I have the honor of reviewing The Networks, with game design by Gil Hova, graphics by Heiko Gunther, and art by Travis Kinchy. These are my thoughts and opinions. Enjoy!
The Networks, designed by Gil Hova, is a card drafting and placement game for 1-5 players. Each player takes their turn running their own TV network for 5 seasons, attempting to attract the hottest shows, and the brightest actors, while making the most money in advertisements and getting the most viewers per season. Each season, players will spend their actions recruiting actors, signing advertisement contracts, and placing TV shows into 3 time slots. The actors enhance the viewership of the shows, which are the points needed to win. The ads enhance the income you receive per round. At the end of each season, your selected TV shows will age, and potentially gain or lose viewers, creating an interesting choice to make: ride the show one more season, or cancel it, sending it to reruns, and slotting a brand new show for your network. Once both players pass for the season, each player calculates their income and viewership, shows age, new cards become available for next season, and the game moves on. At the end of 5 seasons, points are added up to see who ran their network the best!
"Ok. Sounds interesting. How is the game set up?"
Each player picks a color and receives the following components in that color: 1 Player Board, 1 Scoring Square, 1 Turn Order Disc, 5 Starting Cards (1 Actor, 1 Ad, 3 Shows), and 4 Black Cubes. The starting Actor and Ad are placed in the Green Room (left side of the Player Board). This is where Actors and Ad cards go when they are waiting to be attached to a show. The Actor cards (with the STAR symbol) show how many viewers they will add to a show, once attached. Some Actor cards have a condition on the bottom, giving the player a requirement that must be met, or extra choices on how to use that actor. The Ad cards show how much money it will generate for the show during the Income phase. Some Ad cards also have a condition on the bottom of the card. The 3 Show cards are placed to the right of the Player Board, in the 3 time slots, each one with a Black Cube marker on the top right Viewer row (next to the 0). As mentioned in the rule book, "It doesn't matter which shows go on which time slots; all Starting Shows are equally bad." This is very true. Each starting show generates 0 (yes, that's a zero) viewers. You will want to cancel these shows, sending them to the rerun slot (on the left side of the Player Board) as quickly as possible. Not only will the new show be better for your Network, generating viewers, the Starting Shows will generate 1 viewer in the rerun slot. Once this is setup, each player is ready to begin Season 1!
Player starting components
The play area, where players are spending their actions, consists of the Scoring Track, Star Cards, Ad Cards, Season Show Cards, and Network Cards. There are different setup rules depending on the number of players in the game, so make sure you check the rule book for specific setup instructions. Here's an overview of the different components in the play area.
Scoring Track - Yes, this keeps the score. However, it serves a much greater purpose. This track is made up of 3 parts. The Left Track, in addition to having the scoring track around the outside, helps keep track of the Season. The Middle Track, also having the scoring track around the outside, has the turn order track and houses each 100/200 Viewer Tokens in each players color. They are used when the players cross the 100 and 200 Viewer mark. The Right Track is the one that is very important. On the bottom of the track, there is a red bar indicating in which player count it is used. It also lets you know what the income of each player is at the start of the game. For example, in a 4 player game, Player 1 would start with $5m (money is represented in millions), Player 2 would start with $7m, Player 3 with $9m, and Player 4 with $11m. The Right Track also helps with setup, as it dictates how many Actor, Ad, Shows, and Network Cards are drawn and placed face-up at the start of each season, available for selection. The different cards are not replenished as they are selected, so it's important to have the correct number of cards available for each round.
Left, Middle, and Right Scoring Tracks
Star Cards - These add Actors to your Shows. Each card has a signing cost, which you pay to select the card. Selected cards are placed in the Green Room. Star Cards also have an upkeep cost. This cost is paid by the Network at the end of each Season during the Income/Expenses phase (explained later). Each Star Card has a Viewer track, on the right of the card (in color), representing how many viewers they will bring to the show each season. On the opposite side (left, in gray), there is a "bad" Viewer track. This is used if the Star Card has to be rotated, due to a card condition. The condition is listed at the bottom of the card, and they vary, but will typically have you rotating the card 180 degrees if said condition is or isn't met.
Examples of some Star Cards
Ad Cards - Ad Cards also function in different ways. Each Ad Card has a landing bonus, which immediately gets you money once it's selected (Remember, selected cards go to the Green Room). Ads also give you money during the Income/Expenses phase at the end of each Season. As with Star Cards, some Ad Cards also have conditions listed at the bottom of the card, as well as a "bad" side, if rotated.
