The next 2 games from Formal Ferret: The Rival Networks and Weird Stories

by Gil Hova

With High Rise going to the printer soon, I’m back to the design stage with a couple of new projects. I’ve been hinting at them for a while, so it’s exciting to finally get a chance to formally unveil them!

DISCLAIMER: I’m about to discuss some working details of two prototypes whose designs are very much works-in-progress. So these details might be volatile, and subject to change in the future. I think they’re solid enough that they won’t change too much, but I can’t guarantee that anything I mention here won’t be different by the time you try it!

The Rival Networks

 First off, we have The Rival Networks, which I’m working on with co-designer JR Honeycutt (UPDATE AS OF NOVEMBER 15, 2019: I’ve asked JR to leave this project. I stand against sexual harassment and abuse). This is a scaled-down 2-player version of The Networks that is playable in about 15 minutes. We’re aiming for about a $20 price point.

This is the first Formal Ferret game that I’m not designing alone! The game was JR’s idea, and he and I have been chipping away at it for about a year on and off.

Like the original Networks game, you’re trying to score the most Viewers by drafting Shows. When you draft a Show, you’ll immediately put it on one of your three timeslots with optional Stars. If your Show matches its timeslot, you’ll get a 1-Viewer “Hot” bonus. You’ll immediately score Viewers for that Show.

When you get a Show, you might also get a Star at the same time. Your Stars will add Viewers to your Shows, but each Star is limited to 1-2 Genres they can participate in, and you can only put a Star on a Show with a matching Genre. You immediately score Viewers for Stars you put on Shows.

There’s an End-of-Season card that comes out from the deck of Shows after each player has taken 2 turns. If you take the End-Of-Season card, you’ll trigger the end of the Season. At this point, you’ll compare the Shows at each timeslot. If your Show gets more Viewers than your opponent’s, you’ll get bonus Viewers. You’ll both remove your Hot tokens from your Shows, and whichever Show won its timeslot gets a “Cold” token on it; it’s now worth 2 fewer Viewers if it survives to the end of next season.

Just like the base game, if you ever get 3 Shows of the same Genre, you get a Genre Bonus. In this version of the game, the bonus is different based on which Genre you got the bonus in. This leads to different strategies and varied play in each game.

The game ends after 3 Seasons. The player with the most Viewers wins.

The Rival Networks will have a small expansion that will likely be released at the same time. This expansion brings in Ads, Network Cards, and Executives. Just like the Networks: Executives expansion, these Executives will give you a special ongoing power for the whole game. Also, every time you get a Star, you’ll get an Ad, which is worth a certain amount of money. You can spend Ads on Network Cards, which will get you a strong one-time power.

This small expansion will add additional depth to the game. You’ll only see a few Network Cards and Executives each game, so it will add a bunch of extra variance.

I’m not 100% sure of the timeline of the game yet. I’d love to Kickstart it by early next year, but I can’t promise you that it’ll be my next Kickstarter project. I’ll know more by the end of the year!

What excites me about The Rival Networks is its potential to introduce the family of Networks games to people who may be intimidated by the base game’s complexity. For a hobbyist board gamer, The Networks is an approachable middleweight game. But The Rival Networks is much easier to teach and play, and will have a lower price. This will make it attractive to folks outside the board game hobby, and hopefully get them more into board games in general!

Weird Stories

I’m just as excited about Weird Stories, which presents a departure for me; it’s my first roleplaying game!

Weird Stories is a light storytelling RPG for 2-4 players, with a depth and complexity similar to Fiasco and Microscope, two games I adore. The game will let players tell stories similar to the books of Haruki Murkami or Jeff VanDeMeer, the films of David Lynch, or the TV series Lost. In other words, you’ll be going through a mysterious story without ever fully understanding what’s fully going on. By the end of the story, your characters will meet their destinies, but you still won’t have a full explanation of – or even words to describe – what happened.

I love these kinds of stories, and I’ve been wanting to make a game about them for a while. I think these stories have a way of swerving around my frontal lobes and digging straight into my subconscious. After a few playtests, I can tell Weird Stories can be surreal, creepy, dreamlike, allegorical, and skin-crawling, sometimes all at the same time. But the stories you’ll make with it will always be varied and memorable.

Here’s how it works. Each player will create a “Singularity” – a mysterious thing that appears to be a location or an object. You’ll have full storytelling control over anything that happens to your Singularity during the story.

There will also be one human Character in the story for each player in the game. However, no single player controls a Character for the full game. Instead, you’ll assign Characters to different players at the start of each scene, and share control of them throughout the game.

At the start of each Scene, you’ll have one Guide; that role will rotate to the next player at the start of each scene. Starting with the Guide, the players will all choose a Character or Singularity to include in the scene.  Then, the Guide will establish the scene, and the players will begin the scene. (There’s a few more things that happen there, but that’s the general gist.)

During a scene, any player has full narrative agency over the Character or Singularity they are controlling. If a Character interacts with a Singularity, then the Singularity has full narrative agency.

The game comes with a set number of Effect Cards; each player gets 2 to start the game. The Effect Cards all feature a weird event that can happen in the game. Anyone controlling a Singularity can play an Effect Card and explain how it changes the scene.

Anytime someone plays an Effect Card, the game’s Weirdness Level increases. If the Weirdness hits a certain threshold, then before the next scene, all players can reveal an Effect Card simultaneously and have them twist the story in some interesting way.

The game ends when the Weirdness Level hits a certain threshold. At the end of that scene, you’ll go through a denouement where you’ll summarize the remaining open questions that each character has. There’s no winner or loser; you’re just trying to tell a ripping story.

I’m not certain of the timeline of this game either. There might be a Kickstarter in its future, but I’ll probably release it as a PDF/POD game before then.

When can I try these games?

I’ll be at Geekway to the West, UK Games Expo, and Origins. I’ll set up a signup form for Weird Stories tests at Geekway in a few days; you can sign up for my newsletter or follow me on Twitter or Facebook to learn when those slots open up. The Rival Networks is quick enough that we can probably schedule ad-hoc tests for it.

I’ll do something similar for UKGE and Origins, but I won’t be showing either game at my booth there; that’s for my published and soon-to-be-published games! Instead, I will probably schedule time to test them when I’m away from the booth. Of course, with both games still actively being designed, I can’t promise they’ll be in perfect shape when you see them. But they’re doing well enough that I’m excited to announce them.

I hope to show them to you soon!