Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Wednesday 2 June 2021

The Game Shelf Reviews:- The Rival Networks

Game: The Rival Networks

Publisher: Formal Ferret Games

Designer: Gil Hova

Year: 2021
The Rival Networks is a two-player sequel to The Networks from Gil Hova and Formal Ferret Games. The Networks already had a player count of 1-5, but you did have to make a few modifications to play at two players. For us, the modifications were small and not detrimental to the game, but two player variants can really put some gamers off. The two player only, The Rival Networks, is a smaller box game that distills many of the same concepts and certainly shares the same theme and tongue in cheek references to your favourite shows.
Each player is responsible for their own television network, selecting shows and pairing them with the right stars to get the most ratings. Plus, if you advertise at the right time for your target audience you'll also start raking in cash, as well as viewers!

Each player starts with a, frankly awful, line-up of three shows across their three 1 hour timeslots, and one star ready to be assigned to a show. These starter shows generate no viewers, but you'll soon be adding new shows to your network to bring in huge audiences. The first thing a player does each round is choose one of three shows from the market and replace one of their existing shows with it (or they can take the end of season card if present). This new show immediately generates ratings, with additional ratings gained if it's in the correct timeslot. Whenever your marker on the rating chart goes past a viewer icon you gain one viewer. If this is your third show in a single genre you will also gain the associated genre bonus, granting you bonus ratings/stars/ads.

After taking a show you will take a pair of a star and an advert to place in your green room. These come in a paired market, so taking the star you want might result in getting a non-ideal advert or vice versa. After taking stars you may assign stars to one show. Stars must match the appropriate genre of show (sports/drama/comedy etc) in order to be assigned. When added to a show, a star increases its ratings by between one and three points, there's no limit on stars in a show, the more stars, the higher your ratings and therefore more viewers. Finally players can spend their advertising money to buy network cards which are single use bonus cards. Advertising cards typically reward extra money if you are currently leading in their associated timeslot, so pairing a good ad with a hit new show will really help you bring in the money!

All of this culminates when one player chooses to take the end of season card. That player won't get a new show that turn, but otherwise can finish their turn as normal. At the end of each season viewers are gained for having the highest ratings in the most timeslots, with a random star going to the loser. Then the end of season card will be assessed, giving out further viewers and bonuses for meeting the indicated challenges. There's a whole deck of end of season cards so each game is a little different. Once the third season has been taken the game ends and the player who has squirreled the most viewers away in their 3D cardboard house wins the game.

Amy’s Final Thoughts
The Rival Networks is a game with a fantastic sense of humour. Almost every card features a pun or reference to a real life TV show. We aren't huge TV watchers, typically only watching the most well known shows (and random murder shows...) but even so I only missed one or two of the references on the cards. The humourous art and joke names might keep your first game exciting, but since you'll see nearly all of them in one game the sheen does fade reasonably quickly. 
After this first great impression The Rival Networks needed to follow through on the strength of its gameplay. Fortunately here it does fairly well. Selecting a card from a market isn't the most inventive of a mechanic, but it does allow for quick decisions with the help of fantastic iconography meaning all but the network cards (which you only typically buy a handful of per game) are easy to choose from. There's always good reasons to choose the different options, picking shows based on genres is important for placing stars and to get those genre bonuses. Excluding the starter cards there are only three cards of each genre, one per season, so you have to focus if you want to get the bonuses. However with all-important viewers being awarded for being ahead at each time slot sometimes you'll simply want that popular 8pm show, even if it's sports...

While you can't do much to directly fight your opponent (even network cards that allow you to steal a card let your victim draw a random replacement) there's still a fantastic tug of war as you battle it out for the biggest ratings. There's no denying that The Rival Networks has managed to bring theme to the forefront of it's gameplay to pull you into the world of trying to sign the best stars and pander to the ever changing audience demands on the end of season cards. This also creates a rather unique two-player situation where you aren't being outright aggressive, but there's still a big element of conflict in the game. Even when things are going badly though, signing a new show will typically reward you a couple of viewers so it's hard to have a truly wasted turn.

Unfortunately as great as the theme, art, and humour is, there wasn't quite enough replayability for me. 'The Executives' mini expansion helped, granting each player a player power to aim towards using once a season. But even with that, once the sheer charm of the game wore off the gameplay didn't quite have the depth I would be hoping for. That's very much personal taste though, it's certainly a fun, lighter two player game with plenty to love, especially for telly addicts.

Fi’s Final Thoughts
The Rival Networks is a very quick game with lots of opportunities to score points throughout. By splitting the game into three seasons and giving you a scoring opportunity at the end of each of those seasons, it really helps to guide you game and also cause the rivalry, hinted at in the games title. For example, in the first  season, there is only one show available in each genre and some of of you end of season bonuses might reward a certain genre, so there may be a stand-out card in the market. On the other hand, we have had games that fall a bit flat through simple luck-of-the-draw where no player gets the chance to hit some of the bonuses in the first season.

The other way in which your strategy can be guided is towards the powerful genre bonuses, but again a bad shuffle can cause one or both players to struggle to hit them, which definitely seems key to winning the game. Finally the game contains 'The Executives' mini expansion which gives each player a unique power that might also help define your strategy.

On paper, it sounds like there's lots of nice bonuses and synergies in the game, and it does surprise me that more often than not, I've found The Rival Networks pretty boring to play. The first play was great - seeing all the new spoof TV shows and trying to figure out which of your favourite shows is being parodied. But after that, it started to fall flat. You can only really do as well as the game lets you do - if the genre you want is available at the same time as a star who has combines with that genre, and you've stockpiled a few other starts in that genre too, then you'll have a great turn. If the stars don't align, then perhaps you won't. The most deflating decision of all is when you have to take the end of season card, even though the season hasn't worked out well for you, but if you don't your opponent will just do even better. 

The Rival Networks is definitely something different in our two-player only gaming experience. There's a tug of war, but no direct conflict, which is certainly something we appreciate. It's also far more thematic than many, more abstract light two-player games. It's a nice addition if two-player games are your go to, even though for us it didn't have the staying power to deserve a collection spot.

You Might Like...
  • The game is packed with theme and humour.
  • Using the network cards and the Executives mini expansion really help to give you exciting moments.
  • Building towards genre bonuses helps you to build a focus to your strategy.
You Might Not Like...
  • You'll see every card each game, leaving no surprise puns in anything other that your first game.
  • End of season scorings feel big and can easily swing all in favour of one player.

The Verdict
6.5/10 The Rival Networks has fantastic theme and humour that really elevate the game beyond its simple mechanisms. The drawback here is that once you've heard the jokes once, they're not as funny the second or third time around, and the game returns to being just OK. Being a two player game makes it even more likely we'll only ever play with the two of us, so with no-one to show the jokes too, The Rival Networks was fun to play a couple of times, but we were quickly done.
The Rival Networks was a review copy kindly provided to us by Formal Ferret Games.

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