Mike Bithell has done some varied work over the years, and whilst it might not always pay off, games like Thomas Was Alone and John Wick Hex were excellent. The Solitaire Conspiracy sounds just like an espionage adventure, and whilst it is in some ways, all you ever do is play solitaire. Now, if you as old as I am, you’ll more than likely have spent hours playing the built-in Minesweeper and Solitaire games on old Windows computers, but Bithell has managed to reinvent the game and put an interesting spin on it.
You play as a top spy brought in to take down a supervillain known only as Solitaire after a leading spy agency known as Protego has been destroyed. Through FMV cutscenes featuring former IGN and Kinda Funny linchpin Greg Miller, and actor Inel Tomlinson, you find out more about your mission, how to play, and what awaits you along the way. It all feels a little tongue-in-cheek, but its engaging enough to keep you playing.
When it comes to the gameplay in The Solitaire Conspiracy, it all feels familiar. You are indeed abiding by the rules of the game, but as you level up, new crews are introduced to you, and each one helps you to get your cards in the correct order. Each crew is a new stack of cards, and after a while you’ll end up having to complete up to four ‘targets’ at a time. The higher the XP reward, the more decks you have to wrestle with, but as soon as the ace is laid down, that particular crew’s power is activated.
Only the jack, queen, and king of the deck have the power to help, but they can be used at any time to help you out. For example, Incognito Unlimited will shuffle any of the outer stacks to allow a card you need potentially move closer to the top. Omega Coda bring any cards in a stack with the same value to the top, Mantis Group explode a stack sending them elsewhere, and Blood Legacy will send the highest card to the top of the stack it is placed on.
There are a surprising amount of crews and they all have a different aesthetic and style. You also unlock different colours and patterns, giving the screen and game board a new and distinctive look. There’s also a soundtrack that would fit in with old school Mission Impossible episodes or James Bond films, thanks to Jon Everist. The Solitaire Conspiracy is stylish, sleek, and cool, which is not something I thought I would ever say about a solitaire game.
You’ll also unlock two more game modes as you play. The first is called Skirmish, a mode that lets you pick the crews you want to play as. Countdown is the second mode, and I absolutely loved it. A timer counts down as you try and complete the various boards, and by finishing a wave, you move on to an even harder one. Online leaderboards let you see how you are fairing against other players across the globe, adding a competitive edge to proceedings.
At the end of the day, it is still solitaire. If you’ve never played it before then you might not warm to it straightaway. It isn’t exactly hard to understand, but when more crews get added you are tested to the limits, trying to decide which Target to complete first, and how you are going to use all your powers to reach the next level. I felt there were a few too many cutscenes, but the option to skip them is always present. Load times are almost non-existent, and the only time you’ll waste is when you are spending time trying to decide your next move.
The Solitaire Conspiracy is a fresh take on an old game, managing to mix strategy, intrigue, and style to a high degree. Although it isn’t a particularly long game, there are plenty of opportunities to replay with new decks, and Countdown mode does a great job of putting you under pressure whilst still having a great time.
Countdown is a great mode
Various Crews make each game feel different
Cutscenes are too frequent