Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been playing Friday! No, not the exceptional lyrical masterpiece from Ms Black, at least not just that, but a fantastical card game about trying to keep an idiot alive with only 20 pieces of green corn on a desert island full of dangers! Most intriguingly of all, this is a tabletop game for one player only… can this “solo adventure” really be as enjoyable an experience as a normal board game? Let’s explore this lonely island together…
Time: 25 min
It’s Friday, Friday! Gotta get down on Friday!
In Friday you’ll get to take on the role of… Friday. Yes, not just embodying the spirit of “Partyin’, Partyin’ (Yeah)”, but the soul who helps Robinson Crusoe to survive when he is shipwrecked on the desert island in Daniel Defoe’s famous novel. Let me tell you, that is going to be quite the challenge.
You see Robinson starts the game off utterly useless. You have a deck of a cards representing Robinson’s fighting prowess and in each turn he will have to go up against some hazardous challenge the island has thrown his way. You’ll draw cards from this deck hoping to equal some target score from the total value of the cards drawn. Unfortunately Robinson is mostly just weak and feeble and at worst swanning around with his head in the clouds, a remarkable achievement when there’s a leopard gnawing on his leg. On the rare occasion he has a flash of genius, that is still only enough for him to safely do a bit of island exploration!
You, as Friday, will carefully choose the hazards Robinson must face, although it’s only a choice of two each turn. ” Come on Robinson, why don’t you try sailing this raft out to your wreck?” “I don’t wanna go to the wreck”. “Shut up Robinson, unless you want to fight these cannibals you’ll be going to the wreck.” “I’m going to the wreck”, he’ll agree. Then, thanks to the little white number on the card, you’ll flip the top action card and see how he got on.
Of course, with the best draw in the world, you’re not going to be able to take on the hardest challenges consistently as you start out, but that’s ok because Robinson is going to learn from his experiences. If you manage to beat a hazard then you flip that card round and add it to your deck! Robinson therefore gets stronger with every challenge you face. Failing a hazard isn’t so bad either, because it let’s you permanently ditch some of those rubbish cards that don’t do anything to help.
Gotta have my bowl, gotta have… cereal!
Of course, failing challenges has its dangers too. While the game leaves it up to your warped imagination what exactly happens to Robinson when you fail an encounter with the cannibals, for example, you will lose some of your curiously shaped green life points. This act of sacrifice is what allows you to beat Robinson out of his lackadaisical nature and convert him into the muscled up master of his island. For each life point lost, you can discard one card.
As well as the cards you draw for free to attempt the hazards, you can also spend pieces of wooden corn to draw extra cards to help you with the challenge, or just to cycle through your deck faster. A lot of the time you’ll probably need to because even as your deck improves, hitting the number of free cards is never quite enough to easily over come a challenge. But while you start with a tremendous supply of life, it is very difficult to get back, with only a few of the cards in the game giving you more food.
This element of risk vs reward is the core of the early game. Choosing hazards you think you can take to earn the reward, but knowing when to cut your losses and take the opportunity to trash bad cards and balancing the needs of improving your deck with not running out of food and dying, these are decisions you are constantly thinking about in the back of your mind.
But you need to be thinking about the future, beyond just the next challenge. Every easy hazard you overcome is another easy challenge you won’t have the option to face later. As the hazard deck to starts to thin out, the cards left behind tend to be the more dangerous challenges. Sometimes, depending on what you think the remaining cards in your deck might be, you might want to bite the bullet and attempt one of the harder cards early to get the powerful action cards for later… it’s always tempting to throw Robinson into the deep end, and not doing so will only punish you later as you realise your deck really hasn’t improved all that much with only the weaker hazards overcome. You won’t improve if you don’t push yourself!
Everybody’s looking forward to the weekend, week – wait this isn’t making sense anymore is it?
The most fantastic thing about Friday is how you can really feel your progress. At the start you’ll feel like some long suffering housewife with a gormless husband. You send Robinson out to find some food in the wreck and he gets distracted by a pretty fish and almost drowns himself. You can almost picture Friday stood on the beach shaking their head in exasperation, and that’s just funny!
But then, as the game goes on, Robinson will undergo this Pygmalion-like transformation from a bumbling buffoon to a cardboard combination of Bear Grylls and Rambo. That is so satisfying! Like the proud personal trainer you really are, when Robinson first overcomes a pack of wild animals, or bludgeons a cannibal to death with his own ladle, you’ll be cheering him on! When that deck you’ve carefully crafted comes together, you’ll feel great!
This sense of power comes not only from the improving numerical value of the cards in your deck, but from the variety of abilities that come with the cards you gain. These will let you gain food, add more cards for free, exchange cards, boost the strength of other cards and all manner of other tricks you’ll learn from your time in the jungle. The brilliant thing is that you chose when (and if) you’ll use these abilities. Thus the late game is a puzzle of card combos as you try and play your deck in the most efficient way possible.
However, while you improve and push ever harder, the game will be pushing back. Once you clear the hazard pile, you go back through it again, but now at a harder difficulty level. You’re pushing deeper into the island, fighting bigger packs of animals, escaping from bigger cooking pots. Survive again and you’ll need to try again with even harder challenges. But once where you were afraid, now you’re taking them on. Make it through this and you face the final challenge. Two fully armed pirate ships.
They thought they were safe. They thought this island deserted. Coming ashore to bury their treasure, they never even saw him coming. A fully powered up Robinson is a terrifying sight to behold and the game ends in a bloodbath as you slaughter two whole crews! It’s hilariously dark. Good God, Friday, what have we done??
That, of course, is only if Robinson doesn’t put his back out. The final spanner in the works is that every time you go through Robinson’s deck he gets older, represented by the addition of ageing cards with debilitating effects and fight scores that you’ll want to ditch at the earliest opportunity. A lovely twist is that you never know what effect you have coming until it drops randomly out of the deck which is a delightfully evil rule.
The fact is, this game is not easy! It’ll take you a while to improve your game, learning from your failures and your successes. Then, when you finally defeat those pirates, the game says “ok, well done. Now, do you want to play the actual game?” You’ll keep stepping up these difficulty levels, getting beaten again but that’ll only draw you back! There is certainly luck to how you draw cards but because you are always aware of your chances, you face that risk with your eyes wide open. Eventually you’ll conquer the final difficulty level, and be left with chasing your own high score, but by that point you’ll have played this a good number of times. More than enough to make it worth the nippy £17 price tag!
Fun, fun, fun, fun!
Playing board games solo is not what most people would probably be jumping at the chance to do. I’ve done very little solo gaming before, and while it’s certainly a little strange to begin with, Friday is such a wonderful puzzle that it’ll draw you in quickly enough and keep you coming back to try and conquer it despite only being for one. If you’ve ever been in a position of wanting to play a board game, but no one is available, then a solo game might be exactly what you need in your collection, and Friday would be a great place to start! I know it’s hard to recommend the fiddliness of a board game over just playing a video game, but sometimes it’s good to play with something tangible from time to time. If this review has in anyway piqued your interest, I’d absolutely recommend you check out Friday. There’s an exceptional game in that little box!
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Matt is the lead author of the Creaking Shelves blog and likes to highlight the funny side of simulating the world with little pieces of cardboard and wood. A recovering miniatures game addict, he has been fighting up the long road to recovery by discovering all the wonderful games that don't require mountains of plastic!