Sid Sackson, right? He was the man. Certainly the best of the “old” designers, arguably the greatest designer of all time, Sackson was decades ahead of his time. Of course, some of his games are more popular than others. Today, I’m going to be looking at Venture, one of his less-popular designs.
Venture (1969) is a small, unassuming game. I’ve heard it described as “Acquire: The Card Game.” Upon first look, the box gives little indication of what the game is about. I have the 3M Gamette version, which says it is a “fascinating game of finance and big business.” Normally, that description alone would have me running for the door, begging to play Nexus Ops instead, but with Sackson’s name attached to it, I had to try it.
Let me begin by saying the game is utterly themeless. The pasted-on theme of big business doesn’t come through at all. The game almost feels abstract, with colors, numbers, and letters. This may be a turn-off for many; I myself generally steer clear of themeless games, but read on.
Venture comes with two decks of cards, one deck containing money cards, the other containing the corporation cards players buy (basically, a deck of cards in six colors). Each corporation card has one of six colors, a cost, and one or more of six letters, A-F (Example: a green corporation with letters B and E, which costs $12 million). The goal of the game is to have the most points at the end.
At the start of the game, players are dealt a hand of seven money cards, and five corporations are placed face-up in the middle of the table. On a player’s turn, she may buy any number of the face-up corporations on the table, placing them in front of herself. Once a player has bought a corporation, any additional corporations purchased may either be placed in a new column of cards in front of them, or on top of an existing column. The requirements for placing a card on an existing column are:
– In a given column of cards, there can be no repeated colors. In other words, if I have previously played a red card on a column, I cannot play a second red card on that column.
– Every card played into a column must have at least one letter in common. Thus, if I played the example green corporation (with letters B and E) as my first card in a column, and I wish to play a red card on that column, it must have a B or an E on it, as must every card that follows.
In addition to buying corporations, players may reorganize their corporation cards. I’ll get to why this is important momentarily.
At the end of a player’s turn, she draws two cards from the money deck. I should mention here that the money cards range substantially in value (I believe the range is $1 million to $18 million). This sounds like it would be problematic, doesn’t it? If I draw nothing but high-value money cards, and you draw only 1’s and 3’s, I will have an advantage, right? Well, not exactly. See, the lower-value money cards have one of three shapes on them (circle, square, or triangle), and if a player spends two or more cards of different denominations, with a common shape, the cards become way more valuable. Specifically, two of one shape is worth $16, three is worth $32, and four is worth $64. That’s huge.
To illustrate, if I have a $1 and a $3 card, both with a triangle on them, I can redeem them together for $16 instead of the normal $4. This makes for some interesting decisions. If I have two of a single shape, should I spend them now, or try to wait for another card of that shape to make them worth even more? In Venture, it’s often difficult to pay the exact amount required on your turn, so players frequently end up overpaying, with no change. Thus, you might have to ask yourself if it’s worth splitting up a set of cards with a common shape, to avoid overpaying. If I am a dollar short on a card I desperately want, should I spend the $1 card I have, thereby breaking up a meld of shapes, or should I spend the $8 card I have, thereby overpaying but retaining my meld for a future turn?
If this was all the game was, it would be nothing but bland multiplayer solitaire. However, there are two types of cards I haven’t touched on yet. In the money deck are two Profit cards. This is ultimately what drives the game. When a player draws a Profit card, they immediately reveal it and replace it with another card. This triggers a scoring round. All players score points based on the stacks of cards in front of them. Stacks are scored as follows:
3 cards in stack: 1 point
4 cards in stack: 3 points
5 cards in stack: 8 points
6 cards in stack: 20 points
These scores are multiplied if a stack has more than one letter in common. You can see from the scaling of the points that it is in players’ best interests to go for the big six-card column, especially if the column has multiple common letters.
After the scoring round, play continues normally.
I mentioned reorganizing one’s corporation cards, and this is where the game gets really interesting (and nasty). The money deck also contains a number of Proxy Fight cards, which can be used to steal opponents’ corporations. These cards comes in three denominations: 1/2x, 1x, and 1-1/2x, meaning that a corporation can be stolen for one-half its listed value, its listed value, or one-and-a-half times its listed value, respectively. The catch is that only the bottom card of a stack can be stolen.
To mitigate this, players may spend money equal to the number of corporations they have in front of them to reorganize any or all of their corporations. This serves multiple purposes:
– If an opponent really wants a specific card, you can move it to the top of a stack, so it becomes harder to steal.
– Along those lines, if you yourself have just stolen a card, it must go on the bottom of a stack. If you’re worried about an opponent stealing it right back, you can reorganize to put it out of reach.
– As the game progresses, you may realize that reorganizing is simply a good way to optimize your corporations. Perhaps you now have the means to build a five-card column with two letters in common. If so, reorganize and do it!
The game ends when the last corporation has been purchased. At that time, there is one final scoring round, and then the points are totaled, with the highest score winning.
– I like its not-so-subtle “take that” interactivity. The game definitely has a kill-the-leader thing going for it.
– I like that players don’t know when scoring rounds will occur. This randomness keeps you on your toes, because you always want to be ready for scoring, but that often means being vulnerable to Proxy Fights.
– I like its simplicity. It can be taught in a few minutes.
– I like the interesting decisions the game presents to you. The mechanism of matching icons on the money cards is intriguing, and you really need to think about how you spend money. The puzzle of reorganizing is neat, trying to score the most you can while not letting opponents mess with you.
– This game can drag. I usually like to remove 7-10 cards at the beginning of the game to make it go faster.
– By the end of the game, the AP can really be an issue. There are enough cards on the table that examining and thinking through everything can take a long time and slow the game down.
– There is no theme. I don’t personally mind this, but this may turn many people away.
– The randomness of the scoring rounds. Yes, I know this was also a Pro, but it can be a problem. It sucks when you have a great setup of cards just waiting to score you big points, and your opponent steals something that ruins your tableau, and then immediately pulls the profit card, thereby scoring immediately after screwing you over.
– The scalability. This game plays well with 3. It can also work with 2, but I would rarely want to play it with more than 3.
– The gameplay can feel dry and repetitive. By the end of game, sometimes you feel like all you’re doing is lather-rinse-repeat.
I realize that is a lot of cons. In fact, more cons than pros. But somehow, I still enjoy the game. I would call Venture a good game. It is not extraordinary, and it didn’t change the world the way Acquire did, but it is interesting (or, “fascinating,” as the box claims). It stands on its own two feet.
As you play, you will realize there are several questions the game asks you. Is it worth overpaying so that you can hold onto all your low-value money and try to make awesome melds? Do you wait for that perfect card that will give you a ton of points, or do you give up and settle for something less perfect so you can score less points faster? How can you best reorganize your corporations to dissuade opponents from stealing your good cards? Is it worth it to pay 1-1/2 times the cost to snag that awesome card from your opponent? These questions are what make the game enjoyable.
Venture holds up pretty well today, though it is starting to show its age. I recommend it especially to people who like economic and stock-market games with a little “take that.” Thanks for reading!