Every now and then, a game comes along that reminds me how much fun a deck of cards can be, even if (or especially if) I’m all by myself. In 2014, that reminder came coutesy of Vitaliy Zlotskiy’s Pair Solitaire. This year, that honor goes to Sage Solitaire.
Born from the mind of Zach Gage (SpellTower, #fortune, Ridiculous Fishing), Sage Solitaire is a blend of traditional Klondike Solitaire (the game you’ve been playing in Windows all these years) and poker, all played on a 3×3 grid. The object of the game is to make poker-style hands from nine piles of cards. A full house, a flush, a pair — that sort of thing. It’s not exactly the same as poker — the “3 card straight” is a move created for Sage Solitaire, and “two pair” isn’t a valid move here — but if you grasp the basics of poker, you’ll feel right at home.
Points are awarded based on the hands you make, and the goal of the game is to clear all nine piles away so that there’s nothing left. As you can probably guess, this becomes much more challenging once the first few piles are cleared away, as you’ll have fewer visible cards to build a hand from. The game augments this problem by giving you two “trash” tokens that can be played at any time to discard a card of your choosing. Once used, a successful match will earn you another token, allowing you to progress much deeper into the game than you otherwise might have.
But this too comes with a trade off: by discarding, you’re reducing the number of cards in play and therefore the potential to grow your overall score.
Little touches like this make Sage Solitaire feel much deeper and more thought-out than the game’s simple rules might suggest. And once you dive in, you’ll find yourself making tough choices turn after turn. “Do I match the pair of kings now and pair of 8’s on my next turn? Or do I hold out to see if I can make a full house?” “I just need one more club for a flush — but I have to make a hand and use one of them! Which one do I sacrifice?”
Add in a few other interesting rule twists — you have to play at least one card from a different row for each match, and playing a card from the randomly selected “bonus suit” will lead to double points — and you’ve stumbled across a simple card game that’s deceptively deep.
Oh, and did I mention you’ll experience everything I just described above for free?
Gage has decided to go with a “try before you buy” model, offering one mode for free and locking much more behind a simple one-time purchase. For $2.99, you’ll unlock “double deck,” and “fifteens mode.” Double deck has you playing with twice as many cards, and fifteens mode offers an extra hand-type: any combination of cards that totals fifteen is worth 20 points. You’ll also unlock a variety of card backs and wallpapers to choose from — and more importantly, you’ll be doing the right thing. Games aren’t free to develop, and a one-time purchase for a game you’re enjoying is an appropriate way to say thank you.
Solitaire and its many variations have been entertaining players for more than 200 years. Sage Solitaire is just the latest twist in the genre, and, like Pair Solitaire, it’s not hard to see how much fun it could be with a real deck of cards. I suppose that’s the hallmark of a real solitaire game: despite its digital debut, Sage Solitaire has the potential to grow well beyond the borders of a touch screen.