Solitaire — also known as Patience — is a large family of card games played with standard playing cards that are designed to be played by a single player.
Technically, the name "Solitaire" actually refers to any game designed to be played by oneself, not just card games — however, Solitaire card games are so ubiquitous that the term is often used on its own to refer to them. Alternative names include "card solitaire", or the name "Patience" is used in Europe.
Very broadly speaking, the goal of solitaire card games is to take a shuffled set of cards and, under the constraints imposed by the game, make decisions about how to play those cards in order to end up in some winning end-game state.
Most commonly, this involves building and manipulating a tableau of cards, and using special moves on the tableau to eliminate cards from the game, winning when you have successfully eliminated all cards. A common end goal in many solitaire games is to eliminate all cards in sequence from Ace to King for each of the 4 suits.
The number of varieties of card solitaire is so vast that it would not be feasible to cover them all here. The open-source solitaire collection PySolFC lists over a thousand variants. Each variant has different mechanics and constraints on what actions are valid.
The most well-known of all solitaires is Klondike - indeed, it is so well-known that the name "Solitaire" is often used to refer to this game alone. (If you simply type "solitaire" into Google, for example, it will actually give you a playable game of Klondike).
Solitaire games were originally played with real playing cards, with some manufacturers even making miniature decks to allow players to play solitaire games with more elaborate layouts or on smaller tables. While computer implementations of solitaire have existed since the days of mainframes, with the growth of home computing in the 1990s, computer solitaire quickly overtook physical solitaire. This is largely due to solitaire card games being bundled with Microsoft Windows, starting with a version of Klondike solitaire in Windows 3.0 in 1990, and later adding Freecell, Spider, Pyramid, and TriPeaks in subsequent releases.
Computer solitaire games also have the advantage of being very accessible and allowing players to quickly launch elaborate multi-deck solitaire games that would be cumbersome to arrange physically, especially for people who have trouble shuffling cards. Their popularity has carried over to mobile devices due to the simple drag-and-drop interface requirement being easy to adapt to touchscreens.
Tropes common to solitaire card games:
- Call-Back: Microsoft Solitaire Collection has an animation for completing a game in Klondike that references the bouncing animation from the pre-Vista versions.
- Casual Video Game: This game is pretty popular for casual gamers who just want a quick way to kill some time or entertain themselves, going back to the days of physical cards. It's easy to learn, too.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: In Microsoft Solitaire Collection, the higher levels of Klondike (Master, Grandmaster) will stack the deck to make the card draws less favorable for the player.
- Deck Clogger: In Microsoft Solitaire Collection, the higher levels of Klondike (Master, Grandmaster) can do unpleasant things to trip up the unwary and overconfident. If you pull the desired card from a stack to continue a run - say a Red Queen - you can be sure that the other red queen will emerge almost instantly and will sit there blocking a stack. If you need and get a black seven - the other, un-needed black seven, will pop up and impede progress. You can get three out of four Aces and build the completed stacks with them - then every card you see will be from the fourth suit for which there is no Ace and therefore no obvious way of removing them as solved. Worse, these cards will sit on the ends of runs preventing the player from redeeming the cards for which they have Aces. Effectively, Microsoft Klondike will deliberately throw lots of deck cloggers at you.
- Do Well, But Not Perfect: In at least the XP version of Spider Solitaire, it's entirely possible to be able to clear out a lot of cards early into the game if you're lucky. However, if you take it too far, you might end up having an almost completely clear table and not to be able to progress, since the game requires at least one card to be present in each slot in order to deal out more. And, if you manage to avoid that pitfall, then you also shouldn't get cocky and have the game deal out all remaining cards onto the table, even if the ones on the table are all already uncovered - since you might find yourself in a situation where you have no available moves and no ability to undo it.
- Easter Egg:
- Pressing Shift+Alt+2 in the pre-Vista versions is an instant win.
- The Robot, Dark Tower, Beach, and Dealer decks all have animations on the backs if you play a timed game.
- The Vista and Windows 7 versions are fully compatible with Xbox 360 controllers, a feature that isn't described anywhere in help files.
