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Single-Deck Non-Builder Solitaire Games That You Should Try

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Single-Deck Non-Builder Solitaire Games That You Should Try

When most people think of solitaire card games, they think of the classic game Klondike, which has become synonymous with solitaire itself. Klondike Solitaire is the quintessential example of a builder solitaire game, where you're trying to play all the cards from the deck from Ace through King on four foundations corresponding to suit, with the help of a tableau which is built with cards in descending order and in alternating colours.

Some of the finest solitaire games in the world are builder games like this, and take this concept in various different directions. But what about non-builder games, which employ playing cards in a totally different way? That's what this article is about. In previous articles I've already introduced you to some of the most well-known non-builder games like Golf and Pyramid, which represent pairing (or matching) games and adding games respectively. Alongside them are other non-builder solitaire games that work entirely differently again.

The goal of this article is to introduce you to some of the lesser known members of these families, and whet your appetite to explore and enjoy some of the many other non-builder solitaire card games that exist. There are games that use multiple decks, but they typically take longer to play and are more involved, so I've restricted this list to games played with a single deck. NB: To play these, I've used and recommend the excellent software from BVS Solitaire.

== Pairing Games ==

If you like Golf, you should try Black Hole

Overview: Black Hole is an adding and pairing game in the style of Golf, which is one of the most familiar solitaire games in the world, popularized especially by its variant Tri-Peaks, which was included in most personal computers with Windows. Black Hole was created by David Parlett, who acknowledges it was derived from Golf. The Ace of Spades starts in the center as the Black Hole, around which are placed 17 fans of 3 cards each. Ignoring suit, and only using the top card in each fan, the goal is to play all the cards into the Black Hole, with the next card always being one higher or lower in value than the previous one.

Thoughts: This is a brilliant game, and the majority of deals are solvable. Ideally you shouldn't change directions up and down within one game, or you'll quickly get stuck. Instead it's best to just build from Ace through King and then wrapping around back to Ace and repeating this process. Because all the cards are face up, with careful planning you can succeed more often than not. A related variant is Four Leaf Clovers, which makes the game harder by having a set-up of 13 fans of 4 cards each, but compensates for this by allowing you to build up or down one card at a time (ignoring suit) on the fans.

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If you like Golf, you should try Eliminator

Overview: If you enjoy the Golf mechanic of playing cards up and down in value, you simply must try Eliminator, which is sometimes also known under the name Strip. The entire deck is dealt face-up into four columns with thirteen cards in each. There are six foundations, which can start with any card of your choice, but then build up or down in value, ignoring suit, in the style of Golf. The goal is to play the entire deck to the foundations. To make the game harder there are also variations which have only five foundations, or four.

Thoughts: The beauty of this game is that you have open information from the beginning because you can see all the cards. By carefully planning ahead you should be able to win most games. Eliminator appears to be a simplified version of Striptease from card game guru David Parlett, which has only four foundations, and adds an extra twist by having four face-down cards that cover face-up queens at the top of each column. With only four foundations in Striptease, you're almost always at the mercy of the draw, making the chances of success extremely rare, which is why Eliminator is more satisfying. Ants is a related variant with four foundations, but instead of open information it deals out four cards at a time.

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If you like Pairing Games, you should try Aces Square

Overview: Aces Square also goes under the name Miner Solitaire. It is a matching game that has some similarities to Monte Carlo, although strictly speaking it's not part of the same family, and it also shares some similarities with Aces Up. You deal 16 cards in a square consisting of four rows of four cards each. You can discard any two cards of the same suit if they are in the same row or column, and the spaces are then immediately refilled by the stock. Aces can't be removed, and the aim is to discard all the cards, leaving the four Aces.

Thoughts: This isn't an easy game to win, and the odds of success have been estimated as about 1 in 8. To have the best chance of winning, you shouldn't just select whatever pairs are available to discard, but try to keep track of how many of the six pairs in each suit remain. Then when you're down to the final one or two pairs, try to discard cards where a card from the stock will end up in a space that will enable you to pair with it.

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If you like Pairing Games, you should try Doublets

Overview: Doublets is a pairing game like Monte Carlo, where you are matching cards of the same value in order to remove them. The starting tableau begins with 12 piles of four cards each, with only the top card face-up. Four extra cards function as a reserve that will enter the game later, and will be used one at a time to replenish a pile that is emptied. The goal is to discard the entire deck by removing matching cards of the same value.

Thoughts: Strictly speaking this is a variant of Nestor and its slightly more strategic sibling Vertical. But while those are open information games with all the cards face-up, the hidden information of Doublets is part of its charm. It's usually wise to try to work your way through all the tableau piles as evenly as possible, to prevent cards you need being trapped. By keeping track of the size of each pile, and the values that have and have not yet been paired, you can play the odds to increase your chances of winning, which is very achievable in most games.

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== Adding Games ==

If you like Pyramid, you should try Giza

Overview: One of the very first solitaire games I ever played besides Klondike was Pyramid. Giza is an Egyptian city well-known for being the location of several of the pyramids, which makes Giza the perfect name for a very close relative and arguably a variation of Pyramid. Like Pyramid, the goal is to remove pairs of cards that add up to 13, with Jacks worth 11 and pairing with 2s, Queens worth 12 and pairing with Aces, and Kings worth 13 and being removed on their own. The layout is much the same, with the main tableau consisting of a pyramid of 28 cards. But instead of the remaining cards being dealt one at a time as the stock, they are face-up and accessible throughout the entire game as eight columns of three cards each. The goal is to remove all the cards in the deck.

Thoughts: It's not hard to see why Pyramid is one of the most well-known solitaire games of all time, because it is easy to learn and play. For a long time Microsoft even included it in their solitaire suites on all Windows operating systems, alongside Klondike, Spider, FreeCell, and TriPeaks (a Golf variant). In Pyramid, however, you can frequently be thwarted by a poor deal. That's why Michael Keller came up with Giza, as a variant of the original that gives more opportunity for strategic play, since you have completely open information from the outset, and can plan more carefully.

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If you like Adding Games, you should try Exit

Overview: Pyramid is the quintessential and most well-known adding game, but there are plenty of other great adding games, and Exit is one of the best of the lot. It is also known as Gay Gordons, and was created by card game expert David Parlett. It's a marvellous game that is one of the best adding games you'll find. You deal the entire deck face-up into a ten columns of five cards each, with an additional column of just two cards. You may remove any two available cards that add up to exactly eleven. Special rules apply for removing court cards: Jacks are paired with Jacks, while a King must be paired with a Queen of a different suit.

Thoughts: In this game you have completely open information from the outset, so there is lots of scope for planning ahead carefully. A key element to keep in mind is to avoid any key cards becoming blocked. If you make good decisions about which cards to remove, you have a good chance of winning successfully. With Exit, David Parlett has created a wonderful game that is easy to learn and play, and yet requires a good amount of skill to complete.

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If you like Adding games, you should try Fourteen Out

Overview: There are lots of solitaire games that involve pairing cards that add to a certain number like in Pyramid, but Fourteen Out (also known as Take Fourteen) is one of the better ones. As the name suggests, the goal is to remove cards by matching pairs that add up to 14, with Kings worth 13, Queens 12, and Jacks 11. The layout consists of 12 fans of four or five cards each, reminiscent of the set-up of games in the Lovely Lucy family of Fan games.

