Isolation seems to be a strong theme in our lives right now. We've all been spending more time with ourselves these days. So, why not play a game? Sure, I could play a video game, and I probably will. But I still have that tabletop itch. Fortunately, solo board games have had a rise in popularity in the world of board games recently. At first, it might sound lame to play a board game with yourself. Like someone playing both sides in a chess match. But who hasn't enjoyed a game of solitaire in their life? Most new solo player board games are considered just that: SOLITAIRE GAMES. My most recent favorite has brought a splash of enjoyment to my isolation lifestyle.
I bring you FRIDAY, a solo adventure. Comparable to my recent adventures with isolation, this game simulates the story of Robinson Crusoe. Now, I realize, he and I were dealing with very different hazards, but after playing this game I feel more in his shoes than ever. Friday is a solitaire deck-building game, where you play as “Friday '' (I’m still not sure what that means) trying to help Robinson through a series of hazards he MUST face. Your success throughout the game determines two things: whether you will add new skills, or destroy bad habits. After you've been through three phases of these hazards you must fight off two waves of pirates – if you're still alive, you've WON and can start putting all the cards away until you decide “well shit, I wanna play again”.
There are a few things about this game that make me smile. For one, I love the deck-building aspect because it gives you a sense of accomplishment as you play. By the end of the game I feel proud of the deck I've created. I look at the cards in my hand and remember the struggle I went through to earn them. The other thing that brings me joy in this game is the push-your-luck mechanic – each time you face a hazard you want to flip over just one more card even though you know it could be the difference between success and defeat.
Now I realized I haven't explained much of the gameplay yet, so here I go in the middle of the review. On your turn, you draw two hazards and need to pick one to face. Each hazard tells you a certain number of cards you're allowed to draw for free to reach the target number that is shown on the card. After you've drawn your free cards you're allowed to “PUSH YOUR LUCK” if you're still not at the target number. This means that for every new card you draw you must sacrifice 1 of your initial 20 HP. Eventually, you will stop either because you hit the target number, or you don't want to lose more HP from drawing cards.
If you won, CONGRATULATIONS! That hazard card flips over and becomes a new skill you get to add into the deck known as Robinson’s brain. However, if you fail, you lose more HP based on how far off from the target number you wound up. BUT (and this is so sweet) depending on how much HP you've lost, you get the opportunity to take cards OUT of your deck. This creates a brilliant metaphor for learning from your mistakes. Pair that with the rewards you’ve gotten from successful attempts at completing hazards and you've got a deckbuilding game where you feel true ownership of the “BRAIN” you've created.
Whenever you start a game of FRIDAY, an important strategy is to fail a few hazards on purpose. This will get rid of cards that will keep you from passing hazards in the future. The real gameplay is to decide how much you want to “fail on purpose” – if you take too many cards out of your deck it becomes too small. Another brilliant mechanic in this game is the addition of aging cards. Anytime you run out of cards from your “brain” you need to reshuffle the ones you've played, but you also have to shuffle in the aging card. These cards are always bad and if you put too many in, THEY GET EVEN WORSE. This game has fooled me many times. I thought I was on to something the first few games, but I seemed to always forget another mechanic that would just screw me over in the later game. Even after I figured it out, this game tells me that there are variants to make it EVEN HARDER. Think of poor RC (Robinson Crusoe) finally passing through all the brush, thorns, and dangerous wildlife, only to realize that it could have been SO MUCH WORSE.
So, Mechanically this game sings to me. Especially since, like RC, I've spent more time alone these past few years than ever before. But this game has another thing about it that I like. I like, but don't LOVE: the art (it's cute, it's really cute). Sometimes the cards make me giggle thinking about Robinson's actual face when he draws a -4 Moronic card. It’s very similar to my own in that scenario. But beyond that, the cartoony feel just doesn't fit the theme for me. Again, I like it but I don't LOVE it. I want to be immersed, I'm already in a similar state of isolation, why don't I also feel like I'm on the actual island? Maybe that's too much to ask, maybe true dark immersion doesn't sell as much as the cartoony light-heartedness of Friday. OH, also, the green hit point markers….. What are they? Are they teeth? Some kind of strange fruit? I even thought they were rib cages at first but then thought that's just too absurd, and who would have 20 of them?
I’m nit-picking at this point. It's really hard to find anything wrong with this game. I can't put it away without wanting to try again. I’ve lent it to my neighbors and friends, and we all get a giggle about our own stories with Robby. I'm very glad that we have so many more options than solitaire when it comes to solo play games. I know we all can just play a video game to pass the time, but for those of you that want an original puzzle that you’ll wanna play, again and again, I highly recommend Friday. Good luck out there, and watch out for the cannibals.