Every year the television networks baffle viewers by cancelling, renewing and creating new television series. The viewers lament at the loss of their favorite shows and of course, think that they could do a better job at scheduling shows if only they were in control. Well, in The Networks by Gil Hova you could to do just that.
In The Networks you are in charge of planning one night of the week on a fictitious television network. At the beginning of the game you have three starting shows, a starting star and a starting ad. Each round represents one season and you compete with others (or yourself) to get the best shows, stars and ads for your network. For this review I will only cover the solitaire variant that comes in the box, but I can say that it is easy to see how it plays multi-player by playing it solitaire.
The initial set-up is slightly different in the solitaire game than the main game. You remove the interaction network cards (for obvious reasons), you place some cubes representing a loss of choice in the drop and budget action and you also need to set markers on the scoring track which mark where you can gain a bonus if you reach one of them by the end of each round.
After the set-up you begin season one by selecting one action (develop show, sign star, land ad, take network card, attach star or ad, drop and budget). Signing a star and landing an ad simply means taking a card into your green room for later use. Taking a network card could provide an instant bonus, a one-time use bonus or an end of game bonus. Attaching a star or ad involves taking an ad or star from your green room and placing it on an existing show in your lineup either replacing an already attached star/ad or adding one to a show that does not already have one. Developing a show is a little more involved. To develop a show you select a show from those available and attach stars or ads, placing it into the time slot of your choice. Some shows require stars, other require ads and some are a little more flexible so having the right stars/ads in your green room to maximize the potential of that show plays a huge role in your success.
After you select your action you flip over one of the network cards and look at the highlighted symbols on the bottom, removing shows, ads, stars, network cards or decreasing the bonus for the drop out and income action.
At the end of the season (after you select the drop and budget action) you go through a few simple upkeep steps. You calculate your income from the ads and compare it to your expenses from the shows and stars. Once calculated you either pay or collect the difference. After your income has been determined you calculate the number of fans from your current shows and your reruns. Then you age each show, showing how many fans you will get if they are still around at the end of next season.
The game has two main ways to lose and only way to win. If you get over 265 points at the end of 5 seasons you win, but if you don’t, obviously, you lose. The game can end earlier, though, because every time you draw a network card to decrease the options after your action and you can’t remove a highlighted action (network card, star, ad, etc.) you place a cube on the turn order track. If you place the fifth cube your game is immediately over.
- Solitaire games with difficult to use AI systems drive me crazy and The Networks does not do this in the slightest. The AI system is very easy to use; you flip a Network card and look at the highlighted symbols representing the stars, ads, network cards and drop and budget slots. Quite simply you remove the option(s) it tells you to and you move on to your next action.
- While I have only played the solitaire game, I have read the rules for the multi-player game and I feel confident that after playing a few games solo I could seamlessly go into a multi-player game. If you are someone who plays solo to learn the rules, then this game will help prepare you to teach the multi-player.
- Each action you take every turn brings you one step closer to losing the game, but also it may remove another card that you want. This push your luck mechanic provides some pretty tough choices, making you decide which action is the absolute best to take. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted a show and star or ad, but had to choose one over the other. Sometimes I lost out on the other one I wanted, but sometimes I didn’t and that added a bit of tension to every decision which is one of my favorites parts of the game.
The Not So Good
- Let me start by saying the artwork works for me. I like it, but I can also see that it can be a turn-off for some since it is a bit odd. It is quirky, for sure, but it fits the style of humor that the game has (more on that later).
- There is a decent amount of luck in the solo game, with the removal mechanic after every action, but also with each new season it brings new shows, stars and ads and they may or may not work best with your current schedule. Stars, ads and shows can give you bonuses depending on the show genre, time slot, etc. You can also get a bonus if you specialize in specific genres. It seemed, without fail, that whenever I went after one or two genres I could not seem to find the right stars, ads, or additional shows in that genre. The luck doesn’t kill the game, but sometimes it can get a bit frustrating.
- The game isn’t easy…at least not for me. I have played a few times and switched between cautious and reckless, yet could not seem to win. That isn’t a horrible thing, but if that trend continues I might get annoyed to the point that I do not want to play. My guess, though, is with more plays I would get better at playing the game and might be able to one day scrape out a win.
The Best Part
- This game is hilarious, flat out hilarious and if you encourage the players to read the show names with the stars and ads that your use it can seriously make you laugh out loud (Of course you have to be alright with talking to yourself in a solo game…which I have no problem doing). Shows like Chainmail Bikini Warrior, Getting to Know Your Lower Intestine and Agents of S.H.A.M.P.O.O. paired with stars like the Intense Dramatic Actor or Comedian Your Parents Like give some great combinations. The combinations can be utterly hilarious, like Agents of S.H.A.M.P.O.O. with the star, Always Dies in Everything and sponsored by Crazy Pete’s Discount Plutonium. Seriously…I’d watch that show.