Solitaire has always been one of life’s great time-sinks, an excuse to slack off and arrange cards in numerical order because Cathy over in marketing can get stuffed with her urgent requests. One thing that Solitaire hasn’t been though? An interactive spy thriller that playes can plan out high stakes missions of espionage where the fate of the world is at stake.
Well, until now that is.
Over at Bithell Studios, the gang has rolled out its third short game following Subsurface Circular and Quarantine Circular. Whereas those previous two games leaned heavily on updating the classic text adventure genre for a new audience, The Solitaire Conspiracy gives players a more active role in its story. It’s you as a faceless nobody, roped into a cloak and daggers narrative where the deck is loaded and all cards are on the table. Quite literally!
On a purely mechanical level, Bithell Studios’ take on Solitaire seems deceptively simple. The overall goal is to fill the central column with a full suit of cards, starting from the Ace and working your way up to the King. On either side, the cards that you need are buried underneath each other, with access to them relying on shifting cards of onto another card that has a higher value. A two can go on top of a three, a five can be placed on top of a seven and so on as you move cards onto the central column in sequential order.
The trick here is that the face cards aren’t just a royal flush waiting to be placed on the pile. They’re spies and secret agents, getaway drivers and futurists who all have a part to play in The Solitaire Conspiracy and come equipped with unique skills. They all serve a specific purpose and goal in your missions (which features Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller hamming it up in gloriously cheesy old-school FMV fashion between missions), and as you accrue experience points you’ll gain access to more of these crews.
While you can’t select which crew you’ll work with in a level, you can choose from one of three stages that has predetermined operatives ready to thwart the elusive plans of Solitaire, the antagonist of this tale. Each crew’s special ability plays to a certain strength, such as movig cards of the highest value to the top of a deck or sending the closest matching card into the central column that you’re looking to complete.
How you juggle those subordinates beneath you, several suits of cards, and use the talents of these diverse groups is the real hook. Playing Solitaire is easy enough, but precisely calculating which cards you’ll compromise just so that you can add to your pile and load the deck in your favour just so that you can stop a water reservoir from being poisoned? That’s the kind of brain-teaser content that will have you scratching bloody chunks of flesh out of your scalp when the conundrum gets turned up to 11.
That there’s an interesting story told on top of this is just icing on the cake, but the key takeaway from The Solitaire Conspiracy is that it excels at what makes the classic card game such a staple around the world: An addictive loop of placing cards, thinking several steps ahead and finding yourself drawn into its black ops world during the wee hours of the morning. I’ve yet to encounter a bad hand in the game that wasn’t the fault of my own stupidity, but at least a reset was never far away.
The Solitaire Conspiracy is also a good-looking game, full of stylish augmented reality aesthetics and fine art profiles, with each run of the game unlocking more colours and themes along the way. Once you’ve completed the story, its core gameplay is further experimented with in a Skirmish mode that gives you different decks to play with and you can gun for the top and establish yourself as an ace amongst aces in Countdown, which offers a leaderboard tracked challenge.
If there’s any complaint to be had with The Solitaire Conspiracy currently, it lies in the audio department. While the overall soundtrack brings to mind Cold War thrillers and tense games of cat and mouse, the dynamic tuning is a little too over the top, blaring out Inception-level brass horns as you come closer to finishing a game. It’s something that can be rectified with some post-launch patching, which I reckon we’ll see soon and hear soon enough.
Last Updated: October 6, 2020