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Subject: For the Meeple, by the Meeple (Review of The Networks) rss

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Michael Carpenter
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For the Meeple, by the Meeple


SUMMARY




The Networks is a competitive board game for 2 to 5 players with a solo variant available. Players compete to develop the most watched television network. To do so, players must develop TV shows, land commercial advertisements, and sign stars to drive up viewership as quickly as possible.

THE BOARD


The board in The Networks is made up of three pieces. These three pieces will be chosen based on the number of players in the game. The left-most piece of the board tracks the season (or round), the center piece tracks the turn order, and the right-most piece provides accurate setup information and the first round's drop & budget information. Once the first round is complete the right-most piece of the board is flipped and it then provides the setup information and the drop & budget information for the remaining seasons.

There is also a score tracker that runs along the outside of the board once all three pieces of the board are placed together in the appropriate order.

 


The pieces on the left of the image above are the various pieces of the board that will be placed on the right-most side of the board.

The two gray pieces are the left-most piece of the board and the center piece of the board.

The five pieces with the names of the networks are the player boards given to the players at the beginning of the game.

While the main board is fully functional and does it's job during the game, the player boards, in combination with the cards in the game will receive the primary focus of the players.



Each player board has two major areas. The left side features the green room, the reruns section, and the archives section. The right side features the 8:00 pm, 9:00 pm, and 10:00 pm time slots for your network.

The player boards also feature game information and a calculator to help you during the scoring phase.

Another important part of the playing area is the numerous types of cards that will be available to each player to choose from as they develop their network. These types of cards include: Show Cards, Ad Cards, Star Cards, and Network Cards. The number of available cards of each type is determined by the player board that corresponds to each number of players.

Overall, the main board, player boards, and cards are very easy to setup and use during the flow of the game.


THE COMPONENTS


The component quality in The Networks is stellar. From the cards to the player boards, to the chits used for money, everything is durable and sturdy and the colors are vibrant and crisp, giving the game a nice look on the table.

 


I have no complaints about any of the components or the rule book in the game. I did have the benefit of being taught this game at GenCon 2016 so it made going through the basic version of the game on my own easy, but I did not see any issues as I read the rule book that would cause much confusion.


THE GAMEPLAY


The game is played over the course of five seasons and has an interesting feature in which you score a sixth time immediately after completing the final round. The game's mechanics causes this sixth scoring phase to be appropriate and can prove to be very crucial to determining the winner of the game.

During each season of the game the first player will decide which of the various actions that are available they would like to perform. A player may only perform one of these actions on their turn in most cases. There is a meshing of some of the actions at times based on the rules of developing shows.

The various actions players may choose from include:
- Develop Show
- Sign Star
- Land Ad
- Take Network Card
- Attach Star or Ad
- Drop & Budget

Develop Show: To develop a show a player simply takes one of the available show cards and pays the cost of the show located in the top left red circle, being careful to acknowledge what time slot the show functions best in (8:00, 9:00, or 10:00) and what type of show the show is: sitcom, action, drama, reality, sci-fi, or sports. Each show also has prerequisites, meaning each show could need a star, an ad, or both to be developed. Some shows allow you to add more than the required prerequisites to enhance the show even more. These prerequisites are shown at the bottom of each show card and are represented by a colored star or money sign. Gray stars and money signs give you the option to add the corresponding type of card (stars being star cards and money signs being ad cards). If a card has prerequisites the player must have those types of prerequisites available and ready to be used as soon as they place the show in one of their time slots.

Sign Star: To sign a start a player takes a star card and pays the cost located in the top left of the card in the red circle. Once a star is signed they are placed in the player's green room located on the left side of the player board at the top.

Land Ad: To land an ad a player takes one of the available ad cards and receives the money the ad generates for them. This number is located in the top left corner of the card in the black circle. The number will also have a plus sign next to it to indicate that the player gains money. Once an ad card is taken it is also placed in the green room for later use.

 


Take Network Card: To take a network card a player simply takes one of the available network cards and places it in their player area. These cards will provide the player an opportunity to score more points at the end of the game, receive viewers (points) immediately, or perform an action of some sort once during the course of the game.

Attach Star or Ad: To attach a star or an ad the player must first check to see if a show card may allow a star or an ad to be attached to it. This information is represented by the gray star or money sign located at the bottom of the card. To attach an ad or star the show must have a gray symbol because any colored symbols should have been fulfilled when the show was developed.

Drop & Budget: To drop & budget a player takes his or her token from the turn order track and moves it to the drop & budget section of the right-most piece of the main board. Deciding to drop & budget first will provide you with a greater benefit and the benefit gets worse for each successive player deciding to drop & budget. Once you have decided to drop & budget you may no longer take any actions in the current season.


