What if you could be in charge of a whole television network? Hiring stars, signing shows, deciding on advertising? OH, THE POWER!! Few of us will ever fulfill this dream – but Gil Hova’s The Networks lets us get close. With a dynamic mix of strategy, fun and humour, The Networks hits a solid point in a game collection for a great range of players that will keep you coming back for more.
The Networks plays over 5 rounds (or, more thematically – seasons!) – each player starts with a pretty terrible show in each of their network’s three timeslots. You’ll also have a starter advertisement and star waiting in your green room, to make it a little easier to start developing shows and improving that lineup. As seasons of the game progress, you’ll be developing shows to put in at (hopefully!) their preferred time slots with enough star power and advertising bucks to keep your network afloat and flourishing. Some shows will fluctuate in viewers from season to season, so you need to keep an eye on what will work to maximize that while first airing, and what will give you a slice of viewers in re-runs, too. Network cards add some flavour with special effects and game end scoring that keep the game fresh, even after multiple plays. The player who ends up with the most viewers after 5 seasons claims the golden statue. (I made that statue part up, you just win. But that would be cool, right?)
Straight up, I think my favourite thing about this game is the fun look and feel of it. Snappy, colourful graphic design from Heiko Günther and art from Travis Kinchy give the game a kitschy and inviting flair. The components and the layout of the boards of the game are great, and the player aid for each network gives a useful rundown of actions to refer to without being overwhelming. Most of all, the humour of all of the cards is what makes me love this so much, and what I see bringing it to life every time I play it with friends. You’ll see cleverly disguised references to shows you love – Chainmail Bikini Warrior, NCISICBMOMGOMG, Upton Crabby – and even funnier shows that you almost wish you could channel surf and find – An Hour of Shouting, Awesome Industrial Accidents, and their ilk. Stars like “always dies in everything” and “adorable hipster” will have you chuckling as you perhaps mis-cast them, and you may think twice about attaching ads for “The Potatonator ™” or “Blast Radius Pure Sugar Cereal” to your prime time slot show.
But, The Networks isn’t all fun and games. There’s a delightful and tricky strategy baked in for players to build up their networks from public access to 5 star viewing. As seasons progress, you have to make the right choices at the right time – snap up a hot star now, or grab that fantastic 8pm reality show? Is it worth the viewers to run something through all of its seasons, or do you want to bump it to reruns and throw something fresh on the air? The Networks has a slow burn of strategy as you poke around in seasons 1 or 2 trying to build up your lineup, and then try to maximize your efforts to gain more and more viewers as the later seasons are upon you.
While a lot of economic engine-building games can be quite complicated, I think The Networks sits at a sweet spot where, at 60 – 90 minutes it’s enough to chew on for a lot of seasoned gamers who want some fun, or perhaps want to introduce friends to strategy games (the theme kills it here for that!). The procedure of each turn and how exactly to build up your shows can be a little tricky to grasp until you’re looking at the spread of the first round, and then the theme really picks up and helps you (helpful, memorable iconography is a big deal here too). Kicking in the “special” Networks cards after the first round lets players gain their footing without too much complication, too. The game offers well thought out solo and 2-player variants to mitigate the lack of other players, and works just as well at the top end with 5 players without dragging too much (or being too cut throat).
Designer Gil Hova is currently developing a expansion for The Networks, and I can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for this already wonderful game. Right now he’s also running a Kickstarter for a reboot of his game Prolix – Wordsy! So if you’re more of a reader than a viewer, make sure to drop over and check that out (and take a look at the cool Wordsy Twitter bot he put together for some fun!). Now, hand me that remote. It’s time for my stories..