Lights! Camera! Action! The Networks brings TV to life, only in this case you’re not a director or star, but a broadcaster trying to win the largest audience share with your nightly shows.
Each player takes a board showing which channel they are running: there’s three slots for your shows on one side (8pm, 9pm, and 10pm) a Green room, Re-run and Archive slot on the other side. You also have a starting set of cards: three shows for your slots (all unpopular), an advert and a star. Players are also given some cash to spend. A bunch of cards are laid face-up around the central board: shows, stars, adverts, and (after the first of five seasons) Network cards. And then play is pretty simple – you can buy a show, hire a star, land an advert (this gives you money, rather than taking it from you) add a star or an advert to one of your existing broadcasts, or replace an existing show with a new – ideally, more popular – one. Network cards either give you an instant reward, ongoing advantage of some kind, or points at the end of the game.
So what you’re trying to do is maximize your audience share, and certain shows work better in certain slots, and certain stars prefer a particular genre: your grizzled action hero will earn you a bigger audience share in an action show at 10pm than a sitcom at 8pm, for instance.
At a certain point you will Drop and Budget – effectively passing. Doing so before other players gets you more cash (or audience), but it does allow opponents to potentially have more turns than you! After everyone has taken the Drop and Budget action, the current season ends and scores are totaled: you earn (or pay) cash, and add up your audience figures. But then – crucially – your shows all age. Some will get a bigger audience as word spreads, but other audiences become jaded and lose interest – so these shows will need replacing if you’re to stay competitive! Old shows go into your Re-runs for one season, then get archived: no audience reward for that!
After the fifth season you score as normal, then age your shows and score again: a potential sting in the tail for anyone whose shows all lose a big audience share after the fifth season. Biggest audience – wins. (Keep an eye on what shows your channel transmits too – there are worthwhile genre bonuses for sets of three or five of the same genre.)
There’s laughs in The Networks – not only are the shows themselves quite silly, but they combine in sometimes preposterous ways. I’m wary of games that promote themselves as ‘funny’ but the humour here was incidental: the game is a proper tactical battle. Which is good, because after the first play you realize that the theme here is just flavour and some of the cards are going to date quickly in terms of their cultural reference. Gathering X cards and combining them with Y or Z cards isn’t exactly unique – many other games do so, with different themes – but the aging of the shows at the end of each season gives it extra depth and spice. I enjoy it.
No-one can steal from you or shoot you, but they can spot which shows you're after (there are audience rewards for 3 or 5 shows of the same genre) and take them before you do.
Pretty low, though it's one of those games where it can depend on who's playing...
..because there are decisions to be made. Take the show you want now, or grab the star that will suit it before someone else does? Take another turn, or Drop and Budget in order to stock up on cash for next season?
The cards offer a lot of variety - you won't use all of them in one game, and they come out randomly.