When I first started in gaming over a decade ago, single player games were few and far between. But more and more, as I Kickstart and buy games, I'm finding a single player option is much more common. I've even started to put a premium on games that I can play solo.
With that in mind, I received The Networks with the expansion today, and I immediately punched it and put it on the table as a solo game.
This review is after 2 solo playthroughs.
The Networks is a game in which you run a TV station, choosing which programs to put on the air, signing stars, and attracting advertisers, all in the name of gaining more viewers. Players are offered new options of ads, stars, and shows during each season (round), and may take actions as long as they have money to pay for them. When they are done with a season, they end their turn, taking the next available turn order space for the next round, which also awards them money or viewers, their choice.
The board is essentially a turn order track, with 3 parts. The left and middle parts are generally the same (except in 1 and 2 player games), while the right portion changes depending on the number of players. I really like the way the board works, since it's very easy to put together. Each side is clearly labeled, and they can only fit together in one way. The first season uses a single side of the right board, which is flipped at the end.
There are also 3 decks of season cards. One for season 1, one for seasons 2 and 3, and a third for seasons 4 and 5. This works really well as a way to increase value/price for later shows, but it also makes it a bit of a mess trying to keep cards from each season in separate decks as they are discarded. Not a huge deal though.
The game comes with a bunch of little cubes as markers for various purposes and small colored squares and discs as point and turn order markers. The expansion comes with a sticker sheet for the markers which adds a nice quality.
The money is made of the same cardboard as the player boards and works well.
The artwork is really nice, and the caricature style really works. The center board has a very minimalist style and the iconography is very straightforward and easy to focus on.
The cards mix the minimalist style for required information, and the caricature style for any themed information. It works really well. The game uses parody titles for the ads, shows and stars, and I'm sure someone could figure out all of them, though my own knowledge was a bit limited.
Everything looks great, but I will note that when I opened up the cards, some of them were giving off significant fumes. I would recommend leaving the cards out on an open surface overnight at least before playing. I played immediately, and I had a slight headache when I finished my second game. Nothing serious, but if you have players with asthma or allergies (I suffer from both), it might cause some sensitivities. I think leaving the cards out of the plastic bags for awhile will solve it. I couldn't smell anything by the end of my second game, but the spare cards I had left in the baggies still had a very chemically smell.
In this section, I will list out the general play, as well as the major changes for single player.
The game is broken up into 5 seasons. A certain number of cards, representing shows, stars, ads and network cards (special powers added after the first season) are placed at the beginning. Players take turns selecting cards and resolving them before moving onto the next player. Players can take as many actions as they like. The only limit is the number of cards available on the table, and the players desire to move earlier in the next round, and receive higher benefits for passing early.
Single Player: In single player, there is another major limitation. The game introduces a burn mechanic where after every single turn, a Network card is drawn, which has icons at the bottom, telling the player which types of cards must be discarded from the display. If a player has to burn a card, and cannot, they must then add a black cube to the standard turn order spaces. When all the spaces are filled, the player immediately loses. This mechanic adds a press your luck element to the game, which doesn't exist otherwise. Having this unpredictable element adds a lot of tension to the single player game.
Players can perform one of 6 actions on a single turn:
Develop Show - To develop a show, a player takes one of the cards from the available shows, pays the cost for it (from $1 to $5 based on the cards I've seen), and selects a timeslot for it. Each show has a preferred timeslot, in which it will perform better, but players are able to select a different timeslot. There are only 3 timeslots, and the player starts with shows that score zero viewers in those slots. Once a timeslot is selected, a player removes the show already in that slot, and moves it to their 'reruns' section, which scores a few additional viewers at the end of the round.
Each show also has a prerequisite before placing, which will be some combination of an ad and a star. Some shows have requirements, others have options. Players must have these prereqs before taking the show card. These icons also show which ads/stars can be attached. For example, if a card has a colored star, and a greyed out ad, players must attach a star, but may attach an ad. They cannot attach more cards than there are icons.
Once the card is taken and placed in a timeslot, players attach any stars or ads that are required/desired. Stars add viewers, and ads provide money.
Genre Bonus - Players also receive a genre bonus for have three shows of a kind in their lineup, reruns or archive. When a player gets their third show of a single genre, they can draw 3 stars and keep 1, or draw 3 ads and keep 1, receiving the money bonus from the 2 they discard.
If a player receives 5 of a kind, then they can choose either the two previous bonuses, or the opportunity to draw 3 Network cards, and keep 1. Players can then trade money for viewers. $4 for every 3 viewers. Reaching the matching bonus also gives a player 5 viewers immediately. (I missed this rule in my first two playthroughs.)
Sign Star - With this action, players can take a single star card, paying it's cost. Some stars have requirements for which type of show they should be placed on. If the player doesn't meet those requirements, they must 'rotate' the card. Star cards with requirements are double-sided, and by rotating the cards, players receive less value from the card.
Land Ad - With this action, players can take one of the ad cards on the table. Unlike stars and shows, which cost money, ads provide money. Players can immediately take the money offered by the card. During scoring, these ads offset money required for shows and stars. Ads, like stars, often have requirements when taken or placed, which might require the player to rotate the card, lowering it's benefit.
