So it’s Thursday night at the Gathering. It’s been another wonderful day of great gaming and great fellowship, but as the clock creeps toward 2:30 AM, I realize that it’s time for even this night owl to head for bed. As I shamble slowly toward the ballroom door, I see the familiar green-haired figure of Friedemann Friese entering the room. He looks up at me, grins maniacally, throws his hands up in the air, and cries, “Larry! IT’S FRIDAY!”
I laugh out loud, all thoughts of sleep forgotten. What Friedemann is so gently telling me is that it’s now “legal” to play the latest game of the Freitag project and I can’t wait to try it out.
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me explain. Those even a little familiar with the works of Herr Friese know that he has something of a fixation with both the color green and the letter F (no doubt due to the initials of his name). Both play prominently in the appearance and titles of his games. But back in October of 2008, he decided to take it even further with the initiation of the Freitag project (Freitag is the German word for Friday). Friese would begin designing a game. He would only work on it on Fridays and then only for a period of time beginning with an F (fifteen minutes, five hours, etc.) each day. His plan was to have the game ready in five years for the 2013 Essen fair and to present it, of course, on a Friday. Eccentric? Sure, but when you design a game like Power Grid, you’re permitted a few peccadillos.
The trouble was, Friese was too efficient with the first game of the project. Kosmos published Schwarzer Freitag (Black Friday), a very clever stock market game, only two years into the project. So Friedemann had to come up with a second Freitag game and this was the one that he was about to show me. And, naturally, the only time in which playtesting can take place is on a Friday.
Do It Yourself Deckbuilding
Freitag II is a solo deckbuilding game. I’ll just let that swish around in your noggin for a few seconds. The game is set in the world of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and the player’s goal is to help that unfortunate castaway survive the challenges of his tropical island and, eventually, to escape. I can only blame the lateness of the hour, but I’m ashamed to say that it was a good five minutes into Friedemann’s explanation before I realized why he chose that theme: needless to say, it’s because the player gets to play Crusoe’s faithful companion, Friday!
You begin play with a deck of shuffled Robinson cards (18 of them in the latest design). Each of these shows a number representing its fighting ability. Most of these are 0’s and -1’s; sadly, our friend Mr. Crusoe is pretty unskilled at this point in time. There are also 30 Hazard cards to show the hardships that must be encountered. Finally, you begin with 18 life points. We just used small chips for these; I’m not sure what the components will be in the finished version of the game.
On each turn, you turn up the top two Hazard cards, choose one to fight and place the other in a discard pile. Each Hazard card shows a number of Robinson cards and a difficulty value. (There are actually three difficulty values shown, as the same card will become harder to defeat as the game goes on.) The objective with each hazard is to meet or exceed its difficulty value by exposing the given number of Robinson cards or fewer from our deck and adding up their fighting abilities. If you remain a little short, you have the option of losing a life point to expose another Robinson card.
This continues until you beat the Hazard or decide to concede defeat for that turn. In the former case, you get to add the Hazard card to your discard pile, where you’ll be able to use it the next time through the deck. The opposite side of each Hazard card looks just like a Robinson card, except that the fighting abilities tend to be much better. Additionally, many of them have special abilities, which allow you to do cool things during the encounters like restore life points, play more cards, double another card’s fighting ability, and so on. So the more hazards you are able to vanquish, the better your ability becomes.
If, instead, the hazard defeats you, you discard it and lose life points equal to the difference between the difficulty value and the total fighting ability you generated. However, for each of these lost life points, you get to eliminate one of the Robinson cards you exposed that turn from your deck. This way, you can get rid of some of those crappy cards and tune your deck into a lean, green fighting machine.
When you exhaust your Robinson deck, you add a randomly chosen “Nerd” card to your deck, shuffle, and keep on going. (Nerd cards have particularly lame fighting strengths and special abilities. According to Friese, Robinson Crusoe in the book was something of a nerd, so this shows his inner klutz showing up in spite of Friday’s best efforts to keep him in one piece. I have to admit, I’m not sold on this labeling. I advised Friedemann to call them “aging” cards instead, showing that over time, his body will begin to fail him even as he becomes more skilled. I have no idea if he’ll use my suggestion or not.)
When the Hazard deck runs out, you shuffle its discard pile and start again, except this time through the deck, you use the difficulty values of the next higher step. So hopefully you’re getting better, because the hazards you’ll be facing just got tougher.
The game ends in one of two ways. If you run out of life points, you lose and Friday must sadly dig a grave on this accursed island prison for his unlucky friend. If, however, you go through the Hazard deck three times, you have two last challenges to face. The game comes with a dozen Pirate cards, each of which is a particularly nasty version of a hazard card. Prior to play, you expose two of them. If you can defeat first one pirate and then the other, you have escaped from the island and win the game! In either instance, there is a procedure for determining your score. With each play of the game, your goal is to get your scores higher and higher.
