Saturday, 10 December 2016


Friday - A Solo Adventure, Rio Grande Games, 2012

10+, 30 minutes, 1 player, Solo

This is the first Solo game that we've reviewed here, which is fitting because it was the first Solo game I ever bought. I have played this game nine times, although it turns out that the first six times I was playing it incorrectly. Nonetheless, there's one thing in common with all nine games - I lost badly. "Can you achieve a glorious victory with 80 or more points?" Well, no, I bloody can't. Playing the game correctly, I've scored -29, -44 and -55 points. In the nine games I've played, I have literally never even got to scoring positive points. And yet I kept coming back to this game, so I think it's worthy of review.

"You are Friday and spend your time on a deserted island. After Robinson suddenly capsizes with his ship and runs ashore at your beach, your peaceful times are disturbed. To give Robinson a chance to leave the Island again, you start to teach him to improve his survival abilities against the hazards of the Island. If Robinson beats two Pirates at the end of the game, he successfully leaves the island and you will have your beloved peace back." Now, as game premises go, that's actually not bad. Robinson (Crusoe, in case that rather obvious literary point escaped you) is a total halfwit who starts the game failing at almost every challenge that faces him. In fact, the only way you can even have a chance of winning (like I would know!) is apparently to deliberately make him lose certain challenges. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Once you've set up the game, you draw the top two cards from the hazard deck. You choose one of the cards as the hazard and place it face up (and discard the other). That's your challenge for Robinson to face. The card tells you how many cards is the maximum for fighting the hazard. It also tells you the score you need to reach to defeat that hazard. For example, the Cannibals card (pictured here on the right) says in the little white mark that you can draw up to 5 cards from your deck. If you're on the first run-through of all the hazards, you're on the green level, so your cards have to add up to 5 points. If you're on the second level, though, you need 9 points. And if on the last level, the red level (which I've only reached once) then your cards have to add up to 14 points. Defeat the hazard and you get to keep the card, which you flip around to use against other hazards later. In this case, that would give you a weapon worth 4, which is very helpful. If you don't reach the desired number, you can choose to add another card, which you do be sacrificing a life point. Robinson starts the game with life points, which are represented by some totally weird wooden tokens. Once you have none left, you lose the game.

At the start of the game, because Robinson is such a feckless idiot, most of his cards have a point value of -1 or 0, with only a smattering of 1s. The challenges are not so hard - sometimes you only need to get 0 points to succeed! But even that can be very hard because Robinson was apparently so busy living it up large in the middle classes of 17th century Hull that he forgot to learn how to do basic things like swim to his raft. As I mentioned before, though, you want Robinson to lose some of these first hazards, though, because to win the game (like I'd know!), apparently you really need to get rid of the 0 and -1 cards, which you do by losing hazards. Then, when you slowly win hazards, you replace those -1s and 0s with cards with positive values and then (LIKE I'D BLOODY KNOW!) you start defeating much bigger hazards.

A photo of life tokens that I found online. I'm not sure why
they're in gravel. I'm not even sure why the life tokens look
like this, because I have literally no idea what they're meant
to look like. Corn? A person? Lice? I have no idea.
And that's all well and good, but it's just stupid difficult. Firstly, the rules are poorly written, and a lot of players apparently have to go online to watch a gameplay video to see how to even start playing - I know that I did. But then apparently there's a trick, something you have to work out, before you can win this game. Once you know the trick, you keep winning the game. Apparently. And that leads me to question this entire game, because while it's nice to have a challenge, if you're playing a solo game there's already a small chance that your ego is shattered by your stark loneliness and the fact that you have no-one else to play a game with. So, why would you want to make an evening of sitting by yourself and losing to a bloody game again and again and again?!? Why do I keep doing it? Is it really because I have no self-esteem?!? Is it because I secretly hate myself and think this is the best life has to offer me?!? Or is it, perhaps, because it's a really unique puzzle that I know can be cracked, I just haven't worked out how yet?

And this is a puzzle. A real puzzle. The final page on the rulebook tells you that you can "look through both discard piles... count the number of cards in all three draw stacks... [and] look at the destroyed cards." It says that it's not a memory game, so you can access all open information. It even tells you that Robinson starts with 1 2-point card, 3 1-point cards, 8 0-points cards, 5 -1-point cards and 1 0-point card that gives you 2 life tokens back. So, I even went to extremes and noted them all down and started playing the odds. "Well," I cleverly thought to myself, "I'm facing a hazard of 0 points, and now I've only got five cards left - four 0-point cards and a -1 card. So, I've only got a 1/5 change of drawing the bad card, so I should go for that challenge." And then what do I draw? The bloody -1 card. And any game that makes you shout, "OH, COME ON!!!" repeated times has to have questions asked about it.

