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You can be Jack Donaghy! (game about running a TV network)

3 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/07/2011

So as a less experienced game designer, I made a post here ( asking people about how they go about developing games and their inspiration/design process. Lots of great advice. In particular, Cogentesque suggested taking a theme and a mechanic and sort of mashing them together (specifically, a game about making a movie, designed around an auction mechanic).

That got me thinking, and I've decided, if for nothing more than the experience. Some of the people in our weekly gaming group are huge TV nerds, so I decided to put a twist on Cogentesque's challenge and have decided to make a game about owning a TV network, based around an auction mechanic. So now, in it's most beginning stages, I present to you: Sweeps Week (working title).

Premise: 3-5 players take on the role of network executives building competing TV schedules, with the ultimate goal of building a juggernaut which turns millions upon millions of minds to mush while raking in huge piles of advertising dough.

What I have so far: Each player would have a small board in front of them as their "schedule." On it they would have three slots per day for four days (Monday - Thursday). Each slot would have a default number of people watching during that hour (with the middle slot for each day being the strongest). To start the game, players would draw from three decks of shows - "Flagship" shows (high budget, high expected viewership - the "anchors" for a given day's schedule), "Lead-in shows" (lower budget, but could gain momentum and become flagship shows later on), and "filler" shows (reality TV, court shows, etc). There would be a limited number of shows from each deck (to create scarcity), and players would bid on them one by one (creates a sense of urgency, because you don't know if the next show will fit your schedule as well as the one currently being bid on). I think each show should have a "draw" factor - the expected number of people tuning in, a "reputation factor" (racy, over the top junk TV shows will hurt the network's reputation over time), as well as a short description of the show. In the description (and probably also listed along the bottom of the show's card, for simplicity) would be several key words in bold (probably between 2 and 4).

These key words would provide the foundation for several things. First, shows which share keywords give a bonus when they lead into each other (if you like one show, you're likely to stick around to watch a similar show that airs immediately afterwards). There'd also probably be a network-wide bonus if you have a lot of shows that share a key word (fans know they can always tune in to network [x] when they're in the mood for comedy, drama or whatever the keyword would be).

Keywords would also affect advertisers. Each adverstiser would have certain requirements (i.e. three shows with the keyword "lawyers" on a network with a minimum reputation of 1, would earn a player the "Ambulance Chaser's Law Firm" as an advertiser and would get more cash each week they hold onto the Law Firm). Any player can steal an advertiser by surpassing the number of shows which feature the keyword for that advertiser (current holder of the Law Firm has 3 lawyer shows - another player gains a fourth, therefor, the first player loses the Law Firm and the second player gains it). When attempting to steal an advertiser, players would need to meet the minimum reputation for that advertiser, but additional reputation beyond that would not help. Likewise, even if no other players meet the keyword requirement, a player may lose the advertiser if their reputation sinks too low (and would return the advertiser to the pool). Even ambulance chasers won't want to be associated with a network with 0 or negative reputation.

I don't know if the advertisers will be static from game to game (everyone chases after the same ones, in which case the pool would be fairly large), or if I'll make a small deck of them and have a smaller number in the active pool, with a mechanic to refresh the pool (getting rid of un-claimed advertisers and drawing new ones) from time to time.

Reputation will hopefully act as a balancing force and an incentive to try different strategies. Some players will put all their eggs into one or two high-budget flagship shows with high reputation, hoping they won't go bankrupt if those shows tank, while others will take the short-term gain of cheap shows which will hurt their reputation, but which will also give them more money for bidding later on. That could backfire as well, because the higher-paying advertisers will have a higher minimum reputation, so a network which has a lower reputation could miss out on that money in the mid and late game phases because they decided to stuff their schedule with junk shows for the easy money at the start of the game.

Once each person has a schedule, bidding phase would end, and the players would start earning viewers and money from advertisements over several "weeks". A show would be allocated [x] number of viewers, with the potential to add or lose viewers each week. In order to strengthen the schedule, a player would be able to move shows from one time slot to the other, but doing so would carry a slight penalty in viewership for the moved show.

Then, there would be a "renewal phase." Current shows would be revalued (the more successful a show is, the more creators and cast will want for another season), and bidding would start anew (also during this phase, players can trade or sell shows to other players). So in summary, the game would go: bidding->drawing viewers and advertisers->renewing (and then back to bidding)

I think the easiest way to determine a winner would be for the game to last a specific number of turns ("seasons"), with the player who has the most viewers being the winner (also might assign "victory points" to advertisers and cash holdings, with the cash-to-victory points and the viewers-to-victory points ratios such that viewers would carry a much higher weight).