Show Cards - Show Cards generate the most viewers, which translates into points, so they are very important in the game. Shows are broken down into different Genres, which help generate the Genre bonus actions (located on the Player Boards). Show Cards, as with Star Cards, have a cost. This cost is paid in order to select the show for your Network. They also have an upkeep cost, which is paid at the end of every Season. The Viewer track, on the right side of the card, functions in the same manner as the Star Card, with 2 extra details. The top-most viewer slot (which is where the black cube is always placed) has a couple extra bits of information. It tells you in which of the 3 available time slots it would prefer to be slotted. If you can, or chose to, place the show in that slot, it will generate more viewers for your Network. The top-most viewer slot will have 2 numbers. The left number is used if the Show is placed in its preferred time slot, with the right number being used if the Show is placed in the other 2 time slots. Show Cards may also have prerequisites listed at the bottom off the card. If the icons listed at the bottom are in gray, it is optional. However, if the icon is in color, it is required. A Show Card may not be placed if the prerequisites cannot be met. These icons consist of a purple star, indicating a Star Card must be placed along with the show, and a green dollar sign, indicating that an Ad Card must be placed along with the show. Sometimes one of each symbol is in color, and sometimes the player has the choice of one or the other. If either symbol is in color, that symbol is required in order to place that Show Card into a time slot. If the symbols are gray, you may place either a Star and/or an Ad Card along with the Show Card. If the symbols are gray, you do not have to place a Star or an Ad Card along with the Show Card at that time. Doing this at this time does not count as an action. You can choose to use the Attach action later on.
Examples of Show Cards
Network Cards - These cards give players special powers during the game. Once selected, each card triggers in 4 different ways, depending on the icon in the upper right of the card. Either they are used immediately and discarded, kept face-up until used and then discarded after use, kept face-up and used during final scoring, or has a lasting effect and a discard ability (used in the advanced game). Each Network Card also has symbols across the bottom of the card. Some of these symbols are in color, while others are in gray. This track is only used in the 1 or 2 player game (see rulebook).
Examples of Network Cards
"Ok. I got the cards down. How do the turns work?"
In turn order, players will use an available action to grow their Network. Once a player takes an action, it is the next player's turn, and so on. Play continues until all players have passed, using the Drop & Budget action, which triggers the end of the Season. Player actions are conveniently listed on the Player Board. Available cards are not replaced as cards are selected by the players. Cards are only refilled at the start of each new Season. The available actions are as follows:
Develop a Show - Following each show's prerequisite, players may select an available Show Card, paying its development cost, and placing it in a time slot on the right side of the Player Board. A player may choose to cancel an existing Show in order to make room for the newly selected Show. They may even cancel a show that was acquired that round. Canceled Shows are placed in the Rerun slot (on the left of the Player Board) and will stay there for the rest of the round, generating Viewers at the end of the Season before being moved into the Archives (bottom left of the Player Board). Once placed in a time slot, the player will place a black cube on the first Viewer row on the card. This black cube will progress down the Viewer rows as the Seasons change and the Show ages. Outside of any requirements, if the player has any Star or Ad Cards in their Green Room, they may attach them to a newly acquired Show Card at this time, obeying the Show Card's prerequisites and limits. During a Season, a player may achieve a Genre Bonus, which is done by collecting a certain number of matching Genre Shows (color coordinated). The bonus actions available to that player are listed on their Player Board. Collecting 3 similar Genres will give you 1 of the following action choices: draw 3 Star Cards and keep 1; draw 3 Ad Cards, keeping 1 and collecting the income from the other 2. Collection 5 similar Genres will also give you the option of Drawing 3 Network cards, keeping 1. In addition, if you managed to collect 5 similar Genres, you may exchange Money for Viewers, at a rate of $4m for 3 viewers.
Sign a Star - Players may select and pay for an available Star Card. Newly acquired Star Cards are placed in the Green Room (top left side of the Player Board) until they are attached to a Show Card. Star Cards may also have a condition listed at the bottom that the players must attend to, as well.
Land Ad - As an action, players may select an available Ad Card. This Ad Card is place in their Green Room, and will generate money for the player immediately. As with Star Cards, Ad Cards may also have a condition listed at the bottom of the card.
Take Network Card - Of the available Network Cards, a player may use an action to select one of the cards. They cost no money, and there is no limit to the amount of Network cards a player may have. If there are no face-up Network Cards available, then a player may not take a Network Card. NOTE: Network Cards will take precedence over any rule contradictions.
Attach Star or Ad - If a player has any Star or Ad Cards in their Green Room, they may select this action to attach one of those cards to an existing Show Card, if the Show Card has the room. The attached card is simply slid under the Show Card from the right side. A player may discard an existing Star or Ad Card to make room for the new one. If the new Star or Ad Card has any conditions, those are taken care of before the new card is slid under the Show Card. If that condition changes AFTER the card has been slid under the Show Card, that condition will no longer force the card's condition to trigger.
