For the Meeple, by the Meeple
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 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 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 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.
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
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