Friday, April 11, 2014

TV Wars' Flawed but Awesome Programming Battles

The world is full of terrible games. Usually terrible all the way through. Seldom do you think "I don't like what's happening here, or here, but this part in the middle has made me a fan for life."


Last night, boardgamegeek user calandale put up a video of the infamous Avalon Hill game TV Wars.

The heart of TV Wars, the part I fell in love with, has exactly 3 spaces on the board to land on. It is the Ratings War.

Everybody gears up for an eventual Ratings War.

1) Programming is deployed in secret, so no one knows what they will be facing

2) Each half-hour slot is judged in turn, comparing the programming each station has scheduled for that slot.

3) The worst performing show is immediately canceled. They don't even get to play the rest of the show. If your hour long show scores the lowest in the first half hour, you must throw it away and force your viewers to listen to dead air for half an hour. This is awesome.

4) Canceled shows often cause cascades of destruction you didn't anticipate. Getting an unexpected bonus or negative modifier could lead to a result completely contrary to what you anticipated. Terrible shows are frequently saved by being short. If they are competing against dead air because another show got canceled, the audience thinks they are pretty good in comparison.

5) The winner of the Ratings War feels like the winner of the game. And then you have to wait for someone to land on the space again.

The podcast Flip the Table recently reviewed the old roll-and-move McDonalds game from the 70's. (YES, indeed!) and I'm receiving the same sort of vibes for this game. The majority, 80% maybe, is a boring un-inspired game. You land on the spot, you do what the spot says.

But suddenly, if you land on the "Let's Go to McDonalds" space, the world undergoes a metamorphosis. Suddenly its time to play the Real Game. The one everyone's been waiting for. Time to take the orders, time to flip the burgers. It's show time.

Back to TV Wars, I am having a tough time coming up with a modern game with similar mechanics. The judging obviously rocks. I wish there were more games with judge-offs. I get a little feel for it at the end of Galaxy Trucker when everyone quickly checks to see who has the Prettiest Ship. And there is also a similarity in Pret-a-Porter at the time the stars are awarded.

But nothing to compare to the line-by-line judging of TV Wars. With the chance for so much to incredibly change from the moment you lay your lineup out until the end. A "TV Wars" version of Pret-a-Porter would have you deploy your collections in secret. And judges would rip poorly-conceived designs off your models and set them on fire before you were done showing your collection.

Many hours were once spent playing a roll-and-move game. It might have even contributed to my first failed attempt at college.

I didn't do it because of the news bulletin space. The awards shows or the sponsorship deals. Not even for "Steal a Star". I played it for the Ratings War. TV doesn't even work that way anymore. But I would love to see a similar mechanic rise again in a modern game.

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