Players take one action on their turn until all players have decided to drop & budget. Once all players are done the end of season phase begins. To perform the end of season phase players first calculate the expenses and income of their active shows, stars, and ads. Active shows and stars will have a red circle in the top right corner of the card that indicates how much money the player must pay to continue using these cards. The ad cards will have black circles in the top right corner to indicate how much money these active ad cards will generate for the player. Players either pay money or receive money based on their expense to income calculations. If a player cannot pay for all their expenses they keep their money and pay the expenses in viewers (points) instead of money.

Next, players calculate the number of viewers (points) they will receive that round. To do so, players look at the viewers watching each active show during the show's current season. Each show card and star card has four numbers running down the right side of the card. The top number is season 1, season 2 below season 1, and so on. A black cube will indicate which season each show is currently in based on how long the show has been active. Players must also be aware to include the number of viewers they receive from shows in their reruns section, but not their archives.



Based on what can be seen in the image above and some actual components in my copy of the game the player would receive 5 viewers for the top show, 10 viewers for the middle show, 10 viewers for the bottom show, 2 points for his star and 2 points for the show in his rerun section. Viewers received for reruns are located in the white strip running across the bottom left side of the show card. The player has received a total of 29 points this round and thus should move his scoring token 29 spaces on the scoring track on the main board, not his player board.

Next, the player should move the black cube on each show down, to the next lowest number. This is called aging shows. If a show is already on the lowest number (the 4th season) then the black cube should not be moved. Shows do not move to the rerun section of the player board because they have been active for more than four season. Shows only move to the rerun section if you replace that show with a newly developed show and the newly developed show should start in it's first season. The replaced show is turned 180 degrees so the white strip in the bottom left is now in the top right and the rerun viewers should be upright and easy to read. If a player has any shows already in their rerun section they should move these shows down to the archives and stop scoring these cards in future rounds.

Finally, the players should reset the cards according to the information on the right most piece of the main board and repeat the procedure for season 1 in the following four seasons. It is important to remember that shows should be aged at the end of season 5 because there will be one last round of scoring immediately after aging shows at the end of season 5. No actions are taken, players should only calculate the points the shows now score based on their new seasons and what cards are in their reruns section.

Once the sixth scoring round is completed players must also account for any networks cards they have that may influence scoring. The player with the most viewers on the scoring track wins the game. If there is tie, the player with the most money left wins the game.

FINAL THOUGHTS


The Networks offers an interesting theme that I am partial to. The parodies are amusing and while they do not grab hold of you and make you think more about what shows you are offering than how you to play the game, they are fun to look at and decide if you would really want to offer a particular show. The fact that there are so many types of shows in the game makes if easy and fun to specialize in a type of show like a real network typically does.

The free flowing action phase of the game makes the game enjoyable because you can approach each round very differently than your opponents based on where you are in your network's development. You may need several actions this round to obtain the prerequisites for a show you want to develop or you may only need to land some ads and take some networks cards before you drop & budget as soon as possible as to get the best benefits. While everyone is doing the same thing, every player can take a very different route to get to the same destination.

My favorite part of the game is that the mechanics match up extremely well with the theme. From signing the biggest stars to get more viewers for your mediocre show to aging shows and losing viewers as the show grows older... everything in this game matches the theme. I had no moment where I stopped and said... that doesn't really fit the theme logically. Players will understand how the game plays because the mechanics match up to how you would expect this industry to work.

I wouldn't say this game is extremely deep in strategy but I don't know that the game is really meant to scratch that itch. I think this game scratches the itch of those games seeking a thematic game with meaningful decisions and some strategy.

I could see a family playing this game because of the fun the theme can offer but I'm not certain that is the best audience. I think groups of casual gamers are going to enjoy this game the most. There are some elements of strategy and skillful combinations that make this game seem like maybe a little too much for families but not so much so that a family with appropriately aged kids couldn't enjoy this game. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum I don't think gamers looking for heavy euros are going to get quite enough out of this game.

For me though, a fan of medium weight thematic hybrid games, I enjoy the game wholeheartedly and definitely would not deny any opportunity to play the game!


- The Meeple 's Rating: 7.5/10



If you enjoy my reviews please recommend and check out my geeklist For the Meeple, by the Meeple
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David Janik-Jones
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Nicely done review. I also agree with your impressions and conclusion.
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Curt Frantz
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Nice review. What kind of replayability do you think this game offers?
 
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David Janik-Jones
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tribefan07 wrote:
Nice review. What kind of replayability do you think this game offers?

It's probably something that will gamey after maybe 15-20 plays, but it's "light" enough fare that it's on the table mostly for fun (over depth) anyway, so it should feel fine playing.
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David Thiel
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MariettaTennis wrote:

My favorite part of the game is that the mechanics match up extremely well with the theme. From signing the biggest stars to get more viewers for your mediocre show to aging shows and losing viewers as the show grows older... everything in this game matches the theme. I had no moment where I stopped and said... that doesn't really fit the theme logically. Players will understand how the game plays because the mechanics match up to how you would expect this industry to work.


