FORMAL FERRET GAMES present THE NETWORKS Designed by Gil Hova with Art by Travis Kinchy
For 2-5 Players Aged 13+ with games lasting 60-90 minutes
The NETWORKS puts the players in control of a new but small television network. Each player begins with three basic public access programmes, one for each time slot 8pm, 9pm and 10pm, and just enough start-up cash. The concept of the game is to gain the most viewers over 5 seasons by promoting new shows, hiring popular celebrities and paying for it all through adverts. The concept is solid and one anyone who watches networked television (i.e. ITV in the UK (not the BBC) and in the USA most channels) should be fairly aware of.
My first impression was that I didn't like the multi-tv screen glossy box cover art because it is so busy and thus looks depressingly like a nightmare version of Celebrity Squares. It is a confusion of blocks and colours and more likely to turn potential players away rather than draw them to it. Personal experience has shown me that the more there is on the cover the less notice players take of the game itself. I think I understand what I am looking at and why this design was chosen - to show numerous TV channels at the same time - but I would have preferred to see a number of obvious televisions (2-5 perhaps) showing possible programmes rather than this. This is my personal opinion of course, but had I not received a copy of the game for review I wouldn't have looked twice at it on a game store shelf except to perhaps think how ugly the cover is.
So, on to the game itself....
Players each have their own Network Station ID, these being PKW tv, MOO tv, ICS tv, VCK tv and U62 tv. I thought these were made up names but U62 tv has a website, VCK is an association that delivers TV signals to a Dutch University, ICS is International Channel Shanghai, MOO tv is a station in Nashville and PKW ? well I couldn't find any company on the internet with these initials, so now I'm not sure why any of these initials were chosen - if it's an in-joke then I'm out not "in". Colour me dim !
Player's Networks only broadcast for 3 hours a day, 8pm-11pm, so to get maximum viewers they need to show the best possible programmes starring the biggest and most popular celebrities. These shows can run for four seasons but generally lose viewers after the first season and go into a sharp decline after season two. Most programmes have a development cost - how much it costs the player to buy the show's rights in the first place and then have running costs which need to be paid at the end of each season/round.
The NETWORKS is in the genre of games where the players have a selection of cards available to buy or obtain freely each round. There are a number of separate decks: Show cards - different shows become available for each season; Ad cards which bring money in but not viewers and Star cards - your celebrities. These are shuffled and then some from each deck are put on display, how many of each depends on the number of players. These displays are set above and below the scoring track boards and are changed at the beginning of each new season, new cards are not added as displayed cards are removed, thus the players choices dwindle until all cards have been taken or all players decline.
All of the cards are colour coded for quick recognition and most of the cards contain pleasantly appealing artwork as well as a host of information to help the players decide which cards they require. Show cards, for example, have a specified preferred show time, 8pm, 9pm or 10pm, losing viewers if they are positioned in the wrong slot. Show cards have to be placed into a time slot immediately they are obtained, even if this means replacing a show already in place. Celebrities go into the Green Room section of your Network card and can be attached to a show during each turn as an Action. There are several Actions available to players, Develop Show (buy a Show card), Sign a Star (gain a Celebrity card), Land Ad (gain an Ad card and place it in your Green Room) Attach a Star or Ad (attach an Ad or Celebrity card to a show on your Network), Take A Network card (not available for season one in basic game), Drop and Budget (end your turn and claim an amount of cash). Players may only do one of these Actions each turn but can continue to do them when all other players have Dropped and Budgeted as long as they are able to. Every type of card on the Display has conditions that should be met before they can be put into play, failure to meet all the conditions means the card is flipped over to its less productive side. By buying and claiming cards each player builds up their Network. Constantly changing the shows generally keeps the overall ratings high as does choosing the right cards to buy or claim from the Display.
The rules are nicely laid out with plenty of artwork, illustrations and examples of play, as well as being written in an easy to understand and play manner. The colours used on the cards ensure that you cannot accidentally mistake one type for another and the icons used are easily deciphered at a glance once you have read through the book. Everything about The NETWORKS runs like clockwork, precise and clean, thus allowing it to be played effortlessly without constant need to refer to the rules.
A game involving TV show planning isn't totally unique and for some reason the topic/theme doesn't seem to happily or often lend itself to the core gamer mentality. This isn't a problem with The NETWORKS though because this is an outright family game which, in our view after playing several games, doesn't have to be confined to ages 13+. Younger players from about the age of 8 upwards will understand the basics and young regular games players will quickly see the majority of the possibilities, being as able to play it as thoroughly as they would a game of Monopoly or Game of Life; by this I mean they will miss the occasional nuance but easily grasp and understand the general play. The only problems we found were that games which lasted over 45-60 minutes tended to lose some appeal as each season was pretty much the same as the season before, and also these longer games lost the interest and concentration of the younger players, especially the 10-15 year olds who found there wasn't enough substance to keep their minds from wandering to their iPhones, iPads or CALL of DUTY on their PS4 or ONE.
Overall The NETWORKS is a playable, friendly game (okay there are times when an opponent takes the card you obviously need) that (apart from the box) looks quite appealing and plays easily enough to be quickly explained to new players by experienced players. Comparing it to other games I have in my collection I would say it is a game I would look to play maybe once every three or so months, perhaps three times a year. For myself it isn't a world beater, must play, but it is a nice stepping-stone game for players who want to move on past their Monopoly phase but can't quite figure Catan or Carcassonne.