It’s not often on iSlaytheDragon that we review games solo. After all, our shtick is nemesis reviews. Basically, solo reviews happen when one of us goes on vacation or when the other one has a baby (or, more appropriately, his wife does). But today’s solo review is a result neither of sun nor son. Rather, the game itself dictates the review style: Friday is a solo deck-building game. So how does it stack up? Read on, intrepid adventurer!
How It Works
The premise of Friday is that you are the man Friday and Robinson Crusoe has crash landed on your island, destroying the peace and quiet you have come to value. Despite what he writes in his vastly popular (and boastful) account, he is not very adept at surviving in island life and wouldn’t last a day without you. Being the noble guy that you are, you decide to help Robinson overcome his idiotic tendencies, gain knowledge and strength by fighting the wild beasts on the island, and maybe, just maybe, not die when he faces the two pirates that stand between him and “civilized” life. And who knows? You just might get your island back.
The goal of Friday is to train Robinson to defeat the two pirates at the end of the game. The game has three decks of cards in play: the aging deck, the Robinson deck, and the hazard deck. At the start of the game, two pirates are selected at random and revealed. These are the final battles that Robinson must fight in order to win. The three really bad aging cards are shuffled and placed at the bottom of the aging stack, with the other seven or eight aging cards (depending on difficulty) shuffled and placed on top. Next, the player shuffles the Robinson deck, which is full of cards Robinson will use to face the challenges on the island. (At the start of the game, much like in other deck-building games, the Robinson deck leaves much to be desired.) Finally, the player will shuffle the hazard deck and count out twenty life points.
Before Robinson faces the pirates, he must face the hazard deck three times. The first time through is much easier than the second, which is much easier than the third. (It’s easy to keep track of this: a green, a yellow, and a red hazard marker card are included with the game.) To face a hazard, a player draws the top two cards of the hazard deck and chooses which one Robinson will engage. They range from easy hazards (like swimming to the ship to rummage for supplies) to hard hazards (like fighting cannibals or wild animals).
Once a hazard has been chosen, Robinson must face it. Each hazard card has a fighting number (the amount Robinson must meet or exceed in order to win) and a number of “free” cards Robinson can reveal from his deck. The Robinson deck includes cards with a fighting value, a number between -3 and 4 (at the start of the game, the range is -1 to 2). If Robinson meets or exceeds the hazard card’s number, the hazard card enters the Robinson deck discard pile as a fighting card. (The hazard cards, as you can see, have two sides: a hazard side and a Robinson side.) If Robinson’s fight total is lower than the hazard card, he has a choice: he can either lose life points equal to the difference or draw additional cards, paying one life point apiece, in the hopes of defeating the hazard card.
Losing to a hazard isn’t all bad: whenever Robinson loses life points to a hazard, he may remove cards used in that fight equal to the life points lost. (So, for example, if Robinson’s fight total is 0 and the hazard’s is 2, he may remove two of the cards used in the fight from his deck. Which, let’s be honest, if his total is zero, he will probably want to do.) In fact, choosing which hazards to lose to is a key element in the game.
Like other deck-builders, whenever Robinson would draw a card and has no cards to draw, his discard pile is shuffled to become the draw pile. However, whenever Robinson reshuffles his deck, he must add the top aging card from the aging pile face down to the deck. Aging cards are always bad and represent the dulling of Robinson’s skills on the island. In order to remove aging cards from Robinson’s deck, he must pay 2 life points per card (that is, he must lose by at least 2 in a fight with a hazard).
Fighting cards have additional abilities like doubling fight value, drawing additional cards, and so on. The game ends either when Robinson runs out of life points or the second pirate is defeated.
I certainly prefer to play games with others, but I’m not averse to solo games. I’ve played plenty of At the Gates of Loyang by myself, and I’ve recently tried the solo variant for Agricola as well. In those cases, solo play is an add-on to competitive group play; Friday is the first solitaire-only game I’ve played besides, well, Solitaire and those other computer card games.
