The Rival Networks (Formal Ferret Games, 2021)

Basic details: 2 players; 45 minutes; competitive

Date played: November 28, 2021

Gist of the game: You are the owner of a new TV station, equipped only with 3 public access shows and a little money. Your ambition knows no bounds, however, and you have your eye on beating your competitor owner of the other new station in town. You’ll do so by developing the hottest new shows with the biggest star you can get, plus selling ads. The player whose TV station has the most viewers at the end of the game wins.

To set up the game, each players chooses a color and takes their respective viewer house/bank. The 3 time slot boards are placed between the players so that colors align with the correct player. The Green Room and Reruns boards are placed on either end of the time slots. Ratings point discs are placed in the 0 space of each time slot. The Pilot Season show cards are shuffled and one card is dealt face-up next to each time slot so that each player has a show for each time slot. Each of the other season decks is shuffled and a season finale card is added to the bottom of each season deck before season decks are stacked in ascending order. The show deck is placed between the players and the top 3 cards are placed face-up into a Show Display area. The Starter Star cards are shuffled and placed on each side of the Green Room (so that each player has one). The player who has been dealt Star #1 will be the 1st player. The 4 Mega Star cards are placed to the side. The rest of the Star cards are shuffled into a deck, as are the ad cards (into a separate deck). The top 3 cards from each deck are placed face-up in columns next to each other, so that each start is next to an ad. The Network cards are shuffled into a deck and placed near the players, and the top 3 Network cards are placed next to the deck. The Awards cards are shuffled by season and 1 card is drawn for each season. Seasons 1 and 2 are placed face-up in a row and season 3’s card is placed face-down in the row. Viewer and ratings point chips are placed near the players.

To play the game, players take turns developing a show, signing a star, and possibly attaching stars to shows, and buying and playing Network cards. At the end of each turn, players refill the open displays and add viewer chips to their bank. Each round ends when the season finale card is taken. The other player then begins the next round. At the end of the 3rd season, the player with the most viewers wins.

Shows in a player’s lineup produce ratings, which in turn produce viewers.

The first stage of a player’s turn is to develop a show. Players take one of the show cards from the show display and place it in one of their time slots or in the rerun area. If a player develops 3 shows of the same genre, they receive a genre bonus.

Shows placed in a time slot replace the show previously in that time slot. When that happens, the show is moved to the reruns area, regular stars are discarded, mega stars are moved to the mega star deck, and starter stars are placed face-down in reruns. Any rating point chips on canceled shows are returned to the supply. The ratings disc for that time slot is returned to 0. The new show immediately scores ratings points. If the show is in the appropriate time slot, it scores more points. The ratings points disc is advanced appropriately on the track based on the number of ratings points. For each viewer icon the ratings disc passes over on the ratings points track, the player receives a viewer chip.

Players can also place a new show directly into their reruns area. Doing this will not score any viewers, however.

For each show of the same genre, beginning with the 3rd, players earn the genre bonus for that genre.

After developing a show, players sign a star and an ad. To do so, they take one of the pairs of stars and ads and place them in their Green Room. Players have the option of drawing the top card from the Star and Ad decks if they don’t want one of the existing pairs.

After signing a star and ad, players have the option of attaching stars to a show. Stars must match the genre of the show. Players may place any number of stars, but only to a single show per turn. After stars are placed, their ratings points are scored and the ratings disc is moved along the ratings track, with viewers scored as the ratings disc passes over them.

At any point during a player’s turn, they may also buy a Network card from the display. Each Network card has a cost, and ads are discarded to pay that cost. The Network card is then placed face up in front of the player. Ads with the time slots symbols pay out based on ratings for that slot. Other ads are worth $2 million each or $5 million for a pair. Players can buy as many Network cards from the display on their turn as they can afford, but the Network display will not be refreshed until the end of the player’s turn. Players can also play a Network card at any point during their turn. Each card can only be used once per game and the card is turned 90 degrees once played.

At the end of their turn, players refill the star/ad display, the Network card display, and add a new card to the show display (unless the season finale card is already in the show display). Players then bank the viewer chips they gained that turn.

Once the season finale card has been chosen from the display, the season ends at the end of that turn and season finale scoring takes place. During season finale scoring, players score time slots by giving the player leading in more time slots one viewer per time slot they lead in. The other player draws a star from the star deck and plays it face-up in their Green Room. Next, players score the award card. Each award card has 3 awards. Player score rewards (stars or viewers) for each award criterion they meet. Both players can score the same award.

