Some people scoff at solitaire games claiming they are very boring or don't have the fun and excitement that player interaction brings to the table. Now that's a fair argument, one of the best things about board gaming is the interaction with other players with a drink in hand having a good time. But I wouldn't never scoff at solo games.
For a long time I was single, I'm not now, but both of us like our own space from time to time. During the single day's there would be a lot of times when I'd be in the flat chilling out, but wanting to play a board game. Now if friends were available for a game, great, but you can't always expect that in this day and age what with family commitments, long working hours and just generally a lack of time available. So you can do something else, or you can pull out a game that you can play solo.
I personally love a good solo game. You retain the cool tactile feeling of handling all the components, seeing the game laid out and engaging yourself in the tactics and strategy it provides. It's like those self improvement puzzles that test your IQ or memory skills or even something simple like Sudoku that tests your logic and arithmetic skills. Games can provide that level of skill improvement as well like a good teaching tool and no-one is going to dispute with me that theme is more present in a board game then in a crossword puzzle.
Now of course, not every game deserves a solo mode. Euro games have a regular habit of introducing solo variants which do a better job of teaching you the game mechanics then they do actually providing a fun experience, but there are exceptions to this rule. Co-Op's from experience provide me with the best solo plays because rather than simply aiming for high points, you're fighting to beat the game itself. Sentinels of the Multiverse and Lord of the Rings LCG especially have been sucking up my time lately with solo ventures.
But here we have a game that's designed to be played solo and only solo. Not many of those exist to my knowledge in modern board games, I can only think of Onirim which is another game I want to try, but even that can technically be played with two players, this one is solo only. Does the concept work and is this a game you should consider for those long, lonely nights?
"The artwork is very cartoon like which at first was a little off-putting"
Designer: Friedemann Friese (2011)
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
# of Players: 1
Play Time: 30 minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 226 / 7.32
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: n/a
Category: Deck Building / Hand Management Solitaire
Hurting Yourself In Your Sleep
You play the role of Robinson Crusoe as he's just become marooned on a desert island. In this deck building game you constantly encounter quest cards (explore the island, fight animals,etc) which if you pass, you gain the card for your deck which will have higher fight values and special abilities for later use and if you fail, you lose valuable life.
As the game progresses, the quests will get harder and your deck will fill up with useful completed quest cards, while also filtering out the rubbish low value cards which you're stuck with at the start. I mean literally you're practically an imbecile to begin with hurting yourself on a thorn bush every other second. However the more you keep cycling your deck, the more "age" cards that get shuffled into your deck which are negative fight values to represent your character ageing.
"Your basic deck above, one of the pirates you may fight, and various ageing cards - notice the odd faces?"
Once three phases have passed (essentially three cycles of the quest deck), you have to fend off two pirate attacks in the same manner as the quests using your "hopefully" nicely tuned deck. Succeed in this and you win the game.
Starring Homer Simpson as Robinson Crusoe
The artwork style is one that I have a nitpick with in this game. It's very cartoon like and Robinson is made to appear like a bumbling imbecile to begin with and only gain slight "normality" as you acquire better cards. Now this is slightly thematic, but when you look at the beginning cards it's like they cast Homer Simpson in the role as he doesn't just appear inexperienced, he looks like a drooling, bumbling, oaf. I don't recall any other literature on Robinson Crusoe having a similar outlook. I wouldn't mind if it was relatively funny to look at it, but to me it just looks weird instead.
The cards are very colourful though and it's easy to learn the game from them. The wooden life tokens are cool and the place mats for the decks are nicely produced if slightly superfluous. You could get by just as easily without them and I'll bet that without them, the price tag could have dropped to around the £10 mark. £14+ seems a little expensive for a mini-solo card game.
"Handy aids for play, but also the reason for the increased price tag"
A Short Period of Tweaking & Number Crunching
A typical full length game should take no longer than 30 minutes and that's if you're taking your time on quest decisions or a little stumped at all the math involved. That's about as long as you would want a simple solo game to take and if you do badly you'll be finished even earlier.
The mechanics are very neat though, some quests you will want to succeed at to get the cards, however bloating your deck can have negative effects as you want to be able to draw a decent hand later for future quests. Therefore you need to filter out the rubbish and to do that you have to fail quests and pay "life" to make up the deficit in fight values. Now you can opt to deliberately fail just so you can filter cards, so decisions have to be made and it's a nice balancing act between deck building and staying alive.
"Very cool mechanic of passing the quest to take the card for it's upside down facing effect later"
Now some deck builders I've found can be broken by simply going for high card drawing - draw more cards, win more battles, simples. Wrong! In this game every time you cycle through your main deck you have to shuffle an "ageing" card into the deck which can have horrendous negative effects for getting older and weaker. And these will bite you, trust me. So now you have to balance deck building, staying alive and not cycling too fast so that you grow too old. Sound easy? It's not, but it's good fun to take up the challenge.
I mentioned Math however. There's a lot of mental arithmetic in this game particularly in the last stage of the game and in the final pirate fight. By that time you've built up a deck of potential obscene combos and you'll be constantly working out in your head the most optimal order to play your cards and your playing field can get cluttered with lots of cards which you may or may not have forgotten about in your calculations. We're not talking brain melting here, but enough to leave you a little tired mentally in a good way.
Friday is a cool, neat and unique design. It provides enough of a challenge to keep you coming back, but isn't so tough that you get frustrated playing it. Some luck is involved but you do have a lot of decisions to make about choosing the quests to pass or fail and how you're going to structure your deck ready for the pirates. The style of play is very different to what I've seen from other more mainsteam deck building games.
The artwork is colourful, but maybe a bit too cartoon-y for me. I would have preferred a more serious looking theme across the game, but it's a minor nitpick and a personal one. But it's nice and simple and easy to learn and it doesn't drag too long which can be a killer in many other solo variants.
"All Rights BGG - A game in progress"
It's not a thematic game or one that I would call "exciting", but it's a very satisfying puzzle game with a twist. A price tag above £10 is a little hefty, but you're going to make that money back in play time. Move over Solitaire and Freecell, this is my go-to solo mini card game.
You Will Like This Game If:
You require a solo experience that's going to be a challenge.
Deck-building is a mechanic you enjoy, even though it's lightly represented here.
You need something light and portable you can take on your travels.
You Will Not Like This Game If:
You want to play with other players - duh, it's a solo game!
You find the artwork a little too cartoon-y.
You don't like having to deal with lots of mental arithmetic.
Btȝ patrem nrum, Benedictum
It really is an excellent game, I didn't get it until about 18 mos after I'd heard of it. My favorite non-gameplay detail is it's ultra-portable (I made mini-boards, and a rules summary (both here in the files for the game), grabbed a d20 for a life counter and printed the tuckbox (also here in the files) and can take it with me almost anywhere (literally a d20 and the size of the deck).
A REALLY fun game, great review.