The Networks could easily be called UHF the Game. In The Networks you are tasked with taking a low budget, local cable access channel with shows like "Wide World of Forks" and "Unlocking Your Cat's Psychic Potential", and turn your channel into one that can rival HBO. The game uses some novel mechanisms that perfectly match the theme, and make it a game you'll to tune into again and again. Let's take a closer look.
In The Networks you'll have five seasons to turn your channel into a powerhouse, competing with your rival network executives to have the most viewers by the end of the game. Each season a new set of TV shows, stars, ads, and special "Network Cards" are made available. During the season, players will go around the table taking one action each either developing a show, picking up an ad (which gives you money) or star (which costs you money), taking a Network Card, or attaching a new ad or star to an existing show. When you develop a show, you must first place it in a time slot. You have three time slots to choose from, and shows will have a slot in which they will perform best, however, the show that currently occupies that slot will be canceled, and any stars or ads attached to that show will be discarded. This can lead to some really tough decisions, and timing of canceling show is vital to doing well in the game. After a show is canceled, it will still air as a rerun for a season, so it's not a total loss. Shows will often require a certain number of ads or stars to air. Stars increase the number of viewers will tune into the show, while adds will make you money. Having a good balance between adds and stars are important, because while stars will bring in viewers, which is what you'll need to win, they cost you money, and money in this game is tight.
After you've done everything you want in a turn, you can "drop and budget", which is essentially pass. There is an incentive to drop out early in a turn, as the earlier a player passes the better reward they get for passing; leading to a great dynamic where you're always trying to figure out if your opponents are going to stay in or not, and trying to weigh the value of grabbing that one extra card or not. The decisions don't end there though, as in most rounds your reward can be either a good chunk of cash, or the viewers that might tip the scales in end game scoring. Again, this is no easy choice, and careful planning is essential.
In between rounds you get cash from ads, pay for your shows and actors, and score any viewers you've gained. Then your shows age, adding yet another layer of theme and depth to the game. Some shows start out strong and quickly fade; others take a season or two to find their footing, and then come on strong. Stars are also affected by this, and audiences might begin to tire of an old favorite. After aging, the next season starts and you go again, until the final scoring where you will age your shows a final time and score once more.
Something that has to be talked about in the game is it's strong sense of humor. You'll find shows that are parodies of current hits, such as "Paisley is the New Burnt Umber" or "The Baccalaureate", and actors like "That Kid From the Commercial" or "Comedian Your Parents Like". They are always good for a chuckle and help keep the atmosphere light, as this could have easily been a dry, more serious game. The art won't wow anyone, but it gives nicely stylized representations of the shows and actors the game pokes fun at.
Also of note is The Networks' fantastic solo game. The game has a nice, simple card mechanism that does a great job of limiting your options just enough, and the challenge is tuned right that you won't win every solo game you play. Well, at least I don't... The solo game has made this one of the games I've played most in the last year, and it is one of my go-to games when I'm looking for a fun solo experience.
All-in-all, The Networks is a brilliant game, and my biggest complaint is how hard it was for most to find a copy last year. If you weren't one of the lucky ones to jump early, the only way to get a copy was to pay a huge mark up. Luckily, the game will be back in stores soon at an affordable price, and when it is, it should definitely be a game you should check out.
Solo Game: 8/10