When you think of solitaire, you don’t normally think of it as a weapon. In the new iOS game Solitairica, you use solitaire to battle a wide variety of opponents. Solitairica uses the golf solitaire style of placing cards one higher or lower on top of the card on the deck until you clear the board. The basic style is familiar, and accessible allowing for the game to introduce four energy types, enemy attacks, and spells. The game is all about turn based combat with RPG style progression with your card deck.
The game starts out relatively mundane, but the challenge builds up considerably to the point that you almost forget about the golf solitaire part. Each card can have one of four energies: attack, defense, agility and willpower, and each spell requires a certain number of a specific kind of energy. You will need to destroy specific cards, enable a shield, gain health back, preview the next card, and much more in an attempt to clear all of the cards before you lose all of your health. Each new enemy introduces new attacks that can directly damage you, deplete your energy, or add hazards to the cards. The complexities increase almost exponentially especially since you can access the shop after each defeated enemy to buy new spells or items to help counteract the added power of the next opponent. The items that you pick will greatly impact success down the road, so choose wisely.
The main game is to make it through 18 opponents to reach the castle at the end with the big boss awaiting you. There are six card decks to unlock tied to different classes with each deck introducing new spells, and different emphasis on what energy appears. What starts out as a familiar game of solitaire transforms into a game that is surprisingly heavy on strategy. Each move becomes so important after a few enemies in a given run. The cards don’t always come up as you hope, and that means you need to rely on collecting specific energy, and using the spells at the right time. At first, it seems to be a relatively simple experience, but once the challenge amps up, it feels like a great accomplishment with each new vanquished enemy. Those enemies are also bursting with personality, adding another twist of creativity to the game as a whole.
Solitairica isn’t perfect, and you do need to give it a little time to fully appreciate all of the strategic elements in play. The biggest drawback is that the actual golf solitaire gameplay isn’t as good as Fairway Solitaire. Solitairica has less flow with fewer chains available, and simply less cards on screen at once to work with. The reason is to push you towards the other abilities, but it leaves the card gameplay a little less compelling. Also, you’re given the same 18 opponent challenges each time. It’s slightly procedurally generated, but while the enemies may switch spots, they mostly come up in the same relative order of increasing difficulty. It’s disappointing to restart at the simple beginnings each time with all of your upgrades wiped clean. It would be nice to have checkpoints or a true rogue like experience to at least maintain upgrades when you do restart. Wiping the slate clean would make sense if your health was consistent across battles, but it always replenishes between battles, so there’s no difference between playing the first six contests, or just restarting at seven. There’s also the randomness element of the cards presented, and there are times when it seems your enemy gets the right card at the right time, and you don’t.
Solitairica ($3.99, Universal) delivers a familiar style that is built into a thoroughly challenging and fresh experience that is well worth picking up.