically based on Acquire, the classic board game of multi-player mergers and acquisitions, designed by Sid Sackson and published by 3M in 1964, and so highly regarded that it has been republished multiple times. Unlike Acquire, which has been available in English numerous times over its near sixty-year history, Big Boss was previously only available in German, having been published in 1994. Now available in English for the first time, Big Boss is designed for two to six players, aged ten and over, and plays in about an hour to about an hour-and-a-half.

Big Boss consists of a square board, plain and austere, but marked with a track which snakes around in a loop, running from one to seventy-two. Each number has a corresponding card in the Industry Card deck. In play, these numbers indicate where a player can found a company, and if the company occupies the right numbers where a player can expand the company along the track. The other cards in Big consist of the Level cards, the Share Cards, and Player Cards. There are eleven Share cards in each of the game’s eight companies—these are colour coded and have fantastically aspirational names such as Kingdom, Lunar, and Oasis, as well as a matching counter for the Share price Mat. The Level cards are used to expand any company on the board. The Player Cards are marked with two Radio Towers, which each player has two of at game’s start. The Radio Towers are added to a company headquarters to give a player a bonus of three shares. The Share Price Mat is numbered from one to fifty and is used to track each company’s share value over the course of the game. There is also a big stack of money tokens, ranging in value from one million to five hundred million, a big pile of building pieces, and eight headquarter pieces. The building pieces are black and not only fit into the track on the board, but stack on top of each other. The eight headquarter pieces correspond to the eight companies, sit atop the building pieces in play, and each have a slot for a Radio Tower.

At the beginning of the game, each player receives a hand of ten Industry Cards, two Radio Towers, and forty million in money tokens. Game play is simple. On a turn, a player has two options—buy a card or play a card. He can buy an Industry Card—either from the face up Industry Cards or from the Industry Card deck, or he can buy a Level card. He can play an Industry Card or a Level Card. The Industry Card is played to found a company or expand a company corresponding to the number on the Industry Card. The Level Card is used to expand a company by adding a building piece on top of an existing building piece in any company. When they are played to expand a company, both Industry Card and Level Card will also increase a company’s Share Price. Increasing the level of a Company will increase the Share Price by a greater amount than expanding the Company along the track. A Level Card also gives a player choice in which Company he chooses to expand, whereas an Industry Card does not. Consequently, a Level Card is more expensive than an Industry Card.

Once a player has expanded or founded a Company, its Share Price increases and the player earns money based on the new Share Price. He has then has two optional actions. One is to buy two shares, either from the same company or two different ones, and the other is to add a Radio Tower to the company that he just founded or expanded. He has two Radio Towers, with the second being more expensive to place than the first. Lastly, if a player cannot buy or play a card, he can either sell Shares at their current value or simply pass and take no action.

Initially, companies must be three spaces apart, but as they expand, they grow closer together and then, if they are connected, they merge. The larger company—the one with greater presence on the board and greater Share Price—will take over the smaller one. Anyone who has shares in the smaller company will receive a pay-out, the smaller company is eliminated from the game, and the share price of the larger company is increased by the share price of the smaller, now eliminated company. Eliminated along with the company are its shares, so although there is an immediate pay out, there will be none at the end of the game because neither shares nor company are in the game. So, mergers have a long-term effect as well as a short term one. They are also inevitable since there are seventy-two locations on the board and seventy-two corresponding Industry Cards, and whilst not every Industry card will necessarily be played, most will be and they can only be played the once.

Big Boss ends either when every player has decided to pass or more likely, all of the building pieces have been placed. Everyone receives money according to their shares, their Radio Towers, and the Industry and Level Cards they have their hands. The player with the highest value is the winner.

A notable feature of Big Boss is that the Share Price for any company always goes up, never down. Another aspect is that whilst share and profit games can be dry in tone and feel, the addition of the building pieces gives Big Boss a physical presence on the table and in play. Although the Share Price of a company is tracked on the Share Price Mat, the players can see it grow, literally physically as the game progresses. Consequently, whilst the use of the building pieces is used as an abstract representation of the company’s Share Price, that use actually does the reverse, it literally does indicate growth. Play of Big Boss is quick and easy, the rules being easy to grasp and understand, but once the initial flurry of Industry Cards have been played from the players’ hands to first found and then expand companies, the game can become quite intense as players decide whether they want to expand out along the track in the hope of merging, focus on adding Levels to a Company to increase its Share Price and make it stronger should it face a merger, or perhaps a mixture of the two. The more expensive Level Cards will give a player more options, but the cheaper Industry Cards restrict and focus a player’s choice. Equally important are the Share Cards, which enable a player to invest in a company even if he has been unable to directly expand the company.

One strong feature of Big Boss is the rulebook. It is well written, explaining how to play in simple fashion, enabling play to begin quickly even after opening the box for the first time. It also includes clear examples of play and play tips. In addition, the rulebook includes a history of Big Boss, rules for playing the original version of the game as published in 1994, and a section of ‘Frequently Asked Questions’. The original version of Big Boss is slightly more complex and less forgiving in its set-up and play.

Physically, Big Boss is has decent production values beyond the rulebook. The Industry Cards are nicely illustrated even though the number on them is the only thing that actually matters in play and everything has an art deco feel to it, including the eight headquarter pieces, so that you feel like you are building the skyscrapers across the skyline of nineteen thirties New York. One issue is the bulk of the components, especially the building pieces, which come in their own bag. They take up a lot of room in the box and since there is no tray inert, they can knock everything about in the box and that is despite the fact that they do not quite fit.

The game is explicitly based on the Sid Sackson classic Acquire and shares many similarities to that game though mergers are not as prevalent or as necessarily crucial in Big Boss. The main differences between the two games include the more visually satisfying three-dimensional aspect of Big Boss, and the existence of a strong monetary incentive to expand companies that you do not control.

Big Boss is a chance to own a Wolfgang Kramer game that has never been seen in English before. The question is, is it worth it. The answer is yes, as Big Boss has a great pedigree, being an alternate, streamlined, and more forgiving version of Acquire. As a competitive game of shares and company growth Big Boss is a good introduction to the financial theme in board games which does not get too complex, nor too dry, and with the physical presence of the company buildings, looks just about right.

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