Dice on Fire Review: Friday

Robinson Crusoe has found himself stranded on a small island, beset by all kinds of animal horrors and pirates on the horizon. He would be doomed,were he not so fortunate to have Friday, a member of an indigenous tribe, to help him out. As Friday, you must train Robinson to face off the many dangers of the island, develop his skills, and eventually fight back against the pirate threat. Friday is a solo deck-building game by the renowned designer, Friedemann Friess. Let's check it out.

What you get: Loads of cards, three card mats, and little corn-meeples acting as health tokens.

The Basics

In essence, Friday is a deck-building game (see glossary entry). You begin with a very weak deck of playable cards (called Robinson cards), which you use to overcome some of the various obstacles that the island and environment can throw at you as a shipwrecked survivor. Once an obstacle is defeated, its card can be rotated to the opposite orientation and act as a new Robinson card, granting you various benefits and skills when it is next drawn.

One of the Robinson cards from your start-deck.

Every time you exhaust your draw pile, it is, like in almost any deck builder, reshuffled with the new cards you have earned and turned face down as a new draw deck. However, in Friday, whenever you make a new deck, you must also add in an aging card. This is often a very dangerous card, which represents how Robinson's skills diminish with age. Once you have fought through a set number of obstacles and challenges, allowing you to upgrade your skills, pirates attack the island. Pirates are powerful enemies who have slaughtered my poor character tons of times! But once you have defeated two pirates, you win the game. You begin the game with twenty health tokens, which you use to draw additional cards or discard if you fail an obstacle -- exhaust all your health and you lose.

The Deeper Stuff

Despite its rather simple mechanics, Friday is not an easy game (and if you think it is, there are four levels of difficulty to choose from). In order to beat Friday, you are going to have to make some tough decisions and carefully juggle your resources. Each obstacle card has a strength number (which you need to match or exceed with the combined strength your Robinson cards in order to beat the obstacle) and a number allowing for a certain amount of free card draws when it is first encountered. If you need to draw additional cards to beat the obstacle, you need to spend health tokens. If you want to forfeit an encounter, you can spend however many health tokens are needed to match that encounter's strength. This method also allows you to remove cards from your deck (particularly useful if you have just played a bunch of aging cards).

In this orientation, an obstacle card. Notice the phase traffic-light, indicating strength at different points in the game. If you beat its strength, you can flip it the other way and use it as a Robinson card for the rest of the game.

With most deck-builders, the way to win is to have the smallest, most efficient deck. In Friday, doing this would cause you to run through your deck too quickly and pile up aging cards, which are expensive to discard. So you also need to strike a careful balance between the strength and size of your deck.

As well as balancing resources and cards, you also have to watch which obstacles you have faced and which ones you are yet to face. Each time you run through the encounter deck, the obstacle-phase intensifies through three possible levels. At the first run-through, green, things are pretty easy and you have to decide if its worth taking the low value cards now, with no real risk, or grabbing the high value cards while they cost relatively little, but at a much greater risk to yourself. By the time you get to the orange and red phases, the difficultly has ramped up significantly, but then, so has the usefulness of your deck.

An aging card.

How it Plays Out

It's strange that I never before saw the possible use of deck-building as a metaphor for a character's developing experience - Friday shows this in a clear and fun way. You start out as a vulnerable ship-wrecked explorer and end the game as a hardened survivalist fighting against his own inner-demons of old-age and with pirates closing in on the horizon.

And by adopting this approach of personal development, Friday has it's own little narrative drive, which is great. You sneak around some wild animals, take on a cannibal tribe and steal a war-club, explore a little and refine your skills. Developing a narrative from a deck-builder is a beautiful thing, actually, and really elevates the fun. As things get tough, you really do get a little desperate. Seeing your own doom quickly advancing is a little traumatising when you're so invested in little Robinson.

Luck plays quite a heavy role in Friday, like you would expect in most deckbuilders. In Friday, the luck factor is particularly troublesome because bad luck can really be bad! It's a total pain in the ass to draw two cannibal tribes from the obstacles deck, then draw an aging card and a bunch of zeros from your Robinson pile, and not have enough health tokens to discard them. A lot of the strategising you will need to do is about mitigating this luck - making sure you don't stockpile too many aging cards, aquiring cards that let you draw and discard for free, and so on. The element of luck does fit in with the theme too - some days on your desert island, you will simply face shitty circumstances.

One of the pirate, end-bosses

Component Quality

Friday comes in a great little box which is easy to carry around. The cards are nice quality, though an odd shape, so it might be difficult to sleeve them. I've found that the cards have begun to warp slightly in time - this might be because they are long in shape, or maybe because they are unsleeved and are possibly being warped by heat and humidity (I live in the tropics).

The health tokens are little wooden corn-meeples, and I think this is a really nice touch, rather than just giving you a bunch of punched card. The box also includes play boards, which add nothing, but are again, a really nice touch, containing a few key pieces of info to help beginner players and making sure you don't get your decks mixed up (as it is necessary for the reverse of Robinson cards, obstacle cards and aging cards to be the same).

Artwork is a little uninspiring at times, with some goofy cartoony images and some boring design (particularly on the back of cards), but it's not enough to turn me off the game.

What fighting with pirates ends up looking like (I actually won this game!)

Colour-Blind Info

Red, green and yellow are used to indicate the danger level on the island. This is a little insensitive, in terms of colour choice, but not actually a big deal when you play the game. The three colours are always laid out in a traffic light pattern, so it's easy enough to know that in the first phase, you need to look at the bottom number on an obstacle card, in the second phase, the middle number, and in the final phase, the top number. That's about the only role that colour plays. On the phase indicator cards, there is also a graphical representation of the danger level -- from some spooky peering eyes in a forest, to some wide eyes that have spotted you, to a bunch of angry looking eyes. It works without any real problem for me.

"Realization" allows me to destroy the aging card without paying the health cost. That's a freaking fantastic power to have!


I really enjoy Friday and I think it will stay in my collection for a good amount of time. It is unique in theme and does new things with the deck-building mechanics. It doesn't have a ton of replayability (particularly when you realise how much luck factors into things, which can be a bit of a bummer), but is a fun way to spend twenty minutes when you can't get to a game-event and have the boardgamey-cravings!