- Game Mod: You can create themes in Windows 8's Solitaire Collection without modding into the files, allowing for easy customization.
- I Have Many Names: Not only are these games known as "Patience" or "Solitaire" depending on which side of the Atlantic you're from, the variants also have many different names.
- Klondike is also known as Canfield... but confusingly, Canfield is also an alternative name for Demon, a different solitaire game.
- The Key Is Behind the Lock: Most solitaire games have cards which are inaccessible until you achieve the necessary prerequisites. Unfortunately, sometimes those cards are the necessary prerequisites.
- Luck-Based Mission: All solitaire games are luck-based to some extent, due to the randomness of the draw, although the amount of luck required varies and some solitaires are more skill-based than others. Klondike solitaire, the most popular variant, cannot be won more than 82% of the time even with perfect play and perfect knowledge (which is impossible to have anyway). Microsoft Solitaire Collection added a "solvable deals only" option to prevent people from getting into unwinnable games.
- Luck-Based Search Technique: Many computer solitaire games have an auto-move feature, which will automatically move a card to a valid position. It's common for players to abuse this by simply spamming it on every card until they find one that can move, rather than trying to spot the move themselves.
- Market-Based Title: Outside the United States and Canada note , these sorts of games are often known as "patience" games. A game bundled with the Acorn Archimedes, also based on the Klondike variation used in Windows Solitaire, was called !Patience, reflecting the British origin.
- Nintendo Hard: For a sedate little card game that comes with most people's computers, solitaire can be surprisingly difficult and many games will end in defeat. For Klondike solitaire, losing is often a certainty, as at least a fifth of all Klondike games are mathematically unwinnable.
- Order Versus Chaos: Most solitaire games can be framed as this — the goal is usually to take a disordered set of cards and use movements to change it into an ordered state.
- Scoring Points: Generally, the aim of solitaire games is just to achieve the end goal - however, computer versions will sometimes apply a scoring system to rate your performance. Windows Solitaire has an option to keep score with two systems:
- Standard: Moving a card from the deck to the table or turning a card on the table over gives 5 points and moving a card from the deck or the table to the foundation at the top gives 10 points. Note that you can score 15 points at once by moving a card from the deck to the table, then to the foundation. Moving a card from the foundation to the table gives a -15 point penalty and going through the deck and starting over gives a -100 point penalty if playing by single draw, but there's no penalty if playing by triple draw. If the game is timed, a time bonus of 700,000 / (seconds to finish) is given at the end if it took more than 30 seconds to finish, otherwise no bonus is given.
- Vegas: The game starts at -$52 and each card moved to the foundation gives $5. The catch here is that you're only allowed to go through the deck once if playing by single draw, or thrice if playing by triple draw. If the option to keep score is enabled, restarting the game costs $52 and the money won or lost in the previous game carries over to the next game; if the option is disabled, restarting the game just puts you back at -$52. Since you're not allowed to go through the deck again and again, most of the deals are unsolvable, but it's often possible to win at least enough money to pay back the initial wager and build a score through several games this way if the "keep score" option is enabled.
- Solo Tabletop Game: The most well known example, though ironically because of the computer version. All one needs is at least one deck of cards, knowledge of the rules, and themselves to play.
- Tutorial Level: Microsoft officially claimed that the original version for Windows 3.0 was one for training people used to MS-DOS in using the mouse, but it was really just there for fun.
- Unintentionally Unwinnable: Almost all solitaire variants can produce unwinnable deals, simply due to the randomness of the deal. Determining exactly how often a solitaire produces unwinnable deals can be a difficult mathematical problem. - even for Klondike, the most-played solitaire in existence, there is not yet a definitive answer to this (although an upper bound has been established — you definitely can't win more than 82% of the time). Freecell is hailed as being one of the most winnable solitaires, with an astonishing 99.999% win rate when played perfectly.
- Unwinnable by Design: In the "Vegas Score" Klondike variation, you bet $52, and reclaim $5 per card in the foundation piles. In that ruleset, the odds are stacked in favor of the house, just as they would be in a real gambling establishment. Fortunately, it's not real money - the dollars are just the game's version of points.