21 February 2022
The Ratings War Lives On
This article originally appeared in issue 63 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here.
I’m not sure when this trend of “two-player version of a bigger game” started, but I can say I’ve found another charming addition to the list.
The Rival Networks takes the television spoofing set-collecting from The Networks and chisels it down to svelte duelling game, as players fight for supremacy on the small screen, developing shows with star-studded casts to help snatch the most viewers and awards available over the course of three “seasons.”
Each player’s turn begins with selecting one of the three available shows to broadcast on their channel, gaining genre bonuses if for example this was their third or fourth Sports show and also earning ratings for the timeslot it was aired on.
Every show tracks its own ratings value, earning viewer tokens every time it passes certain thresholds. Your ratings value can be improved in many ways, but the most common is by adding stars with a matching genre symbol.
Once you’ve picked a show and chosen where it’s going on the schedule, you can grab one of these fabulous stars as well as lucrative ads by selecting from one of three pairs on display or by taking the facedown top card off each respective deck, ensuring another tactical decision between grabbing the star that can boost your ratings or taking advantage of a show’s success to squeeze more money from your sponsors to pay for more powerful network cards.
Said network cards provide one-off powers that can help tip the balance in your favour, from adding additional ratings to a show to outright stealing stars from the other player before they get a chance to slam them into a commentary role for “Battletots” or “America’s Got Talons.”
The game leans heavily on its farcical nature, from its caricatures of celebrities to the ridiculous methods that actual television channels go to so they can capture the attention of the masses, ensuring you’ll have a fair share of giggles between scanning the table for ways to outwit your opponent.
The game ensures a tight decision space that makes taking your turn quick but not straightforward. Both players know what awards to aim for the end of each season, as well as when the season is about to end, as the inevitable “Season Finale” card appears on the show selection area, halting any new show cards being revealed until one player chooses to end this season.
As such you’re constantly looking for the best ways to take advantage of your current predicament. Is it worth investing some of your stars now into making a decent Drama show, or should you be buying your time, cultivating a green room of comedy stars ready to deliver the biggest show on TV? Of course, this all relies on your opponent not working out your plan, snatching away this season’s only comedy show to thwart your plans.
A fantastic touch to proceedings are the wonderfully dinky houses each player gets. These serve as piggy banks for your viewer tokens, ensuring that unless you’re very good at remembering all of yours and your opponent’s achievements, that the overall winner will be a surprise for both players.
Surprisingly, I found this game much more enjoyable than its bigger box predecessor. The back and forth feels so much more impactful in a duelling game whilst the jokes continue to amuse. I wish it had more variety in shows or a way to string together games in a campaign-like structure, but for what it’s worth the game is a funny brainteaser that will keep you on tenterhooks before the dramatic finale.
PLAY IT? YES
This game captures the laughs and rewarding moments from scoring a well chosen set of cards that the original provided, but tightens mechanics and improves the overall look and pace.
This set collecting classic also rewards players who plan ahead but aren’t afraid to take a risk, whilst Jaipur has a very classical theme and speedy playtime, Rival Networks is festooned in both television and capitalist excess, which many may find more appealing
Designer: Gil Hova
Publisher: Formal Ferret Games
Time: 45-60 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 2 Cardboard viewer houses
- 6 Wooden rating discs
- 80 Cardboard tokens
- 5 Game boards
- 137 Game cards
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