Most of the games that I play solo are actually multiplayer games with a solo option. Friday, on the other hand, is explicitly designed for one player. As a quick game with a tiny footprint, it's a great choice for busy gamers. Work has kept me insanely busy since the new year, but it's easy to find time for Friday.
The premise of the game is that you are Friday, and you live on the island where Robinson Crusoe is shipwrecked. In order to reclaim your old life—especially the peace and quiet you once cherished—you must help Robinson train to survive the island and eventually to escape it by battling two nasty pirates. Unfortunately, Robinson starts out as a complete idiot, and he has a long way to go before he is ready to make a break for it.
Robinson's interactions with the island are represented by two card decks: the fighting deck and the hazard deck. Each turn, the player draws two cards from the hazard deck and chooses one for Robinson to confront. After selecting a hazard, the player draws the number of "free" cards indicated on the hazard card to see whether Robinson's fighting score is greater than or equal to the number on the card.
If Robinson wins the fight, he also wins the hazard card, which then flips and becomes part of his fighting deck. If he loses the fight, he must pay the difference between his fighting score and the score demanded by the hazard card. Robinson can also use life points as a resource, spending one life in exchange for drawing one more card. If, however, you reach a point where you need to spend a life point but you don't have one, Robinson dies and the game is over.
You'd think that losing would be a bad thing, but it's actually a necessary evil in Friday. When Robinson loses a fight, he "learns" from it, and you have the option of discarding undesirable cards from your deck—something that will help you win future encounters and build a strong deck for your ultimate battle with the pirates. Robinson will go through the hazard deck three times, at three levels of difficulty, and over time he must perfect his fighting/survival skills. At the end, he must battle his pirate nemeses.
Of course, the game won't let you off that easy—Robinson does not just get to learn a bunch of awesome abilities and then waltz off of the island. Time is passing, and every time you have to reshuffle Robinson's fighting deck, you also have to add an aging card. And trust me, aging cards suck, especially if you cycle through your deck too many times. At the bottom of your aging deck are some "very old" cards that suggest Robinson might be getting a little too crotchety to return home.
I have played Friday many times now, and I definitely don't win every time—or even most of the time. I am consistently impressed by how balanced the game is. Friday has four difficulty levels, which involve either adding aging cards to the game or removing them from it. But adding a single aging card to your fighting deck in the first round makes a huge difference to your chances of survival—testament to how delicately Friday has been constructed.
Friday is an impressive game in a small package. Its challenging mechanics also make perfect thematic sense, given that it's a game about a guy trapped on an island. Every turn involves several strategic decisions that have consequences later in the game. The art is lighthearted and fun, which keeps me grinning even when the game presents brutal challenges. Even if you don't typically play solo, Friday is a great game to try. It is currently awaiting a reprint and is overly expensive, but I picked it up for $10 while it was on Amazon. I don't think it will be too long before Friday is readily available again.