Frequent readers of this site know that one of my favorite games is the age old card game, Solitaire. Those same readers will also know that I absolutely love Astraware games, having reviewed many of them since I have been writing here at JAMM. For the past few weeks, I have been anxiously anticipating Astraware’s newest offering. You guessed it, Astraware Solitaire. Of course, like most Astraware games, they have put their personal twist on things with amazing graphics, a “trophy deck” and numerous customization options, some of which you will need to successfully play the games in order to unlock.
Installation and Registration: Solitaire follows the standard installation procedure. You can download the desktop installer and load it onto your device via Activesync. Once you do so, you can play a total of 20 new games before your trial expires, and you are required to register the game. Registration is easy with Astraware, and this will give you full access to all of the games.
Overview: It is interesting to look at the reasoned approach Astraware has taken with its first foray into the world of Solitaire. In typical Astraware fashion, they have eschewed the conventional “more is better” package of 250 games. Instead, they chose to create a slim bundle of a dozen classic solitaire games with dozens of options. Most packages, in order to offer the hundreds of games they advertise, take each variation or option and call it a new game rather than offering a customization option. Combining different options can result in hundreds of different games, which many companies exploit to build their libraries. This can make it extremely difficult to find the combination of options you prefer (does anyone know what the difference is between Klondike-1, Klondike-3, and Klondike-U. ) Instead, Astraware gives you a shell for each game, which includes all of the basic rules. You can customize each shell by setting the options to exactly the variation you enjoy. This makes the titles easy to search, and ensures that your preferred options are always available. In other words, this 12 game pack gives you everything a larger 250 game pack could offer…and then some.
Graphics: I was trying to figure out a way to describe the graphics in this game, but I was having trouble figuring out the perfect words to describe how well they are designed and drawn. Then it hit me. The graphics in Solitaire are classic Astraware! From the cartoonish icons representing the various games to the myriad of customizable card backs and fronts, anyone who has played an Astraware game in the past should instantly recognize the look and feel of this game. In fact, it drew me so well into the Astraware world, I kept expecting a gnome to pop up…or worse, a Chuzzle!
The Games: There are dozens of Solitaire games available for the Pocket PC, not to mention hundreds of desktop versions (not including the standard deck of 52 playing cards). In order for a newcomer to break into this crowded market, they would have to offer a new experience, which is no small task for a well known and loved card game like this. With her first game, however, Katherine Gordon has accomplished this and much, much more.
From the moment you start the game, however, you can plainly see that this is a different kind of Solitaire experience. Rather than the standard list of games, Astraware offers a full color wheel of fortune, with stops at each of the twelve games. Included in this pack are:
- Idiot’s Delight
- Four Seasons
- Sultan’s Harem
In addition to selecting the games from the main screen, you can also select the Choose Game option from the Game Menu. A pop up window with all twelve games will appear. Tap on each selection once to see its name. Tap a second time to select that game.
Across the top of each game is a toolbar which displays all of the necessary information to get you started. First is a battery meter and clock. This is a fantastic feature, which I have seen Astraware implement in many previous games, and I was excited to see at the top of every screen in Solitaire. Nothing is more frustrating that losing track of your battery in the middle of a game, only to lose your progress when your battery power is too low to continue. This will prevent that from happening by ensuring that you can monitor your battery at all times while playing.
The “i” button will display the information and rules about the current game. This information is automatically displayed the first time you start each of the 12 games. The “?” button will give you a hint, showing the next card to be played. Obviously, this is an extremely useful tool when you are learning the game or if you just get stuck. Next to that are the begin new game and restart buttons, followed by undo and redo. Finally, there is a game clock which shows how long you have been playing this hand and an exit button which will pause the game and close the program. If you exit the game with this button, your game will be automatically saved and you will continue from that point the next time you open Astraware Solitaire. Another useful tool which is contained in the menu, but not on the toolbar at the top of the screen, is the peek option. This will turn all of the cards face-up for you to study until your next move.
Game Customization: One of the great things about Astraware Solitaire is that you can truly make each game your own with dozens of customization options. Simply select customize, and you can determine which rules are followed and how gameplay will progress. You can set the behavior of all playable cards and even determine how they are dealt. Every one of the 12 games in this package has different sets of rules, and you can decide when and how each rule applies to your game. This means that if you grew up playing every card in Klondike, this game will not force you to play three at a time as many others would.
