poster of solitairica
  • Ivica Milarić

The perfect card game with surprising simplicity

Entering the domain of game design usually includes some basic exercises that many know all too well. Among these, redesigning classical tabletop games is definitely a big fan favorite among game design teachers. Take chess and add a skill system to it. Or, take Monopoly, eliminate the competitive setup, and make it into a cooperative game.

While things like that are more than useful for game design beginners, they tend to lose their appeal to those who are already in the field. You might experiment with chess for weeks and months, but few teams will create something like Really Bad Chess.

google playstore button for solitairica

When they manage to pull something like that, the gaming press can’t get enough of it. But, even in game development, small and quiet miracles do happen and in this case, the experiment with a classical card game resulted in Solitairica.

It might sound over-the-top to call this rendition of the famous solitaire card games a masterpiece, but there are some strong arguments in that direction. Most of them stem from the fact that the developers from the Righteous Hammer Games studio never once lost sight of their main ally - simplicity.

All about Solitairica revolves around that crucial notion of keeping it simple. The first sign of that is the art style that the game offers. Bright colors and simple shapes abound, while nothing is experimental or seems visually innovative.

An identical approach was taken to the design of the cards, in-game animations, and even a total lack of any dialogue that isn’t stylized gibberish. The game even possesses a narrative layer, which just tasks the players with overcoming a range of solitaire-like matches and reaching the final boss.

Core Gameplay

Here is where the core gameplay loop and basic gaming mechanics come into play. The players possess their own classic card decks that are used in matches against AI opponents. The aim of the match is to break down the enemy’s deck to zero using their cards, but also special abilities.

These are also simple but include an indigenous system of separate energy gauges which are filled with separate types of cards and the value they bring to the player once they are destroyed. The gauges include offensive and defensive spells, but also those that help players learn which cards will come from the random deck next.

Sounds simple enough, but here’s where the development team added another factor to the equation - the roguelike system of advancing through matches and dying in the process, but using the accumulated gems (as a form of premium currency) to improve the player’s decks.

With a multitude of decks on offer, all with their unique spells and abilities (which can also be improved through purchases between matches in individual runs) Solitarica covertly grows on you as you play it more and more.

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Throughout the process, the players are still bound to blind luck as well. Sometimes, even the best strategy for a particular enemy - most of whom have their unique attacks and perks to hamper the player - will fail at the very last moment. At other times, players might squeeze through a match even though they should have lost. But, as this takes place, players will rarely be either emboldened by their blind luck or distraught by its failure to appear.

The final layer of brilliance of the development studio lies in the fact that the process is still building upon itself run after run. As the names of the original card game of solitaire shows - which means “lonely” in French and which is known in other parts of the English-speaking world as “patience” - solemn dedication to the process will bear fruit.

Final Thoughts

It is easy to avoid a game like Solitairica on a first impression - it offers nothing new in terms of visuals or gameplay mechanics. I’m sure that for many, it might seem like it was made for the early grade school age demographic.

However, below the mundane facade lies a web of finely tuned systems, all of which build a truly impressive core gameplay loop. It balances perfectly between a card game, a streamlined RPG, and a roguelike, all the while offering loads of unintrusive fun for the players.

Enjoying what Solitairica offers comes naturally and gradually, but as a whole experience, it is worthy of something to be taught in game design courses. I’m not sure if the game is a masterpiece, but it most definitely is an example of a nearly-perfect classical game redesign and a release that will keep that mantle for decades to come.

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