Friday is surprisingly fun for being a solo game. What I’ve noticed in playing solitaire games is that they tend to have a feel more like a logic puzzle than the satisfying “battle of wits” feel of competitive strategy games, and Friday is no exception. And I do love a good logic puzzle.
Of course, the danger of logic puzzles is the possibility that they become “solvable,” that you find one way to do things that’s virtually unstoppable, rendering further engagement with the puzzle pointless. I’m sure you could get to that point with Friday (except for the randomness of the card draws and the aging cards that get included in your deck), but I certainly haven’t yet. According to my log on BGG, I’ve played twelve times, and while most of these twelve games were wins, they were all close shaves, and I had some spectacular losses.
In fact, I was feeling so good about my win ratio that one game I decided to level up the difficulty. (The rulebook has four levels of play included; I had only fought on level 1.) In the “advanced” game, your deck starts with one random aging card. That doesn’t sound so bad, but I lost miserably. I’m not completely giving up on the harder modes, but I’ve decided to keep training on the first level for now. I guess what I’m saying here is that if the game is “solvable,” it will probably take you a while, and you’ll get much more use out of it than the tiny pricetag’s value (I got my copy for $13).
One of the things to recommend Friday is that it’s very portable. The box is small—probably not pocket-sized (unless you are wearing bigger pants than what’s good for you), but it could easily fit into a bag or purse. That being said, Friday takes up a surprising amount of table space. Included in the box are the cards, obviously, but also three player “mats” to keep track of the cards. Are these absolutely necessary? Maybe not, but they do help differentiate which deck is the aging deck and which is the Robinson deck since all of the cards, with the exception of the pirate cards, have the same back (they can all can become shuffled into the Robinson deck.) So while the game is something you can pack and take anywhere, it’s not necessarily a game you can play anywhere. This is a bit disappointing, but it’s not a deal breaker for me. It’s still quicker to set up than Uwe Rosenberg’s solo games, and even if Agricola and At the Gates of Loyang are more satisfying than Friday, set-up/take-down and gameplay time often win the day.
Another thing I love about Friday is the theme and artwork. I love the clever reimagining of Robinson Crusoe. When I read Robinson Crusoe in college, I thought Robinson quite braggy, so I like that Friday knocks him down a peg or two. The artwork is fantastic, and I love the way the aging cards simulate Robinson’s failing abilities as he gets older. Even if he gets leaner in some ways (trimming the fat of his Distracted and Stupid cards), he never knows when his aging body might revolt against him. The idea of powers that can fail at any time without warning (like in Spider-man 2) is an interesting idea that the designer captures in this game. All this being said, while I like the art, I wish it were more varied. All of the pirate cards look the same, and the cards in the hazard deck are all one of five designs. This isn’t a huge deal, and the game is inexpensive, so I understand not commissioning more art, but it would have been a nice touch.
The rulebook for Friday is a bit hard to discern in places, and my first few games, I had to consult it often. After those initial skirmishes with pirates, I knew what I was doing, and now I don’t have to look even at the scoring section. The scoring, by the way, is a nice touch. While you can win if you just defeat the pirates, it’s nice to be able to track your winnings across multiple games, and the scoring allows the player to do this. There is also space in the back of the rulebook for the player to record “achievements,” another nice touch. It gives the player a sense of competition, even if it’s just against himself. (Power Grid: The First Sparks includes an “achievements” section also, and I can’t help but wish that other board games would follow suit. It makes a game have the Risk Legacy feel…without tearing up your cards and scrawling all over your game board.)
While I would much rather play almost any game with others, Friday provides a good outlet for the gaming itch when there’s no one else who’s game (heh heh) around. The components are nice, the gameplay is engaging, and it’s a satisfying experience: at the end of the game, you feel like you’ve accomplished something (like ridding yourself of that braggart Robinson and getting your island back). It’s not as fun, in my opinion, as the solo variants of Agricola and At the Gates of Loyang, but it’s also much cheaper and more portable. And it plays in twenty minutes to a half hour, so it’s not a major time commitment. If you’re looking for a good solo diversion, I don’t think Friday will disappoint.