Much like I’ve admitted to my weakness for hidden object games, there’s just something I really enjoy about structured solitaire. On its own, solitaire is an enjoyable time-waster, but mixing in goals to achieve, different arrangements for receiving cards, and some extra tools makes it even easier to get lost in this style of relatively simple card game.
Age of Solitaire is one such game of structured solitaire, this game choosing to attach its card game to a medieval fantasy story. Part of The Far Kingdom series of games that happily hops between casual game genres, this title tells the tale of Arianna, a princess who must flee her kingdom when a dark wizard demolishes it with one mighty spell. Needing to rebuild in a new land, Arianna will rely on the magic in her cards to build up structures, collect relics, and fight back the evil forces who seek to destroy her burgeoning kingdom. As part of this medieval fantasy theming, the backgrounds featured while you play cards are detailed environments meant to represent areas like castle interiors or magical forests and they manage to be quite vibrant and detailed. The game is even so proud of them it has a feature to view them cleanly and use them as desktop wallpapers, and this confidence isn’t misplaced. The cards stand out well against the backgrounds too, but there are still card options if you want the symbols and numbers to be more visible or if you’d rather have the objects on the card be the main focus.
For people familiar with structured solitaire, they’ll find exactly what they’re used to here. A round of play involves the player receiving a deck of cards they flip through one at a time, the player using the most recent flipped over card as their way to clear away the cards laid out above. So long as the card is one higher or one lower than the player’s current card, they can click it to remove it from the field, using that new card as the base for potentially getting a sequence of clears going. Cards on the field are arranged in all kinds of shapes, the player needing to remove face-up cards to reveal the face-down ones that they’re positioned on top of. Some rounds will feature a play field with many face up cards to work with to make it easy to combo, but others will be hard to work on as there may be large piles that must be cleared one by one and rarely in a sequence. When the player’s personal deck has run out, the round of play ends, but if the player can clear every card from the field first, they will win that round instead. However, there doesn’t really seem to be a way to lose in Age of Solitaire. If you finish a round with cards on the field, it will inform you that you didn’t clear them, but there’s not really any need to repeat a level or a major punishment for not getting them all.
This lack of punishment likely ties to the game’s goal system. At different points in your journey to build up the new kingdom, your games of solitaire will be given different objectives. The most simple form the game will take is acquiring gold by finding it under cards or building up multipliers through long combos, and while winning a round will pay out more than failing to get every card, this segment of play just keeps going until you’ve got the cash you need. It can make angling for a victory feel a little less meaningful when the reward is just a touch more gold from the round, but the other objectives are a bit worse about this. Sometimes the player will be asked to find hidden relic pieces or rubies on the play field, clearing cards eventually getting them some of the objects they’ll need to make the relic or fight back the monster with your ruby-powered amulet. A round will only have two of these at most though, meaning once you’ve found them, the rest of the solitaire in that round is basically pointless. Having different goals for solitaire is partly what makes structured solitaire compelling, but the goals here can sometimes undervalue your efforts. Had there been some underlying objective that benefited from victories you could always be working towards, then the rounds where you find the objects early wouldn’t feel so hollow to complete. The hint system that tells you where the objectives are hiding will only make it more likely that you bring yourself to completing a round well before all the cards are gone, and despite the kingdom building being an interesting direction on the whole that gives you the satisfaction of watching it grow larger through your efforts, once you’ve completed it (which doesn’t take too long) there is nothing to really keep you playing after objective-wise.
Still, despite the objectives undermining the structure at times, the solitaire is done well and comes with more than just the core elements common to this style of game. As you progress through the game, some of the relics you gain or things you find hidden under cards will give you new abilities. While you start of with the ability to undo one play per round and can find wild cards that can give you a certain number whenever you need it, you can later get things like the ability to clear away a single card from play, the ability to peek at what’s next in your deck, and even a persistent boost to your multiplier to make building up gold easier. Knowing when to whip out these useful abilities can lead to a clear field, and while the gold collection isn’t really too difficult to do across a few rounds, having the boost makes your work go faster. The play field has a few tricks of its own though. Some piles of cards will remain face down until you’ve either found the key to unlock them or execute a large enough combo, and in some rounds this can be very difficult to pull off. The fact you don’t need to really complete any round does make these easy to skip if they’re not working out for you though, but the only actual issue with these otherwise interesting ways of shaking up play is that it seems that sometimes if you grab a key and then click to undo finding it, the key disappears entirely and the pile locks back up, making it impossible to open that pile up anymore. The extra skills and small gimmicks do make the solitaire play more varied and strategic and do happen to hit on the appeal of structured solitaire though despite the small hiccups in design, so while your goals may not always be as compelling as you’d hope, the solitaire is still there to make it fairly enjoyable.
THE VERDICT: Building up a kingdom with some structured solitaire feels like a fine way to scratch an itch for goal-focused single player card games, but Age of Solitaire stumbles a little in the execution. The solitaire on offers plays as well as you’d hope, the card arrangements easily ensuring variety and the tools and special abilities you earn along the way allowing for some strategy in clearing them, but the goals don’t seem to value victory as much as one would like. Winning a round isn’t as important as the objective of finding hidden objects during it, and while this could be an interesting twist on the game style, it’s not made quite as fulfilling since the structure still focuses more on traditional solitaire designs rather than making finding those items challenging. If all you need is some solitaire, Age of Solitaire won’t disappoint, but its reward system seems a little at odds with the traditional card game design.
And so, I give Age of Solitaire for PC…
An OKAY rating. For the few hours the game lasts, the solitaire on offer has just what it needs to be enjoyable, but the progression and goals are where this doesn’t quite live up to the potential of a structured solitaire game. The extra skills do make the regular solitaire more interesting than if you were just playing with cards, but the goals bring things down a bit too much. Finding the hidden items almost seems to passively happen rather than being the main drive of your card combos, the arrangements laid out as if they were still working on a point based or victory focused system instead of trying to hide objects. As mentioned earlier, this wouldn’t be much of a problem if your performance and victories were still rewarded in some way, and it could add an extra consideration to your play, but the current design is just about playing regularly and maybe doing the objectives rather than pursuing them actively, and if you don’t succeed, then you just keep going round after round until you do.
The structure in these kinds of games usually adds an extra layer of challenge to make solitaire more interesting, but Age of Solitaire doesn’t make it compelling enough to rise above the baseline of the genre. It’s got some lovely art assets, most of what it needs when it comes to card layouts and abilities, and a framework that could have worked, but it didn’t apply the right amount of pressure to make it all come together into something more than just decent structured solitaire play.