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FreeCell (PC) artwork

FreeCell (PC) review

"One of the alluring aspects of card games is the mystery due to the cards' unknown value when placed face down. This reduces most card games to games of chance; while skill is involved, the outcome is mostly due to what hand one is dealt. However, Microsoft's FreeCell's is based on a bold premise: all the cards are face up. 


One of the alluring aspects of card games is the mystery due to the cards' unknown value when placed face down. This reduces most card games to games of chance; while skill is involved, the outcome is mostly due to what hand one is dealt. However, Microsoft's FreeCell's is based on a bold premise: all the cards are face up. 

The entire deck is dealt into eight columns, the left half with seven cards and the right half with six. Card faces are strewn about quasi-randomly, making the tableau look like a hopeless mess. The object of this game is identical to classic Klondike solitaire: organize the columns into descending orders of alternating colors (e.g. red king on top, followed by black queen, red jack, black ten, etc.) and place the cards onto four foundations ('done' piles), one per suit, in ascending order (i.e. ace, two, three, etc.). Aiding you are four ''freecells,'' temporary slots where you may place any cards in order to access more useful cards buried in the tableau. Cards must be moved one at a time, though the program allows compound moves if there are enough available freecells. 

Having all cards face up completely eliminates any element of chance, which is what makes FreeCell fun, and with chance removed FreeCell is reduced to a game of puzzle-like strategy where all but one of the regular thirty-two thousand games are solvable. But just because no luck is involved doesn't mean FreeCell is a pushover; even moderately skillful players have win ratios below eighty percent. Easy games can be solved in a minute or two, but the more challenging rounds can take half an hour. 

And, if FreeCell is your type of game, those hours will add up. FreeCell has some sort of addictive quality not unlike that of Tetris. Even though every play is just about identical, the desire to play more can be overwhelming. My aunt swore off the game after many late nights striving for her goal: one hundred wins in a row. She reached it but soon realized the evil grasp FreeCell had over her. She blamed my mother for introducing her to the game and then my mother consequentially blamed me for the same reason. 

FreeCell may be a fun game but it is a weird and basic program. Unlike the classic Solitaire game, Microsoft has done almost nothing to modernize FreeCell, to the end where it barely functions like a standard Windows program. Resizing the window yields strange effects since only the height can be expanded, but there's no point in resizing, anyway, since the playing field does not readjust to the new dimensions. There exist just three preference options and all three are in need of a toggle. FreeCell does keep basic statistics, however, in the form of cumulative record, session record, and streaks. Amusingly, this data is easily altered through the Windows registry, so showing off your one million wins to your friends should make them envious and confused. Windows XP upped the number of hands from thirty-two thousand to one million, but for some reason, presumably due to a bug, the randomizer will not choose the extended hands, a minor annoyance but careless nonetheless. 

FreeCell is most appealing to structured thinkers who don't like the element of luck, though many are turned off by FreeCell's added complexity and even enjoy the thrill of not knowing what comes next. FreeCell is adaptable to time: play for ten minutes waiting for friends or play for ten hours because you can't manage to stop.

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Community review by whelkman (May 26, 2008)

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