What do you get when you add espionage and intrigue to the ubiquitous game found in nursing homes and every Windows decide known to mankind, then drop it into a carefully crafted, existing science fiction world? You get The Solitaire Conspiracy by Bithell Games. Strap in because this take on a classic is beyond words weird and wonderful.
The game begins with a title sequence to set the tone, followed by an FMV (full motion video) for a bit of exposition, starring Greg Miller and Inel Tomlinson. You are a nobody, a name on the watch list belonging to an organization called Protego. Serving as a spy organization with no national allegiance, Protego exists solely for the greater good of humanity, at least, that is what Miller’s Jim Ratio tells you.
However, there is a problem: a shadowy figure known as Solitaire has orchestrated a systemwide lockdown of Protego’s clandestine network. While it cannot be controlled through normal channels, a workaround allows new recruits to access existing missions and climb the ranks from within. Your task is to follow the leads, combat Solitaire at every level, access the team network, meet some of Protego’s star players (including Tomlinson’s Agent Diamond), then turn control back over to Jim to set things right.
In case you are not familiar with the card game namesake of this title, the game of Solitaire is simple: you take a deck of cards, shuffle them, and arrange them in piles, then work your way through stacking the cards in order of their suit, Ace to King. But here is where The Solitaire Conspiracy presents a twist.
Remember those teams we talked about? Each mission has a team assigned to it with the face cards – Jack, Queen, King. Once the Ace of that team’s suit is locked in, these cards are empowered with team-specific abilities to assist your strategy. This requires careful planning because their abilities can only be used once per card. For example of how different these abilities get, teams members of Mantis Group will blow up a stack, redistributing cards to others stacks whereas Alpha Division will sort a stack, sending higher numerical cards to the bottom and lower ones to the top. Not wild enough? Try team Scorpio’s abilities on for size: they can abduct the next needed card in the suit of the card it is placed on, making it available for the progression of that suit’s stack.
Each mission provides you with experience points that will assist you in your mission. At each level, you will be treated to another FMV to advance the narrative before moving on to the next set of missions. The main story of The Solitaire Conspiracy takes around three hours. Once you complete the story, you have the option to reset and play all over again or continue on to either the timed Countdown mode or the free play Skirmish mode.
As goofy as the concept sounds, all of this works together to create a really interesting way to play Solitaire. The designs on the face cards are gorgeous and they thematically fit the spy groups they represent along. They are share biographical information on the characters represented on the cards themselves. Not only that, The Solitaire Conspiracy is grounded within the framework of narratives that Subsurface Circular and Quarantine Circular created, with references to other Bithell Games scattered about as well. Having played (and loved) the Circular game, this was an absolute (albeit different) treat!
If you are looking for an updated version of Solitaire with the added benefit of a well-crafted narrative, do not sleep on The Solitaire Conspiracy! Inel Tomlinson and Greg Miller sell their characters through the FMV story beat that you will get treated to. This clandestine story connects within a world much bigger than Solitaire itself, yet stays grounded in the simplicity of the cards.