Note: This preview uses pre-release components and rules. What you see here may be different from the final, published game.
I also play boardgames. Duh. This is a board gaming website.
You know what I have not done in my 40+ years on this rotating space marble we call Earth? I have not played a board game about TV…well, that is not entirely true. I did play those crappy game show board games from the mid 80’s, like The Price is Right and Sale of the Century, but I digress.
The Networks is card game about building your network from “Public Access to Prime Time.” It’s a one to five player game that can be played between 60 and 90 minutes, depending on the number of players and how quickly they play.
The object of the game is to take your fledgling TV Network and grow it into the most successful network in the history of humanity. By the way, this has to be done in only five seasons (rounds). This is done by creating programming, hiring stars, and selling advertising for those programs. It is not as complicated as it is in real life. You just take the card. No contract negotiation experience required.
After five seasons, the network executive with the most viewers (points) is the winner.
How to Play:
At the start of each season, a different number of TV program, Star, Advertising and Network cards are placed on the table to be selected by the players this season. The number of each card type available varies based on the number of players in the game.
During your turn, you can do one of the following:
- Develop a show – take a Show card, pay its cost, and attach the required Star(s) and/or Advertisement(s) to the show from your Green Room (your hand). The show must be placed in one of three time slots (8, 9 or 10 PM). If there is an existing show in that slot, it is moved to your rerun stack.
- Note: shows get a bonus for being assigned to the time slot it will be best suited for – they do not have to be assigned that time, but they will not score as well if they are not
- Note 2: every card has at least one to three slots for star(s) and or ad(s) – if the show requires a Star and/or Ad, they must be in your Green Room at the time the Show card is taken, or that card cannot be developed. If they are optional, the Star and/or Ad can be added at a later time.
- Sign a Star – take a Star card, pay its cost, and place it in your Green Room, where he/she will wait for their opportunity to be attached to a show.
- Sell Advertising – take an Ad card, collect money for the Ad, and place it in your Green Room, where it will wait for its opportunity to also be attached to a show.
- Take a Network Card – this is a type of card grants either an immediate bonus, or is held to be used as a one-time bonus later in the game. It may also provide bonus points at the end of the game.
- Attach a Star or Ad – Take a star or ad and attach it to a show with optional ad/star slots that is currently running in a time slot.
- Drop and Budget (Pass) – when you do this, you gain money (in the 1st season) or the choice between money and points (seasons two through five), receiving more money or points if you are the first to pass.
Each season a player does one of these actions; the player to the left does their action, repeating until everyone has passed.
End of season actions are then performed, consisting of:
- Checking your Income – Add the ad revenue generated and subtract the annual costs of the Show and/or Star – if it is positive, collect money, but if it is negative you have to pay the difference, losing points if you cannot cover the difference
- Scoring your shows and shows in your rerun pile – Add up the points generated by your Shows as well as any Star(s) attached to it and move those in your rerun pile to the archives
- Aging your shows – each show has four slots for years one through four, showing how many points the show will earn in each of those years – the cube tracking which year the show is in moves down at this point.
- Determine Player Order – Turn order is changed with the player with the least points going first next season (and so on).
- Set up the Next Season
After five turns, the player with the most viewers (points) is the winner.
I really enjoyed this game. It did not hurt that I love games in which everyone is selecting cards from a common pool. It is simple to teach, and after a season or two you will understand how to play. That being said, it does not guarantee that you will win, because which cards your opponents take and what cards are available change every game.
Trying to decide which card to take can be frustrating. There is also a bonus available once you have three and five shows of the same genre, including those in your rerun and archives. So do you take the third sci-fi show to trigger the genre bonus even though you already have two shows generating double digit viewers? Or do you choose a Star card that score more viewers if attached to an action show, hoping no one selects the action show that is currently available before your next turn?
Another aspect of the game that I liked was the humor and the stories that develop as you lay the game. To be completely honest, usually when I hear that a game has a humorous side or is trying to be funny, I just do not find the game funny, or it comes off as the designer is trying too hard. I did not get that feeling with The Networks. The Show, Star, and Ad names can be pretty funny, and can lead to combinations you do not forget. For example, we had the new Sci Fi show, “Doctor What,” starring “That Person from the Commercial” and sponsored by “Blast Radius Pure Sugar Cereal.”
The network cards also bring an interesting twist to the game. While they cannot be attached to a show, they provide immediate, one time use, or end of game scoring opportunities. It adds another level to the “uggg….my brain hurts factor.” Should I take the Network Card that scores points at the end based on the number of Shows I have in one genre, or should I take the Star I need to earn some points now?
I also liked how the cards interacted. Several stars and ads have a rotate effect, where, if they are not attached to shows that would complement their strengths, the card is worth less. For example, if the ad “American Beers” is attached to a Sports Show, then it earns $3 at the end of the season; however, if it is attached to any other genre of show, it’s rotated so that the lower value side of the card is used, earning only $1 per season. Again, another situation where you need to decide to use an ad or star for a show even though it won’t maximize your points because you need that star or ad to allow you to develop that show.
Finally, I want to comment on the two player game. Usually I dislike where a game mechanism is introduced to simulate a player for a two player game (see 7 Wonders). The Networks has an interesting rule where, after three turns are taken (1st player, 2nd player, 1st player), a Network card is drawn. At the bottom of every Network card is a series of symbols for one for each type of card and the one other for passing. If the icon is not greyed out, then the left most card of that type is removed from the board and/or the most beneficial pass space is covered. It’s after each player has had three turns, two Network Cards will have been drawn and the appropriate options will have been taken away from the players. It adds a bit of press your luck to the game that does not exist in the 3+ player game.
The Networks is a thoroughly enjoyable card game. Deciding when to develop new shows and drop existing shows, as well as what time slots, who will star in them and what advertising to use is surprisingly fun. The game plays fast, is easy to teach but has many tough decisions. I cannot wait to see what potential additions come about from stretch goals for this game’s Kickstarter campaign.
If you’d like to become a backer, pledges start at $35 for the full game and stretch goals. The Networks is scheduled to be in backers hands in June of 2016 and you have until Wednesday, September 30th to become a backer. Head over today and check it out.
As always, we don’t post ratings for preview copies as the components and rules may change from the final game. Check back with us after the game is produced for a full review.