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Review of board game TV Wars by Pevans

TV Wars comes in a standard Avalon Hill bookcase box. Inside is a large mounted board, money, some cards, four "Prime Time Line Up" cards, and a lot of cardboard tiles of different lengths, representing TV programmes and various bonus markers. It is clear that the game's developers had a lot of fun making up names for the programmes: "Tenderhide", "Three's a Crowd", and so on. There are also a couple of dice and pawns ("tokens") for each of the maximum four players.

The basic mechanic of the game is to roll the two dice and move your piece around the track on the outside of the board. You collect $3000 every time you pass the starting point... However, the resemblance to Monopoly ends there; almost - the aim of the game is to be the last Network (i.e. player) left.

Ratings Are King

At the heart of the game is the Ratings War. All the players have to fill (if they can) their Prime Time Line Up from the programme cards they hold and add any bonuses. The ratings of each network's programmes are compared for each half hour slot and the lowest rated programme is cancelled (removed from play). Usually a Ratings War will result in 5 or 6 programmes disappearing, gradually whittling away players' stock of programmes. A network with no programmes is out of the game.

The rest of the game is about acquiring the programmes and bonuses needed. This, too, is governed by where your token lands on the board. Programme tiles come in four lengths: representing 30, 60, 90 and 120 minute time spans. Each has a ratings value and is one of three types - Drama, Action and Other. Oh, plus Sitcoms. Lots of 30 minute Sitcoms. The types determine whether there are any programming clashes (which reduce the ratings value) in a Ratings War. When a player lands on an appropriate square s/he puts up a programme for auction, choosing the type and length of programme, but without knowing what its ratings points are. S/he can't buy the programme outright, but bids a default $1000 for it. Bidding then goes round the table in $500 or more increments until there are no more bids. The highest bidder gets the programme - and finds out if it was worth the money. There's room for a bit of tactics here in the choice of programme - particularly after a few Ratings Wars have given you an idea of what your opponents have available. A final type of programme is the Academy Award winning movies, which are worth a lot of points but can only be used once.

Stars and Opinions

There are several types of bonuses, which are acquired in different ways after a player has landed on the appropriate square. Viewers Views and Critics Choice represent opinions of a programme and can be positive or negative (again, these are taken sight unseen, so it's a gamble which you get). Solely positive are the Stars (such people as Lucille Bawl) - which have to be bid for like programmes - and Emmy awards, which are only gained on a die roll (1 in 6 chance).

Finally there are the Bulletin cards representing random events, good and bad. These include the arrival of the mighty Superbowl coverage, which always wins its time slots in a ratings War. Again, the opportunity to gain any bonus or card is governed by where your token lands on the board. There are also a number of spaces on the board with events on (such as Sponsorship, which brings in a large slug of money).

Apart from the elimination of all but one player, the game is also ended by running out of programmes, Critics Choice or Viewers Views tiles. In these cases, the winner is the player with the highest value, found by totting up the value of all programmes held ($500 per 10 ratings points per half-hour) and cash.

It's a Wrap!

The game is fun to play - helped by the humorous titles of the programmes, though no doubt these will pall after a while. Once everybody's got the hang of it, each turn proceeds briskly. As the turns are generally luck-driven, there are few decisions to be made, apart from deciding on a programme to nominate for auction. It is when a Ratings War occurs that the major decisions have to be taken. Weighing up the advantages of a 120-minute programme (it fills four slots in the schedule, but thus stands four chances of being cancelled) versus short programmes (could win some and lose some, and they probably cost more in total than the 120-minute programme). Where to play bonuses, how to lose penalties, and so on. However, these decisions are tactical: you cannot have a strategy as the options available depend on the dice rolls. It's no good planning on gaining a particular type and length of programme, you won't get the chance unless you land in the right place.

I also feel that the game takes too long to play to a conclusion. Eliminating all but one player can take many hours as Ratings Wars only slowly whittle away at the available programmes. If players are rarely landing on "Ratings War" squares, this is compounded. Running out of programme or Critics Choice/Viewers Views cards will probably happen sooner, but even that will not be for a long time. This can, of course, be dealt with quite easily by playing to a specific time limit or by limiting the stock of programmes available. I would recommend doing one or the other.

What you have is an amusing and entertaining, if a bit long, family game, which will certainly withstand a number of playings. I expect that most gamers will also find it entertaining, but will not consider it a 'serious' game because of the lack of any strategy. The game is for 3-4 players, though I think the number of counters would readily support half a dozen: you'd need extra Prime Time Line Up cards and tokens.

Alternatively, I have devised a more strategic way of playing the game: TV Wars - The Pevans Option. Not something I am normally moved to do, but in this case I felt the game was worth tinkering with. My alternative rules remove much of the luck element of the game and reduce the playing time. It also nastier! :-)

TV Wars was designed by Bob Nash, developed by Don Greenwood and published in the USA by Avalon Hill (now part of Hasbro). It is for 2-4 players and takes 2-4 hours to play. Pevans rates it 6/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 74, September 1993.

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