Buzzworthiness: A Year of Fridays

Last January, I took on the challenge of playing the game Friday every Friday for the entire year.  I missed two the whole year – once on the week of my daughter’s birth, and once later on in the year when I just plain forgot.  But I still got in 52 games, and wanted to share the experience here.  It’s

image by BGG user Henning
image by BGG user Henning

Friday is a 2011 game designed by Friedemann Friese and originally published in German by his company 2F-Spiele (Rio Grande published it in the US).  The game is only designed for solo play, and takes 20-30 minutes to play.  In the game, you are Friday, the native servant of Robimnson Crusoe.  Your job is just to keep him alive.  It uses a deckbuilding mechanism as its driving force as Robinson learns the skills he needs to survive.

The game comes with 22 wooden life points, 3 storage boards, and 72 cards (consisting of 3 step card, 18 starting cards, 11 aging cards, 30 hazard/knowledge cards, and 10 pirate cards). To start the game, the hazard deck, aging deck, and starting deck are all placed on their respective boards.  You’ll choose two pirates for the game, and get your starting life (20 for levels 1-3, 18 for level 4).  You’re now ready to begin.

image from riograndegames.com
image from riograndegames.com

At the start of each turn, you’ll draw two hazards and decide which one to fight.  Throughout the game, you’ll be going through the hazard deck three times – green, yellow, and red.  If you’re in the green stage, you’ll look at the green number to find the fighting value you have to beat.  Yellow will refer to the yellow number, and red to the red number.  There’s also a white box on the card that indicates how many cards you can draw from your deck to try to beat it.  For the Wild Animals card, you would have to get a total of 4 fighting points in the green phase, 7 in yellow, and 11 in red, and you can draw 4 cards to attempt it.

image from shutupandsitdown.com
image from shutupandsitdown.com

Cards you draw from your deck will have a number in the upper left corner, as shown to the right.  Your starting cards will have a value anywhere between -1 and 2 (there’s only one 2, three 1s, and the rest are 0s and -1s).  If you manage to get enough fighting points to defeat a card, you will turn it around and add it to your deck.  As you can see, the Wild Animals will turn into a power of 3 fighting card, which is very helpful.  If, once you’ve drawn your allotted number of cards, you want to continue to fight, you can discard a life point to draw another card.  You can do this as long as you have life to spend.

You’re not going to win every battle, and in fact, sometimes you’ll want to lose.  When you lose, you’ll have to lose life points equal to the difference between your fighting total and what the card was looking for.  So if you needed 4, and only got 2, you’ll lose 2 life points.  When you lose life, you can choose to destroy some played cards with it.  Let’s say you were going for that wild animal and drew a 1, a 2, a -1, and a 0.  You could spend two life points to remove that -1 and 0 from your deck forever.  It’s all or nothing, however.  If you wanted to keep the 0 because it has +2 life on it, you can’t just destroy the -1.  You either need to destroy two cards with your two life, or you can’t destroy anything.  In order to remove a single aging card, you need to spend two life points.

Once you run out of hazard cards, you move on to the next phase (green to yellow, yellow to red, red to pirates).  If you make it all the way to the pirates, you will have to fight it like normal, only with more cards and a higher fighting value.  Some of the pirates also have special effects that will mess with you.

If you ever have to lose a life point and have none left to lose, you are defeated.  If you manage to defeat both pirates, you win and score the game – +5 points per remaining life point, +1 point per fighting point in your deck, -5 per aging card you have left, -3 per unbeaten hazard, +15 per defeated pirate.  My personal record is 91.

image by BGG user Hex_Enduction_Hour
image by BGG user Hex_Enduction_Hour

COMPONENTS: The cards for this game are tarot size, meaning they’re longer and thinner than a standard card.  This is so each half is the same size, and still square.  It’s pretty easy to differentiate between the two sides – Robinson will be up in the fighting deck, and the hazard will be up in the hazard deck.  The cards are laid out fairly well – the hazard strengths are delineated in a stoplight pattern (red on top, then yellow, then green).  It’s easy to forget which phase you’re on while in the midst of a game, but that’s not the fault of the components.

Many of the fighting cards have special abilities, which are written in shorthand text (+1 life, sort 3 cards, 1x copy, 2x exchange, etc).  These descriptors aren’t very descriptive, and for the first few games, you’ll find yourself going to the rules to check on what they mean.

For the most part, the cards are very good, and of good quality.  The life points are wooden and shaped like wheat or barley.  The storage boards aren’t strictly necessary, but they are useful for keeping up with which deck is which.  Also, when each deck empties out, the board reveals the next step – when the hazard deck is gone, it tells you to move on to the next stage; when the fighting deck is empty, it tells you to shuffle in a new aging card; and when the aging deck is empty…well, nothing would happen in this case (I’ve never emptied out the aging deck), but there are setup instructions for the aging deck on this board.