I will respectfully disagree, and in fact this is what has kept me from fully embracing The Networks.

For the past couple of decades I've been the program director of a broadcast TV station. While my direct experience is in public television, I'm familiar enough with the commercial side of the business. So, The Networks should be fully within my wheelhouse, but to the contrary, I think that my closeness to the subject matter has interfered with my enjoyment of the game.

Before I go further, let me say that I fully understand that this is a game, not a business simulator. And the things that bug me are unlikely to be an issue for others.

One of my disconnects has to do with the mechanics of aging shows. When you acquire a series, you know in advance exactly how it will perform over a four year period. Believe me, if I could do that, I would be running NBC rather than working in the 83rd local television market. Mind you, I don't know how you could better simulate this without a bunch of fiddly rules.

Advertising makes little sense. Some shows require an attached ad at the moment they are acquired. For others, sponsorship is entirely optional. And still others can never accept advertising. This is nothing like the real industry.

Finally--and this is my biggest sticking point--the ultimate goal of the game is to not to make the most money, but to gather the most viewers. In fact, cash is only a means to that end. That's actually the opposite of how (and why) the business works.

I playtested The Networks a couple of years ago, and while I mentioned these concerns to designer Gil Hova, I think that the game was far too close to completion to make any changes. I played the final product at Gen Con, and it was pretty much how I remembered it.

This is not at all a knock on the gameplay, or on Gil. I'm a fan of his game Battle Merchants, and his booth was my first stop at Gen Con because I wanted to snag one of the few remaining copies of Bad Medicine. I'm glad to see The Networks seemingly doing well, and again, I know that my issues are mine alone.
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Michael Carpenter
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As I read your post what you were saying made a ton of sense and while I definitely do not disagree with the accuracy of your opinions (especially having zero experience in television myself) I just don't think the average gamer is going to have enough experience with the industry to feel burdened by the small misalignments in the theme. I can't argue with the ads portion of your comment though! I stand corrected on that seeming perfectly thematic. As for aging, it certainly would be nice to randomize a shows success but you'd also have to incorporate a way of gauging viewers opinions and stars happiness with being on the show and several things that would only complicate a game that doesn't seem to be complicated. Maybe an expansion though...? I guess as I played through the game, because there were shows that got better with time and worse with time I felt like that addresseed that portion of shows staying on air, albeit not perfectly accurately.

Thank you for the feedback though because it has made me think about trying to put myself in the shoes of that theme a little deeper, rather than being an outsider looking in on what I see while scratching the surface of an industry or theme.

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David Thiel
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I absolutely agree that my concerns aren't going to be shared by anyone else. I just find myself in the weird position of being too close to the subject matter to fairly judge the overall game experience. (I could also be bitter because I came in dead last in my Gen Con session!)

Honestly, I'm just glad to have the opportunity to post about my misgivings without starting my own thread. Gil is a friend of a friend, and I certainly don't want to dump on his game, especially when it appears to be doing so well!
 
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Michael Carpenter
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Like I said, I appreciate your insight because I honestly just thought about it from my point of view and without being overly educated on the theme I definitely misspoke a tad but I do think the initial response to the mechanic-theme meshing will be positive in most cases. I too am glad to see the game doing well and though I don't know Gil he was kind enough to sign my copy of the game and I wish him all the best! And thank you for reading my review and hope you continue to look at some of my other reviews and give insight when you can!
 
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Trevor Schadt
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dodonna wrote:
I just find myself in the weird position of being too close to the subject matter to fairly judge the overall game experience.
A very good friend of mine refuses to play Ground Floor for the same reason. We ended her first game and she was twitching, saying "This is what I do all day long. I don't like sitting down and playing a game about what I do all day long."

That being said, I would love to see what your thoughts are for converting viewers back into money, since that is the "ultimate" goal of a television network. Or, alternately, maybe this could be viewed as a more "idealized" version of the television world, where it really is about gathering the most viewers?
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Michael Carpenter
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That being said, I would love to see what your thoughts are for converting viewers back into money, since that is the "ultimate" goal of a television network. Or, alternately, maybe this could be viewed as a more "idealized" version of the television world, where it really is about gathering the most viewers?[/q]


I would actually love to hear about this too! Maybe we can strike up some ideas on what could be put into an expansion to help Gil out if he decides to head that direction.
 
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Gil Hova
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Hey folks! I don't normally comment on review threads, but this one has gone in an interesting direction, and I wanted to make it clear what I was going for during the game's design process.

