Solo games aren’t exactly the most sought after games in the hobby. Of course, there are loads of games that feature a single player mode, but few are purely single player games. However, Friedemann Friese, the green-haired punk of German game design, has never been one to shy away from a design challenge. It only takes a cursory glance at his bizarre, yet inspired, ‘504’ to see that.
His games are full of charm, personality and humour, but they always pack a horseshoe in their bamboozling boxing gloves or a brick in their brain-teasing bag, see Power Grid for such brain melting mathematical gymnastics. Such is the case for Friday, a solo game that sees the player in the namesake role of Friday, teaching the idiot castaway Robinson Crusoe how to hunt, fight and survive but ultimately, to get him off your bloody island so you can have some peace.
Friday is a solo deck-building card game, but before you think; "aw, another Dominion Clone?", let’s make this clear, it’s not single player Dominion and it’s certainly not a clone. Robinson Crusoe himself is represented by an 18-card starting deck, which you will be modifying during the game by overcoming a deck of hazards through three levels of difficulty until he is ready to face the two pirates in his final challenge.
You start the game by sorting the traffic-light step cards into a pile with green on the top, then yellow, then red. Then shuffle the three decks that make up the game’s engine and place them on their corresponding boards. These decks are; the Robinson deck, the Hazard deck, and the Ageing deck (in easy mode you will remove the ‘very stupid’ card first).
Take the Pirate deck, shuffle it and draw two of them, placing them above the other three decks, as an indicator of what your Robinson deck will need to be able to accomplish for you to win. Then, you take as many of the lovely little wooden health tokens (they’re ferns, right? I’m sure they’re ferns) as the level of difficulty requires and place them in a pool near the rest of the components. Gratz, you are ready to play.
A turn in Friday moves like this; you draw two hazards from the hazard deck and then pick the one you want to encounter, discarding the other. Hazard cards have a fight value relative to the stage you are currently playing in. This value must be met, or exceeded, for you to progress painlessly.
After placing the chosen hazard in the middle of the tableau, you will draw as many cards from the Robinson deck as you wish, from the indicated allowance on the hazard card, placing them to the left of the hazard. If the combined total of the cards drawn match or exceed the fight value on the hazard, you defeat the hazard. Then, you turn the card upside down and place it in the discard pile of the Robinson deck.
However, if the cards drawn from the Robinson deck fail to meet or exceed the hazard’s fight value, you will lose the difference between the two in health points. If this happens, all is not lost.
Every health point you spend when you decide to lose a fight allows you to trash one of the fighting cards you drew from the Robinson deck and as so few of the starting cards are useful, you’ll be doing this a lot.
Alternatively, you can modify the total of your fight value by spending health points to draw more cards. This can be dangerous though, as stated previously, the Robinson deck is not exactly packed with helpful cards. Hazards aren’t the only problems Robinson will face. Each time you cycle through the Robinson deck, Robinson will age, meaning a new detriment from the ageing deck is added to your deck.
Not only that, it will be added in blind, meaning you have no idea what that new characteristic will be until you draw it during an encounter. Play will continue until you have either ran out of health points and die, or you progress through all three stages of hazards, beat the pirates and send Robinson home, winning the game.
Final Thoughts on Friday
I want to be sure to emphasis this before I say some negative things; I really like this game. It’s a fun, charming little puzzle with heaps of replay value. The artwork and components are of as high a standard as Rio Grande Games put out, meaning it’s still leaps and bounds behind companies like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight, but it is a very endearing and fun aesthetic.
It’s just a sweet world to exist in for a while. It’s pleasant, like a cup of green tea. Nice, but ultimately, uninspiring. In saying that, the design is well thought through and there are so many helpful indicators of progress that it’s quite difficult to lose your place in the game, a necessity for any solo adventure. My issues with the game stem from the variance in the random number generation.
Some play-throughs will be exercises in futility, all your developed heuristics and strategies will fail constantly and you’ll feel as if you’ve been bashing your head off a brick wall as you try to succeed in a single encounter. Others will be as relaxing as sub-tropical breeze and you’ll level Robinson up so quick that it seems unfair to the game. Which is not to say that neither of those extremes are so frequent that it should put you off the game, it’s merely that there is higher degree of variance [read: luck] within the mechanisms and if you’re okay with luck sometimes being the deciding factor in the outcome of a game, you shouldn’t have any major problems with Friday.
My complaint with Friday is the same as with most deck-builders. The base game of Dominion isn’t as high luck as some would say. The mechanical theme of Dominion is mastery over variance. It’s about mitigating the luck in the system. Friday, and a whole list of other deck-builders, such as the Legendary series or the DC Deck Builder, don’t seem to consider that to be the case.
The fun of the deck building in Dominion is seeing your selection of cards tip the balance of luck in your favour using several differing synergistic strategies.
There isn’t a wide selection of strategies you can plan and execute in Friday and there isn’t a reliable set of heuristics you can develop over many play-throughs to help your performance. The root of this issue is that the game is a balance of three decks of largely uncontrollable unknowns instead of just one deck you have a large degree of control over.
If you’ve played Dominion and were sad to see its digital incarnation pass into memory at the beginning of the year, sadly, Friday will not fill that void. But, if you’re interested in seeing another designer’s take on deck-building, if you’re open to the idea of a deck builder that plays more like solitaire than Dominion, then Friday will be welcome in your collection.
I certainly don’t mean to put you off Friday, as I said in the opening, I do really like this game, but for far different reasons than the ones that got me hooked on Dominion.