Friedemann Friese, the designer of the game, is obviously some kind of sadist. The game has been hugely popular worldwide, but is also widely acknowledged to be extremely difficult. I've never even got to the pirates yet - Robinson has always died before I could even try to fight the pirates, whose card is always a random draw from a pile of pirates with varying abilities.

Apparently, this is one of the possible pirate cards.
But I wouldn't know because I've never got that far.
It's been months since I've played Friday, and when I look at it on the shelves, I sometimes think, "Oh, it would be nice to get that out again," but then I find myself thinking, "Or since I've got an evening to myself, I could go and paint some Imperial Assault miniatures." Writing about it now with the box next to me, I find myself thinking, "After I type this review, I could actually give it a try and see if I can beat it this time," but there's a much larger voice in my head saying, "...or just go to bed." In terms of design, once you've watched the gameplay videos online, it's a catchy, simply little game. I probably will play it again some time just because I really, really want to beat it without learning how from other players online. But then what? Once I beat it, I can go onto a more difficult level, but I can't believe the gameplay is going to be that different. The game even taunts you - "How many games did you need for your first victory in Level 1?" It may as well add "...loser?" to the end of that question.

I get that a number of Solo games are very difficult - Lord of the Rings, The Card Game is another virtually impossible solo card game that has sat on my shelf for a long time. But, I would like this game to be easier. Not easy, just easier. People talk about not getting their first win for 10-20 games and that's really rather messed up. Here's another puzzle that would take less time to solve - how many times can you bang your head against your gaming table before you start to bleed? I reckon that, life-threatening injuries aside, that might be a less frustrating puzzle to solve.

So, why have I played it nine times so far? Well, it's a cute travel game with nice artwork that doesn't take too long to play. If you're going to lose, better not to take an entire night over it. It's also an interesting challenge that I know that other people have beaten, which basically makes it like one of those Seeing Eye pictures. You know that if you look at it just right, you can see what it's meant to be. And you'll stand there for ages trying to work it out, simply because you know there's something there. And then you think you see it, but you don't, so you stand there for even longer trying to work it out.
It's a dog. Or a tree. Or a man stranded on an island.
I don't know what it is. Stop judging me. 
Friday isn't so much a "Solo Adventure" as a puzzle. Well, maybe it is an adventure when for the first time you reach the third level. And then lose. Maybe it's a metaphor for our lives - that we're all doomed to failure so perhaps we should just celebrate the small successes. Maybe that's what ultimately makes it an appealing game, at least on the evenings when I don't mind reminding myself of what a total and abject failure I am.

There is another Robinson Crusoe themed game that is for co-op or solo play, but it's currently very expensive and is also very difficult and with very complicated rules. Apparently, solo play, ridiculous difficulty, poor rules and Robinson Crusoe all go hand-in-hand. A new version of that game is shortly coming out with much clearer rules, and I can't help but think I'll be picking up a version of that. In the meantime, I hope I solve this puzzle some time before I die, but I'm aware that I actually might not.

  • Cute artwork
  • Simple game mechanism
  • Some strategy
  • Inexpensive
  • Quick game play

  • Poorly written rules
  • Too bloody difficult
  • Weird life tokens
Accessibility: 2/5 - A low mark here because a game with simple mechanics is just explained badly in the rulebook.
Design: 3/5 - Nothing special but nothing egregious here. The artwork is cute.
Depth: 2/5 - Maybe the fact that I don't see depth here is the reason I always lose. Or maybe it's just a game about playing odds.
Replayability: 3/5 - A nice challenge for an evening until you realise that there are other challenging things that you could do with your time that might actually bring about positive results.
Availability: 5/5 - Easily available online and in select stores for a cheap price.

Summary: A game that beats you and beats you until you work out the secret to winning is amusing for the first few games but then quickly turns into a struggle against the self and against succumbing to despair. Playing it now feels to me like someone rattling gates to a luxury theme park screaming "Let me in! Let me in!" and there's a few people on the other side with massive smiles on their faces, while most of the rest of society skulks around this side of the gates saying, "Give it up, we've tried." I don't know what the replayability is like once you've beaten the game because I've never bloody beaten the game!

Final Score: Once I beat this game - if I ever beat it - I might change this score. But the difficulty setting is so high that this game can turn a fun night of gaming into a reminder of the futility of human existence, and that's not really ideal in a game. But, if you're someone who really likes a real challenge, this game might totally be for you. To me, if I'm going to spend an evening by myself playing a game, I at least want a chance of beating it. Otherwise, I may as well read a book or paint some minis in preparation for a challenging group game like Imperial Assault for when the friends come round. Cute, challenging but more often than not, a little frustrating - 54%.

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