One of my favorite 80’s movies is UHF, staring “Weird” Al Yanchovic. Here’s the premise, Al’s wealthy uncle gives him his failing UHF TV station, only for Al to find out later that his uncle has a gambling problem. To prevent losing the station, Al must make the TV station profitable by developing new shows, developing stars and securing ad contracts.
This is sort of the basis for The Networks, originally released in 2016 by Formal Ferret, recently getting a wider release here in the US. The Networks looks much, much more complicated at first glance than it actually plays. I’ve only played it twice, yet I completely understand the game and could easily teach others how to play. It is, objectively speaking, a truly middle weight game. This would be a great game to teach your friends or family after introducing them to Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, or possibly even something like King of Tokyo.
This game does something that I absolutely love in Euro-style (economic, resource-management style) games: your Victory Points represent something very thematic and somewhat tangible. The player who has attained the most viewers for the their TV network will win the game. Viewers are gained by developing shows, typically starring the right stars and supported by ads. Landing ads will give you an immediate cash bonus, but will usually continue to give you more money at the end of each season. Turning your network into a profitable economic engine is important, but not a stressful part of the game in my opinion. As the game progresses, shows will either gain more viewers or decline and eventually go to your reruns pile and gain viewers for one final season.
All this sounds really complicated, right? Here’s the beautiful part of The Networks- the basic mechanics and options on your turn are incredibly simple. On 90% of your turns, you’re just going to take a card. That’s it…seriously. Take a show card and develop it, take an ad or star card and put it into your green room (to save for later) or immediately attach it to a show. There are also pink network cards, which either grant you an immediate bonus or allow you to play it at the end of a season (round) or hold until the end of the game to gain extra viewers. There’s a few other subtleties such as gaining bonus viewers and card draws for acquiring your third and then fifth show of a genre, or making sure you have your TV shows in the correct time slot for maximum viewership. Also, knowing when to pass for the remainder of the season and drop in budget to gain money and/or viewers is a important, but very enjoyable part of the game. However, those aspects of the game become much more apparent after starting to play the game.
There are a couple minor negatives, however. First, the card quality is not the best. I do think for a $50 game MSRP, you’re getting a good value here. There are a lot of cards and although you’re probably not going to need to sleeve them, it might be to your benefit if this is one you’re going to play at least five or six times a year. Also, in my second game, we tried some of the “interactive” network cards. After the game we decided that we would only play with about half of those interactive cards; several of them were incredibly powerful and, in our opinion, too punishing for whoever you play them on for a game that is all about action efficiency. For example, someone could potentially lose a star that is going to gain them 10+ viewers over the course of 3 seasons. We decided to pull out those few cards, however, and just not play with them in the future.
The Networks is a game that I could play many times year and would be happy to introduce to new people to the boardgaming hobby. For an economic/resource management style game, it’s incredibly thematic and fun. There’s a healthy amount of stress as you’re hoping that other players don’t take the cards you want, but it’s not as stressful as something like Agricola, as you can usually make just about anything work and you won’t be penalized too harshly if you don’t get what you need. Finally, and possibly most importantly, the show, star and ad cards in this game are hilarious. The entire game is chalk full of satire. It’s as funny as something like Munchkin but has way more substance. I really enjoyed pairing my shows with specific actors and reading them in “movie guy” sort of voice. For, example, “coming this September, “that guy who always dies” starring in American Samurai Warrior… sponsored by Reflux Orange Juice!” Overall, I think if you’re looking for a fun, hilarious, and yet intriguing middle weight game that you can teach just about anyone, I highly recommend The Networks. I objectively give it a 7.5 out of 10. If you’re a big fan of the movie UHF and/or satire I’m going to give it a +1, and if you’re a fan of Euro-style/economic games, I’m giving it another +1 (for me, it’s a 9.5).