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Solitaire (PC) artwork

Solitaire (PC) review

"The word solitaire is actually a generic term referring to an entire set of solitary playing card games, and, until recently, solitaire was known as patience. Those pesky Brits still call it patience because of their illogical resistance to the superior American method of doing things. Microsoft's choice for their stock game is Klondike, which is the most known solitaire game. Klondike is an ideal beginner's solitaire with its simple rules and ubiquity. "

The word solitaire is actually a generic term referring to an entire set of solitary playing card games, and, until recently, solitaire was known as patience. Those pesky Brits still call it patience because of their illogical resistance to the superior American method of doing things. Microsoft's choice for their stock game is Klondike, which is the most known solitaire game. Klondike is an ideal beginner's solitaire with its simple rules and ubiquity.

The general playing area is called the tableau and in this region you begin with seven columns of cards. These columns contain ascending amounts of cards such that the leftmost column has a single card while the rightmost has seven, for a total of twenty-eight cards between all seven columns. Only the topmost card in each column is shown and those resting underneath cannot be revealed until all top cards are moved.

The remaining twenty-four cards are retained by the deck, and hits on the deck yield either one or three cards, depending on selected game settings. Cards which are of no use are delegated to a waste pile, where they can be used later if the cards resulting from new hits on the deck are fist used. With one card draws there are initially twenty-four hits while with three card draws there are only eight hits. Since the top card must be used before the underlying cards are accessible, three card draw drastically reduces available options and is the greatest variable in the win-loss ratio. The waste can be cycled through again and again until depletion unless playing in Vegas mode, which simulates casino solitaire by allowing only one pass through the deck.

The end goal of Klondike is to place cards in ascending order (that is, ace, 2, 3, 4, etc.) onto the four foundations, one for each suit. Think of a foundation as a ''done pile,'' though Microsoft's version of Klondike allows you to borrow cards from foundations for strategic purposes, a strategy known as ''worrying back.''

Until you meet the final objective, cards must be moved and arranged in descending order (built down) and in alternating colors. For example, a black six may be placed onto a red seven, but the red seven cannot be placed onto the red six since the order is reversed. Initially you must build under the initial set of cards at the top of the columns but by making legal moves from within the tableau and the waste, the piles can be moved to reveal the hidden cards underneath. While official Klondike rules require you to move an entire pile in a single move, Microsoft's version allows you to move partial piles. This design decision is a fortunate move since it can make the difference between victory and a frustrating ''almost-win'' loss. Once an entire column is cleared, a king, and only a king, may be placed onto the vacant spot.

All control is done with the mouse. Cards are clicked and dragged to their destinations and clicks on the deck produce waste. Quite a few computer teaching institutions use Solitaire as a mouse dexterity conditioner as the game requires all major mouse functions. While a keyboard mode would have been nice, using Windows' StickyKeys can accomplish this task quite adequately.

Klondike is an ideal physical solitaire game, so its popularity is certainly understandable. It's an easy game to set up, has simple rules, and requires only one deck of cards. However, given that computers totally eliminate the hassles of shuffling, setup, and rule-remembering, physical world concerns are not paramount. After all, a computer can shuffle and deal in time spans rivaling the speed of light, and a computer doesn't get tired of shuffling and dealing.

Though who am I to complain? Microsoft's Solitaire is often proclaimed the most popular video game of all time, edging out any versions of Tetris, Pong, or Mario, and, for many, Klondike fits the bill perfectly. But digging a bit deeper reveals some critical flaws with the game, many of which are not immediately apparent and are obvious only when comparing Klondike to other solitaire games.

Klondike's simplicity is its eventual undoing. There are some strategies which ensure more wins, but the casual observer will be able to spot such obvious goals such as ''uncover the hidden cards as quickly as possible'' and ''one card draw is easier than three.'' For the most part, the only skill Klondike requires of you is to recognize that card piles are arranged in numerical order and in alternating colors. That's it. Game after game you'll robotically arrange the piles over and over again, no thought required.

And this is what makes Microsoft's Solitaire so addictive: it gives you positive reinforcement (in the form of wins) with minimal effort and thought. Indeed, Solitaire serves as the ultimate example of the Skinner Box theory. Like the operant conditioned rat in his cage hitting the ''morphine'' switch over and over, millions of mindless people crave the reinforcement from Solitaire they cannot find in their jobs and personal lives. It doesn't matter to them that win ratios of perfectly played Klondike are below fifty percent: nothing's lost, just play again! It's no wonder this game is single-handedly blamed for gross under productivity in the workforce, domestic woes, and learning problems in computer equipped classrooms.

Though do not infer that I believe Klondike is necessarily destructive. I admit that even I get that little twang of fulfillment whenever I efficiently clobber a round, and Klondike is a great social game to play. Amongst the company of family, friends, or that movie you love but have seen a thousand times, Klondike is a great way to entertain yourself without fully committing your brain.

Setting the game to deal three cards is an exercise in irritation, as it makes consistently winning games impossible. Most infuriating (or amusing, depending on how you look at it) are those three card matches where you cannot make a single move, and they come up frequently enough to hammer home the point of the mode's futility. The only other way to alter the game's challenge is to play in Vegas mode. While attempting to stay in the positive dollars is mildly entertaining, Vegas mode eventually lives up to its name and constantly makes you feel cheated. Leaving all those games uncompleted will irk you after a while, no matter what amount of fake money you have.

Microsoft has included its Solitaire in every version of Windows since the release of 1.0 in 1981. In this sense the game is quite a relic as it has received only minimal modifications in its lifetime. The only notable recent changes have been new, more attractive deck styles with photographic color and new timing code which prevents the game from running too fast. Though aged, Solitaire still looks fairly modern, mostly due to its excellent card face design. Other than deck swaps, Microsoft's Solitaire is almost totally devoid of extras, which is understandable for a game whose roots lie in the time of Ronald Reagan's inauguration. There is a scoring system along with a timer, but the points are meaningless and are not stored.

While Klondike is an excellent introduction to solitaire gaming with its flat learning curve, those with advanced interest will find increased enjoyment in more strategic games such as the FreeCell solitaire game or Shanghai, a solitary game played with Chinese mahjongg tiles.

However, if you are the type of person who is apt to gambling, Solitaire can give you that ''luck rush'' that many people enjoy in games of chance. Other than time, Solitaire's losses always add up to zero, which can make it a suitable, although obviously artificial, alternative to actual gambling. On the other hand, if you are like me and hate games which rely almost solely on luck, you'll quickly ditch Klondike for something more stimulating.

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Community review by whelkman (May 26, 2008)

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