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Subject: Some thoughts from a TV exec... rss

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Mandel Ilagan
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I’m a TV exec and had been looking forward to playing The Networks for a while. I finally got a chance to play it last night and was quite pleased - it’s a more accessible and enjoyable experience than 2016’s other big TV-themed game, Prime Time!

As mentioned in my overview of The Networks (posted in the Ratings and Comments section), I found that this is a game that’s good but just a few tweaks away from being great. I wanted to elaborate more on my thoughts on what was missing for me and some ideas that might help them:

WINNING THE TIME SLOT
I felt this was the biggest thing missing from the game. More often than not in ratings reports, the press talks about “who won the time slot.” Yes, you’re kinda doing this anyway was you’re trying to get the most overall viewers, but I would love to see some sort of reward for winning the 8p slot, the 9p slot, and the 10p slot. It also provides the game with mini-victory moments, something I felt the game could have used a bit more of.

Logically, it seems like cash is the way to go - akin to advertisers who’d want to flock to the network that won the slot (also like “sweeps” in the TV biz). Another thought is that you get a free star if you win every slot, since that star is now eager to work on the “hot” network. Tricky thing is figuring out how to break ties. Or does everybody who's got tops in the slot take a cash bonus?

BLIND DEVELOPMENT DEAL (Shows and Stars)
My other major note about the game was that so much information was out in the open. It was lacking hidden info and “reveals” mid-game. In place of one or more of the exposed shows, what if there were shows that were part of a set of “blind development” deals? You only know the amount you need to pay to develop along with the pre-requisites (maybe the genre as well). Preferred time slot and viewers are only revealed once you purchase it. The development price would probably have to be some middle number to keeps a good balance of risk and reward.

If you want to play with the existing deck (just have some shows face-down and have some pre-determined blind development fee), maybe you allow for this show to live in your green room (since you may not have the prerequisites or the viewers it brings in isn’t to your advantage). BUT, it’s pay or play…there’s an added upkeep payment if it’s still in your green room at the end of the season. And maybe even a bigger penalty if you don’t schedule it before the game is over. It’s in essence the Exclusive Rights card but with additional risk.

This could also be applied to stars and with similar pay-or-play restrictions with the added penalty of not getting a viewer if it’s still in your green room at the end of the game.

SPECIALS
Something to consider for an expansion. A deck of specials that add viewers to your total viewer count for that season only. Have a couple up for grabs that are sold auction style at the top of each season to simulate multiple networks bidding for the rights to the special (a la the Super Bowl or the Oscars). Ads can be attached - with special extra bonuses, but the specials don’t get slotted to a specific time slot. They’re placed above your schedule and are used for that season only. They’re archived at the end of the season. For a little extra intrigue, you don’t see the viewers you gain for the special until you tally the viewers, so you have a little bit of risk/reward associated with the purchase.

AWARDS
I wish there was some end game bonus that was tied to awards moreso than the Network card that exists in the game. It feels like there should be some way to get an award each season and have the awards you collect translate to viewers or some other bonus (e.g. a free star since they’re attracted to the allure of your award-winning network). The factors to determine could vary per season…it could tied to genre (e.g. for one season, it’s whoever has the most dramas active on the schedule with # of stars breaking the tie, # of ads after that, and viewers after that).

HIDDEN SCHEDULING
There’s a lot of scheduling out in the open in this game. To simulate that networks aren’t privy to everything that other networks do, a variant to consider is scheduling in secret. Everybody still has knowledge as to what shows are developed and what stars and ads you get, but where you place them isn’t known until you reveal your schedule after everybody has dropped and budgeted. It could open up some complications with making sure prerequisites were fulfilled properly. And it probably doesn’t have full impact unless you’re playing with some incentive to win the time slot.

HIDDEN NETWORK CARDS
Similar to blind development, you have some network cards face down. And for added effect, for non-immediate plays, you keep a Network card you take hidden until you play it.

MORE INTERACTIVITY
Would love to see more "take that" cards in a future expansion deck - especially stealing shows from another network's archives or bidding wars for a show or star. The game needed a bit more of this.

Obviously, these variants need some game testing and probably would work better with cards especially designed for these additional elements. As I’ve mentioned, Gil Hova has created a solid game that’s succeeded where other TV programming-themed titles have come up short. Better yet, it’s a great game engine that allows for some tweaks like this that could make for an even richer experience that captures the feel of programming a TV lineup even more. Kudos to him and can’t wait to play the game again!
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Mandel Ilagan
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One more thought...And again, a testament to how much potential there is in this game!