Fun for One?
Let me say right up front what I told Friese before I played this for the first time: I rarely play solo games and I’m downright terrible at deckbuilding games. So I’m not exactly the target audience for this design. Naturally, I loved it!
After only one late-night game, any conclusions should be taken in conjunction with large grains of sodium chloride. But I think what I enjoyed the most was how hopeless your task appears to be at the beginning. The Robinson cards are so weak and the hazards just keep on coming. But bit by bit, you start adding some good cards and keep weeding out the rotten ones. In my game, it was a very near thing, as I went through virtually all of Step 2 with no more than two lives, literally living on the edge. But I kept dodging the killing blows and, with a little help from Friedemann, actually staggered into Step 3 before meeting my match. This felt like a real accomplishment and was hugely enjoyable.
There’s a good deal of strategy as you decide how to use your special abilities, when to sacrifice life points, and which cards to eliminate. I’m sure more theme will be added to the game in the final version, but even without that, the roleplaying aspect shone through, as you really felt it when life points were lost or when you prevailed in an extended struggle against a hazard. The key will be replayability, but Friese reported that players with more experience definitely perform better than beginners. The order in which the cards come out will certainly provide different challenges and the multitude of pirates provided will give individual games a varied feel as well.
Although the odds are good that this game will be published, probably for Essen, there’s no guarantee that will happen. It got high ratings from the Gathering attendees (some of whom snuck in plays on days other than Friday—naturally when Friedemann wasn’t looking!), so there seems to be enough demand to make a small print run a success. I would think that Friese would publish this himself under his 2F Spiele company, probably in a form similar to what he used for Famiglia last year (an excellent small card game that was readily available for under $10 online). There are a few more cards and Friese would have to figure out how to handle the life points, but this still seems like the way to go. However, I am not a game publisher, nor do I play one on TV, so I’m not aware of all the issues a title like this might face. Moreover, there’s always a bit of uncertainty with a small publisher like 2F. So I’m hopeful this will see the light of day sometime this year, but I can’t be sure it will. In addition, it’s entirely possible that the finished product will be different than the game I played that early Friday morning at the Gathering.
No matter how it turns out, I’m liable to spring for a copy. A quick-playing, immersive solitaire game should fill a niche I didn’t even realize I had a need for. And who knows, it might even improve my abilities at deck-building games. With any luck, the next time I put together my top 10 Desert Island games (a classic exercise for geeky gamers), I might include one that has me trying to get off that damn island to win!
Tom Rosen: I also did not seem like the target audience for Freitag II, but enjoyed it a good deal. Not only do I not enjoy deck-building games generally, I also don’t enjoy most of Friedemann’s most popular designs. At least I am a bigger fan of solitaire games than Larry. I had a chance to try Freitag II at the opposite end of the Friday spectrum from Larry. It was 11:55 p.m. on Friday night with only 5 minutes to go. I had been trying to snag an opportunity to try the game all day, but both copies always seemed to be in use. I finally grabbed an open copy, but Friedemann had to get up from the table and leave after only 5 minutes, so thankfully a helpful fellow gamer stepped in to help explain the game so I could play a bit into Saturday. It was a surprisingly engaging and entertaining experience and definitely a game that I’d like to play at least a few more times. The decisions about which hazard to face, whether to draw an extra card, how to use the abilities, and which cards to trash were frequently agonizing, in a good way. I’m not sure whether I’d still be enthralled after 10-15 plays, but it’s certainly possible, as I’d want to figure out a way to at least get off the island regularly. Ghost Stories certainly kept me coming back for more until the once seemingly impossible Nightmare difficulty level became doable, so I’m hopeful that Freitag II will provide a similarly gripping challenge, albeit in a simpler and quicker, but likely much cheaper, game. Hopefully this one doesn’t take too much longer to hit our shores.
Joe Huber (3 plays) – OK, apparently the only folks who played this were folks who weren’t the right audience for the game. I do enjoy many (though definitely not all) of Friedemann’s games, but I don’t enjoy the deck-building genre enough to own any of the games, and I can count the solitaire games I’ve played in the past two decades on one hand. But I found the game compelling enough to play through three times, finally escaping the third time.
So, compelling is good, but the questions in my mind are – Will it hold up for me? Do I need a solitaire game in my collection? And is there (or rather, will there be) enough difference in the pirates to make the games feel really different? I don’t know. I do know that I enjoyed the game enough to keep playing it; I had already decided to cut myself off after the third play, but I suspect it would have been hard had I not escaped. I’m absolutely certain that I can recommend trying the game. I will note that at least one person kept playing after winning, which is a good sign. And which probably means that I’ll pick up a copy when I can…