I'd also like to incorporate things like "Award Show Nominations," which would give bonus viewers to shows with high reputations, random events like writer's strikes (or leading actors pulling a "Charly Sheen"), but I'm working on nailing down the basics first (though if you think a certain new feature would be cool, definitely mention it in the comments - I'm always up for implementing new ideas).
Issues left to solve

  • How to allocate viewers: I think there should be a limited pool of viewers (which would put the networks in more direct competition), but I have yet to figure out the specifics of their allocation, other than it should probably be in units of 100k (or 10k or something). It makes sense to me that there be situations where there are unclaimed viewers, which makes me thing that a good way to go about it would be for each show to have a draw factor (with a bonus for lead-in shows which share keywords), perhaps with the draw factor adding dice into a roll against a table to see how the show did. Let's say the table says 1-3 loses 200k viewers, 4-6 loses 100k, 7-9 is no change, and 10-12 adds 100k (and every 3 above 12 gets 100k more, so a 15 would add 200k, 18 adds 300k, etc). Say a show has a draw factor of 3. That means the person rolling would get 3d6 against the table (could lose 200k or add 200k). If that show gets a lead-in with a matching keyword, it could get another d6 (could lose 100k or add 400k). That could work, but it doesn't give me a solution for when all viewers for that hour have been allocated, so additional viewers would have to come from other shows.
  • The viewer allocation phase feels weak. I think there should be something more exciting for people to do than just roll dice and look at the table. Maybe there could be action cards they could draw or purchase to potentially help one of their shows get the extra edge (at the risk of "jumping the shark")? ("Hire a new star," "invite big name guest stars," "kill a main character," or "feature a controversial, topical issue" could be possible examples). I like the idea of incorporating these more "zany" elements, but I don't want to over-complicate the game.
  • I envision this being a quicker (30-40 minutes or less) game, and I'd like it to be light-hearted and fun, but to me, I also think players need to feel like their decisions are meaningful. In my opinion, chance should create balance and allow players of disparate skill levels to compete more like equals, not as the sole determinant of a player's fate (i.e. Candyland). Also working against the "quick, light-hearted, and fun" goal is my impulse to make everything more complicated than it needs to be, so don't hesitate to call me out on that if this game seems to be going down the road to overcomplication.
  • As a successful show goes longer in its run, I think it should eventually lose viewers, even as its costs grow. At the same time, I think smaller shows should be able to build momentum into a hit, so I want a mechanism that allows for both. Maybe after a show has been on for so long, it loses 1 draw factor, which can be offset by a strong audience? (maybe it loses one draw factor after every season following the third, but gains back one die for every million viewers?)
  • Just thought of this: What if players took turns pitching the shows? Would that make it more fun and interactive? Basically it would work like this: One player draws a show card (sans description; only he sees it) and, using the keywords, comes up with a one or two sentence pitch (without obviously giving away the keywords). If these players have played the game before, he could incorporate keywords that aren't on the card as well to drive up the price or throw people off, so long as he uses all the ones provided. The rest of the players bid on the show, and the player making the pitch gets maybe ten or twenty percent of the final bid (for the show's rights - the rest is considered to have gone to "production costs"). Nice social element? Making things too complicated again? Nice idea, but maybe it doesn't fit with this game? Let me know what you think (in addition to any other feedback you may have).
    . . . God, that was long. If you made it this far, thanks for making it to the end, and for leaving any feedback you have! It's much appreciated.
Joined: 05/13/2012
some thoughts

Love the theme, here are some of my critiques and suggestions.

You already know what your problem is – “Also working against the "quick, light-hearted, and fun" goal is my impulse to make everything more complicated than it needs to be”. It seems like you are trying to force a detailed simulation of real world events into board game mechanics. Here is what your board game requires:

- Up to 12 (three shows, four days) cards per person.
- Three decks of TV Show cards.
- Advertising Companies (either deck of cards or static rules)
- Money (to auction/buy shows)
- Reputation Tracker
- Audience Tracker
- Optional Others (pitching show,keyword bonuses, etc)

I like simplified things, so to me at least, this needs trimming down for the following reasons.

  • With 4 players, if a player wants to analyze his competitive position he has to keep track of up to 48 cards. This is very hard.
  • If this is an auction game, the auction itself will take forever. There are too many choices and possible transactions.
  • I feel that money, advertising, reputation are redundant. If you have good reputation you will have audience, with good audience you will have advertising and money.
  • So I made some tweaks and here is a “lite” version of your game. In this version the networks are just competing for the prime time spots.


    - One “schedule” board for each player, 4 days but only 1 slot per day.
    - One “TV Show” deck of cards.
    - Optional - One “Flavor of the month” deck of cards
    - Victory Points to be distributed.

    How To Win:

    The Game will continue for 10 seasons, whoever has the most victory points by the end wins.

    TV Show Cards Attributes:

    Each TV Show card would have the following attributes –

  • Show Type – Comedy, horror, sports, etc
  • Rating – how popular this show is.
  • Number of Seasons – The show can run up to x number of seasons, after that it is automatically discarded and the player draw a new TV Show card.
  • Cancelation Cost – In the beginning of a season the player may cancel the show and draw a new TV Show card by paying the cancelation cost (eg 1 Victory Point to cancel)
  • Specialty – This could be anything. For example – “When you cancel this show you may draw 2 cards and discard one of them” or “Gain 1 victory point when you play this card on Thursday”
  • First Season:

    Each player start with 5 Victory Points and draw 4 cards, then place the 4 cards face down on the schedule board. That would be end of season 1.