ZERO SUM VIEWERS / "THE SHARE"
Would have love to seen some mechanic where the viewership of one show in a time slot affects the viewership of another player's show in a time slot - something that simulates the element of a "ratings share." This would also address my desire to see some more interactivity in the game.

Basically, having the stronger show in the time slot chips away at viewership from a weaker show. It could manifest itself in the form of a Network card or scoring mechanic. It would also need some finessing as to what those numbers are, so it doesn't totally wreck the balance of the game causing somebody to run away with the lead.

If it's not a Network card, maybe it's an action you take after you drop and budget but viewers are tallied (even more of a reveal if playing with the hidden schedules suggestion I mentioned above). You pick one active show that you want to enact the "share bonus" on. If it's the top rated show in the slot, you pick up an additional X viewers while causing the lowest-rated show to lose that number of viewers from that show. It's a little bit of a betting element where you gauge how confident you are in a particular show on your lineup.
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Gil Hova
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So happy you enjoyed the game, Mandel! There are a few copies of the game swirling around the TV world, which thrills me.

I'm very glad to see that you enjoyed the game enough to think up ways it could be more realistic. I love doing this sort of things with games I play, so I'm happy to see someone doing it to my own game!

That said, most of what you described are things I deliberately designed away from. It was very important for me to peg this as a fun game set in the world of TV, not a simulation that prized exact accuracy. Of course, I took any opportunity I could to embrace verisimilitude, but if I came to a choice between incorporating a realistic detail and keeping the game simple and elegant, I always chose the latter.

For example, "winning the slot." I've played quite a few TV network prototypes over the year with that style of scoring, and I found their scoring systems frustrating and opaque. It wasn't just that scoring was complicated; it's that deciding on a good play meant evaluating everybody's relative score positions before and after a move, and that was a lot of work for little gain. Using absolute, printed values suited The Networks better, so I went with that.

Regarding hidden information, I found that tended to be less fun in the game than it was in theory. The fun in the game is getting just the right show in just the right time slot with just the right star and just the right ad, and once you do that, you're done! There are no surprises lurking afterwards. Introducing hidden information tends to dampen that fun, especially with my game structured the way it is.

And regarding take-that... of course, everyone's different, and there's no right or wrong here. But I tend to dislike take-that mechanisms, so I avoid them in my own games. The interactive Network Cards are as far as I want to go in that direction, as it gives some interactivity without the frustration or pointlessness I'd feel in a take-that game.

What this all boils down to is: there are A LOT of possible TV network games out there to design! I'm sure there's a way to make a game you describe. But it would be a different game; its core focus of direct interaction and realism would be a different core focus than The Networks' focus on streamlined mechanisms and building with a relatively low amount of player interaction. It would have to be a different game from a different designer.

So someone make that game already! There's plenty of room on the market for both our games.

In the meantime, I'm glad you enjoyed The Networks, and I hope you can accept its somewhat abstracted nature!
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Mandel Ilagan
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Thanks for reading and the reply! You've got some great points and it's interesting because a lot of my thoughts boil down to my personal preferences when it comes to games. For instance, my boyfriend especially liked the game because it was very strategic where you were rewarded for the right tactics. And a friend I was talking with about this game mentioned that this is a very classic Euro-style game.

I'm more in the camp who like games that provide a mix of clear, almost-immediate, short-term rewards in addition to having "long game" decisions that pay off at the end - games that have a balance of smart strategy with a bit of luck to shake things up and keep everybody on their toes.

Also, I've tended to favor games were you're seeing one player's action have a clear effect on another's. So, that's what brought up the desire to see how much more of that element could be incorporated into what's already a well-structured game (without obviously breaking it).

Bottom line...you've done a really good job with taking a world that's foreign to most people and translated it to a game with logical decisions relating to that field and payoffs for making the right decisions. One testament to how well you've done is how you brilliantly distilled that information onto the various cards. Really appreciate the flow to how that's presented and how that translates to success within the game.

A definite keeper and one I will be recommending for those looking for a game in this genre/theme...
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Roland Sanchez
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I do like the game as is, but can't argue that some of your ideas wouldn't make it even batter. I do think the open network card market is a bit anticlimactic. Maybe it could be one face up, the rest face down in the market. That way a player taking that action decides between taking one that he knows he wants, but everyone else knows what it is, or taking a risk on ones he doesn't know the power of, but no one will know what it is either. If a player takes the face up card, the you flip another one face up to replace it keeping one of the cards face up until the market is dry.
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