Thoughts: Some adding games come down largely to luck of the draw. But with Fourteen Out you have completely open information from the outset, and with 12 fans to work with, you can do a lot of planning as you play. You can see exactly which pairs still need to be combined in order to succeed, so it is especially important to free up critical pairs, and to prevent vital cards from being blocked. This is a game that involves more skill than luck, and you should be able to win over half of your games with good decision making.

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If you like Adding Games, you should try Ninety One

Overview: What Ninety One has in common with Pyramid is that it is an adding game, but it has a very different feel. All that matters is the value of each card, with Jacks worth 11, Queens 12, and Kings 13. Your working tableau consists of 13 piles with four cards each, and you can only see the top card of each pile. You can move cards from the top of any pile to the top of any other pile, and by doing so you have to try to achieve the aim of a cumulative total of exactly 91. At that point you remove all those cards from the game and repeat the exercise. Four successes in a row removes all the cards, and constitutes a complete win.

Thoughts: This game is best enjoyed with the help of some software, so that you don't have to keep track of the running total yourself. One way to win is to have one card from Ace through King face-up, but this won't necessarily be the easiest way to achieve a total of 91, depending on the draw. It's surprisingly fun to play and easier than it first appears, especially if you're playing a digital version that takes care of the bookkeeping, and keeps updating the cumulative total for you.

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== Other Games ==

If you like Accordion, you should try Royal Marriage

Overview: Royal Marriage is a close relative of Accordion, one of the most well-known non-builder solitaire games of all time. As in that classic game, you deal out the entire deck face up into a single long line (usually in several rows for practical reasons). What's unique here is that you place the King of Hearts on one end and the Queen of Hearts on the other. If a single card or a pair of cards is in between two cards of matching rank or suit they can be removed. The objective is to get the King and Queen of Hearts to meet by eliminating all the cards in the middle, hence the game's name, which is also known as Royal Wedding and Matrimony.

Thoughts: The feel of Royal Marriage is quite similar to Accordion, but the method of removing cards is slightly different, and you have much better chances of winning the game successfully. Instead of moving a card onto a card of matching value or suit, it's the cards in between them that are removed, so the matching cards remain in the line-up. I've found that a good strategy is to try to focus on using the Hearts to eliminate all the other cards, and where necessary using other cards that match to bring cards that are Hearts closer together. Whenever two Heart cards are only one or two apart, you can eliminate the cards in between, and once you have a line-up that consists only of Hearts, the game is basically won.

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If you like Montana, you should try Maze

Overview: If you've tried some of the games in the Gaps (Montana) family, perhaps you've found it a little frustrating at how difficult it can be to win. Well, then Maze is a game for you, because it is a similar concept but is easier to play and to complete successfully. The entire deck is dealt face-up into a tableau consisting of six rows of nine cards each (eight in the first two rows). You then remove all the Kings to create four spaces. The aim is to create four consecutive sequences with runs of Ace through Queen in each suit (some remove the Aces, in which case the runs are Two through King). Any gap can be filled with a same-suited card one less in value than the card on the right, or a same-suited card one more in value than the card on the left. Aces can be moved alongside Queens, but you cannot move Queens in front of Aces.

Thoughts: With Gaps and Montana the goal is considerably harder to achieve, because you only have four spaces instead of six, and the rules for movement are much more strict. With Maze you have lots of options for which cards to move and where, and with good decision-making you can win the game more often than not. The game is easy to learn and play, and yet it remains a game of skill where your decisions matter, without being so challenging that it is the kind of brain-burner like some of the other games in the Gaps family.

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Hopefully this article will encourage you to check out some of the wonderful non-builder solitaire games that are just waiting for you to enjoy. Most people are already very familiar with builder games. While these have their appeal, it's with non-builder solitaire games that we get to step further off the path well-travelled, and explore other ways that playing cards can be used in new and interesting ways. The games covered here are among my favourites, but if you enjoy solitaire card games, then you should acquaint yourself with the classics of the genre that these are closely related to, and also check out the many other great non-builder solitaire games that exist.

Final note: You can certainly play these with an actual deck of playing cards, which is particularly satisfying with an attractive custom deck. But when it comes to learning the rules of a new solitaire game, the best way to play is with the help of a reliable software program, like the ones offered by BVS Solitaire. Their program for Windows is one of the best I've tried, and they also have excellent versions for Mac and for mobile devices.

Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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Fri Jun 17, 2022 10:52 pm
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Single-Deck Builder Solitaire Games That You Should Try

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Microbadge: Golden ReviewerMicrobadge: Golden Image UploaderMicrobadge: Citizenship Recognition - Level VI -  Is six any more shiny? ... Well, it's one shinier isn't it? ... Okay, why don't you just make five a bit more shiny and then that would be the most shiny? ... Because these go to six.Microbadge: Photo Hall of Fame memberMicrobadge: Golden Camel
Single-Deck Builder Solitaire Games That You Should Try

Most people are familiar with solitaire, and identify it with Klondike. Klondike is the classic game that everyone is familiar with from Microsoft Windows, where you're building cards down in value in alternating red and black colours, while simultaneously trying to play the entire deck from Ace through King by suit onto four foundations. It is the archetype of the classic builder solitaire game.

Many two-deck builder games offer a longer and more thoughtful playing experience, but builder games like Klondike that use just a single deck are ideal time fillers. Perhaps you have explored some solitaire games outside of classic Klondike, so you may already be familiar with some of the other popular "families" of builder games, like FreeCell, Spider, Canfield, and Yukon. Each of these solitaire games represents a genre of its own, and interestingly the named game isn't necessarily the best of its kind. In fact, within each of these families there are some excellent games that arguably even surpass the game that stands at its head, and are at least as rewarding and fun to play.

In this article, I'll introduce you to a lesser known game from each of a dozen main families of solitaire games. Each of these is a builder game, and uses just a single deck. And in many cases, the game I'm suggesting you try is at least as good or even better than the more well-known game of the family. Certainly if you like the original, you owe it to yourself to try these close cousins. NB: To play these, I've used and recommend the excellent software from BVS Solitaire.

If you like Baker's Dozen, you should try Martha

Overview: Martha is in the Baker's Dozen family, a single-deck game somewhat similar to the very difficult to complete Beleaguered Castle. The goal is to play all the cards in order of suit to the foundations, which begin with all four Aces. The rest of the deck is dealt into 12 tableau piles of four cards each, the second and fourth card of each pile being face down. You can build down on the tableau in alternating colours, with sequences being able to be freely moved within the tableau, except onto an empty pile, which must first have a single card placed there.

Thoughts: Like Baker's Dozen and its close relatives (Bisley being the most well known), this game is quite easy to win. The fact that you don't have perfect information is exactly the feature that makes it fun, because there are surprises in store which you're trying to uncover. If you could see all the cards at the outset, the game actually becomes less interesting and too easy. The rule about not allowing sequences to be moved to empty piles without a single card being placed there first is also a good one, because this also prevents the game being overly simple. Even so, it's quite straight forward to win the vast majority of games, and there is enough scope for decision making to make it rewarding, while still having a casual and relaxed feel. You may also want to try a variation called Stewart, which makes the game harder.

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If you like Beleaguered Castle, you should try Canister

Overview: While Canister also has elements reminiscent of FreeCell (minus the reserve cells) and Klondike (minus the draw pile), it is arguably closest to the Beleaguered Castle family since it is an open game where all the cards are dealt face up. The starting tableau consists of eight columns, four with 7 cards and four with 6 cards. The goal is to play all the cards to the four foundations by suit from Ace through King. Building within the tableau happens downwards regardless of suit, and sequences can be moved.

