Designer: Friedemann Friese
Artist: Harald Lieske and Marcel-André Casasola Merkle
Publisher: 2F-Spiele, Rio Grande Games
Solo games aren’t high on my list, but lately with the pandemic restrictions on social gatherings, solitaire games are surging in popularity as are multi-player games that incorporate solo modes. In the past, with gaming groups every where, solitaire or solo mode wasn’t really considered a priority for designers. Times have changed. These days, it’s not uncommon for designers to trumpet the creation of a solo mode for a regular multiplayer game to entice buyers who prefer a quiet evening alone.
I am still not a fan of solitaire games even more so for games that feature a solo mode. I generally end up feeling bored and not really engaged. This extends to digital games where you are playing against an algorithm. It’s dry. I miss the human connection and I’d much rather play video games instead if I wanted something to distract my attention. That said, I will give games specifically designed for single players a look. I also don’t mind trying multiplayer games that are essentially solitaire experiences such as Railroad Dice. The reasoning is simple: these games designed to cater for one person and so there is no retrofitting a rule set to accommodate a single player for what is essentially optimized for a multi-player experience.
Friday has been around for a while but remains popular and in print. That must say something about the quality of the game. In fact, I do not recall many main stream single player games in the market back when Friday was published. Since Friday, dozens of other popular solitaire games have emerged and embraced by many. For example, Nemo’s War and Under Falling Skies have garnered a lot of interest with both games having multiple print runs. I guess solitaire games are here to stay.
I am curious about Under Falling Skies but before grabbing a copy, I thought it would be useful to compare and contrast with Friday. First off, Friday comes in a very small square package which is extremely portable. The game comes with three square tiles, a score pads and some…..grape tokens? Yeah, they look like grape tokens cannibalized from other game pieces. The three tiles are place mats used to differentiate between the different draw decks. I wouldn’t say these are necessary, but nice to have as the cards backs are all similar, and tough to differentiate the draw piles.
In general, the goal of Friday is deck building which lasts for three rounds before facing a final challenge. If your deck is strong enough to beat the final challenge, you win the game.
To build the deck, players cycle through a preset deck of Robinson cards. Each Robinson card should have a numerical value and some have special abilities. Numerical values range from -1 to +4 and you want to eliminate the negative value cards will adding ones that are positive in values. To add more Robinson cards, players will have to overcome hazards. Each hazard card that is won, can then be added to your draw deck as a Robinson card because each hazard card has two halves with one half of the card showing a hazard and the other showing artwork and stats for Robinson.
For each challenge, players will draw two hazard cards and select one to tackle. Each hazard card will have a challenge rating to overcome depending on which round it is. In the Green (first) round, the challenge rating is low but will progressively get higher as you advance to the yellow and red rounds. Each round ends when the entire hazard draw pile is depleted. For each hazard, there will be a number of Robinson cards that can be drawn to face the challenge. If the sum total of the numerical values of all Robinson cards in play exceeds the challenge rating on the hazard card, you win the hand and the hazard card becomes part of your Robinson draw deck. If the sum total is still below the challenge rating, you can flip more Robinson cards at the cost of 1 life point per card. You start with 20 life points and if they are all exhausted and you need to draw another card to continue, you lose.
Alternatively, one can stop flipping Robinson cards and declare defeat and pay the difference between the challenge rating and sum total of the numerical values in life points. Defeat is not always bad since the life points used to pay the penalty can also be used to remove cards in play to thin the deck. In fact , in early stages of the game, this is necessary to eliminate the -1 and 0 value cards.
In this way, players will play Robinson cards and use their special abilities to “draw, discard, swap, exchange, double, destroy, copy, etc” their way to overcome the challenge rating and win the hazard or lose intentionally to thin their deck. Players can reshuffle their Robinson deck to gain the use of the new cards, but it comes at a penalty of aging. During each shuffle, aging cards with much larger penalties are added into the deck and reshuffled. Aging cards can be crippling if not removed as they carry heavy minuses. When the aging deck runs out (7 cards), the game also ends with a loss.
Ultimately as the game progresses toward the final show down, the deck of cards needs to be efficiently trimmed and also bulked up with enough hazard/Robinson cards. This means a mixture of high value cards and some with special abilities without any/many -1 or 0 value cards. The final show down consists of two pirate cards that are sequentially revealed and needs to be defeated in order to win the game. The pirate cards usually have a high challenge rating and also a special ability to handicap the player. They are challenging but not impossible to beat. After all, there is no point in making a solitaire experience too easy.
In a way, Friday feels similar mechanistically with Star Trek: Frontiers, which uses the Mage Knight system. I tend to play Star Trek solo because I can’t imagine playing it as a multiplayer game. There are deck building features in both games and card play revolves around fighting to overcome a challenge rating. Of course, Star Trek is at least one log fold higher in complexity, but both games broadly speaking, feel like siblings and playing them scratch the same itch for me. Given my preference for shorter solitaire games, despite the lackluster theme, I’d say Friday suits me a lot better than Star Trek Frontiers. I do greatly miss the sci-fun theme though.
Personally, I expect all solitaire games to be short and highly variable. It needs to be short because I don’t have the patience to play a sprawling one person game that spans hours. It needs to be highly variable because the lack of human interaction means the variability must be compensated from the game system itself. As such, I think luck will always be a necessary and perhaps larger component in a solitaire experience. The question here is whether a balance can be struck between skill and luck where skill is used to adapt or minimize the variability imposed by luck of the draw or roll to satisfy the victory conditions.
I am very curious about the evolution of solitaire games. Right now, with the pandemic, it seems like the perfect time for solitaire games to flourish. Thus far, most solitaire experiences for me end up feeling like a monologue in my head, where I figure out how to accumulate points to beat the challenge rating usually by clever use of card abilities. “Oh, if I swap this first, then draw a card followed by activating this ability, then I can get two extra points…..” I am honestly not too enamored with this type of experience. I wonder if a majority of solitaire games end up with a similar structure. For a short game like Friday, it’s fine. A longer experience like Frontiers starts to feel draining and sometimes, a bit pointless. I mean a solo victory at times feels a little anti-climactic with no one else to share it with. While many solitaire games also incorporate a way to score victory points, tempting you to break your own high score with each attempt, I much rather play to just win or lose, pass or fail.
Perhaps the solitaire/solo experience is not for me. That said, I really did enjoy Friday and I can see myself occasionally pulling this out to try on a quiet weekday evening. I am not giving up on this genre but also keen to see if a breakthrough in design might be around the corner.
[…] Shephy is probably one of the simplest solitaire games out there. It is also not particularly hard or challenging. I found that it is too easy to eliminate bad cards while playing only the good ones first. Often times, it is also beneficial to hold on to the “duplicate the powers of one card” card and use it to eliminate two negative cards from the game permanently. Once those cards are out of the game, it is then just an exercise to see if you can maximize or sequence the positive cards for maximum output. Of course, you can make slight tweaks or impose some handicap to make life harder for yourself. I am just too lazy to troubleshoot that. So, if you want a challenging solitaire experience, this is not it. Try Friday instead. […]