Friday (Rio Grande Games)
Designed by Friedemann Friese
Art by Harald Lieske and Marcel-André Casasola Merkle
As someone without a regular gaming group in addition to homebody tendencies, there are a lot of tabletop games that just aren’t worth dropping the money when 3+ players are needed. My wife is also busy with other things when home so isn’t always available to play some of our favorites. So, I began to look for games that would work with a single player when I came across Friday, a game made for ONLY one player. I was a bit skeptical, but the $12 price tag at Origins made it affordable enough to take a risk.
The premise of Friday is that you play the island native who befriends Robinson Crusoe, portrayed as a complete imbecile in the game. It’s up to you, Friday, to prepare Crusoe to deal with the pirate ships headed for the island. You have three phases of increasing difficulty wherein you face hazards on the island. Some are easy (Explore the Island) up to be near impossible to defeat if you wait to tackle them in the last phase (Cannibals).
There are four decks of cards in the game: The Hazard Deck, The Fighting Deck, The Aging Deck, and The Pirate Deck. In setup, you draw two random pirate cards and place them on the table to deal with later. Beginning with the Green Phase, you draw two Hazard cards and choose which one you are going to face. Each Hazard card has three combat values for the phase you are in and a number of cards you can draw from your fighting deck to defeat it. The catch is the Fighting deck is stacked against you at the beginning, just like Crusoe was unprepared for the challenges of the island at first.
After your Hazard is chosen, you may draw up to the number of cards it allows and compare their value with the Hazard’s. If you exceed or match the value, you win the combat, and that Hazard card joins your fighting deck. By turning the Hazard card 180 degrees, you now have a new Fighting card with a value and a unique ability. If you lose the combat, you must turn over the difference in Life tokens of the combat values. The benefit of this is that for every life token you turn in you may eliminate a weak Fighting card from the game. Regarding the fiction, even being defeated by Hazards on the Island provides Crusoe with experience and he may drop a card with a value of 0 or -1.
Building a strong Fighting deck will be crucial in facing off with the pirates at the conclusion of the film. Plus, every time the Hazard deck runs out of cards the discard pile is reshuffled and becomes the new Hazard deck. The Challenge phase goes up a tick, and the Hazards become more difficult. When your Fighting deck runs out of cards, you shuffle the discards plus add a card from your Aging deck. Crusoe is getting a year old and with age comes debilities. The Aging deck is full of low-value cards which cost two life points to eliminate, plus their Special Abilities must be used when they are drawn and are always bad.
It took a couple plays to grasp the flow of the game, and at first, I missed the very core mechanic of using spent Life points to eliminate terrible cards. Once that piece clicked the game lit up for me. I’ve played about five games and never made it past the third Red phase, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun. When pulling Hazards in the Green and Yellow phase, you are always weighing going for the assured victory on a low combat value card or trying to tackle a greater Hazard before it is near impossible in the Red phase. In my most recent game, I had a decent Fighting deck going after getting rid of every -1 card and almost every starting 0. However, I didn’t take the risk of dealing with particular Hazards in the Yellow phase, plus ended up with a brutal Aging card in my deck. I got to the Red phase, but Life Points got depleted very quickly.
While other games offer solitaire modes, Friday is a game built for that particular style of play. Once you catch on to the core mechanics and flow of the game, it is quite a bit of challenging fun that will have you shuffling up for a new game as soon as you finish one.