Thoughts: This is an excellent game that gives real room for skill. While Beleaguered Castles is very difficult to win, and depends largely on a very favourable draw, the slightly more friendly rules make Canister far more satisfying. You are still dependent somewhat on how the cards are dealt in the early stages of the game, and sometimes a bad draw may make further progress impossible. But if you manage to navigate through the first part of the game, and especially if you manage to free up a column, more often than not you can successfully win. Good and careful play is rewarded, which is what makes this game so enjoyable, and you should be able to complete over half of your games. Variations like American Canister and British Canister make the game slightly harder by giving stricter rules for tableau building. For a similar feeling game that adds use of a stock and has less columns, take a look at Thirty Six at the end of this list.

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If you like Canfield, you should try Eagle Wing (Thirteen Down)

Overview: Eagle Wing is in the Canfield family, and is much like the Canfield variant Storehouse (Thirteen Up). It gets its name from the bird-like shape of the tableau, with spread wings. Two "wings" of four face-up cards each are dealt on each side of a 13 card pile (often described as the "trunk" of the eagle), which acts as a reserve in the center. A single card from the stock starts the first foundation and determines their starting rank, with building happening `around-the-corner' from King through Ace. The stock is dealt one card at a time (with two re-deals), and cards can be played from here or from the tableau to the foundations, which are built upwards by suit. Cards on the tableau build down by suit, but each space can hold a maximum of three cards.

Thoughts: An interesting feature of Eagle Wing is that spaces in the tableau are automatically filled by the reserve, and only later in the game can other cards from the tableau or stock be placed here. This makes the first part of the game primarily about observation, but later in the game your choices will be important. Chances of success are greater than even, and Eagle Wing can be enjoyed as a casual building game with some decisions, while still giving the ability to win quite easily. It is especially satisfying to watch stacks of cards disappear quickly from the tableau to the foundations in the final stages. In some variations building in the tableau is disallowed, but this makes wins extremely rare and isn't recommended. Closely related variations include Wings and Bald Eagle.

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If you like Forty Thieves, you should try Ali Baba

Overview: The name Ali Baba is an obvious giveaway that this is a member of the Forty Thieves family of games, which are challenging two-deck games of real skill. This has the same basic set-up and rules, but is a single deck game with a tableau of ten columns with four cards in each. The goal is to build four foundations by suit from Ace through King, while the tableau is built down by suit. One important rule change from Forty Thieves is that sequences within the tableau can be moved, which gives you many more options for play. The stock pile of remaining cards is dealt one at a time.

Thoughts: Ali Baba plays very quickly and is much lighter and easier than Forty Thieves, in part because it only uses a single deck, but also because sequences can be moved in the tableau. Your initial layout can frustrate you at times, but in many cases you can win fairly easily, especially since most apps allow unlimited redeals of the stock. The variant Big Forty is identical but doesn't begin with the Aces on the foundations, and as a result it locks up much more frequently due to the draw. Both games rely more on close observation and a good draw than skill, but still prove satisfying to complete successfully.

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If you like FreeCell, you should try Penguin

Overview: Penguin is a close relative of FreeCell. FreeCell is an open information solitaire game included with Windows, and has enjoyed enormous popularity since it is nearly always solvable with skilful play. Penguin was created by card scholar David Parlett, and has a set-up of seven columns with seven cards each. The card at the bottom of the first column is called the "beak", and the three cards that match its value become three of the four starting foundations. Seven reserve piles are called the "flipper". With tableaus building down by suit, the goal is to release the "beak" to start the fourth foundation, and play all the cards to the foundations, `turning the corner' from King to Ace as needed.

Thoughts: Like FreeCell, this is a game of complete skill, and using the reserve cells wisely is key to success. Opening up a column can help, but empty columns can only be filled with a card one rank lower than the "beak". This factor, as well as that you can only build down by suit rather than alternate colours, makes it more challenging than FreeCell, although Penguin does have more reserve cells (the "flipper") to compensate. Freeing the "beak" to get all suits into play is extremely important. It's a very rewarding game that anyone who likes FreeCell and similar solitaire games of skill is certain to enjoy.

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If you like Klondike, you should try Agnes

Overview: Klondike is the most familiar solitaire game there is, and Agnes is an excellent member of this family. Two versions of Agnes are commonly played, and to distinguish them David Parlett named them both after royal mistresses. Agnes Sorel is the original, whereas the later variant described here is called Agnes Bernauer, and is closer to Klondike. The game starts with the familiar Klondike layout, but all the cards are face-up. A single card is dealt to determine the base value of the foundations, which are built up by suit and by `turning the corner' from King through Ace. The tableau builds downwards by alternating colours, legal sequences can be moved, and empty columns must begin with a card one less than the starting cards of the foundations. But the most important difference from Klondike is the use of a reserve instead of a discard pile; each time you want new cards from the stock, which you go through only once, you deal a card to each of seven reserve piles.

Thoughts: There is no redeal, but this is amply compensated for by the use of the reserve. Effectively the game feels much like Klondike, but with all the cards of the tableau face-up to start with, and having a seven card reserve instead of dealing one card at a time. So there is a lot of open information, plus you have more cards than normal to work with. This gives more room for planning, and you should be able to win about half of your games with clever play. Agnes Sorel is considerably harder to win than Agnes Bernaeuer, because instead of a reserve, seven cards are dealt directly to the tableau each time you draw from the deck in the style of Spider. Some variations give more flexibility for building on the tableau or foundations, but wins are still less frequent with Agnes Sorel than they are in Agnes Bernauer.

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If you like La Belle Lucie, you should try Shamrocks

Overview: Shamrocks is a member of the Fan family, the most well-known of which is La Belle Lucie (Lovely Lucy). A single deck is completely dealt out into 17 face-up fans of three cards each, plus a single face-up card. The goal is to build foundations from Ace through King by suit, and cards may be moved within the tableau one card at a time. Cards can be placed on a card in the tableau that is one higher or lower in value, ignoring suit, but with a maximum of three cards per fan. This accounts for the game's name, since shamrocks have three leaves. In most forms of the game Kings are moved to the bottom of their fan at the start of the game, to minimize the chances of the game locking up.

Thoughts: What makes this game the most different from other games in the Fan family like La Belle Lucie, is the fact that you can build up or down regardless of suit within the tableau, and the limit of three cards per fan with no redeals. For best chances of winning, you should build up foundations as evenly as possible, and not play the last card of a fan unless necessary, since empty columns aren't refilled, thus reducing the amount of possible manipulation within the tableau. The game feels very tight, but is very satisfying to win, and with good play you should be able to win over a third of your games. For a game closer to most Fan games, I especially enjoy Super Flower Garden, which is less constrained because it allows unsuited building in the tableau.

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If you like Miss Milligan, you should try Tabby Cat

Overview: Tabby Cat was created by Rick Holzgrafe, and was inspired by the classic two deck game Miss Milligan, but uses just a single deck. You begin with a tableau of four single cards, and each time you deal from the stock, a new card is placed on each pile in the style of Spider. You can build down by value in the tableau (including Kings on Aces), moving sequences if desired. The goal is to discard cards by assembling a full sequence from Ace through King, ignoring suits just like in the tableau. To assist with this you can make use of the "tail", which is an additional reserve into which you can move a single card or sequence while manipulating the tableau.

