1 player, 24 Minutes
In my article on Agricola, I mentioned how I never played solo board games before. Nine of the ten games of Agricola I played this year ended up being solo; clearly, I enjoyed playing it all by my lonesome. In the end, though, I accepted the fact that, given the option and without a motivation to do otherwise, I’d rather just play a video game than a solo board game.
But then something strange happened. I was in a simple card game review—look forward to reviews of Red7 and Mystery Rummy: Escape from Alcatraz sometime soon!—and I decided to better understand their rules by playing some mock games against myself. In the middle of one of these phantom games, I realized that I really would like to play a proper game.
And then, naturally, I found a copy of Friedemann Friese’s Friday sitting on the shelf at a local shop.
Friday is a game for exactly one player. In it, you take the role of the eponymous Friday, assisting Robinson Crusoe to survive the challenges he encounters, adapt to his new environment, and ultimately take on a pair of pirate ships and leave the island. The rule book introduces the theme of the game by mentioning just how bothered Friday is to have his privacy invaded by the hapless Crusoe. At first, I assumed it was merely for the amusement of the person reading the rules, but man oh man, they weren’t kidding.
As in most deck-building games, you start with a predetermined deck of cards. The cards all have a number in the corner, indicating how effective they are at overcoming the obstacles on the island—and they are almost entirely garbage. Of eighteen cards, most of them are a flat zero, and several are, in fact, negative one, indicating that Robinson is “distracted.”
The challenges on the island are also represented with a deck of cards that you run through three times. Each turn, you flip over two and pick one to face. The first pass, you need to meet or exceed the lowest number in green. If you do, you flip the card around and can use it in your deck, and if not, you take the difference between your fighting value and the card’s value in damage. The second time, your goal is the higher number in yellow, and the next time, red. If you survive the third and final progress through the deck, then you take on two random pirates you reveal at the start of the game. Beating those wins you the game.
I must say, it’s daunting when you start the game and are unlikely to get a number north of zero—but that’s where Friday gets interesting. When you take damage, the tokens you lose can be used to remove cards from your deck entirely. You’ve heard that pain is weakness leaving the body—the first time you run through your deck in Friday, there will be a lot of weakness leaving the body. You start with 18 or 20 health depending on the difficulty level, and be prepared to lose most of it in short order putting Robinson Crusoe through a trial by fire—and that’s not even including the life points you spend to draw additional cards. If you ever need to lose health but have none left, you lose the game.
Now, you get to shuffle your deck and use what cards you have left, more confident that you can take on what life throws at you and actually start making progress—but wait. Each time you shuffle your deck, you first add an aging card to your deck. As you might have guess, they are without exception bad news. In most deck building games, you want to keep your deck lean and consistent, but Friday throws a wrench into the works—the more often you cycle through your deck, the more often it gets clogged.
The good news is that the card you add to your deck will not only be useful because of their higher fighting value, but because they often have useful side effect. They might let you exchange that aging card with a new one from the deck, or bury it under your deck, or even outright destroy it. (Side note: please don’t actually destroy it. This isn’t a legacy game. Just put it off to the side until the game is over.)
As you can tell, the game has a sense of push and pull that leads to some very interesting decisions. Do you want to take card that help you destroy the cards you want to get rid of, or simply lose encounters intentionally? Do you want to just remove the cards that are a zero with no effect or lower, or maybe some of the low value cards, too? Do you want to take on the easier challenge, or the more difficult one that gets you a better card? Which card is more useful, anyway? Do you want to push your luck, sacrificing a life point for another card draw, or just cut your losses?
The game offers just the right level of challenge most players would want in a solo game, too. I’m fairly confident saying this, since it gives you four options and you can pick whichever you’d like. I beat the lowest level a bit more than half the time when I was getting into the swing of things. I thought I was doing well enough to consistently win on the highest level, but I’m currently in the middle of a five-game losing streak, so what do I know?
There’s just something thoroughly pleasant about playing a solo board game. Sometimes you don’t want to play a game on a screen, and you just want to actually move pieces and shuffle cards. Maybe you’re not even feeling in a low-tech mood, and you want something to do with your hands while watching or listening to something. I’ve always doodled in class, and it can even feel like I’m able to concentrate more consistently (perhaps not as thoroughly) if I can divide my attention between two things rather than having it wander.
If you want to try out a solo game—and I suggest that you do at least once—I thoroughly recommend Friday. Grab a beverage, maybe put on a TV show or podcast, and get ready be absolutely crushed the first time around.