A to Z Gaming: The Networks

The Networks

We managed the show line up for our fledgeling TV networks in The Networks, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: The Networks
Players: 1-5
Time: 60-90 Minutes
Designers: Gil Hova
Artists: Heiko Günther, Travis Kinchy
Publisher: Formal Ferret Games

In The Networks, each player takes on the task of growing a new TV network from humble, public access beginnings to being (hopefully) must-watch-TV. The game is played through five seasons (rounds) where players sign stars, obtain rights to shows, and land commercial accounts. In the end, whoever has amassed the largest audience wins.

The game is set up by choosing the appropriate score/round tracker for the player count and placing it in the center of the table. The Star, Ad, and Network decks are shuffled and placed near the score track, and the Show cards are shuffled by season and also placed nearby. A market of cards is created from each deck according to the player-count (the specific number of each type of card is shown on the score/round tracker). The round marker is placed on Season 1.

Each player chooses a color (network) and takes the player mat, starting shows, ad and star for that network, and places their score marker on the track. They place out their starting shows on the right side of their board (representing their evening line-up) and put a black cube on the topmost viewer slot of each show. They also place a black cube on the center viewer tracker on their player board (this helps them keep track of their audience at the end of each round).

The player turn-order disks are placed on the turn-order track randomly, setting the first season’s player order. Then players take an amount of money based on turn order, as indicated on the score/round track.

The game is played over five rounds (called seasons). On their turn, the player will draft a card from the display. If they take a Star, they must pay the signing fee, and then place them in the green room section of their play area. If they take an Ad, they get money for landing the ad and then place it in their green room. If they take a Network card, the card will say when the card activates — it could give an immediate effect or might take effect during another phase of the game.

Finally, if they take a Show, it must be produced immediately, which entails paying its cost, placing it in a time-slot in the player’s show line-up (removing the show that’s currently there into the “reruns” section of their play area), and attaching any required stars or ads from their green room. Optionally, the player can add additional stars or ads, if the show allows for it. They place a black cube on the topmost viewer spot of the show. Also, if this show finishes a collection of three or five of the same-genre show in the player’s line-up and archive, they get to take a bonus action.

If the player can’t or doesn’t want to take any cards, they can drop out of the round. Take their turn-order disk and place it on the highest available “drop and budget” slot. The first player to drop out will be the first player the next round. Also, the earlier a player drops out, the more money and audience they’ll get.

Once all players have dropped out, the round ends. Players tally up the audiences from their reruns and current line-up of shows including any additional audience from stars and promo ads. This total is added to their score. They also pay upkeep on each of their shows and stars, and collect money from ads. Then they slide the black markers down one slot on each of their current shows and put their rerun shows into their archive.

The new turn-order is determined by who dropped out first. Any remaining cards are swept from the display, and new ones dealt out, and the round tracker advanced. The next round begins.

The game ends after the fifth round. At that time, players do their round-end clean-up by paying for their shows, getting income from ads, gaining audience for their current line-up and reruns, sliding their black cubes down on each of their current shows, and putting reruns into the archive. Finally, players all score audience one last time based on their current line-up. The player with the most audience (points) wins.

I picked up The Networks after I watched a run through of it. I was attracted to the puzzle of finding the right shows for the right time slots while getting the best ads and stars attached to each show. The art and humor of the game also drew me in.

I didn’t mention above, but all of the shows have a preferred time, which will get you more audience points for the first season if you can manage it. But also, some of the ads have preferences, like needing to be on a comedy or sports show, or to be on a show that’s in its preferred time slot. And, some of the stars also have preferences. There’s a balance to grabbing the ads and shows with requirements to get more audience points, but also being able to get the right shows to use those ads and shows. Of course, at the same time, you are never sure if the card you absolutely have to have will still be there when your turn comes.

There is also the final puzzle of making sure you have the right shows at the end of the game so that you can score well in both the fifth season and the post-fifth season.

How is it as a 2-player game? The Networks scales well for 2-players. There are some 2-player additions where every three turns random cards are discarded from the display. This does a great job of keeping the drafting interesting and creating some stress about which cards to grab first, just in case the one you really need disappears.

How about the art and component quality? I love the art. I know it won’t be everyone’s favorite, but I really like the style. I also love the word-play on the cards parodying real TV shows and humor in the game. The cards and components are good quality.

Will this stay in my collection? Yes, this will be staying. I have one of the expansions that we haven’t tried out yet, and I’m looking forward to seeing what that does for the game. Plus, I just like it.

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