Take Network Card - After the first season is over, Network cards are added to the mix of cards. With this action, players can take one. Some of them take effect immediately, others are held for a one time use, and others give bonuses at the end of the game.
Single Player: In a single player game, the benefits and end game bonuses that these cards give can be the difference between winning or losing, but taking them instead of a show or star can be a tough decision. Especially when taking one of these cards for scoring at the end of the game might burn cards that you really need for your strategy.
Attach Star or Ad - Players can't attach stars/ads after taking them from the display. They are initially placed in their 'Green Room' to wait to be placed. Players can always attach stars and ads when developing a show, but outside of that, this action is the only way that players can add these to a show.
Single Player: This action was rarely used in my single player game. Because of the burn mechanic, attaching cards outside of the develop a show action was normally a luxury I couldn't afford.
Drop and Budget - This ends the player's round. They place their turn order marker on the next available space on the budget track, and can take money or viewers (after the first season). Passing earlier means that you get a bigger benefit, and move earlier in the next round, but you might lose out on actions that other players will be able to take.
Single Player: The burn cards can also take away spaces on the budget track, but it seems a bit more rare than the other possible icons. I was never able to take the first space in either of my solo games, but a couple of times I was able to take the 2nd space. Usually I was taking the 3rd or 4th space.
End of Season Actions
Income/Expenses - Once everyone has passed each player checks their income. Most shows and stars have continuing costs, and ads provide revenue. The difference between these two values is the players income or expenses, paid at this time.
Score Lineup and Reruns - Then players score their shows and reruns. Each show has a number of viewers it provides, which stars add additional viewers to. Some special ads also provide viewers. Players add these up, and then add the number of viewers from reruns (which can be somewhat substantial in later rounds) to get their score for the round. I found myself scoring between 30 and 50 most rounds. The game provides a mini scoring track on the player board which helps players keep track of their individual round score before transferring it to the main score track. The mini scoring track is one of my favorite things about this game, and is an innovation that I hope catches on in other games.
Single Player: In the single player game, players have an opportunity to meet scoring goals that will allow them to remove cubes from the turn order track (which can end the game if it gets too full). Players must score 65 points by the end of the 2nd season to gain the benefit. They must also receive 100 points between rounds 3 and 4 to get the 2nd bonus. This seems arbitrary, but the game gives good setup steps and examples in the rules to help players prepare, and the numbers must have been well thought out, because I either just barely beat my goal, or missed it by less than 10 points in each of my games.
Age Shows - Once scoring is complete players age their shows. Each show and star provides increasing or decreasing amounts of viewers for each season they are on the air. Most shows provide a smaller number in the first season, a larger number in the second season, and then lower and lower numbers for each additional season, but there is a lot of variety. In this phase, players move their cube markers to the next season on each show in their lineup. They will be scored on these new values in the next round. This gives players a chance to plan ahead for which shows they might axe during the upcoming season.
Set up Next Season - In this phase, players remove any remaining cards, and put out new ones, cleaning up the board. They also move all of their reruns to They are then ready to start the next season.
Game end - The game ends after the 5th season. Once scoring is complete at the end of season 5, players score their shows once more, then they receive viewers for any unused stars, and finally score any Network cards that give points at the end of the game.
Single Player: In a single player game, you have to score 265 points in order to win the game.
I'll just come right out and say that I LOVE this game. One of the most important things for me in a game is the theme, and the theme of this game really comes through. I love the idea of picking out shows, trying to slot the right genres and stars into the right timeslots. Each system really works together in a way that makes for a really satisfying game experience.
And it works great as a single player experience. The press your luck mechanic added via the burn cards adds a major source of tension. In a multi-player game, you'd be worried that the other players would take the cards you had your eye on. In the solo game, you're worried the game will take them away. But in addition, you can't stop and ensure you can take every card that might be left, or attach all your stars and ads to shows. That clock is always ticking, and ignoring it means the end of the game.
Of the two games I played solo, I won one and lost the other. Although, I missed one rule, where I was supposed to take 5 extra viewers for each genre bonus I received. This might have pushed me over the edge on the score, but I don't remember how many I got in the 2nd game. If I got 3, then I would have won, if I got 2, then I still would have lost.
Game 1 Score - 271 (win)
Game 2 Score - 253 (Loss)
The game has a great mixture of mechanics which makes for a really enjoyable experience. Little additions like the mini scoring track, and the variety of scoring board and iconography, making it easy to remember the rules and procedure make the game a big winner for me. It's an awesome solo experience, and I can't wait to introduce it to other people.
Final Score - 9
Not doubting you, but I opened my copy up today and smelt nothing odd
And excellent write up, thanks
I had a smell to mine for sure. I left them out for a couple of hours, and they were fine.
The Redheaded Pharmacist
I played my first game of this earlier today solo. I really enjoyed it. I scored 254 so I was close to winning. I didn't notice a smell when I opened my cards.
This game is a keeper. I can only hope more content will be released in the future. I'm glad I backed this on Kickstarter. Thanks for your review.
Each time I've played solo, I've been within a dozen points of the winning score, either over or under. Strong sign of a well-balanced solo mode.
- Last edited Thu Aug 11, 2016 8:50 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Aug 11, 2016 8:49 pm