Friday makes a surprise visit to the app world, can he help Robinson survive?
# of Players
Rio Grande Games
Friday is a solo deckbuilding game that is frequently cited among the top few solo games available. Players act as Friday, trying to help the recently shipwrecked Robinson get off of his island so he can get back to peace and quiet. Players must play a game of constant risk/reward decision making, trying to eliminate weak cards from their deck while fighting off hazard after hazard the island throws at them. A game typically takes between five and fifteen minutes, depending how far you make it, and ends when you cannot pay a life token you owe or, much more rarely, when you defeat two pirates at the end of the game for a victory.
A turn in Friday starts by choosing between two drawn hazard cards. Each card will have a number indicating how many fighting points are required to defeat it, a number of free card draws, and a fighting card on the bottom half which is added to your deck should you defeat the hazard. The player chooses which of the two hazard cards to take on this turn and the fight begins. You can either attempt to defeat the hazard and gain the associated fighting card, or you can end the battle in defeat (by having less fighting points than required) which depletes your life tokens, but also allows you to eliminate cards you drew during the fight, this is how you ditch weak cards. You keep picking fights last until the hazard deck is fully drawn, this is the conclusion of a step.
The game lasts three steps, defeating a hazard becomes increasingly difficult with each step and you have to face the hazards you didn’t defeat the previous step. After three steps you then face two randomly drawn pirates, each of which amounts to a supersized hazard fight. Should you prevail, you win and your game gets scored. Actually, even when you lose, your game is scored, but it will likely be a big, negative number.
The Adventure Beings...
A common feature in any good deckbuilder is the ability to ditch cards from your hand. In most games, you will be ditching weak starting cards. The major difference in Friday is that you start not only with weak cards, but cards that have zero or negative affects on your actions. This makes the card trimming task not a luxury, but a necessity. You start with a large number of life points (the exact number depends on what difficulty level you are playing on), and a large number of worthless fighting cards. In order to trash cards you have to lose battles which costs life points, but also allows you to trash cards. The direct tradeoff of life points for card trashing is a fascinating mechanic and provides much of the decision making in this game. Push your luck too far in the card trashing direction and you may not be adding any useful cards to your fighting deck. Don’t trash at all and you will get burned by weak cards later.
Complicating things, in a good way, are card abilities. Each fighting card has a fighting power number, but many also have an added ability. These can be to provide extra life points, increase fighting points, draw cards, or a few other vital abilities. The final wrinkle are aging cards. These are mildly to hugely negative cards that get mixed into your fighting deck, one is added each time you burn through your deck and need to reshuffle.
Friday is a proven winner in the solo gaming category. The most obvious comparison in the digital app world is probably Onirim. If you’ve played that game, Friday is a deeper game with more tactical and strategic decision making, and is also much less forgiving.
Barrier to Entry
This app makes it tough to learn the game if you’re coming in as a new player. There is no tutorial to speak of. The closest is a button during the game which you can press to activate the help for your current situation. These pop-ups are very much lacking in teaching the game to a new player.
The game does include a rulebook, which should be a big plus, but it is a direct copy of the physical game rulebook. This is very annoying as a large portion of the words in the rulebook are dedicated to things you don’t care about in the app, such as where to place specific cards you draw, or which piles to place cards as they exit play, among other things.
On the plus side, this game isn’t super heavy. It’s not quite a gateway level, weight wise, but it isn’t Through the Ages either. I hadn’t played the physical game before playing the app. It took a full readthrough of the rulebook and a few trial games to really start to get it, and even then I still needed reference the rules on a few occasions, but I did eventually get a good feel for the game.
Explore or fight wild animals?
Look and Feel
The app is clunky. Going back to the rulebook for a second, you are presented with a blurry version of the rulebook when you head to the Rules section. Click a page and it brings it up in a crisper image, allowing zoom if you need it. That is great, except when you’re done with the page you have to close out of the zoom, scroll to the next one, and open is separately. This is a minor complaint but indicative of the overall lack of polish seen in this app.
On Android, the app doesn’t recognize the system back buttons, you are forced to use the back buttons included in the game. Not the worst thing, except that one notable screen, the game start screen where you choose the difficulty, doesn’t include a back button. There are other odds and ends like this throughout. The app icon says “Freitag” (Friday in German), you also see that title when you first open the app, it is soon replaced by the English version, presumably after the app loads your language preference.
On the plus side, the app includes a setting for left or right handed. As far as I can tell, this only changes the location of the “OK” button at the end of a fight, and the settings options, but this is a nice touch I can appreciate as a lefty.
The bottom line is that this app felt like it should be headed to beta, not a full release.
A common sight in Friday
Friday is a solo game so there is no true multiplayer option. However, the game has an online leaderboard which will allow you to see how your high score on each level stacks up with the rest of the Friday players. Leaderboards are kept on a weekly basis and it appears that you can see the current and previous week’s leaders, but no more. The game also has an option for “King of the Island” tournaments, which are a fun twist to the usual "weekly challenge" type mode. Players register for the upcoming tournament, up to 1024 people can participate, and then a 10 round head-to-head tournament takes place. Players are given identical deals so nobody has the luck of the draw disadvantage. Even if your opponent plays first, you don't see their score until after you play. Winners advance, losers go home. The King of the Island tournaments run every two weeks and are a great addition to the app.
The app doesn’t add any additional game modes. You can play the game on any of five different difficulty levels. These different levels begin by adding an early aging card (L2), then introducing a new aging card (L3). Level four does all of the above and then decreases your starting, and max, life points by two. Level five (not mentioned in the physical game rulebook) decreases these by two again. Being a designed solo game, the challenge is baked into the game itself by simply being flat out tough even on the “easy” difficulty levels, the levels add minor tweaks which do a good job of make the game tougher. It should be noted that the rulebook states that Level 4 “is the real game!” so don’t go feeling good if you win on levels 1-3.
Additionally, Friday includes a set of achievements to try to unlock. These aren’t terribly well incorporated as I haven’t seen a notification that I actually unlocked the ones that I have so far. A disappointment that I might as well discuss here is the lack of stat keeping. For a relatively quick hitting solo game I’d love, and honestly sort of expect, the game to track how many games I’ve played at each level and my win percentage and average scores, at the very least.
One issue that affects all of the above is that I have had the app crash on me a few times. The first two or three occurred in menus or after locking and unlocking the phone. The most recent crash as of the writing of this review, however, happened while playing a game, unfortunately.
The Wrap Up
This is a tough one. The game is great, it has been a favorite of the solo community for a while and it is easy to see why. You get a compact, really challenging deckbuilder in a pretty quick playing game with a fun theme. The difficulty as a reviewer is that this app clearly wasn’t ready for release. There are too many incomplete or ill designed features. Friday would have benefitted greatly from a round of beta testing. On the plus side, the app has already been updated a few times to address some issues (I have left those issues out of the review), so there is hope that the developer will continue to work on improving the app..
After the initial pain of trying to learn how to play the game within this app, I’ve found that most of the issues I have with the app can be overlooked. I wish they weren’t there in the first place, but I’m at least to the point where I can open the app, sit down for a few minutes and play a fun game, so my score will reflect that, but a polished version of this game would have earned a much higher rating.
A rare victory