Review – The Rival Networks

I have always loved The Networks, ever since the beginning. It was one of my first Kickstarter games and it’s solidly in my Top 10 games of all time.

So when I heard that a 2-player version of the game, The Rival Networks, was coming to Kickstarter, you knew I had to back it.

I’ve never tried the 2-player variant for the original game, so I thought this would be a cool thing to have.

It arrived during the Summer of COVID 2021 and so I didn’t get a chance to play it until I got back to work in September.

The game is designed by Gil Hova with artwork by Heiko Günther and Travis Kinchy. It’s published by Hova’s Formal Ferret Games.

While it is a fun game, I was left feeling a little “blah” about the whole thing. It does make me want to see how the 2-player version of the original game is.

How does it work?

Let’s take a look.

In The Rival Networks, both players are rival network executives trying to get as many viewers as possible to their nighttime lineup.

The game is divided into three seasons, and each turn you will be developing one of the three shows that comes out on the table. You have to develop one, though you can put it into it’s non-preferred time slot. You will get fewer viewers for it, but maybe that won’t be a bad thing.

One thing to keep in mind is the genre bonus. Whenever you develop the third show of a genre, you get a bonus based on what the genre is. It may be more viewers, stars, ads, or other things along those lines.

When you place a fourth show of that genre, you get the bonus again.

After placing a show, you will choose a Star/Ad combination. You can then place as many Stars as you want on one show, but the genre (the symbol on the left side of the star) has to match the symbol on the show you are placing them on.

Finally, at any time during your turn, you can spend Ads (which give you money) to buy Network cards that will give you a boost of some sort.

Turns continue until the Season Finale comes out in the available shows. Players can then develop one of the shows or they can end the round by doing the Season Finale. When you choose the Season Finale, you still get to choose a Star and Ad pairing, and maybe a Network card if you can afford it.

Then you do end of round scoring.

First, whoever is ahead in viewership in the majority of the three time slots gets viewer chips while the other player gets to take a Star from the top of the deck. If it’s tied (maybe you each lead in one and the third one is tied?), nobody gets anything!

Then you look at the Season Awards cards and and see who satisfies each condition. That player (or if both satisfy them, then both players) gets the award given on the card.

Then all of the cards that are available to take are discarded and new cards are put on the table (Shows, Network Cards, Stars and Ads).

Play continues like this until the end of Season 3, where all points (viewer chips) are added up.

When you get viewers (when you develop shows, get awards, etc), you will be putting viewer chips in your little house (which is kind of cool but also kind of annoying because they don’t fit together that well).

The number of chips is kind of secret because it’s hidden by the house. At the end of the game, you lift the house and count your chips.

Whoever has the most is the winner!

Is the Rival Networks a network that gives you Ted Lasso or a network that gives you Hercules?

I have to say that it’s cool to have a version of The Networks that plays 2 players and takes under an hour (though the 45-minute play time on the box is a bit generous, as all three of our games took at least 55 minutes).

That being said, the game just feels a bit lacking in general, though it’s still fun.

Lots of reruns!

The artwork in the game is still stellar, very recognizable to fans of the original game. The show names are just as funny, though with fewer shows the humour doesn’t last quite as long.

Gotta love The Poncho Academy!

If you hate puns, though, this game already has a strike against it.

The first problem for me (I love puns) is that there isn’t a lot of variety in the base game. All of the shows will be seen and all of the shows will be developed (except maybe one or two if somebody takes the Season Finale card as soon as it comes out).

Your choice of shows is pretty easy to make, though there are times where the show with the genre you want actually favours a time slot that you’ve just placed a new show in. I did have one game where one of my starter (really bad) shows stayed into Season 2 because I needed the new shows somewhere else.

Was that a good decision?

I didn’t win that game, so probably not!

Yes, you can always put the show in a non-favoured time slot and get a few less viewers. The penalty isn’t *that* painful (maybe 2-3 viewers).

Or sometimes the shows come out and you can’t worry too much about genre bonuses.

The game has a bit of a 3-column duel nature, like the classic Battleline and the like. You are contesting three different time slots and trying to score the most viewers in each one of them. Each time you add viewers (maybe via a new star or something like that), you may be able to add viewer chips (which work as the victory points in the game) to your house if your score marker passes an eyeball symbol.

