Solitaire’s a Game for One

“So, if you’re not currently watching movies almost nightly, what are you doing with your evenings?”

I’m glad you asked, mysterious sock puppet. I’m reading, of course – Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, and being driven mad by the faux photocopied documents, almost impossible to read on my Kindle. But by and large, I am indulging that infrequently employed category on this blog, Old Men Playing Videogames.

“DANG you, PwnzNoobz666!”

This is where the “Old Man” part becomes a bit more than ironic posturing. I haven’t owned a gaming console in more than a decade, maybe two – that is now the province of my son. You get right down to it, I was never very good at most of them, anyway. My methodology in fighting games was “Flail away in all directions”. The other gaming trend that took over the market for a couple of years was side-scrolling shooters, and I did alright at those, but I found them more frustrating than entertaining. Don’t even talk to me about platformers. My interests were more with the Role Playing Games; the first videogame I ever finished was Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. I remain one of the only people I know who finished Final Fantasy VII.

So most of my experience with the newer, shinier videogames has been watching my son play or when I visit Dave and he forces me to play whatever Mario is current so he can laugh at my clumsiness. No, I still play what are known as JRPGs, still finding them entertaining until almost inevitably I hit the ridiculously overpowered End Boss and I walk away. Past that, I have largely aged into what is sneeringly referred to as a Casual Gamer.

My game is Solitaire.

“Memmmmmories… light the corners of my miiiiiind…”

It was almost impossible to escape the classic game of Klondike in the early days of home computing – it, like Minesweeper, was there to get people accustomed to using the mouse. There were many games marketed over the years with fancier, even customizable cards, more variations on the game. One of the first shareware games I actually bought – outside DOOM – was Solsuite, which has resided on every hard drive I ever owned. It includes what seems to be every variation of the game ever, and beating German Patience was my quest for several months.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m an RPG fan, so I wanted something a little deeper. And game designers stepped up. We’ll take these in (sort of) order played. I’m not going to mention the ones I hated – and there are several. All of these are available on Steam, if you are so interested. All of them employ the basics rules of the Solitaire variation known as Golf, where cards are played one rank higher or lower than than the base card, with no regards to suit. The order loops, so Kings may be played on Aces, and vice versa.

I suppose my modern era of solitaire obsession began with Rainbow Games’ Chronicles of Emerland, which I originally played on an iPad, and was delighted to find on Steam.

Emerland eases the RPG fanatic into it’s world via a tutorial administered by an ancient wizard. In a format with which we will become very familiar, each level consists of ten hands, with an option to immediately replay any hand with less than a happy outcome, and you are going to want to get as much gold as possible from each hand to buy power-ups in the game store – more undo’s per hand, more cards to your deck. Wild cards occasionally show up, and you can hold up to five for when they are needed. Longer strings of cards removed from the board give you bigger bonuses. Between each level is a brief hidden object game to break things up.

When you finish your tutorial level, the Wizard’s old disciple, Seth, shows up and announces he’s going to take over the world, as one does. His plan is to waltz though the four kingdoms, destroy the Amulet each uses for magic protection, and then raise a Lava Golem to dominate them. You – and your cards – have to get through all the obstacles Seth throws in your way, repair the broken Amulets, and defeat the Golem. Along the way you pick up a companion from each of the Kingdoms – a Knight, Elf, Dwarf and Merman. Each has special attacks that prove very helpful in cleaning up the hands where you have an annoying card or two left over.

The artwork is very pretty in Emerland; the characters have some limited animation, and are fully (and pretty well) voiced. I enjoy that the card layouts actually change in form through the various kingdoms. I literally have no idea how many times I’ve played this through.

That obsession was kicked into high gear by Grey Alien Games’ Regency Solitaire, which I had read about on Boing Boing. It’s basically the Masterpiece Theater of solitaire games, as we meet young Bella, whose family fortunes have been squandered away by her foolish brother Edward. He’s been snookered by that awful Mr. Bleakley, the scheming neighbor who hopes, now that her family is practically penniless, that Bella will be forced to marry him. The game will take you though a pretty entertaining story, as Edward gets in deeper and Bella meets Lord Henry Worthington, who is as handsome and decent as Bleakley is odious and treacherous.