Thoughts: Many of these mechanics work the same as in Miss Milligan, but Tabby Cat is a more manageable game because it uses just a single deck. The concept of a reserve pile (the "tail") is especially genius, because it gives real room for skilful play. Using it wisely should enable you to win the majority of games. It's essential not to leave cards blocking the tail, since almost always the optimal way to play is to keep it free for use. The variant Manx makes the game harder by only allowing single cards rather than sequences to be placed in the tail.

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If you like Scorpion you should try Three Blind Mice

Overview: Three Blind Mice fits within the Scorpion family, and uses the same rules but with a different set-up, resulting in a game with a different feel. There are 10 columns: seven columns with five face-up cards each, and three columns with two face-up cards on top of three face-down cards. The final two cards form a reserve. Three Blind Mice is one of several solitaire games named after nursery rhymes, and in this instance the "blind" cards in final three columns have inspired the name. You build down by suit in the tableau and can move groups of cards regardless of sequences. The goal is to get columns of all four suits in order from King through Ace.

Thoughts: Game-play is virtually identical to Scorpion, but you need to focus on uncovering the nine face-down cards as soon as possible. You can often make significant progress, but typically some of the cards you need will be trapped face-down, and the result is that you can only expect to win about 1 in 5 games, which is even less than Scorpion. This can be a little frustrating, but on the other hand it is enormously satisfying to complete the game successfully. For much better winning chances, Wasp is a Scorpion variant that allows empty columns to be filled with any card or sequence, and as a result you can win most games with good play.

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If you like Sir Tommy, you should try Strategy

Overview: Just as the name suggests, Strategy is a game of skill, and makes a welcome departure from the largely luck-driven games that tend to make up the Sir Tommy family. Like Sir Tommy, the goal is to build four foundations from Ace through King, with no redeal, and with no moving of cards within the tableau. There are eight tableau piles, and the challenge is that all the cards must be played here one at a time from the stock, with cards only being played to the foundations once the entire deck is dealt out.

Thoughts: Effectively all the decisions in Strategy happen when you are playing the cards onto the tableau. This means you must ensure that low cards aren't blocked by higher valued ones from the same suit, otherwise you can't win. With clever play, nearly all games can be won, so it's a game of genuine skill, much more so than its ancestor Sir Tommy, which increases the luck of the draw element significantly by only having four columns in the tableau. Some apps require you to deal the cards onto piles instead of columns; this adds an unnecessary memory element, and Strategy works best when you can see all the played cards.

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If you like Spider, you should try Curds and Whey

Overview: Curds and Whey is another ingenious game by card game whiz David Parlett. It belongs in the Spider family, which explains the title as a "Miss Muffet" reference. An entire deck is dealt in thirteen columns of four cards each. The goal, just as in Spider, is to arrange an entire suit in order down from King through Ace, at which point it can be discarded. Building in the tableau happens downwards by suit, but you can also put cards of the same value on each other. Legal sequences can also be moved within the tableau.

Thoughts: I'm not usually fond of Spider games, especially because they typically involve more than one deck, and dealing cards on all the columns tends to bring unpleasant surprises and can quickly cause the game to lock up. Curds and Whey is refreshingly different because all the cards are face-up from the outset, so you're working with perfect information. With four different suits in play, the game would quickly prove impossible if it weren't for the fact that you can pack cards of the same value together. A good amount of games are achievable, and it allows for real skill, making it extremely satisfying to get a win.

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If you like Yukon, you should try Australian Patience

Overview: Australian Patience is in the Yukon family of games, which makes manipulating the tableau easier than in Klondike because you can move any groups of cards as a unit, even if they don't form a sequence. The game starts with seven columns of four face-up cards each, and like other Yukon descendants such as the more difficult Russian Solitaire and its close relative Scorpion, tableau building must happen downward by suit, rather than alternatively by colour. The goal is to build on the four foundations by suit from Ace through King, while going through a stock pile a single time one card at a time.

Thoughts: Australian Patience has become a very popular game since it was first implemented on Thomas Warfield's Pretty Good Solitaire, and it is now found on most solitaire websites and apps. Effectively it takes the basic mechanisms of Yukon variants that build down by suit, and blends this with the Klondike mechanism of having a stock pile to deal through. It is fun to play, but you do quickly run stuck and are dependent on the right cards being drawn. The game often becomes impossible when low valued cards are buried in the waste pile, so count yourself lucky to win about 1 in 5 games. There are some small rule variations that improve your winning chances, like Canberra (one redeal), Tasmanian Solitaire (unlimited redeals), Raw Prawn (empty columns can be filled by any card), and Brisbane (a Yukon type tableau); you will prefer these variations if you want to win more often.

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If you like Forty Thieves, you should try Thirty Six

Overview: Did I say a dozen games? Let's make it a baker's dozen and bring it up to thirteen altogether, because categorizing Thirty Six is a little tricky. It fits loosely within the Forty Thieves family of games, but an argument can also be made that it should be classified elsewhere. An initial tableau of six columns of six cards each is dealt, with Aces immediately placed on the foundations, which must be built up to King for each suit. Suits are ignored when building down in the tableau, and sequences may be moved as a group. The remaining stock is dealt one card at a time, and there are no redeals.

Thoughts: This is a splendid single deck solitaire game that is easy to learn, and is solvable more often than not. Yet it requires skilful play to win regularly, because success depends more on your decisions than it does on luck of the draw. Thirty Six is effectively a variant of Six by Six, which operates similarly but deals cards to the first column rather than a waste pile, making the game much more difficult. The variation Lanes is also more frustrating to complete. In contrast, Thirty Six gets everything right. For a game which offers a similar challenge, but with eight columns and no stock, take a look at Canister, which appears earlier on this list.

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The above games all go to show how diverse the range of solitaire builder games is. Within each family of builder games there is typically a rich number of variations worth exploring. Just because you don't enjoy the main game, doesn't mean that there is no variation within its family that you will like. Often these variants change things up, by making the game harder or easier, or by introducing other twists to the game-play. These small changes can often make all the difference between a game you like and a game you don't like.

The above games are all relatives of the twelve most popular builder solitaire games, but the good news is that there's also many excellent non-builder solitaire games. In my next article I'll take some of the most well known of these (e.g. Golf, Pyramid, and others), and suggest less familiar games that are related to each and that you are likely to enjoy if you appreciate the originals.

Final note: You can certainly play these with an actual deck of playing cards, which is particularly satisfying with an attractive custom deck. But when it comes to learning the rules of a new solitaire game, the best way to play is with the help of a reliable software program, like the ones offered by BVS Solitaire. Their program for Windows is one of the best I've tried, and they also have excellent versions for Mac and for mobile devices.

Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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Fri Jun 10, 2022 9:21 am
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Popular Non-Builder Solitaire Card Games

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Popular Non-Builder Solitaire Card Games

Despite the fact that the world of solitaire card games features a rich diversity of different types of games, most people are only familiar with the classic Klondike, and similar games of its kind like Spider, and FreeCell. Consider yourself more experienced with solitaire than most if you've ever played games like Baker's Dozen, Beleaguered Castle, Canfield, Fan Games, Yukon, or Forty Thieves. But all of these games - and the many related ones that belong to their families - have one thing in common: they share the same basic formula for game-play, since they are all examples of builder games.