Overall, the components are pretty good.  They’ve lasted me for over 52 games now (unsleeved), so that should tell you something.

THEME: I’m not very familiar with Robinson Crusoe, having never read the book or seen any of the movie adaptations (nor have I played Ignacy Trzewiczek’s game).  So I can’t speak to exactly how well the theme integrates here.  I can say that it seems decent enough when you think about it.  As you begin, Robinson doesn’t know much.  As he begins to fight hazards, he’ll begin to get rid of bad information he may have (particularly 0s and -1s), and begin to introduce better knowledge into his day-to-day life.  However, the longer he stays on the island, the more bad habits he might pick up (aging cards) that you need to get rid of quickly or they’ll haunt you.  If, by the end, he has learned enough to defeat the pirates, you’ll win.

I will say, though, that no matter how well the theme is presented here, you’re not going to think much about it while you play.  You’ll be concerned with fighting strength of your cards as well as the hazard strength.  When deciding hazards, you’ll be thinking more about what this hazard will do for you in terms of ability and fighting points rather than the fact that you’re fighting a Wild Animal or facing down Cannibals.  It really boils down to a numbers game, even though the Robinson Crusoe aspect is an interesting framing device.

MECHANICS: Friday is primarily a deckbuilding game, which means that you start with a deck, then throughout the game you customize it by acquiring new cards.  A big criticism of deckbuilders has always been that they’re pretty much multiplayer solitaire games (I disagree, but that’s the criticism).  So, here’s an actual solitaire game with deckbuilding as the main mechanism.  Cards are not acquired through purchase (as in games like Dominion), but rather by defeating hazards.

One of the emergent strategies in deckbuilders that you’re not necessarily going to pick up on your first few plays is that you need to cull your deck.  You always start with a basic deck of basic cards, and while they may be useful to get you started, they aren’t going to be useful in the long run and you need some way to trash them so they’re not coming out at bad times.  Your starting deck only comes with four out of eighteen cards that are above zero (three 1s and a 2), as well as one 0 with +2 life, so you’ll need to get a lot of that junk out of the way quickly.  When you lose against a hazard, you lose life, but you are allowed to destroy as many cards as you lost life.  This mechanism encourages you to purposely lose some fights, especially early, in order to clear out the bad stuff.

Now, if you could just get rid of all that junk and be done with it, this game would be pretty easy.  But each time you reshuffle, you must add an aging card, which will randomly affect you negatively – it could be a significant negative fighting number, or it could negate your highest card, or it could lose you life, or it could even make you stop playing free cards.  It’s never good, and you want to cull them as quickly as possible.  It’s a very good mechanism to make things interesting.

Overall, the mechanisms work very well.  The game progressively gets tougher throughout the game, and you can amp up the difficulty whenever you’re ready to challenge yourself more.

STRATEGY LEVEL: The big strategy points you have to pay attention to is trying to collect the best card abilities.  This needs to be balanced with gaining good fighting strength – a double card is no good if all you have is 0s.  There is a good amount of luck pushing going on – choosing which hazard to go far, trying to decide if you want to suck it up and lose or try for one more card, and so on – but there is strategy, particularly as you set your eyes on the pirates at the end.

ACCESSIBILITY: This is a complex game.  Once you know what you’re doing, it flows well, but it’s got the barrier of some unclear rules and a lot of challenge going on.  Add in the fact that it’s a solo game, and that means this is really a game for a certain type of person.  More on that a little later.

REPLAYABILITY: Hopefully, the fact that I played it 52 times last year and like it enough to include it on my 10×10 this year is enough to let you know that I think this is a very replayable game.  It’s amazing that after all those plays, I’m still being challenged and still finding new ways to adjust my play style.  A very replayable game.

SCALABILITY: This is a solo game, and there’s no real way to make it for more than one player.  So, no scalability.

FOOTPRINT: This game does not take up much space.  You pretty much need an area for the three storage boards, plus a play area (which can get pretty full when fighting pirates).  This can be played easily on a small table.

AS A SOLO GAME: A lot of people in the hobby look down on solo games.  They see games as a social experience, and don’t want to play solo games.  I can understand that point of view – I definitely think the social aspect is a major strength of the hobby – but a lot of people have a hard time finding opponents.  Ever since the birth of my daughter, I’ve found my gaming time severely reduced because I need to be home to assist.  I do get some free time, but I’m having to explore more solo options because my wife is quite busy and, well, the baby is frankly not quite old enough.  And what I’m finding is that there’s a ton of great solo options out there.  I am finding myself drawn to the ones that have an actual end goal, not just a “beat your high score” thing.  As a solo game, Friday is excellent, and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for solo play.  It’s probably the best pure solo game I own.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  If you’re at all interested in solo gaming, you need to play Friday.  It’s very challenging, it has great replayability, and it’s just fun.  After playing 52 games in 2015 (I went 22-30 on the year), it’s one that I’m sure will be providing enjoyment for a long time to come.  Thanks for reading!

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