After season finale scoring, the game either continues (after seasons 1&2) or ends (after season 3). To prepare for next season, all remaining cards in the star/ad display and Network card display are discarded and replaced. The current season’s award card is discarded. At the end of season 1, season 3’s award card is also revealed to allow player to plan ahead. The player with the season finale card discards it and the other player begins the new season.

For end of game scoring, players count all stars and ads in their Green Room. The player with the most combined cards gains 1 viewer. Players then empty their banks and count viewers. The player with the most viewers wins.

Color commentary: Another specially-designed 2-player version of a bigger game (The Networks, which, it may surprise you, we own but haven’t played), which I appreciate. It’s a much smaller box and generally feels less overwhelming than the bigger box games sometimes do. All the shows in the game are spoofs of existing shows, and the various stars are silly archetypes, like “Dies in Everything.” The ads are absurd, and as M will comment on further, the artwork is funky and fun.

I’m wondering if I have some kind of bizarre game-explaining skill where M seems to not understand in his consciousness but his lizard brain understands perfectly and can execute strategies neither of us are aware of until it is clear he is trouncing me. I crawled back to win 39-44, but it came down to the third season’s awards, which gave me the edge I needed. Season 2 was a blowout in M’s favor, not even close. He was banking 5+ viewers every turn while I scrabbled for like 3.

The genre bonuses are interesting, and overall represent a mix of longer-term vs. shorter term gain (gaining a star and ad, or multiple ads, or multiple stars, to your Green Room, for instance, as opposed to gaining 3 additional ratings points for a show, which may more directly tie into an increased number of viewers. Anyway, M blocked me from getting the “action” (police procedural seems more accurate) genre bonus, though, and as the bona fide police procedural fan in the house, I took umbrage at that. It rankles me even now, just remembering it. Then again, I interfered with him getting the sports genre bonus a second time, and I can assure you I am not the sports fan in the house (but since I know he’ll read over this before we post, Go Green!).

The awards are also interesting, since you know what they are before the season starts. Sometimes luck runs against you and you can’t do anything to win a particular time slot, but there’s at least some room here for strategy in terms of replacing (or not) shows, and putting new shows in their “best fit” time slot (or not), or hoarding stars to give you a big boost as opposed to playing them as soon as possible. I tried to keep an eye on the awards, though I’m not sure if M did, or if he did but couldn’t figure out how to capitalize on that information.

Our stamina is waning here in the closing day of HovelCon, so we only played this once, which was a little plodding, but I think it has nice potential for a second game, and I’m curious how the big-box version differs in terms of game play or anything beyond box size and the number of components (since you only need to have enough for 2 players, as opposed to 5 or 6). Also, I got to use some of our extensive board-game baggie collection to tidy up the components when we were done, and as I find board game organization strangely soothing, that was a nice one-time bonus to cap off the game.

Thoughts from M: The artwork is fun. I know I say that a lot, but these new wave games usually have good artwork (Petra here: He does actually know that “new wave” games as a category are 20+ years old, but he remembers a simpler, drabber time, where Yahtzee was the height of entertainment). (M here: so what are these games called now? Yes, “new wave” doesn’t make sense as a term, but it’s still the term that people use. Also, when it is possessive, why is there not an apostrophe after “its”? I know there isn’t, but it makes no sense and I am usually scared to use any from of its for fear of getting the apostrophe wrong.)

Like most games, on the first playthrough, I really didn’t understand what was going on at first. I caught on, but as the game progressed, I was unable to come up with an all-purpose strategy that looked ahead more than one turn. Such games can be fun, but this one was less fun as a result of that feature.

The game feature of putting your viewer chips in a literal tiny bank at the end of each turn and not being able to count them during the game was interesting. As is often the case when there’s something to keep track of that you’re not always allowed to check as the game progresses, a smart player should keep a running tally of these points. I’m not sure if there’s anything I could have done differently to beat Petra, but since we both thought I was winning, I didn’t even consider it.

What did amuse me greatly is that this, ahem, new wave board game would harken back to a time when being first in a timeslot was extremely important for network. And the game doesn’t even taking into consideration demos! Who’s even heard of the key demo?! It was a simpler time. Many would say a better time. Would I say it was a better time? In some ways, yes, but for entirely different reasons. Correlation does not equal causation, and such.

Petra rating: 7/10
M rating: 5-6/10

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