No hidden object games here, though each level has three increasingly difficult objectives that must be met or you have to play the level over again. Between each level you can purchase power-ups in the form of decor for Bella’s initially barren ballroom, two of which do stray card cleanup. Regency also allows you to hold up to ten wildcards, and those will be essential for some of the tougher objectives. I haven’t played it as many times as Emerland, but it’s close.

Subsoap’s Faerie Solitaire is the one I’ve currently played the least, but that’s not a comment on its quality – for some reason, on my desktop, the game refuses to be centered in fullscreen mode. It plays just fine on my laptop though. You’re a young man who seems to have a talent for freeing captured faeries (through playing solitaire, of course). Exactly why these poor creatures are being captured has not yet been revealed. The main character has voiceover narration, and my producer’s heart mutters “Couldn’t this just as easily been a girl? Save the cost of the voice work and make it gender neutral?”

The design seems geared toward younger players, with whimsical, simple card designs. The default sounds seem rather loud, clangs and crashes calculated to create youthful laughter (or maybe I’m just old). Though the game claims its version of wildcards are “Rare” I’m finding them pretty frequently. There is no option for immediately replaying less-than-perfect hands, that is apparently in another game mode that has to be (pretty easily) unlocked. Perfect hands allow you to gather eggs for fantasy animals that evolve through other magic items gathered and experience as you play. And who can resist hatching dragons? It’s been fun, though not terribly challenging.

Anawiki Games’ Avalon Legends Solitaire 2 was my sole reason for existing for several days. It begins with a war between King Arthur and an army of goblins, which I guess was the plot for the first game (spoiler: it was not). While Arthur and his knights are off to Goblinland, it’s up to you, a druid with a deck of magic cards, to rebuild war-ravaged Camelot. Clearing cards uncovers gold, food and material, all things you need to create buildings, and depending on which you build, they will create more.

Avalon places each hand as a separate location of a pretty large map. It had been a while since I’d played a game with a manufacturing chain, and I soon realized I was cheating myself by wailing on the replay button immediately after a bad hand. By returning to the main map each time, I collected more material for rebuilding. Playing the hand again doesn’t replace the food or materials, but it allows you to score more gold, and as we all know, gold can solve a lot of problems.

I took the responsibility of rebuilding Camelot very seriously. and spent most every waking hour doing so – it was that much fun. I seem to have completed that about three-quarters of the way through the map, which means now I can afford some of the pricier power-ups in Merlin’s Tower. Wild cards really are rare in this game – you generally have to buy them – but it seems you can replay ANY hand whenever you want.

Let’s wrap up with something completely different, Raging Hammer Games’ Solitairica. Once more you’re up against some megalomaniacal villain – this time it’s Emperor Stuck – using only the power of Golf. Well, not only, as there are some intriguing overlays. You’re still clearing cards largely with no consideration of suits, but this time the suits do matter, because they charge up one of four attributes – Attack, Defense, Agility and Willpower. These power spells that allow you to clear cards faster, make better decisions or, as it says, defend.

This is what I was playing when Avalon Legends 2 sucked me in. The hands each represent a different enemy, and they are not defeated until you clear all the cards from the field. Each enemy is different in both attacks and defense, requiring you to constantly reassess your play style. The first field is eighteen enemies deep, and I don’t know how the game is arranged after that, because I haven’t gotten any farther than that. Challenging game, but highly entertaining. When a defeated enemy calls me a “Hornswoggler!” I know I’m in for a good time.

There’s more I haven’t even started to play yet – including a Day of the Dead-themed one – buuuuuut I’m also pretty sure you stopped reading a couple of games ago. Fine. I’m going to see if I can finally defeat the Sturdy Coin Swarm Expanding Bureaucrat.

Also Available on Amazon:

Chronicles of Emerland

Regency Solitaire

Faerie Solitaire

Avalon Legends 2