Previewing: The Networks: Executives

Welcome back from our midsummer hiatus!

(Look, we paid the electric bill and Steve is totally fixing that little issue we had with the family of raccoons living in the station.)

We’re excited that you’ve decided to stop in and see what spectacular new shows we have in store for you. And boy do we! We’ve renewed the EPA Cleanup Channel. We’re launching a spinoff for the late night hit Actuarial Tables with Actuarial Tables II: The Revisionist. And we’re pretty sure Darlene and her singing cats are Hollywood bound any day now. Why yes, things are full steam here at public access KRUM, so grab a seat be prepared for some top-notch entertainment under the esteemed leadership of Mr. Bigg.

But first, a word from our sponsor…

Expansions can be tricky. They work best when they improve upon the existing ideas and mechanics of what the base game offers without disrupting what made it so enjoyable in the first place. Rather than trying to fix some aspect deemed to be lacking or tinkering with the game solely for the sake of creating additional material, a good expansion must pass the deceptively difficult challenge of providing new territory to explore on the one hand with maintaining the status quo on the other.

To that end, we have some good news for you. For if you ever thought what your damp, shoddy, and structurally unsound public access TV station experience needed was to give more attention to the equally shoddy and unsound eccentricity of its management, then you’re in luck! Because that’s what The Networks: Executives is all about.

Executives is the first major expansion to Formal Ferret’s charming 2016 title The Networks, in which players compete for viewership among their poorly-run television stations. With both a reverence towards – and skewering of – television programming, this highly flavorful game has been well received since its inception – including here at the CR, being both a Seal of the Republic recipient and Laurel nominee.

Yet while this expansion promises to bolster your summer lineup with a bunch of new material, including syndication rights to the coveted Family Matters spinoff, Urkel Goes To Utica, the new additions are concentrated into four key changes of increasing impact.

The first such change is that Executives swaps out the Shows deck with an entirely new batch of terribly-conceived TV titles for you to option.

Apparently when The Networks clears its schedule, it does it literally.

Not to brag, but we made the Tiddlywinks Pro Bowl four years in a row…
Prototype Shown

One of the small but often-cited criticisms of the base game was that although Shows belonged to one of six different genres, the distribution wasn’t exactly equal across the board – with Reality and Sports Shows showing up with less frequency than the other four. This made it slightly easier to attain genre bonuses in 2/3 of the categories while unintentionally being more difficult for the remaining two.

The new Shows deck is much more balanced, even if it slightly diminishes the frequency of genre bonuses in the game – especially at lower player counts. However, it’s well worth the equalization factor, as by swapping in a litany of new and equally ridiculous Show ideas, Executives maintains (and even revitalizes) the comedic underpinning that makes The Networks endearing in the first place.

Second, Executives introduces a “Season 0” round before starting the game. Think of it as the preproduction part of the process. Season 0 in this expansion replaces the starting Shows, Ads, and Stars of your selected station by introducing a small new deck of cards which are meant to be drafted. Some Shows provide the normal genre-based alignment while other Shows have no genre but instead allow you to draw some starting talent (that you aren’t related to).

Preseason time!
Prototype Shown

This drafting approach provides the opportunity for players to make some early game planning, whether it’s setting themselves up with a decent initial Star or determining which Season 1 Show they want to try to grab. It’s a minor thing on the surface, but it certainly helps give players some choice and direction right out of the gate.

In a similar vein, the third contribution Executives bestows is the addition of Mogul cards. Moguls work similarly to Network cards in that they give you substantial benefits if you’re able to acquire them. This is done through attaining a 5-genre bonus, which is no easy feat, especially with the aforementioned new deck. Yet the rewards for gaining them are well worth it, either in the form of ongoing effects, one-time bonuses, or providing a boost to endgame scoring. Unlike Network cards, however, only a handful of Mogul cards are revealed for the entirety of the game.

Mogul cards
Prototype Shown

Moguls effectively open avenues of strategic planning for players right from the onset of the game. Most Networks players enjoy the perks of genre bonuses but often don’t actively chase the higher 5-genre threshold. By hanging new teasers out there for all to see, Moguls offer both a guidepost and added incentives to that end.

They’re powerful and useful bonuses, but aren’t easy to get. Nor are they supposed to be. Being a mogul takes time. Just look at Jerry the Grip. He didn’t get to be the tri-county pog mogul overnight after all.

Still, none of these inclusions shake The Networks up nearly as much as the introduction of the expansion’s namesake: the Executives themselves.

These dozen or so new Executive profiles pull the curtain back on who exactly everyone is portraying as you’re running your weird, weird television stations. More importantly, Executives add asymmetric gameplay to The Networks by doling out player powers, usually in a dual-natured form of giving an added power or benefit while also imposing a restriction at the same time. Playing as Mr(s). Rich for instance gives you extra resources each round, but you’re also not able to pick up endgame scoring Network cards.

But hey, you don’t need the scraps anyway: you’re a Rich.

They don’t care what you think: they’re Executives
Prototype Shown

Executive powers are as wide-ranging as they are outlandish, and their inclusion fundamentally alters the way you’ll play the game. Every Executive’s behavior is unique, and although the vast majority of them are balanced compared to one another, some Executives do take a bit more thought towards unlocking their potential than others. That said, the amount of new versatility and replayability they bring to the table is inescapable and well worth the effort.

In all cases, however, using Executives should be seen as an advanced gameplay mode. You will want to be familiar with the base game before getting promoted to one of these corner offices.

What’s most striking, though, is how well the infusion of the Executives works within the game’s theme. Their presence simultaneously explains the current inanity of your TV station situation while exacerbating the odd behavior at the same time. Which makes total sense if you’re trying to run a network as someone who prefers the indie underground. Or is a time traveler. Or a gorilla. The flavor of the Executives is most assuredly absurd, but once players are familiarized with their behavior, their inclusion only elevates the lovably zany flavor of The Networks even further than before.

With numerous useful-yet-quirky asymmetric powers to explore, potent genre bonuses to work towards, and a brand new deck of ridiculous TV shows you never knew you never wanted, Executives is an excellent addition to The Networks lineup. Television works best when you mix incremental changes with a familiar format that works. Staying true to form, the same can be said about this expansion. By blending new strategic opportunities with the cherished offbeat humor it’s known for, The Networks: Executives is poised to be the most exciting thing to happen to your TV station since your last big hit, Yodeling with Yaks. And that’s saying something!

Don’t miss your chance to option this new lineup over on Kickstarter right now!


Photo Credits: The Networks: Executives cover and artwork by Formal Ferret Games.