There are a lot of games in the board game world that are designed to be multiplayer and have a solo mode retrofit. Often it’s a highly simplistic simulation of another human player with randomness added through dice rolls, card decks, or similar. A few games are designed specifically to be just for solo gaming, however, and one of the best and most popular is Friday, from game designer Friedemann Friese. His big hit is the fun Power Grid, and its many variants and expansions, but he’s done quite a bit in the gaming space.
Friday is themed around the Defoe classic Robinson Crusoe, but from an amusing perspective. Friday, we learn, has been doing just fine stranded on the desert island until this Robinson guy shows up and raises a ruckus. The theme of the game is to help Robinson survive increasingly challenging encounters on the island and later with pirates, with the end goal of getting him the heck off the darn island so you can go back to your peace and quiet.
It’s quite fun, reasonably easy to jump into, and crazy hard. Like most people seem to win 10-20% of the time hard. The problem is that Robinson is, well, an idiot. Worse, the longer the game goes on, the dumber he gets…
Let’s jump in by looking at the starting setup:
Starting at the top right and going clockwise, you can see our life tokens: Robinson starts with 20 lives and there are two extra in case he does really well. He probably won’t. The lower right board is for the Robinson cards, and you start with a bunch of really poor cards that you have to replace as you go along if you have any chance of winning the game. There are two cards in the very middle, both of which have two regions: The top is an island hazard, the bottom is a Robinson card you add to your deck if you overcome the hazard. We’ll get back to those!
On the lower left is the hazard deck, and you’ll notice there are green, yellow and red spots. Each hazard actually has three levels of difficulty, determined by how long you’ve been on the island. To start, hazards are green and the easiest, but by the third time through the hazard deck they can be ridiculously difficult. Above this are two pirate cards randomly chosen from the deck: Those are the last two obstacles to overcome. The card next to that is a visual indicator of what level of hazard we face; it’s green since the game’s just beginning. Finally, the third tile has a stack of aging cards with increasingly difficult limitations imposed on Robinson as the game proceeds.
That’s a lot, so let’s look a bit more closely at the hazard and Robinson cards:
Each turn you draw two hazard cards and pick the one you want to tackle. In this instance, I decided to “Further explore the island”, which, since I’m still at green level, lets me pick 3 cards (left side of the card) to achieve 2 or more points (the number in the green circle). I drew the three cards you can see: 1 + 0 + -1. Ouch. That means I didn’t overcome the hazard because my sum total is 0. I can keep drawing additional cards to try and reach 2, but each additional card drawn costs me a life (and that’s why you start out with 20 life points, because you use ’em). If I don’t do anything, I lose life points equal to the difference in my card score and the obstacle, so it’s going to cost me at least 2 life points however I play this one.
Notice the -1 card and how its foreground fence has a sign with a face; that’s an age card, which is why it’s so much worse than a regular “weak” card. That shows you that I’ve gone through the Robinson deck at least once (remember, the three cards on the right are from the Robinson deck!) because each time you reshuffle, you add an aging card. They’re never good.
Where this gets nuanced is that every life point you pay to overcome a hazard entitles you to discard and destroy a Robinson card too. In other words, the two points I would pay if I just stopped here and accepted that I failed with this hazard would let me jettison two cards (or just the aging card since it costs 2 life points, as denoted on the top right of the card itself). That’s the play here; don’t try to overcome, just use this as an excuse to dump the terrible card.
The key is to remember that this is not just a “deck building” game, but a “get rid of bad cards to make your deck better” game too. And remember, each time you overcome a hazard, you rotate it 180 and that is added to your Robinson deck. As you proceed, they can be worth 2, 3, even 4 points. Plus they get extra powers too. Indeed, look closely at the hazard card above and when it’s rotated you can see each time you play it you’ll get +1 life. Darn useful!
Sometimes the cards are also just against you, as you can see here:
I had 1 card to get to 0 points and raft to the wreck. And I dealt a -1 distracted. Ugh. I decide to spend a few life points to try and overcome, but then get a 0 and another 0. Net is -2 life points for the two extra cards, but I didn’t overcome the hazard: I needed a 0 and have a -1, so that’s another point. This little adventure cost me three life points.
You can see how this is pretty brutal and while you may start with 20 life points, you’ll find they diminish really fast. Here’s my game quite a bit later, notice how few life points I now have:
On the top left are all the Robinson cards I’ve discarded, a critical step towards winning. I’m down to three life points and am half way through trying to overcome a 7 point hazard (I’m in the second, yellow, phase, so the ‘7’ on the yellow blot is what’s relevant). Not doing great, though: I have four Robinson cards to hit that value, and so far I have 0 + 2.
Except I don’t. Look closely at the 2 card and you’ll see its special power is “1x double”, so I can double the value of the highest card I deal. The 0 card also gives me +2 life, so it’s not quite as dire as it looks. Still, three life. Not so much.
The cards do get quite a bit more interesting once you start improving your deck. Here’s a later example:
The leftmost card lets me copy the special effect of any one card in play (1x copy), the 2 point cards let me exchange one low point value card for one in the deck, while the other is a 1x double so lets me double the value of any one card. In fact, I can 1x copy the 1x double (tho not on the same card!) so the above is worth 4*2 + 2*2 + 2 = 14 points!
This was one of the few times I survived all three phases of hazards and made it to the pirate cards, though I died trying to fight the darn pirates. So close!
Friday is a really fun and engaging deck building game, but I will warn you that there are some translation puzzles that make the rules rather confusing. There’s lots of discussion on Board Game Geek about the nuances of the special capabilities of the flipped hazard cards, and I still don’t quite get the “1x below the stack”. Even without that, though, there’s much fun to be had with this delightful, quick, and affordable solo game. You’ll get addicted, and you’ll need to be because it’s hard and you won’t win your first time out!
Friday, a solo deck building game. $15.99 at Amazon.com. Suitable for all ages.