Review: Friday (Solo Board Game) – AKA. Why I Would Never Survive On A Desert Island
There is a problem that Friday, by Friedemann Friese, seeks to solve. It’s a problem that has been around since the dawn of the age of board games. It’s a problem that has many a gamer scratching his head, stumped on whether to just give up or to adopt house rules to create Munchkin Solitaire. It is a problem I have encountered enough times that Friday seemed like the perfect solution.
What’s the problem?
We need other people to play games with and they aren’t always available.
THE PREMISE OF FRIDAY
There has been a nice little resurgence over the past few years. Games developers have been including one player modes to their games. Tiny Epic Western did this by simulating a second player to play against. Eldritch Horror had you controlling two different characters. Both of those examples, and there are many others, tacked a first player version of the game onto an already pre-existing multiplayer version of the game. Friday, on the other hand, is something completely different – it’s a one-player game. That’s it. Nothing more. No-one else. Just one player.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the plot.
The Story of Friday
In Friday you play the role of Friday from Robinson Crusoe. Robinson has landed on your island and your peaceful existence has been disturbed. You need to teach him to survive so he can leave. To do this he needs to navigate different trials, build his skills, and fight two pirate ships. If he does that, if he survives that long, he goes and you win. It’s that simple.
Friday is, at its heart, a deckbuilding game similar, in a way, to Legendary. You start off with a starting deck and 20 life tokens (these are shaped like little cute ears of corn). The starting deck is your combat deck, comprised of different cards that have a combat value and (some) have an ability. In the starting deck these are the lesser abilities like “Food +1 Life”.
Of course, at the start of his shipwreckdom (yes, that is a word, get over it) Robinson Crusoe is rubbish, so his cards are things like “Focused” with a value of +1, “Weak” with a combat value of 0, and “Distracted” with a value of -1.
You progress through the game by drawing two Fighting cards. These are split into two halves, and really difficult to explain. On the top half is a situation (“Exploring the Island” for instance) giving you three scores and a series of free cards. These scores represent three stages of the game – being green, yellow, and red. On the bottom half is your reward if you defeat the card. These count as better combat cards which go into your discard pile and then back into your deck once you have worked your way through it. The rewards also tend to have abilities like “Destroy” (which lets you get rid of rubbish cards from your hand – and forces you to get rid of good ones if you have no rubbish ones) and “+2 Cards” (which allows you to draw extra cards for free).
Each turn you draw your two cards and choose one. You discard the other. Looking at the three coloured scores you will see the green score. You will also see a white box on the card, also with a number. The number in the white box is the number of free cards you can draw from your deck to try and equal or beat the green score. If you do then you flip the card and place it in your discard pile along with the other cards you used. If you can’t equal or beat the score you must pay the “corn price” (as I am now calling it) by losing life equal to the difference in score. Alternatively, you can draw more cards, by paying 1 life per card you want to draw to try and beat it for less; however, this (as I found out) can quite often be much, much worse. You can also pay the “corn price” to remove rubbish cards like “Distracted” once combat is over with.
Once you make your way through the Fighting cards you flip the discard pile and make your way through it again, doing the exact same thing. This time it is shorter (half the length in fact) only this time you do the Yellow number. Once you have worked your way through the deck again you do it a third time with the Red number. Finally, once that is done you fight the pirates. They’re practically the same as a Fighting card, only without the good thing for beating them.
Once you make your way through your Robinson deck, however, you shuffle your discard pile, with all the new good cards, and start again with that – only before you do you add an “Aging” card. This shows Robinson getting old and…well…Aging cards are really, really bad. They can go as high as -5 and have some extra rubbish effects.
You defeat the two pirates, you win. The game has Four Levels with different difficulties of setup, should you want to make it harder. That’s about it.
QUALITY AND COMPONENTS OF FRIDAY
Friday is a neat little game. The game comes with four boards, one to sit under each deck to remind you what they are (as the decks all have identical backs) and one that I haven’t figured out yet. I’m starting to wonder if I got given another one by accident as it is identical to one of the other boards and not mentioned in the rules.
The cards are fairly good quality, with interesting artwork. What really makes it though are the life tokens which are, I think, adorable little ears of corn, but they may just be plants.
The rules are not the clearest in the world, and I ended up watching a YouTube video to ensure I got it. They are translated, I believe, from German and some may have been lost in the translation.
WHAT IS IT LIKE PLAYING FRIDAY?
In great Southpark tradition, let me quote Kyle Broflovski – “I learned something today…”
What I learned today is that I would absolutely suck at surviving on a desert planet. I also kept falling into Gambler’s Fallacy, which was a dumb move. Let me explain –
Friday is a small, cute, innocent looking game that, upon opening the box, looks like it will be a breeze. It looks easy and just like the kind of game for a chilled Sunday afternoon. It’s as if it says:
Oh hey there, come sit, enjoy. Do you have a chamomile tea? No? Don’t worry, you have time to make one. Let’s just have some fun and afterwards you can draw yourself a bath and watch Bob Ross. You can trust me and POW! PSYCHE! CANNIBALS ATTACK! A LEOPARD WANTS TO EAT YOU! THE ISLAND HATES YOU! I HATE YOU! BWAHAHAHAHA!
First time I played, I was dead in five minutes. I’m not even kidding. Second time I played I made it through to the pirates. I am yet to get further or beat the game.
If I were to make a criticism of Friday it is that there are elements of luck. You draw cards, but you don’t have a hand. This means if you draw high from the Fighting deck, but low from the Robinson deck you can lose five to eight health on a single card and that is really rubbish. This is where Gambler’s Fallacy comes in – there is a huge element of knowing when your luck is down and knowing when to fold. I didn’t learn that until the second game. I was lulled into a false sense of security by those damned tiny life tokens and the cartoony artwork.
At its best though, when the cards are in your favour, Friday is a hugely compelling game. You can see Robinson working hard to survive and that is really nice to see. Unlike with Legendary, the deck is noticeably better the second time you go through it (aging cards aside) and that is an awesome progression to see.
There is the mechanic of being able to buy off bad cards so you can make your deck even better, but I didn’t actually end up doing that all that often. Life is so valuable you don’t want to spend it by getting rid of cards. This may be where I went wrong, by prioritising the wrong thing, but we live and we learn.
VERDICT FOR FRIDAY
Friday is a fun little game that is both brutal and compelling. It is difficult but keeps you wanting to come back for more, which I suppose is the mark of a good game. Friedemann Friese has done a great job in ensuring this little game becomes an instant classic and I can see it being a go-to game on many gamers’ shelves. That being said, if you like games with more strategy, this may not be the one for you; however, if you like probability and a bit more risk then it is perfect.
To end on an interesting fact, Friese is also the brain behind Power Grid.
So, if you’ve played Friday then let me know what you thought of it in the comments below. Otherwise, what solo games would you suggest?