Drop and Budget - This action is used when a player passes for their rest of the Season. If selected, a player will remove their player disc from the turn order track and place it on the left-most available location on the "Drop & Budget" track. That player will receive income (Season 1) or income or viewers (Season 2 and later), based on the symbol located under their player disc. The order in which players pass and use this action determines the player order for the upcoming Season.
"What happens after all the players have used the Drop & Budget action?"
They have now reached the end of a Season, and there are a few steps they must take before a new Season begins. End of Season scoring has 4 parts. Players will generate income and pay for expenses. The Show and Star Cards require upkeep, and the Ad Cards generate Income. Once combined, either the player's Network will be positive and generate Income, gaining money, or the Network will owe money and have to pay money from their supply of cash. If a player doesn't not have enough money to cover their expenses, they keep their money and pay their expenses by using their Viewer total from the scoring track. They will then tally up their viewership for the season, using the extremely convenient Scoring Calculator, located on their player board. Viewers from each Show Card in their lineup generate Viewers, as well as each Show Card that has been placed in their Rerun slot. Each Show in the lineup will age (move down one viewer row). Shows that are in their Rerun slot will move down to eh Archive slot. Then, they will populate the available cards for the next Season. If this is the end of the first Season, the right-most scoring track will be flipped over for the rest of the game. If this is the end of the fifth season, players will calculate their viewership from their active lineup one more time (ignoring income, expenses, and reruns), as well as score one viewer for each Star they still have in their Green Room, and all end-game scoring from Network Cards. The player with the most Viewers will be the winner. Ties are broken by the player with the most remaining money.
The components are good. The wood tokens work well. Included in the expansion, The Networks: On the Air, there is a sticker sheet to use with the wooden components. They add a bit to the otherwise plain markers, but are unnecessary. The cards are a little thin, but are of good quality. Sleeves for the cards will prolong their life, and won't be a problem, but the back of each card has a convenient icon and colored backs matching the type of card, so unless the sleeves are clear, these would be covered. Each of the thick cardboard Tracks and Player Boards are great. They function perfectly, keeping things in order, and are very well laid out. The addition of the calculator on the Player Board is wonderful. When you're adding up the viewership for the Season, this makes it very easy to keep track of your 8pm slot, then your 9pm slot, and so on. Very smart. The Player boards include the player actions that are available each turn, as well as the Genre Bonuses that players could achieve, as well. Both the Tracks and the Player Boards are very well organized. The cardboard money would really be my only gripe. When punching them out, and I'm very careful with my games, some of the money bits started separating. This only happened to a handful, and really only to a corner, but I would have liked them to be of better quality. Honestly, they are easily replaceable with some $1 and $5 coins, if you happen to have some handy, or in another game.
Rating: 8 of 10
The rulebook is very deliberate, and informative. It explains things simply and in a very understandable way. The examples given in the rulebook further explain how the cards work, with very useful breakdowns of each part of each card. The back of the book explains the 1 player and the 2 player rules. And during the setup pages, there are info boxes on the right side of the page that help with the 2-3 player setup, as certain cards are removed from play before shuffling and displaying the cards for Season 1. The illustrations are very helpful, and the rulebook is easy to navigate.
Rating: 8 of 10
The Networks is an easy to learn game, with easy to understand icons and turn order. The available actions included on the Player Boards are clear. The gameplay could be described as a multiplayer solitaire, but part of the game is knowing what your rival Networks are trying to go after. You may want to recruit that certain Star before they do, or attempt to develop a certain show first, knowing that a rival Network will get a bonus for having a certain number of a certain Genre. However, you could very well just stay within your own game, and not pay attention to the other players. I feel this is a viable strategy as well, but will cause some of the choices to be easier than others. For me, I will always keep an eye on my competitors to see what they are possibly going after, but my focus will be making my Network the strongest Network possible. The "advanced" cards, and the expansion will add replay to the game, changing it up even more from game to game.
Rating: 8 of 10
The Networks is a solid, card-drafting game. It presents the players with interesting, and sometimes tough, choices throughout the game. The option to include the "advanced" cards will change the game, once you feel like you understand how to play. The expansion "On the Air" adds even more cards to the decks, increasing replayability, as well. The show titles on the Show Cards are a spoof on existing, or once existing, TV shows. For example, one Show Card is titled, "Criminal Mindfulness", a spoof on "Criminal Minds" (great show, by the way...). Others are titled "Monday Night Foosball" (why don't we have this?), "Broken Worse", and "Doctor What", and the art helps you in figuring out of what TV shows they are spoofs. The art is great, by the way. Way to go, Travis Kinchy!
Rating: 8 of 10
To find out more about The Networks, visit: www.networksgame.tv
Copyright 2016 Formal Ferret Games. All Rights Reserved.