Games: Friday

This review is cross-posted on Playtest. Friday is available via Amazon and Funagain Games.

You’ve invited friends over for games this evening, but their replies are rife with hedges and qualifiers. “I’ll try to make it” says one; “maybe I’ll swing by later” vows another. And so, having no clear idea of how many will actually attend, you mentally prepare for every contingency: maybe Bang! if seven or six others arrive, Arkham Horror for four or three, Agricola if you’re joined by only two or one.

But what if the unthinkable happens?

Don’t you worry. Friday’s got your back.

Created by Friedemann Friese (he of the sublime Power Grid and brain-damaging Fresh Fish) Friday is the latest of the designer’s forays into deck-building. Friese previously explored the genre with Fürstenfeld, but with limited success  as with so many deck-builders, Fürstenfeld often feels like “multiplayer solitaire”, with interaction so constrained that it’s as if everyone at the table is playing a separate game. Friese doesn’t address this problem in Friday so much as capitalize on it; in fact, he describes Friday as “a multiplayer solitaire game … without the other players”. 

Because, you see, Friday is that rarest of beasts: a one-player-only commercial card game.

The components of Friday

Friday casts you in the role of Robinson Crusoe, struggling to survive on a tropical island long enough for rescue. (According to the rules you are technically Crusoe’s assitant Friday, but this was clearly chosen so that Friese could call this the second game in his “Freitag Project”, following Black Friday.) To do so, you must weather a series of hardships, ranging from the relatively benign (swimming back to your wrecked ship to retrieve supplies) to the deadly (exploring the depths of the island). Each obstacle has a specific “Hazard Value”, and you overcome it if the total of the cards revealed from your Knowledge Deck equals or exceed this value. If you fall short of the target number, you may repeatedly draw and play an additional card at a cost of one life token (from your starting allotment of 20). Or, at any time, you can simply surrender, and pay life tokens equal to the margin of defeat. Work your way through the Hazard deck three times and you’re given the opportunity to fight pirates and win the game; if, on the other hand, you run out of life tokens, you become an entrée for wild animals or cannibals.

Cards in Friday serve a dual purpose: one half shows a Hazard (and a Hazard Value), and the other half shows Crusoe (and a Knowledge Value). When you overcome an hazard, the card goes into your discard pile, and become available to you as a Knowledge Card after the next shuffle. 

But failing to defeat a hazard brings its own reward, for it is only then that you are allowed to eliminate cards from your Knowledge Deck. Early in the game your Knowledge Cards are weak, but sufficient to combat the simpler challenges; as you encounter increasingly difficult travails, however, these cards become a liability, as they clutter your deck and crowd out the more powerful cards necessary for success. Furthermore, you will occasionally have to add an Aging Card to your deck, which bestows penalties, rather than benefits, when drawn. Thus, removing cards is often every bit as important as claiming them.

This “get good cards if you win and lose bad cards if you lose” system is not only clever, but surprisingly thematic. As in real life, you gain as much from your defeats as you do from your victories, as you learn from your mistakes and become a stronger person for it.

A Hazard Card, with the Hazard (cannibals) on the bottom half and the Knowledge Value (4) on the top

Friedemann Friese is a notorious dabbler, and loves to try out new mechanisms in his games. Friday definitely feels like such an experiment, complete with small but impressive innovations, as well as some rough edges. As an example of the latter, a player wins the game by fighting two pirates, each a Hazard Card of exceptional difficulty. It probably says more about me than of Friday when I tell you that this vexes me to no end. The game’s narrative works perfect with Crusoe surviving long enough for a (single) pirate ship to visit his isle, defeating the crew with his hard-won skills, and sailing off into the sunset for victory. Asking Crusoe to fight two pirate ships, one after another, makes no goddamned sense whatsoever. It feels as if Friese got the game to where it worked, realized that players were winning too often, impulsively threw in a second pirate to up the difficulty, and called it good. This impression of slapdashery is reinforced by a few other oddities, such as the poor translations of the card names.

Still, Friday is a fun way to while away an hour. (Each game only takes 20 minutes but, as with traditional solitaire, the compulsion to play several in a row is nearly irresistible.) It also has four levels of difficulty, even the lowest of which is a considerable challenge. And it gives you something to play when your flaky friends again stand you up.

I recommend Friday not only for its admirable qualities, of which there are plenty, but also because, as an engrossing one-player game, it will fill a niche in your collection that is almost certainly vacant.

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