When I am at my mother’s house, I often play a game not many have heard of. My mom and I are always scouting for a third player to join our delight, for as she says (often), Acquire is a game best played by a trio. Two is too little, four too many… three: just right. Our Acquire box comes in all shades of blue and green, though it includes more brown cardboard peeking out from behind its frayed edges than I believe was there when it was new, and certainly more Scotch tape. The tagline for Acquire, at least our version, is “HIGH ADVENTURE IN HIGH FINANCE”… not something I would usually go for I can assure you. What makes this game special to me is that, even with our exclusive three player rule, when I play with my mom there always seems to be a fourth soul in the room.
I, like most people, never met my great-grandmother. She died in 1994, five years before I was born. Even so, on dreary evenings with a glass of red wine on our hardwood table next to the Acquire board, I feel like I maybe know her just a little bit. I know she placed her stock cards three by three when counting them up during a merger and I know she always organized the tiles in a certain way on the board. These are the Oma Rules, and they’re simply how we play. Almost every time we play, my mom says she wishes she had some candies, ‘tumtummetjes’, because her Oma always had them out in a glass bowl when they played. I know these little tidbits, small stories of a woman I’m related to but never touched or heard laugh when she won, simply because of this blue and green box we have in our house. My mother feels connected to her through the sound of the tiles fitting into the board, the feeling of the worn stock cards in her hands, and somewhere along the way I inherited this connection.
The memories attached to Acquire seem to touch the physical realm for me. I can tell you with some certainty when the first game of this box was ever played: Valentine’s Day, 1988. My father won, though I must add it was a rare time the game was played with four, not three. I’m not surprised to see that Oma’s first game using this set, (my mother’s set, for they usually played at Oma’s house with her own set), she won by a landslide on December 10th 1988. The memories of this game are written down for me in a little leather booklet someone in 1988 had the amazing idea to keep in the box for safekeeping, and for looking back on previous wins and losses. In between the lines of my mother’s handwriting her life plays out, if you know what to look for.
Oma’s last game was January 9th, 1993, the year before she died. After this the booklet shows a four and a half year break in playing Acquire.
On November 14, 1999, there is a different handwriting preserved in ink, noting down a rare game that neither my mother nor father partook in. I realize: they were probably too sleep deprived to play, as I was born three days earlier.
Flip some pages, and on Christmas day 2006, my two oldest sisters played their very first game, at fifteen and thirteen. They played again the next day, followed by a game notated in my oldest sister’s handwriting, the only one missing a date. Hey, she was 15, I can’t blame her.
Three years later on December 16, my name finally appears. I played for the first time along with my other sister, the youngest two of four at long last deemed old enough to learn Oma’s game. I was nine, she was twelve.
You might notice this is also around the page when my father’s name disappears from the booklet: the game is my mother’s, and it came with her in the divorce.
It’s obvious 2010 was a year of Acquire, as it holds the most games played per year as noted by the booklet. We played nine different times, and I’d like to note I started winning some of them. However, 2021 is sure to usurp 2010’s title, as me staying at my mother’s house for two months in isolation has seen the annotation of five different games already, and it’s only the end of January. The booklet is creating more memories as we play: someday I’ll look back and remember the worldwide pandemic through the many pen strokes attributed to 2021.
Our Acquire set has somehow managed to remember the ups and downs of decades: deaths, births, friends and partners, life events… all memories now preserved as fossils in amber through the playing of a game. When my name joined the pages in 2009, I doubt I knew the weight I would someday attribute to the strange board game about finances my mother was making me learn. But, because I did learn, I can now pinpoint the exact day I first heard stories about my great-grandmother, because I know the stories always emerge when the box leaves the shelf. The game has allowed me a glimpse into my great-grandmother’s life, a window closer into my mother’s, and even given me a handhold on pieces of my own childhood I might otherwise have forgotten. Reading the various dates and looking at the worn, taped-up edges of the blue box gives me the same feeling I get when viewing artifacts at a museum, it’s just that the history happens to be my own. In that exhibition, Acquire is the prized relic, sitting behind glass with a little note card beside it, explaining the dates and games and what they might mean in the same fashion I just have. It might not hold an epic historical narrative, but it holds importance nonetheless. Flipping through the pages of the little leather journal, and making sure to lay my stock cards three by three has allowed me to know someone I otherwise wouldn’t have, and to see a generational story in an unlikely place. It has allowed me to notice more, now, the quiet inheritance of beloved items, passed on through stories, tiles, cardstock, candy, and pen strokes, interweaving memories with physical items to form a connection in reality. I will always associate this game with my mother, and the great-grandmother I never knew. But I will also associate it with the magic that memories hold, and how important it is to have something that reminds you of this every once in a while. I dearly hope this fraying box with its leather booklet that’s far from being full will continue to be put to use, and that one day we can pass on this connection to the next generation, teaching them about our little history, and how to notice that special kind of magic.