WBG Score: 8.5/10
Player Count 1-5
Published by: Formal Ferret Games
Designed by: Gill Hova
I’m not a betting man (which goes a long way to explain why I’m rubbish in Casinos) but I’ll bet that at least once this month you’ve probably been flicking through the T.V. and used the words “All these channels and there’s nothing on!” You’ve probably even decided that you can do a better job than the people in charge of the station. If you have, then The Networks may be the game for you.
Wheel of Fish!
In the Networks you are the proud new owner of a public access T.V. Station. (If you’ve ever seen the 1989 film U.H.F. Starring Weid Al Yankovic you’ll know what I mean.) It’s your job to compete against the other stations to commission new shows, sign new stars, and end up with the most viewers after five seasons to win the game and the hearts of the viewing public.
This means something. This is important.
To setup give each player their player board and starting network tokens and cards. Lay the scoring track on the table and place out season one show cards, stars and ads on the table based on the player count, then give each player some money based on the number on the score track and player order.
Your turns in the Networks are boiled down to three simple actions. Draft a card from the table, play a card from your green room or drop and budget (the games version of passing).
When you take a card you can either take a Star, paying the price on the card. Take an ad and receive the money on the card, take a Network card which will give you a bonus or take a show and put it on the air. When you take a show you have to replace a show in one of your time slots, either 8pm, 9pm or 10pm. Each show has a preferred time slot on it. If you put the show on in its preferred time slot you will gain the higher number of viewers in its first season, if not you’ll gain the lower number. Before you take a show you have a couple of things to bear in mind, first how much the show costs, and second if it has any prerequisites. These prerequisites could require you to attach a star or ad to the show straight away from your green room. If you can’t, then you can’t take the show. The final action lets you place a star or ad from your green room to a show if it allows it.
Once a round ends you receive any money owed from ads on shows and pay out any money owed from upkeep from shows and stars on shows. Then you score up your viewers from the current seasons of your show and any shows in re-runs. Then all your shows are aged one season. This means that the amount of viewers you get for that show at the end of the next round is going to change.
I’m kind of a big deal, people know me.
The Networks is a game that’s going to get players talking from the minute you start setting up, whether it’s from the starting shows you give them or from when you begin placing the Stars and season one shows, because if there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned is that everything is based on parody. The shows are mostly parodies of popular shows and the stars are parodies of celebrity tropes like Grizzled action star, reality TV judge and dashing lead with some of them even resembling some famous faces.
If the parodies from season one don’t grab people’s attention then the cards from season two onward certainly will. All of these cards are based on real shows. In fact it provides some of the games best conundrums. There’s a certain joy from sitting round the table watching your fellow players debate with themselves over whether or not they should take their favourite show or take a card that is actually going to benefit them in the long run. For a lot of people it’s an obvious choice but for many of us, having the chance to put our favourite show on the air is often too tempting.
I’m not even mad, I’m impressed.
The Networks doesn’t just hang everything on its ability to parody though. In fact the parody is just second in the ratings to what is a solid foundation of a game. Each round will keep you thinking and planning for the next show you’re going to be placing on the air. The main mechanic that keeps this going is the aging of each show. At the end of each of the five seasons (twice in the last round) your shows will age, this means that the show will either lose viewers or in some cases even gain them as they progress through the seasons. I love how this mirrors the progress (or not in some cases) of individual shows. Regardless in each case shows will eventually drop down to zero. This means that you constantly have to put new shows on the air, which in turn will require money and new stars and ads which means that keeping your economy going is essential if you want smooth running of your station. Clearly resting on your laurels is not a thing you can get away with in The Networks.
Just getting your shows on at the right time is not always the best move however. In fact the game gives you special “genre bonuses”, These bonuses will trigger when you gain either three or five shows of the same genre in your archives and on the air. This means that sacrificing a few viewers to put a show on the wrong time slot to help you become the next Sci-if channel or Comedy Central may be a better move to get you those bonuses which will you give you free stars, ads, and viewers!
60 % of the time, it works every time.
There’s a lot to enjoy in The Networks but it’s understandable that it’s not for everyone. Like any game with parody it’s purely subjective and your individual tolerance for the jokes in the game will vary. Whilst I’m not saying everything is laugh out loud funny it does bring a smile to my face every time I see the cards and I’ve played this game a lot. Similarly the art in the game has divided a lot of people, more so than I’ve seen for other games. However if you’re someone where art is a deal-breaker in a game then one look at the front of the box will let you know your tolerance for the art style. Me, personally, I like the art, the tone and the style fit really well for the game.
That escalated quickly.
One thing that’s evident in the Networks is how well it scales. The Networks is a joy to play from Solo play, which works by cleverly using the Network cards, right up until it’s full five players. One thing that may put people off the two player count slightly is that the game uses a dummy style player which uses a rondel and the network card system from the single player game and it’s a bit fiddly for my liking.
I’m in a glass case of emotion.
Like any open drafting game there’s a definite tension to be had and The Networks is no exception. There’s nothing more tense than sitting in hope that the show you desperately need is still going to be waiting for you on your next turn, this is even more tense when you realise you may need to hire a star before you can take that card. That’s two turns of lying in wait hoping that you won’t have to curse your fellow players as they unknowingly (or sometimes knowingly) foil your plans. This definitely gives you an interesting puzzle with multiple interesting decisions to make.
You Stay Classy.
The Networks is a game that will make you smile and keep you thinking throughout its runtime and its sure to leave you with a great series ending rather than a damp squib which will upset the dedicated fan base.
If the star of UHF Weird Al Yankovic is the king of musical parodies then The Networks is the Weird Al of board game parodies.
Stay classy board game fans, I’m Steve Godfrey?