If you develop a new show, your viewer total goes back to zero but then you get the viewers on the show as well as any Stars, etc that you may end up putting on it. Shows in later seasons start out with higher viewers so sometimes you may end up right where you were before you changed the show!

Blue is ahead at 10pm. Yellow at 9pm. And 8pm is tied!

Whoever is leading in each time slot may get bonuses at the end of the season or maybe the Season Awards.

The Network cards and the Stars/Ads do add some variety to the game, but not as much as I would like. It’s very possible (depending on the bonuses you get and Network cards, etc) that you will cycle through all of the Ads and Stars and have to shuffle them. So essentially you are seeing all of them too!

I honestly don’t know if my indifference is because I love The Networks so much or if it’s a function of the game itself.

It didn’t feel like there were a lot of choices in the game, or at least not meaningful ones. The number of shows is really small with only six each season before the Season Finale card.

Sure, the Ad/Star combos mean that sometimes you have to decide what’s more important: the Ad that may get you that Network card you want even though the Star is only good for genres you don’t have?

Or maybe you go for the Star even though the Ad won’t really get you that much this time around (because you only get $1 million if you aren’t leading the 8pm slot and you are trailing in it very badly). That Star might be important to get you more viewers!

The genre bonuses can be a little lucrative, possibly letting you put ratings chips onto shows that are already on your network, increasing their power a bit, sometimes getting you more Stars or Ads or what have you.

Which genres you go for is pretty much scripted by what you start with, though, as each season just has one show of each genre. If you don’t start out with a Reality Show, it’s going to be hard to go for a Reality Show genre bonus and you will only get it once (if you manage to snag all three seasons’ worth of Reality Shows).

That’s not always a bad thing, and there’s usually one genre that you might go for just with the three main seasons.

But depending on how the shows come out, that may not work either.

In our games, we usually got three genre bonuses. Sometimes it was all three of the genres we started with and sometimes it was two and then one other one.

This was a little different in our third game where my opponent had an Executive (ooooo foreshadowing!) that gave her the opportunity to choose which genre bonus she wanted rather than the one she qualified for.

I have the Kickstarter edition (though maybe this is also true of the retail edition?) so in addition to the base game, I received the Executives variant and the Documentaries & Game Shows mini-expansion.

We played two games of the base game and then we added in the Executives variant for the third game.

The Executives does help the enjoyment of the game by giving each player an asymmetric power.

This made the game a lot more fun and we will definitely be playing with that variant from now on. That being said, some seem better than others.

I had the Specialist, which allows you to draw a random Star and Ad if you replace a show with a show of the same genre. The trouble is that most of the time, that means you’re putting that show in the wrong time slot so getting fewer viewers.

I suppose that’s to keep it from being too powerful and thus is actually designed that way? I don’t know.

It does make you rethink the game a little bit, and wonder whether it’s actually even worth it to use your Executive power.

Other Executives (like Rich, which makes each Ad give you $1 million more) have ongoing bonuses that seem much better.

We haven’t played with the Documentaries & Game Shows expansion, which essentially replaces two of the base game genres. That could also add to the variety a little bit, but since the same problems exist (only one show of each genre for each time slot), I think it may quickly not matter anymore once you’ve played it a few times.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is whether or not I’d rather play The Rival Networks or The Networks at two players?

Not having played the 2-player variant, I think I’d still have to say I’d rather play The Networks.

Now, would I say the same if I’m playing with my co-worker at lunch (like I played this)?

One thing The Rival Networks definitely has over its parent is play time.

And how much table space it takes up.

So two things, I guess.

I will definitely keep this in my collection just because it does fill that special need for a lunchtime work game.

But if I had the opportunity to play the parent game a lot, even with two players?

I probably wouldn’t play The Rival Networks again.

What’s my opinion of the game?

It’s fine. I’m certainly not hating on the game. I’ll gladly play it if it’s on offer. If my co-worker says “hey, let’s play The Rival Networks!”, I won’t say no. I do enjoy it.

And maybe once we’ve been through a few of my other lunchtime games and we come back to it, it will be as good as new.

I just think that, overall, there are better options, both for duel games as well as for quick-playing 2-player lunchtime games.

Which saddens me a little bit, because I am such a big fan of Hova’s and The Networks.

This one is definitely a “try before you buy” game for me.

This review was written after 3 plays.

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