Review – Big Boss
|Release Date||1994 (new version in 2023)|
A grail game for many collectors, Big Boss has been woefully out of print for decades. Finally, in 2023, it is getting a new edition—its first in English—from Funko Games. Let’s see how this design holds up today!
Originally released in 1994, Big Boss was Wolfgang Kramer’s response to the Sid Sackson classic Acquire. In this game, players create and expand corporations with the goal of earning the most money.
The game is played on a central board with a winding line of numbered spaces. At the beginning, each player receives a hand of industry cards and $40 million. Industry cards correspond to the spaces on the board, and they can be used to found or expand companies (i.e. groups of adjacent buildings).
Each turn, the active player has the choice of buying a card from the tableau or playing a card. The main game-action comes from playing cards.
When founding a company, a player plays a card and places a group of adjacent buildings, two 1-height and one 2-height. One of these buildings must be on the space shown on the card. Then, they place a headquarters piece on top of the taller building to mark which company it is.
When expanding, the player can either play an industry card to grow a company outward, or a level card to grow a company upward by making a building taller. Whatever the player chooses to do, they then increase the company’s share price according to the level of all pieces placed that turn. So, if a player placed a level-3 piece, that company’s share price would increase by $3 million.
The player then takes money equal to the company’s current share value, and may purchase up to two shares of any companies, each for their current price.
Every player also has two radio tower pieces. When buying shares, they may place a tower on the active company if it doesn’t yet have one. A radio tower counts as three extra shares.
If a building piece ever causes two companies to connect, a merger occurs, in which the higher-valued company takes over the lower-valued company. All shares of the acquired company are paid out for their current value, and the new conglomerate’s share price becomes the sum of the two companies’ prices.
Play continues in this manner, with players founding and growing companies, until the last building piece is placed. Players then total up their money from shares, radio towers, and remaining cards. At that time, the wealthiest player wins!
Wolfgang Kramer and Sid Sackson are two of my favorite designers, so this game’s lineage is fascinating to me. Rarely do decades-old games hold up in this golden age of tabletop, but Big Boss has a timeless quality to it, just like the classic that inspired it.
It’s easy to see the echoes of Acquire in this game, from the theme of businesses and shareholders to the tile-laying system of growing and merging companies. The games feel similar, and they are both great, but between the two I think I prefer Big Boss.
For one thing, the three-dimensionality of this game—a signature Kramer touch—gives it a striking table presence. The board looks amazing as it develops, much more eye-catching than Acquire. This dimensional aspect also serves an interesting mechanical purpose, as it dynamically increases share values.
For another thing, I like that players have an incentive to grow companies even when they don’t have much stake in them. Because players earn money each time they found or expand, they might have a reason to grow a company in which they have little or no stock, simply because they will make a lot of money immediately.
Strategically, Big Boss feels different from Acquire. In Acquire, the mergers (particularly the early ones) matter immensely, often setting the tone for the rest of the game. Acquire also feels more cutthroat, as players vie to have the majority of shares in each company. In Big Boss, players are more inclined to want a diverse portfolio, to have their fingers in all the pies. That way, their net worth will tend to increase no matter which companies their opponents are interested in.
The production of Big Boss is exceptionally well done. Graphically, an art-deco motif permeates the entire game and gives it a strong 1920s aesthetic. The building blocks fit together just right—loosely enough that they come apart easily, but tightly enough that a table bump won’t cause chaos. The recessed board helps to keep everything in place, and the art on each industry card is unique. Overall, I’m very pleased with the way this game looks and feels.
Big Boss is one of a handful of old-school games that can measure up to modern design standards. It’s astounding to me that this game has never before been released in English, and I’m delighted to have finally been able to try it out. If you like Acquire or other games about stocks, shares, and market economics, Big Boss is definitely one to check out.
A review copy was provided by Funko Games.
The Bottom Line
Big Boss is one of a handful of old-school games that can measure up to modern design standards. If you like Acquire or other games about stocks, shares, and market economics, Big Boss is definitely one to check out.