Faerie Solitaire

Now here’s one that I probably wouldn’t have tried, let alone bought, if it hadn’t been part of a bundle. Faerie Solitaire is apparently a fantasy-themed variant (and near-homophone) of the golf-themed Fairway Solitaire, a game I know almost nothing about. But now that it’s flounced its way onto the Stack, scattering glitter all over the place, I might as well give it a whirl.

It’s basically a get-rid-of-all-the-cards game, and feels quite a lot like that thing with the Mah Jongg tiles that there seemed to be a hundred different indie casual implementations of a few years ago. You have a bunch of cards on the table in stacks, and you have a “foundation” card. You can remove cards from the top of the stacks and place them on the foundation, but only if their value is one greater or one less than the current foundation card. If you can’t make a move like that, you draw a new foundation card from the deck. Play ends when you clear the board or run out of deck. Either way, you keep going to the next level, trying to build up a total score that exceeds some threshold. The exact rules of scoring are left obscure, but apparently it helps to go for long runs without resorting to the deck. It’s a game with a large random factor, where you’re often left just going through the motions with no need of thought, but every once in a while you have to make a real decision.

The whole reason that this game can have levels, and therefore a campaign mode, is that the layout of the stacks can vary. Stacks can branch or merge or take on pyramidal shapes where one card controls access to many. (This is particularly reminiscent of that Mah Jongg tile game.) The designers also try to introduce a little variety with special layout features like ice cards, which can’t be removed until you melt them by reaching a fire card elsewhere on the board. But when you come down to it, that’s just a little window dressing on an ordinary stack that’s been divided between two places on the screen. It does have the practical effect that it can split the stack in ways not otherwise geometrically possible, because there can be arbitrarily many ice cards on the board, all melted by the same fire card. There’s a similar gimmick with flower and thorn cards that go the other way: in order to release the thorns, you need to hit all the flowers. Either way, though, it’s mostly just an illusion of variety.

For that matter, the whole “faerie” aspect is a veneer. It’s a pretty thick veneer, though. There’s a whole thing where clearing the last card in a stack sometimes reveals an egg, which you can hatch into a magical critter that you keep in a menagerie in fairlyland, and which can grow up into a larger critter with some color text if you let it earn enough experience (which it gets by watching you play cards) and then give it a specified number of some Catan-like resources that you also occasionally find under stacks. As far as I can tell, none of this has any impact on the game. It’s a sub-game that you’re expected to pursue for its own sake.

Also, playing cards earns you money that you can spend on upgrades, like additional free undos, or the ability to peek at the next card in the deck. Increasingly sophisticated ways to cheat, in other words. Except of course that since they’re codified in the rules, and the player has to earn them, they don’t really feel like cheating. It’s the benefits of cheating without the gnawing sense that you’re missing out on the intended experience.

To be short about it, what we have here is a rather thin game buttered over with the leveling, purchases, upgrades, unlockable extra modes, pseudostory, and graphical bling that are used by casual games in general, but that I associate most strongly with PopCap. The fairypets, although they just sit there without so much as a spot animation, are sort of a lo-fi version of the Zen Garden and Virtual Tank from Plants vs Zombies and Insaniquarium respectively.

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