Builder games represent the largest slice of the solitaire pie, and are typically what the average person imagines a game of solitaire to be. With builder games, the aim typically is to arrange all the cards by suit in ascending order from Ace through to King. The way this usually works is by allowing players to manipulate cards within a tableau consisting of columns of cards. While rules can vary, the usual pattern sees players permitted to arrange cards within this tableau in descending order, often in alternating colours. Anyone who has ever played the classic Klondike will immediately recognize the style of game-play, and the above mentioned games are all excellent representatives of this genre.

But while builder games are the most popular archetype within the larger world of solitaire card games, there are many terrific solitaire games that don't operate at all according to this formula. The good news for those who like variety is that there are several non-builder solitaire card games that work entirely differently from the typical builder games you've probably played. In this article I'll cover some of the best and more well-known ones. I've used and recommend the excellent software from BVS Solitaire to play most of these.

== Classics ==

Accordion

Overview: Accordion is a classic solitaire game that you will find mentioned in most books that contain one-player card games. The name is very appropriate, since the gameplay has the sense of ironing out accordion pleats, and you'll be moving cards together much like an accordion is played, with the goal of compressing the entire deck into a single pile.

Cards are dealt one at a time in a row, as many as space allows. If you wish, you can even deal the entire deck at the outset of the game. If a card has the same suit or value as the card immediately to its left, or the same suit or value as the card three to its left, it can be placed on that card. The aim of Accordion is to end up with the entire deck of cards in a single pile.

Thoughts: Accordion has a very different feel from the traditional building type of solitaire game, so it's a good game if you are looking to try something different from builder games. While at first you'll make good progress, you'll quickly discover that it's extremely difficult to win, with success estimated to be around 1 in 50 at best. But if you can get the entire deck down to just five cards or less, you can consider yourself to have accomplished a minor victory. The trick to winning is to find four cards of the same value that are grouped together near the end of the layout, and slowly move these four "sweepers" towards the start, eventually placing them on each other to get to a single pile.

If you enjoy this kind of game, also try Royal Marriage, which is also an eliminator solitaire game in the style of Accordion. There are slightly different rules for moving piles in this game, but a key element of game-play is that a King and Queen of the same suit are placed at the start and the end of the layout at the beginning of the game. Your goal is to get them to meet up and be the only two cards left. Push-Pin is similar to Royal Marriage, but comes with the additional challenge of using two decks. Other variants inspired by Accordion include Decade (Ten-Twenty-Thirty), where you remove adjacent cards that total 10, 20, or 30; similarly in Seven Up cards totalling multiples of seven (7, 14, 21 etc) are removed.

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Montana (Gaps)

Overview: Gaps is the name this game is listed as in older books, but it's also commonly described as Montana. Sometimes the name Montana instead refers to a variant way of playing Gaps, as do alternate names like Spaces and Addiction.

The basic concept involves a set-up where a single deck is dealt into four rows of thirteen cards, after which the Aces are removed to create four gaps (hence the alternate name). You can move into the gap a card that is one rank higher and the same suit as the card on its immediate left. Twos can be placed in spaces at the start of each row, while cards cannot be placed to the right of a King. The goal is to arrange each row with cards in the same suit from Two through King. Whenever you get stuck, you can collect the cards that are not in a suited sequence and deal these out again; usually only two such redeals are allowed.

Thoughts: There's more skill to this wonderful solitaire game than first meets the eye, because the order in which cards are moved can make all the difference. Rather than just move any possible card, it is better to identify a card that you want to become a space, and then figure out backwards the sequence of cards that need to be played in order to achieve that.

Variant options are numerous, and include adjustments to the rules such as: allowing more redeals; shuffling or leaving unshuffled the cards before redealing; leaving a space immediately following the remaining sequences when redealing or determining such spaces randomly using Aces; allowing a space to be filled in sequence with the card on its immediate right and not just on its immediate left (Free Parking); or using a stripped deck of just 36 cards (Four Ways). Double Montana and Paganini are two-deck versions, while Maze Solitaire is a closely related single-deck game also well worth playing.

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== Inspired By Other Games ==

Bowling

Overview: Bowling was created by Warren Schwader, and has been popularized by its inclusion in the Hoyle Solitaire Collection software package from Sierra Online in 1988. It has subsequently been implemented digitally on several websites and other software programs. Cards are dealt one at a time onto a layout with ten pin spaces (numbered 1 to 10). They can be placed onto any empty space, as long as the cards are in order of increasing value within these spaces. Any card that can't be placed according to these rules is set aside onto a ball pile.

Successfully playing cards onto all ten pin spaces before needing to discard three cards onto the first ball pile counts as a strike. Achieving this before discarding another three cards onto a second ball pile counts as a spare. Otherwise at the moment when a third card is discarded to the second ball pile you score points for however many pins you've knocked over (i.e. cards placed). Scoring works the same as regular bowling, and a score of more than 150 points over ten such frames is considered a win.

Thoughts: This is an enormously fun game, and is really all about judging the probabilities as cards are turned up and placed one at a time. Your placement options become more limited as cards are placed, but you also have an increasing sense of which cards are more likely to turn up. It is addictive and enjoyable due to the strong push-your-luck element, and the opportunity to use a basic sense of probability to play the odds. The use of standard bowling scoring helps add a real sense of thematic flavour. Getting strikes or spares is very achievable, which leads to realistic scores.

This isn't the only solitaire game with an excellent bowling theme. If you're a fan of real life bowling, you'll also enjoy Sid Sackson's Bowling Solitaire, which is described next.

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Bowling Solitaire

Overview: Despite the similar name, Bowling Solitaire is a very different game from the previous one. It was created by famous American game designer Sid Sackson, and published in his 1969 book A Gamut of Games. Only 20 cards are used, with the Ace through 10 in two suits. Ten cards are randomly placed face-up in the configuration familiar from ten pin bowling. The goal is to remove as many pins as possible in each of ten frames, with scoring working the same as actual bowling. Three piles of face-down cards (five, three, and two cards each) represent your bowling balls. There are a few special restrictions involved in the game-play that I won't explain in detail, but what follows describes the general gist of the flow of play.

You roll a ball by turning over the top cards in these three piles, which you then use one at a time to "bowl" at the pins. Each card played can remove one, two, or three pin cards adding up to its value. Only the last digit of their total is used, and suits are irrelevant in this game. You keep using cards from the ball piles in this way until you get stuck, at which point you move onto your second ball by discarding the top card in each of the three piles and continuing to play. Getting rid of all ten pins with your first ball counts as a strike, while using a second ball to do so counts as a spare; otherwise you score however many pins you have knocked over.

Thoughts: Sid Sackson developed Bowling Solitaire in part as a result of his distaste for traditional builder solitaire games. He certainly succeeded in coming up with a very interesting and original that feels worlds apart from Klondike, and the result is a very clever solitaire game with a lot of thematic flavour. Each frame will play out differently due to the random draw, and the fact that some ball cards are unknown ensures good replayability and adds an element of suspense.

Yet you can make informed decisions, and the luck-of-the-draw is more than mitigated by strategic choices. There's a lot of decisions within the 20 minutes or so that Bowling Solitaire takes to play, and there's scope for real skill and calculated play, to the point that this is very much a game you can actually become good at. To play well it is especially important to keep track of what cards have been used, and to combine this with some basic probability and risk management. A score of anything over 150 can be considered a very good effort, while the rare achievement of reaching 200 is a real success.

