Sid Sackson is perhaps the most prominent American board game designer of all time. He has created well over 500 games, of which about 50 have been marketed, written seven books about games, and played about 3,000. According to The People's Almanac III, He also has the largest known private collection of board games in the world.
Sid Sackson was born in Chicago in the mid 1920's (I was unable to find exact numbers on his birth, only his given age at various points). He was a bright child from an early age and showed a penchant for playing and creating games from his earliest days, partially due to his mother's purchasing of a new game every week for young Sid and the family to play. His first game creation was a modification of the classic children's board game Uncle Wiggily, which turned the simple Candy Land-esque game into a war game of sorts.
His first title that he was able to sell commercially was Poke, a poker variation that was published in 1946 in Esquire. Thus started a long career of developing games that has spanned to the modern day. Sackson's early career mostly revolved around variations of bridge which were published in a variety of syndicated bridge columns in newspapers.
At this point, however, Sackson's game sales weren't providing enough income for him to solely focus on making games for a living. He became an engineer, a position that fit well with his natural skills as a designer and implementer of concepts in a fashion so that anyone could enjoy them.
Sackson is perhaps best known for his absolute classic board game Acquire, which if you have never had the chance to play it, you really should make the effort to. Acquire started out as a solitaire war game Sackson invented that used the equipment from Lotto, a forerunner of bingo that was popular in the mid-1930's. Sackson kept tinkering with the game until 1962, when he was finally able to sell his first personal game creation, High Spirits. The relative success of the largely-forgettable High Spirits was enough to get Sackson's foot in the door with 3M. 3M was just beginning to market a series of "bookshelf games", which were games designed to be stored in a vertical box on a bookshelf. In the meantime, Sackson's game had morphed from a solitaire war game into a multiplayer game of finance, and an absolute classic one at that. One look at the game and 3M immediately added the game to their line of bookshelf games. It was an instant classic, and Acquire has been in print ever since in some form or another; currently, it is available in a gorgeous form from Hasbro/Avalon Hill.
Once you design a strongly successful game, companies are quite willing to come to you again and again to drink from the figurative well of success. By 1970, Sackson was in such great demand that his ongoing game design appointments and regular columss for various magazines (most notably Strategy & Tactics became a conflict with his job; when he requested a week off from his engineering job without pay in order to give a presentation of his games at a public display put on by Hallmark, he was denied. In response to this denial, Sackson quit the engineering job; at this point, he was making more money and enjoying the work of being a game designer much more than a job as an engineer. Since then, Sackson has been a full time writer and game designer.
Sackson has invented scores of very successful games. Here are a selection of a few of his more popular ones; these are the three that, besides Acquire, really stand out from the pack and demonstrate how truly great a game can be when constructed by an intelligent designer.
- Bazaar is a very clever trading game also available in the classic 3M "bookshelf game" line. The game revolved around rolling dice to receive round plastic tokens in various colors. These tokens can then be traded according to the market (a set of rules randomized for each game). Once you have certain sets of tokens after rolling dice and trading tokens, you can trade these sets in for points. The game is very simple to pick up, revolving around cleverly managing your tokens and knowing when to trade them and what to trade them for.
- Can't Stop is probably his second best game next to Acquire. The game revolves around rolling dice; you roll four dice and can then pair them up any way you want to make a number (say you roll a 1, a 2, a 3, and a 4; you can either pair up for two 5's, a 6 and a 4, or a 7 and a 3, depending on the pairs you choose). The goal of the game is to pair up the dice in such a way that you keep getting the same two-dice totals. Then, you keep rolling and re-rolling and re-rolling until you miss or you move your token across the board to the end (you move your token once for each hit). The first three numbers you get are the three you will be trying to get for the rest of the turn, so you want to try to get numbers close to 7, the most common number rolled by two dice. This game is extremely addictive; it goes very quickly, but it's one of those that you want to keep playing over and over again.
- Focus is a very nerve-wracking twist on checkers. Each player has pieces of a different color on the board, and the piece can move in any direction a number of spaces equal to how high it is. When you land on another piece, you put your piece on top of it, and then it can move two spaces at once. Land on an additional piece, then your piece is now three pieces tall and can move three spaces at once. The game ends when one very tall piece remains; whoever controls that piece is the winner. It's very clever and involves some very deep strategic thought.
Other games that Sackson has designed include Die 1. Million, The ALF Game, All My Diamonds, Arp, Bierborse, Big Boss, Black Monday, Blockade, Bowling Solitaire, Breakaway, Buried Treasure, Business, Camp, Card Baseball, Card Football, Card Stock Market, Carroll, The Case of the Elusive Assassin, Change Change, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Die Chinesische Mauer, Choice, Closing In, Color Gin, Corner, Counter Attacks, Cross Currents, Cutting Corners, Da Capo, Delauney, Diamantenjagd, Dickens, Domino Bead Game, Doorways to Adventure, Doorways to Horror, Eleusis, Das Erbe des Maloney, Executive Decision, Fields of Action, Financier, Flotte Krabbe, Four Color, Gold Connection, Gotcha!, The Great Races, Haggle, The Harry Lorayne Memory Game, High Finance, High Spirits, Hold That Line, Holiday, Interplay, Intersection, Invasion, Joyce, Klee, Kohle Kie & Knete, Last Ditch, Last Word, Loop-the-Loops, The Major Battles and Campaigns of General George S. Patton, The Major Campaigns of General Douglas MacArthur, Maloney's Inheritance, Massai, Max-I-Nim, Metropolis (which is very good, I might add), Mini Golf, Miro, Monad, Mondrian, Mountains & Valleys, Network, New York, No Way, Nummerus Zahlus, O. Henry, Odd & Even, Oil Strike, Open Whist, Osmosis, Paper Boxing, Patterns, Patterns II, Peace Conference, Pennywise, Pinball, Poe, Poke, Profit & Loss, Property, Pushover, Quinto, Rescue, Resources, Right Connections, Round 'N' Round, Run For President, Samarkand, Saxum, Score Five, Score Up, Search, Shanghai, A Six Pack of Paper & Pencil Games, Slam, Sleuth, Sly,
Space Explorer, Springer, Spy, Solitaire Dice, A Stock Market Game, String of Pearls, Suit Yourself, Das Super-Blatt, Take It Away, Tam-Bit, Target Number, Tempo, Temptation Poker, Think Twice, Tolstoy, Totally, Transformation, Travels, Triad, Tromino Go, Upthrust, Vasarely, Venture (another excellent though obscure game), The Winning Ticket, Wiretap, Wirtschaftswunder, Wtht Vwls, Wu Hsing, and XandO. Whew!
Sid Sackson is still designing and writing about games today; he is most visible as a frequent contributor to GAMES Magazine.