Harking back to my first computer with WIndows 95, I remember playing solitaire and free cell as an ‘intro to computing’. Fast forward 25 years and here I am, back in the habit. The Solitaire Conspiracy keeps the main idea of solitaire but adds lots of tech production value to it along with some gameplay twists that ensure you are entertained whilst also giving you a get out of jail free card for when things get difficult.
Bithell Games transport the card game of solitaire into a tech war of spies where you need to stack between 1 and 4 suits of cards into numerical order in the centre of the board. The key twist here is that you don’t have hearts, spades or diamonds – you have spy gangs. Each of these spy games have a unique ability that the jack, queen or king trigger when you move them when activated. These abilities may move that card to the bottom of the pile, explode the pile you put the card on across all other piles, bring all the cards of the same value you place it on to the surface and so on. They are designed to be helpful but with a tiny piece of chaos involved that could trip you up. For purists though, you can almost get through the entire game without really using these abilities – they are largely there to help you if you get into a winless situation.
The Solitaire Conspiracy also excited me with its FMV adventure storyline. Here three actors talk to you through the screen as you battle wits with them. The story is full of ham, drama and silliness but the actors all milk it for what it is worth. They do an excellent job. I could spot the plot twist from a mile off but I did appreciate that Bithell Games pulls in from other games in their universe – notably Volume. It ties things up nicely and is a nice Easter egg for studio fans.
Outside of the story mode, which will take just over three hours to complete, there is a skirmish mode for endless missions and a daily challenge with online leaderboards. These are fun but it is Countdown mode. Here you are given waves of cards to clear to a timer and each wave cleared gives you a small time boost back. Things are much harder when you are against the clock and this is where the main difficulty and fun of the game can be had. That may sound a bit strange but all the spy abilities took the sting of solitaire out of its tail. During the game I never struggled nor failed a mission. If I found myself in a bit of a corner, usually a jack, queen or king would be easily available to shuffle the deck and make things easier again. That is handy but it is a double edged sword. Even after completing the game, which I very much enjoyed, I’m not sure the abilities were actually a success.
What is a success is the aesthetic and the sound. The music builds and builds dramatically as you lay down the cards and each time you level up to a new access level, a new game colour palette is available making everything feel customised to your needs. The lush and lavish production values really shine through and whilst at the end of the day, its still solitaire, this is the richest version of it out there.
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