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.
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.
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.
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
- Quick game play
- Poorly written rules
- Too bloody difficult
- Weird life tokens
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.
Availability: 5/5 – Easily available online and in select stores for a cheap price.