    Each player flip over their Monday card, resolve any special effects, the player with the highest rating gain 2 Victory Point. If it’s tied then each tied player receive 1 victory point. Repeat for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

    Second Season and onwards:

    At the beginning of the season players may pick up the TV show cards from their board. These shows are on the “chopping block”. Players may place them face down at a different time or cancel them and draw a new TV Show. The TV shows that stayed could gain a rating bonus. After all players place their cards on the board the season is over and the scoring begins. This continues until the 10th season is over.

    Optional – Flavor of the Month

    At the beginning of each season a flavor of the month card is flipped over. It will have a global effect on all cards that season. For example “Month of Love, all romance shows gain +5 rating”.

    So this is a pretty light euro game set up. Each season players could take actions simultaneously (cancel show, get new show), there is only 1 resource to keep track of and there is a bluffing component (moving shows around face down). I think this get you the "quick, light hearted" effect you are looking for.

    Joined: 01/17/2011
    Great ideas, needs streamlining

    As requested, I'm going to call you out on overcomplicating things. As I was reading through the description I was keeping a mental tally of how long the game was going to take (it's not an exact science, just gut feel), and I would have put it at 2 hours. Then I saw that you wanted it to be 30-40 minutes.

    The theme is good -- easy for a wide variety of gamers to relate to and not done-to-death by other games already.

    It sounded to me that most of the over-complications arise from trying to model reality in the game, rather than trying to make a great game. The game would probably be better if, after picking your theme, you then ignore it and focus on the mechanics. Once you have your mechanics sorted out, re-apply your theme.

    Also consider the physical components and how (physically) the game is going to be played. If all of the ideas above were implemented the game would be buried in tokens, markers, cards, play money.

    I wouldn't try to mimic real-life values of money or viewers. If you have increments of 100K viewers then some players will pick your game apart for being unrealistic (either too high or too low). But if you have 10 pawns to represent the viewers there is nothing to pick apart. Similarly with money, put it in suitably large denominations (e.g. millions) that players can mentally drop the denominations.

    Let me try to list some simple rules extracted from your post:
    - Shows are put up for auction to buy.
    - Shows attract viewers to each time slot.
    - Advertisers pay money per time slot based on number of viewers.
    - The categories of Shows affects the viewers (e.g. through follow-on viewers) and the advertising revenue (e.g. through matching the type of advertiser with the type of show).

    These rules by themselves lead me to think that the game will devolve into each player specialising in one category of Show in order to maximise income. You may need some competing mechanism that encourages diversity of Shows.

    The mechanism for assigning Viewers to Shows probably needs some work -- I don't think that rolling dice and consulting a table fits with the theme.

    If you want to bring in an interaction element (which does sound fun to me), how's this for an idea:
    - Each show attracts a base number of viewers as shown on the card plus bonuses for matching categories from the prior show.
    - Each player is given a small number of pawns (say, 3) representing bonus viewers to be assigned.
    - Each player has 15 seconds to "pitch" that night's Shows to the other players.
    - The players then assign their pawns to other people's Shows based on which sounds the most interesting.
    - This may be a natural way to offset the "single type of show is best", because it's hard to pitch the same "A cop show set in LA, followed by another cop show set in NY, followed by another cop show set in Miami" night after night.

    The interactive element I describe above would move the game away from being primarily strategic (as in, analytical) to being more people-based. It would also take up quite a bit of playing time, so the rest of the game would have to be quite simple. It really depends on what style of game you wanted to make/play.


    Joined: 12/07/2011
    Thanks so much for the feedback!

    asakurasol: Great suggestions. I definitely see what you mean about the redundancy with ratings, audience, and reputation. Combining those into victory points would definitely simplify things, as would having just one deck for shows. I also like the idea of a "Flavor of the month" element as a more streamlined way of getting players to mix it up. I'm going to play with it and see if I can keep the auction element. Maybe the shows would have the genre printed on the back. Players would flip the "Flavor of the month" card, then put x number of show cards face down and bid on them, not knowing which ones will be big hits and which ones would flop. I think for season one, there would be no "Flavor of the month" cards, and players would just draw four cards and play them face down, then the auction would happen during the "chopping block" phase . . . Looks like it's time to do some play testing to try out the different variations. Thanks again for the advice!

    Kos: Thanks for calling me out . . . Always helps to have people save you from yourself ;p. I like the idea of using pawns to represent audience - great way of simplifying it, and it also keeps the "feel" of competing for audience members. I think your right about the dice and table not fitting with the theme and feel. I agree that I need something to get people to try and diversify their shows - asakurasol's idea is definitely a step in the right direction. If I do keep the bonus for lead-in shows, I might just cap it so that after so many shows, there would not be a further bonus for scheduling similar shows. I think the interactive element of pitching shows would be great, but trying to include it might be trying to do too much, though maybe I could make it an optional rule (or a separate game, or possibly even an expansion).

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