Knizia Gets Hooked on Netflix
I don’t have much free time for TV these days. Except for Tiger King. I’m sitting on a dozen solid Netflix recommendations from trusted sources who’ve never led me astray, and I blitzed through that garbage in under a week.
Victor Melo’s Streaming gets it. More importantly, this is one of the finest auction games I’ve played in a good long while. I’d even go as far as to call it Knizian.
Good auction games shouldn’t be complicated. Include too many systems and the auction will be lost in the shuffle rather than taking front and center. That said, they do need a twist, something that sets them apart from the herd. Reiner Knizia was a master at this. Whether it was how High Society caused its biggest spender to lose outright or the way Modern Art appreciated the value of its paintings over multiple rounds, you could count on Knizia to deliver a straightforward auction that concealed as many unresolved tangles beneath the surface as an entire childhood’s worth of trauma. Or perhaps they were like icebergs, most of their mass hidden beneath the waves. Yes, that’s the gentler metaphor.
Streaming has one heck of a twist. Two, really. And better yet, they’re dead simple.
So you want to become a media streaming mogul. That much should be clear. To do so, you’ll need to acquire and promote programs across five genres: fiction, sports, reality, animation, and documentaries. None of these are inherently better than the others. They’re so similar that they’re really just the numbers one through ten, plus a pair of “multiscreen” cards for each genre. The illustrations — which are outright rip-offs of various real-world programs rather than homages or parodies — might as well be colors and numbers.
But I didn’t bring you here for set collection, or at least not set collection’s duller incarnations. Streaming’s first twist is that every auction is for a pair of programs rather than only one. The implications of this are far-reaching in ways that aren’t easy to understand without seeing the game in action. Suffice to say, because the entire round’s roster of program auctions is laid out in advance, it’s possible to plan ahead, prepare for junk bids, or hoard your cash for when a high-value pair comes along. More importantly, sometimes there will be a program you really want alongside a program you couldn’t care less about — or worse, a program that might damage your lineup.
Such a disaster arrives courtesy of Streaming’s second twist: that every program you win must be slotted into your lineup. But because you’re peddling these things to a particular breed of ape that values novelty over quality, newer programs attract all the attention. That value-8 football game you recently aired? It’s forgotten compared to the golf you’re streaming now, even though golf is rated appropriately at value 3. In effect, you’ve made everyone forget that they have all those Ken Burns documentaries queued up because Tiger King just launched and everybody is debating whether Carole Baskin is as awful as those other nutcases.
And this matters, along with every other purchase, because once all of a round’s auctions are finished, you’re allowed to promote each genre by spending one coin, provided you have any left over. Whatever the value of that genre’s topmost program, you earn in points. Golf. Instead of football. Three points instead of eight points. That’s almost as depressing as sitting down to watch somebody else play golf.
So that’s how you win, right? Purchase three or four high-value programs and promote them forever? If only. Streaming is too clever for that. For one thing, each game also features a target audience that informs how you’ll approach your bids. Sometimes it pays to stream lesser-known genres for those TV nerds who like to write wanky articles that use words like “motif” and discuss camera angles. Other times you’ll need to appeal to sports fans who let you pay coins all the way from your top sports card to the bottom, earning huge ratings all at once. Or grandpas who only watch WW2 documentaries. Or lonely singles who get their hit of will-they-won’t-they angst from binging The CW. There are a good number to choose from and only four active in any given play, ensuring plenty of variety without overloading anybody with variables.
And then there’s scoring. I tend to quibble over games that offer too many chances to earn points, and Streaming is no slouch at filling up its scoring pad with tallies and bonuses. By the same token, it wouldn’t function without that final scoring round for the aforementioned reason that somebody could squat on a small number of high-value programs. Instead, the scoring forces everyone to count up how many cards they have in each genre, with the leader in each earning one final boost of points from all those cards at once. In one play, I spent all my cash on low-value TV shows and barely pulled in any viewers at all — until everybody realized that all their second-favorite shows were on my service. I won by a landslide by claiming four of the five genres in volume if not quality.
Of course, any such landslide is an oversight on the part of fellow players. That’s part of the appeal of any solid auction game, and also much of the appeal here. Streaming rewards watchfulness. Who’s holding which genres, who’s been stockpiling cash for a huge bid, when to toss a coin into the fray to maybe win some cheap programs via proximity to the tiebreaker card. Its reliance on ripping off brand recognition is cute, but don’t let the illustrations fool you: Streaming is about the quality of its auctions first and foremost.
In other words, Streaming might parade around like Tiger King — and would have jumped at the chance to depict Joe Exotic had it been released this year — but its content is classier by a fair margin. More like the first season of American Vandal.
A complimentary copy was provided by a friend.