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Cribbage Squares

Overview: I'm a huge fan of the card game Cribbage, which originates in the 19th century but remains a popular two-player game today. So it won't come as a surprise that Cribbage Squares had an instant appeal for me. I'm not about to explain the intricacies of regular Cribbage here, aside from saying that this is a classic game well worth learning in its own right. But you'll have to be familiar with Cribbage scoring to play this solitaire game, which does mean that Cribbage Squares won't be accessible to everyone.

Scoring in this game is borrowed directly from standard Cribbage, but the actual mechanics and flow of play are quite different and much simpler. Basically it just involves you dealing cards one at a time and placing them into a 4x4 grid. The seventeenth card functions as the "starter" card, and you score points according to the standard conventions of Cribbage (e.g. for combinations that make up fifteens, pairs, runs, and flushes) for each of the four rows and for each of the four columns in the grid. A score of 61 or higher is usually considered a win.

Thoughts: Fans of Cribbage will find much to like about this clever solitaire game. The fact that the "starter" card is turned up last means that your final score depends a lot on what card is revealed at the end. This can make your final score feel somewhat dependent on a lucky draw, although to be fair the same can be said about the starter card in a regular game of Cribbage.

There are variations that give some options for more skill and choice. To increase the level of strategy, one variation allows you to discard up to ten cards into two reserve piles, giving you more choice of which cards to use. An "open" variant lets you see all the cards before playing any of them.

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Cribbage Solitaire

Overview: Closely related to Cribbage Squares is the game Cribbage Solitaire. This plays much more like standard Cribbage, although neither Cribbage Squares or Cribbage Solitaire incorporates any of the pegging from the original two-player game.

In Cribbage Solitaire you are given a hand of six cards, and discard two to the crib, after which you are given a second hand of six cards, again discarding two to the crib. The next card becomes the starter and usual Cribbage scoring is applied to both hands and to the crib. Players keep a running total of four such deals, and a cumulative score of 101 or higher is considered a win.

Thoughts: There are a number of different ways of playing Cribbage Solitaire that vary things slightly. The most common variation is that besides the two cards that you discard to the crib from your hand of six cards, the crib also receives two random cards. Scoring happens for the hand and the crib after dealing a starter, which is then placed at the bottom of the deck. Six such hands are played, plus a final hand without a crib and starter. When playing this way, an average cumulative total tends to be around 85.

Regardless of which of the above variants you are playing with, there's no doubt that Cribbage Solitaire has a very different feel from Cribbage Squares. Cribbage Squares has more of a positional and spatial aspect to the game-play, where arrangement of the cards is all-important - something not present in traditional Cribbage. Cribbage Solitaire is more about creating the best scoring combinations, and the fact that the crib is given two random cards adds an element of luck and suspense that matches some of the excitement of actual Cribbage scoring.

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Poker Squares

Overview: If you enjoy playing the odds to try to produce good scoring Poker hands, you'll love Poker Solitaire. Since the game-play is quite similar to Cribbage Squares, it is also commonly called Poker Squares. You play 25 cards from a shuffled deck one at a time into a 5x5 grid. Points are then scored for each of the five hands in the rows, and the five hands in the columns. There are two different scoring systems in common use: American and English. The American system awards points as follows: Royal flush 100, Straight flush 75, Four-of-a-kind 50, Full house 25, Flush 20, Straight 15, Three-of-a-kind 10, Two pairs 5, One pair 2.

Unlike the American scoring system, the ranking of the hands in the English system is different, and reflects the relative difficulty of achieving the hands in this solitaire game rather than in a regular game of Poker. The English system awards points as follows: Royal flush 30, Straight flush 30, Four-of-a-kind 16, Straight 12, Full house 10, Flush 5, Three-of-a-kind 6, Two pairs 3, One pair 1.

Thoughts: Flushes are quite easy to make in this game, which immediately gives it a somewhat different feel than regular Poker. A typical strategy involves using the columns to get flushes, and using the rows to get multiples of the same valued card (e.g. pairs, full house, four-of-a-kind). Achieving a specific minimum score of 200 with American scoring and 70 with English scoring is considered a win.

A common variant is to deal all 25 cards face-up and allowing players to move the cards as desired after placing them, in an effort to find the ten best scoring poker hands. Due to the need to calculate scores for every game, Poker Squares lends itself especially well to digital versions, which automate the scoring.

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Tower of Pisa

Overview: Tower of Pisa often goes by the name Tower of Hanoi, since it is inspired by the classic solo puzzle of that name. The original Tower of Hanoi puzzle consists of three pegs, and a number of different sized round discs that fit onto the pegs. The goal is to transfer discs of increasing size one at a time from one peg to another, and end up with all the discs on a different peg, once again in order of increasing size. A key restriction on movement is that you can never place a larger disc on top of a smaller disc. With just three discs, it's possible to solve the puzzle in just seven moves. More moves are required when there are more discs, but through pure logic a solution is always possible.

The solitaire card game based on this traditional puzzle uses the same principles, but starts out differently. You use nine cards (Ace through 9) from one suit, and begin with a starting arrangement of three columns of three cards each, in random order. The goal is to get all nine cards into a single column, arranged upwards in order 9 through Ace. When moving cards from one column to another, you may only move the top card of a column, and you can never place a higher valued card on top of a lower valued one.

Thoughts: The gameplay is effectively the same as a nine disc version of the traditional Towers of Hanoi puzzle. Since the starting set-up of that puzzle is fixed, solving it is a matter of pure recursive logic, and using optimal moves a nine disc puzzle can be solved in exactly 511 moves. In theory the Tower of Pisa solitaire puzzle takes less moves to solve than the classic logical puzzle, since you don't begin with a starting arrangement that takes the largest number of moves to solve. But because you begin with a random arrangement, the path forward is rarely obvious. I find that this actually makes it more interesting and challenging than the classic puzzle, because no game begins the same, and you can't simply use the same pre-set sequence of moves to solve it.

Somewhat surprisingly, this solitaire game seems to be most often found with the unusual spelling Tower of Hanoy (with a Y at the end, rather than with an I at the end like the classic puzzle). The origin of this unexpected spelling seems to be somewhat of a mystery. But you will sometimes find it spelled with an I at the end as well, or with alternate names like Tower of Pisa.

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== Adding and Pairing Games ==

Adding and pairing games are a common archetype for solitaire games in the non-builder genre, and I have covered more than a dozen of these in a separate article about popular adding and pairing games. They rightly form a subclass of their own, and are easily the most common type of non-builder solitaire card game that you will come across. Many of them are quite luck dependent, making them well-suited for casual play. The simpler ones in this genre are especially good for children.

Pairing Games

Overview: Pairing games require you to remove pairs of cards that have a matching value. I'll use Nestor as the representative for this genre, but there are many games of this sort. The majority of them are very simple to learn and play, and pairing games like Simple Pairs and The Wish rely entirely or almost entirely on luck. Others like Concentration (Memory) require you to use your memory skills, while Nestor at least offers some decision making.

With Nestor you deal all the cards into a tableau consisting of eight columns of five cards each, along with a reserve of four cards. The aim of the game is simple: clear the entire tableau, by removing available pairs of cards that have a matching value. Nestor is an open information game, and while luck of the draw can sometimes thwart you, the layout does give room for some planning. There are also several good variations of Nestor worth trying, like Vertical and Doublets.

Related: For a fun pairing game with an interesting spatial element, I recommend Monte Carlo, which involves a moving layout consisting of 25 cards. Beehive and Pile Up (Fifteen Puzzle) are also pairing games that deserve a look, and can be very satisfying to play.