I totally appreciate dodonna's thoughts on making the game more realistic; you're not the first TV insider to comment on refining the game's exact details.

But that said, The Networks is not a simulation, and my goal wasn't to exactly recreate the precise day-to-day runnings of a TV network. My goal was to create a charming, replayable game with a TV network theme. But if I had a choice between making something more abstract and more fun, or more exact but less fun, I'd go with the first option.

For example: how come viewers for a show are fixed, and not random? I wrote about this exact decision in my designer diary:

Quote:
Also, this theme is really hard, and I think I backed into some fortuitous decisions. I've played friends' prototypes with TV themes, and they get hung up on a couple of things.

First, scoring in those designs is usually handled with an output randomness mechanism. For those of you who don't listen to the marvelous Ludology podcast (please start!), output randomness is any random event that happens after a player's decision. For example, when you attack the zombies, then roll a die to see whether you hit them, that's generally output randomness as the die roll dictates the outcome.

Input randomness, on the other hand, is when the random event happens before your turn begins. When you get dealt your hand of cards, that's input randomness; your play happens after the random event.

Most TV prototypes I played had viewer scoring as output randomness. This is understandable because it's realistic. No TV executive can predict how many people will watch their shows! That's just the business.

But it makes the game less fun. The whole interesting experience is in assembling the TV show. Having it be judged by a random mechanism devalues the experience of putting the show on the air. It feels meaningless.


It's a similar thing with the Ad Cards. Originally, the Ads cost money to pick up (representing your legwork to get the deal done), and they only gave you money at the end of each season. But the game got a lot better once they gave you money when you picked them up. Again, I had that choice between more fun or more realistic, and because of this game's goals, I chose more fun.

This means there is a space in the market for a realistic game about running a TV network. I'm not sure how much fun it would be, but I'm sure someone out there is up to the challenge. Right?
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Michael Carpenter
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Thank you for taking the time to clarify your intentions Gil. I believe they come through very well in the way the game plays and think the audience will meet your goal of fun over realism with open arms.
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IngredientX wrote:
Hey folks! I don't normally comment on review threads, but this one has gone in an interesting direction, and I wanted to make it clear what I was going for during the game's design process.

I totally appreciate dodonna's thoughts on making the game more realistic; you're not the first TV insider to comment on refining the game's exact details.


Hey, Gil! Thanks for chiming in! I'd missed that other TV exec thread; it was an interesting read!

Quote:
But that said, The Networks is not a simulation, and my goal wasn't to exactly recreate the precise day-to-day runnings of a TV network. My goal was to create a charming, replayable game with a TV network theme. But if I had a choice between making something more abstract and more fun, or more exact but less fun, I'd go with the first option.


Oh, absolutely agreed. That was why I tagged my comments onto this review rather than starting my own thread; I didn't want to make it a bigger deal than was warranted.

Quote:
For example: how come viewers for a show are fixed, and not random? I wrote about this exact decision in my designer diary:


I can certainly appreciate this. A couple of years ago, I produced a reality show-themed board game for a local design competition, and eventually realized that I was bogging things down with too many rules intended to better simulate a "Survivor"-style experience.

Speaking personally, I would've preferred a bit of randomness, even a range of values for each year, but again, I can understand leaving it out!

Quote:
It's a similar thing with the Ad Cards. Originally, the Ads cost money to pick up (representing your legwork to get the deal done), and they only gave you money at the end of each season. But the game got a lot better once they gave you money when you picked them up. Again, I had that choice between more fun or more realistic, and because of this game's goals, I chose more fun.


Oh, I'd forgotten about that! Yes, that was how the Ad cards worked when I playtested the game, and I believe that I commented on the weirdness of spending money to acquire advertising. You're right, the new rule is an improvement.

Quote:
This means there is a space in the market for a realistic game about running a TV network. I'm not sure how much fun it would be, but I'm sure someone out there is up to the challenge. Right?


And I'm sure that the reason that there hasn't been a good one (haven't seen Prime Time) is that there are so many variables that the rulebook would look like something published by SPI back in the day.

There are also good reasons that you've got a batch of published games and I can't win that local competition!

One further comment, and again, one that is more about realism than fun. Despite the parodies of modern TV shows, The Networks is actually a very retro take on the industry. Ratings are still a factor, but whether or not a show gets cancelled these days depends on other things: audience demographics; industry/critical buzz; awards; social media presence; international co-production deals; foreign syndication; and network-owned shows vs. those produced out of house.

That is, of course, absurdly complicated. Plus, given the size of the consumer base who are both TV execs and gamers, it's probably more important to give the audience the experience that they expect rather than one that might be more "realistic."



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Gil Hova
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Thanks! The dance between realism and abstraction is really hard. I wonder how Phil Eklund would approach making a TV-scheduling game.
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