With a history of 200+ years on record, Solitaire is one of the oldest games that remain popular in modern society. Practically anyone you ask will have some familiarity with the card game, likely having played it on their computers at some point during their lives. It might not be as much of a sensation in 2020, but the game still draws a reported 35 million players a month.
So how do you mix that tried and true formula up? Why not introduce a bit of an espionage angle with some very gamey gimmicks? That’s precisely what The Solitaire Conspiracy does. The latest title from indie developer Bithell Games (known for Thomas Was Alone and John Wick Hex) in its “Bithell Shorts” series, The Solitaire Conspiracy creates a charmingly small scale title based around one of the most popular games to ever exist by introducing story trappings and bucket loads of style more than reinventing the wheel.
It may be a little short for its own good, but then you also have an exciting new way to experience cards.
Let me make one thing clear for anyone on the fence about The Solitaire Conspiracy: Bithell Games has not radically changed how you’ll approach shuffling cards. The main factor that makes this title so enjoyable has little to do with its specific gameplay and more with the style and presentation of everything. If you have a basic understanding of Solitaire, you’re going to blitz the “campaign” in 90-120 minutes with little challenge.
The main hook is that you’re here for the rather cool espionage story and the fantastic art direction on offer. The plot puts you in the role of an unnamed agent that has adapted well to some top-secret system known as C.A.R.D.S. Under the care of a man named Jim Ratio (played by Greg Miller), you’re tasked with toppling the empire of international villain Solitaire and restoring the power of spy agency Protego. The requisite spy thriller twists and turns ensue while you shuffle cards around through 15 tiers of challenges.
The story isn’t mind-blowing, or even entirely original, but it brings some extra depth to what would otherwise have been a mere game of cards. It also sets up an excellent tutorial for introducing the gimmicks that The Solitaire Conspiracy introduces. Since you’re acting as a spy, the suits of each card take the form of various spy organizations. Each one has some special ability that can be deployed during a round to either tip the tides in your favor or screw you over.
For instance, Omega Coda royal cards have the ability to bring cards of the same number to the top of piles when placed down. Drive Team Six will send the next required card into the pile so you can continue building your stacks. Alpha Division will sort all cards in a specific pile, but do them highest to lowest value. Each team has a variation of this theme with the main goal being to complete sets of cards like in traditional Solitaire. You’re just doing it all in a cyberpunk theme with a ridiculously amazing soundtrack.
That soundtrack deserves its own spot, too, because it steals the show. I love a good game of cards, but I can’t believe how soothing and atmospheric the music here is. A few tunes sound like a grand orchestra is blaring down on you while others tap into the James Bond-esque vibe you’d expect from a spy game. As you complete decks, the songs even follow a string progression that then culminates in a bombastic track. It’s very energetic and way more intense than a game of Solitaire has ever been.
You’re given ample time to soak in that atmosphere as well. The Solitaire Conspiracy may be “over” before it even begins, but then a standard Solitaire bonus mode and a time-based challenge allow you to simply cut out the narrative trappings and get to dealing cards. If you’re drawn to the aesthetic enough, you could end up replacing Microsoft’s own Solitaire suite with The Solitaire Conspiracy.
At its core, The Solitaire Conspiracy isn’t much more than a gussied up version of Solitaire. Still, the work done in creating an intriguing narrative and piecing it together with an amazing style makes this little venture worth picking up. With the team not opposed to doing some DLC down the line, it could also become a much more substantial game in the future.
A PC review code was provided to TheGamer for this review. The Solitaire Conspiracy is available now on PC.
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Peter is an aspiring writer with a passion for gaming and fitness. If you can’t find him in front of a game, you’ll most likely find him pumping iron.
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