Although it is not a pairing game in the strict sense, Golf is a very popular non-builder game. The basic mechanic is similar to pairing games, but rather than removing matching cards of the same value, you remove pairs that are one higher or lower in value. Golf is an excellent and straight-forward game that I highly recommend for casual gamers wanting to try a simple solitaire game that is very different from the usual builder genre. There are many variants, with the Tri-Peaks variation being especially well-known because it's part of the Microsoft Windows Solitaire Collection. Other excellent solitaire games that use the Golf mechanic of removing cards one higher or lower in value are Black Hole and Eliminator.

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Adding Games

Overview: Adding games require you to remove cards with a combined value of a particular total such as 13. Pyramid is the most common game of this sort, and is widely known as a result of its inclusion in the Microsoft Solitaire Collection. It's a good representative of the adding genre, and is easy to learn.

To play Pyramid, you deal 28 cards in the shape of a pyramid. The idea is to remove cards that make up a pair adding to 13, with Jacks, Queens, and Kings counting as 11, 12, and 13. Kings don't need to be paired with another card. Any card that is uncovered can be used, and you also deal through the deck one at a time, and can pair the face-up card to remove an available card from the pyramid if those two cards add to 13. You win the game if you clear the entire pyramid. Pyramid has a lot of common variations to increase the chances of winning.

Related: While Pyramid is the natural poster-child for the genre of adding games, there are many other excellent games of this sort. Thirteens (also called Simple Addition) uses the same concept of removing cards that add up to 13 but has an entirely different layout. Other basic adding games involve pairs of cards that add to different totals, such as ten, eleven, fourteen, fifteen, and even as much as eighteen. Some of these are open information games, which allow you more planning.

Adding games with some more interesting aspects to the game-play include Ninety One, which as the name suggests requires you to make an arrangement of cards adding to 91. Arguably the best in the genre is David Parlett's terrific Exit (alternative name Gay Gordons), which gives a lot of room for planning ahead and decision making.

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Conclusion

There is a good reason why builder games are so popular, one being that a deck of cards naturally lends itself to collecting sets according to suit in order from Ace through King. But one disadvantage of the genre of builder games is that they can feel somewhat alike, and despite all the many variations in game play, ultimately you are trying to achieve the same kind of thing.

In contrast, non-builder solitaire card games offer something completely fresh and different. With games like the ones featured in this article, you are guaranteed to find yourself with a solitaire challenge that will require you to think quite differently than with the traditional Klondike. These are great games that will have you thinking outside of the box, and exploring completely new and interesting ways of game-play.

Since these non-builder solitaire games typically take you somewhat outside of the realm of the familiar, I recommend finding a good digital implementation of them, because it will make it much easier to learn the rules correctly. The excellent solitaire software and apps created by BVS Solitaire make an excellent choice. In the case of the non-builder games based on existing games like Cribbage or Poker, you'll likely already be familiar with the basic mechanics, and many of these lend themselves well to be played with an actual deck in hand.

If ever you've wondered if there's more to solitaire than the version found on most desktop computers, then you really owe it to yourself to try some of these fantastic non-builder games, to see how different and rewarding solitaire really can be!

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Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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Simple Builder Solitaire Card Games

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Simple Builder Solitaire Card Games

Solitaire games can be a great way to pass the time, either with a deck of actual playing cards in hand, or using a quality app or computer program like BVS Solitaire. One advantage of playing a digital version is that it will do the hard work of shuffling and dealing the cards for you, and enforce the rules, making new games easier to learn and play.

But where should you start, especially if you are new to solitaire card games, or want something so easy that you can even teach it to children? In a previous article I have already covered adding and pairing games, since those are the easiest kind of solitaire games. These types of games simply require players to match cards of the same value, or cards that add up to a certain total.

Many solitaire card games, however, involve more in the way of strategy and decisions, and by far the most fall into a different category, namely: builder games. The usual formula of a builder game is that you must manipulate a tableau and arrange each of the four suits in order from Ace through King. The most common solitaire game of all time, Klondike, is a perfect example of a builder game.

There are varying amounts of luck and strategy in a builder game, depending on which one you are playing. But there are a number of builder gamers that are very easy to play, and are ideal for introducing this genre to children, and are perfect for newbies. The ease of play does often mean they are quite luck dependent, but they are still rewarding and fun. The games below are all well-known and popular builder games that are simple to play, making them an excellent launching point for new players or for children, and they do a good of introducing you to what builder games are about.

== Simple Builder Games ==

Auld Lang Syne

Overview: Auld Lang Syne begins with four foundation Aces, and from the deck you deal four cards face-up into what will become four columns. You may play exposed cards to the foundations, building up by suit, with the goal of playing all the cards in each suit from Ace through King. Whenever you get stuck, you deal four more cards to these columns.

Thoughts: This is a simple game in the Sir Tommy family of solitaire games. Sir Tommy is also known as Old Patience, Try Again, Numerica, and is often considered to be the oldest patience game, and may well have been the source that inspired all the solitaire builder games that followed it. While very luck-based and mechanical, Auld Lang Syne is still a fun game for children, and is a good introduction to what building games are about. You really need to be lucky in order to have any chance of winning, because no building is allowed on the tableau. Because Auld Lang Syne is almost impossible to finish completely, make the goal to play as many cards as possible, or try one of the variants that increase winning chances.

Related: Other Sir Tommy variants like Acquaintance and Old Fashioned are slightly easier versions of Auld Lang Syne, and increase the odds of a win. There are many other related games in the Sir Tommy family that involve more decisions, and make an excellent next step, given how luck-dependent it is and how difficult it can be to win. For example, Strategy has similar game-play, but lets you turn over one card at a time and play it to one of eight waste piles

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Captive Queens (Quadrille) and Contradance (Cotillion)

Overview: Captive Queens is the most common name for this game, but it also goes under French names like Quadrille, La Francaise, or Partners. The four Queens go in the center, and the stock is dealt one at a time. There are eight foundations, four that are built by suit upwards from six through Jack, and four that are built by suit downwards from five through King (Kings going on the Aces). Three redeals are allowed. The two deck game Contradance (Cotillion) works in exactly the same way, but uses two decks, and has a single redeal.

Thoughts: Both Captive Queens and Contradance are somewhat mindless and luck-based games that simply require close observation. But they make a pleasant and rewarding pattern at game end, which is probably why the French names for both games (Quadrille and Cotillion) refer to country dances from the 18th-19th centuries. In the case of Contradance, a win rewards you by showing the Queens and the Kings face up.

Related: The closely related game Sixes and Sevens builds up from sevens and down from sixes, and adds a little more interest with the help of a nine-card reserve in the shape of a 3x3 grid. Other two-deck games much like this are Royal Cotillion, Odd and Even, and Patriarchs. All of these bring in some skill by waiting for an ideal card to show up on the top of the waste pile before playing a playable card in the reserve to make space for it.

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Carpet

Overview: Carpet is a relaxing single deck game, with a tableau arranged in a 5x4 grid. This is considered the "carpet", and effectively functions as a reserve of 20 face-up cards. The four Aces normally make up the initial foundations, and the aim is to build up on these by suit up to the Kings. You deal the stock just once a single card at a time, and whenever a card is taken from the reserve area and placed on the foundations, that row is moved to fill the space, with the top card from the waste used to replenish the moving carpet.