There are also several options which are universal to all of the games. These can be found in the game settings menu. When I first started playing this Solitaire pack, I was frustrated because the game was automatically flipping cards for me. While this can be nice when you are learning to play a particular game, I quickly grew tired of this behavior. The game settings menu took care of this for me with a simple checkbox. You can also use this menu to determine the level of animation, when cards are moved to foundation piles, and whether your options will be highlighted. This menu ensures that the game will always be designed for your personal skill level.
Finally, in each game, you can select the seed or starting position upon which the game will be based. The seed determines the order in which the cards are dealt. In other words, the layout of the board. In each game, there are 9,999,999,999 seeds or layouts. This means you are all but guaranteed not to see the same game twice. Simply enter the number for the seed you want, or select random to choose a seed. (Note that you do not need to select a seed. If you do not use this option, then the game will proceed through the seeds in numerical order.)
Display Customization: In addition to customizing the behavior of each of the 12 games, Astraware has also allowed you to control the look and feel of the games…well, sort of. But we’ll get to that in a minute. These options are all found in the display settings menu.
The first option you have is to change the color theme. This is the color of the table on which you are laying cards. There are nine different color themes, covering the entire rainbow.
Additionally, you will notice that the table has a watermark design imprinted upon it. By default, this will appear to be the Astraware logo. There are five other images which can be used on the table. These images, however, will be locked when you start the game. Unlock additional images by winning at the various Solitaire games.
In addition to changing the look of the table, like many computer card games, you can change the look of the cards. Of course, this means you can change the card backs to one of several dozen colors or images. Of course, this is an Astraware game, so you know what that means. You’ll have to unlock many of these card backs by progressing through the game. The same is true of the card fronts. By default, you can select from the standard deck or the large print deck. The gold trophy deck, however, will be locked until you completely build it.
Only Astraware could make a Solitaire game with so many features to unlock. Most games would simply provide you with a card back or front library from which you can select several images. Not Astraware. They taunt you with dozens of images which are unavailable to you when you begin the game. Astraware challenges you to succeed at the game, unlocking images only as you progress through the 12 games.
Audio: When I first heard it, I really did not like the audio in this game. The more I played, however, the more it grew on me. The shuffling and dealing sounds add a little levity to the game…as do the crowd noises, which really made me chuckle. They will sigh a disappointed sigh when you lose and cheer wildly when you win. In fact, the only thing I did not like was the noise — a strange chiming sound — which is played when you start a new game.
Trophy Room: Earlier, I mentioned the gold trophy deck of cards. These cards are stored in the trophy room until you completely build the deck. For completing each of the 12 games, you will receive a spade trophy card. Complete all of the spades to win the Ace of Spades. Likewise, the clubs are awarded for winning each game two to three times; and the hearts are awarded for three to five victories in each game. Just tap the card in the trophy room and it will display the requirements for winning it. The heart suite is a little different. To win a heart, you must accomplish a specific task within one of the games. For example, the Nine of Hearts is awarded for losing a game, while the Six of Hearts is awarded for winning any game without using the Undo feature.
Tutorial and Instructions: The kind folks at Astraware realize that there can be a lot of options under your control, and this can get tricky. For this reason, they have included an animated tutorial which will walk you through the top menu bar and some of the more common menu options, thus ensuring that you will always know what information is available to you.
Likewise, Astraware further recognizes that you are probably not familiar with all of the Solitaire games included in this package. As such, each game includes an exceptional instruction manual. These instructions will appear on the screen the first time you begin one of the games. To call them up at any time during the game, just tap the “i” button in the top menu on the screen.
Conclusion: Anyone can make a computer solitaire game. Heck, people have been doing that since the early days of programming on the TRS-80 (which used magnetic tapes to store data). Only Astraware, however, would be twisted enough to turn this simple game into a vicious competition as you scramble to complete your trophy deck,and unlock new images with which to adorn your cards. They have turned card backs from a simple novelty into a badge of honor and accomplishment…something to brag about. As they have done with so many other games, Astraware has taken a game with which we thought we were intimately familiar, and twisted it into something new. Simply put, Solitaire is a shining example of Astraware at its best.
Platform: WM 2003 SE
Also Available: WM5, WM6, Smartphone, Palm
Price: $19.95 (on sale for $9.95 through the end of June)
Available From: Astraware