Thoughts: This game offers enough strategy to make it rewarding, while still remaining easy to play. To play well you should aim to fill empty spaces with cards that can soon be played to the foundation, leaving higher ranking cards in the discard pile until later in the game. If possible, you should use the carpet to build up chains of cards that can be played in immediate succession. The 5x4 tableau is really just a changing reserve of 20 cards, but the moving carpet concept gives added visual appeal and interest to the game.

Related: If you enjoy Carpet, you should also take a look at Four Winds, which has a very similar feel in play. It starts with 16 tableau piles shaped like a compass, along with foundations for all four of the directions North, East, South, and West. You deal through the stock twice, and can only place cards matching the suit of the foundation in the four spaces of the tableau allocated to that foundation. There are also some two-deck games that have a 20 card tableau like Carpet, and a similar feel, but incorporate some Sir Tommy type elements for placing more cards on the tableau and thus more strategy. These include the closely related Twenty (Sly Fox), Colorado, Grandmother's Patience, and Grandfather's Patience. All of these are excellent games that are quite easy and satisfying to play.

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Fortune's Favor

Overview: Fortune's Favor requires a single deck, and the goal is to build up the foundations by suit from Ace through King. A tableau of twelve face-up cards is used, with only single cards allowed to be moved, building down in the tableau by suit, and empty spaces filled from the waste and stock. Cards from the stock can be played onto the foundations or tableau.

Thoughts: No redeal is allowed in Fortune's Favor, and manipulation within the tableau is somewhat limited, but because you have a large tableau and only a single deck, the chances of success are very good, so wins are common. It's wise to play cards to the foundations whenever you can, while it's best to leave high valued cards (e.g. 9s, 10s, and court cards) in the waste pile, while using empty spaces and building in the tableau to get lower valued cards into play.

Related: Fortune's Favor is a simple single-deck descendant of the two-deck Busy Aces, which represents a small family of solitaire games that are somewhat related to the classic Forty Thieves, but play considerably easier. Many of the Forty Thieves style games that use two decks are quite difficult to win, and require real skill. But the games in the Busy Aces family are more accessible, especially those that only use a single deck.

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Osmosis (Treasure Trove)

Overview: While not in many older books on solitaire, Osmosis is certainly a very popular game on a lot of websites. It's unusual in that cards are built up by suit regardless of value. There are four reserve piles with four cards each, but the main part of the game comes by dealing through the deck and playing to the foundations. The interesting part of this game is that you can only play a particular card on the next foundation if a card of the same value is on the previous foundation. As a result, cards of the same value slowly filter through to successive foundations by `osmosis', hence the name. You can redeal the stock as many times as you like.

Thoughts: Osmosis breaks away from the usual mould of building games in a few interesting ways, which help make it stand out as unique. It's also enjoyable and relaxing to play, even though much of the game relies simply on careful observation rather than strategy. The most common way of playing Osmosis involves dealing three cards at a time. Just like one of the main ways of playing Klondike, this can add a strategic element by sometimes leaving a playable card, in the hope that you'll get to see different cards on your next deal. Dealing one card at a time does make the game easier. Either way, your ability to succeed often depends on being able to successfully get out the cards from the reserves.

Related: In a common variant called Peek, the cards in the reserves are played face-up. Bridesmaids is another related variant.

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Sultan (Emperor of Germany)

Overview: Sultan is also known as Sultan of Turkey, or Emperor of Germany. The Middle East theme is evident in that the goal is to have the Sultan (King of Hearts) surrounded by his eight Queens, while the reserve is sometimes described as a "divan" (couch). This two deck game begins with the Sultan surrounded by the other seven Kings and an Ace. These eight surrounding cards are the foundations you'll build up on (turning the corner from Ace) to the Queens. The divan consists of two reserve columns of cards on each side, and the rest of the deck is dealt one card at a time, with two re-deals allowed.

Thoughts: This game is a builder game that is quite easy and very fun to play, is often recommended as a simple game suitable for children and beginners. Careful management of the divan is critical to success. Ideally you want spaces in the divan filled with lower cards. This becomes extra tricky in variants of the game where the divan is automatically filled from the top card of the waste pile, so you shouldn't always play a card to the foundations immediately if it means the divan gets filled with a card that won't be played until much later. Careful play will nearly always lead to a win in Sultan, without the game ever becoming brain-burning.

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Westcliff

Overview: Klondike is the classic solitaire game most people will be familiar with, but if you're looking for a slightly simpler Klondike-style game for children or beginners that you can win most of the time, Westcliff is one of the easiest in this family. The goal is to build the four foundations by suit from Ace through King, and the initial layout involves ten piles, each with three cards (two face-down and one face-up). This tableau can be built downwards by alternating colour, just like in Klondike, and the stock is dealt one card at a time.

Thoughts: There is no re-deal of the stock, but the game is so easy you can win virtually all of your games anyway, making it an excellent introduction to other building games like Klondike.

Related: Many other more challenging games in the Klondike family exist, but there is a range of levels of difficulty. Another good simple one to try besides Westcliff is Thumb and Pouch.

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Conclusion

Playing cards naturally lend themselves to builder-style solitaire games, due to the arrangement of cards in a deck into four suits with 13 rankings. Builder games like Klondike, Spider, and FreeCell are arguably the three most played solitaire games of all time, and there are many other popular ones in this genre, like Baker's Dozen, Beleaguered Castle, Canfield, Fan Games, Yukon, and Forty Thieves. Some of these can give significant opportunity for skill and decision making, while others are simply difficult to win.

It's good to know that there are some simpler builder games, which serve as a better starting point if you're looking for something slightly easier to play. While the luck-of-the-draw element will always remain a factor, many of the above games have the advantage that they enable you to successfully complete the game more often than not, and that they are simple to learn and play. More meaty builder games do exist for those wanting deeper games offering more of a challenge, but meanwhile simpler games like the ones covered above will give you a great introduction to the fun that solitaire card games offer.

So get yourself a good program or app like BVS Solitaire, or pull out your favourite deck of cards, and get playing!

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Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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Simple Non-Builder Solitaire Card Games

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Simple Non-Builder Solitaire Card Games

Solitaire card games are ideal for playing casually on your own, because they are typically quite easy to learn and play. This is especially the case if you're using digital software to help you learn and play the game. Using an app or computer program like BVS Solitaire to play solitaire enforces the rules, and will manage a lot of the bookkeeping and organizing of the cards for you, avoiding the need for any shuffling and dealing. As a result, solitaire games are very accessible, and can be played and enjoyed by almost anyone.

But what about solitaire games that are so simple to play that they can even be enjoyed by children? And which solitaire games exactly would be good choices to introduce to younger kids? Fortunately the range of solitaire card games is so diverse that there are many excellent and simple solitaire games that are perfectly suited to people of all ages that want something very easy or casual to play.

Builder card games like the most well-known solitaire game of them all, Klondike, aren't normally best suited for this purpose. These typically require players to manipulate a tableau and arrange each of the four suits in order from Ace through King. While they have luck elements, they sometimes also give room for real skill and strategy. In contrast, non-builder card games tend to have more straight-forward aims and simpler game-play, making them especially well-suited for beginning players, or for those looking for a lighter game-play experience.

What you'll find here are perhaps the simplest solitaire games of them all, which makes many of them perfect to introduce to younger children. And because of their simpler mechanics, most of these are also well-suited to being played with an actual deck of playing cards.

== Your Very First Solitaire Game ==

We'll begin with what is arguably the simplest solitaire game of them all, and a true classic: Clock Solitaire. Precisely because it is a purely mechanical process, Clock Patience is an ideal game for introducing children to a deck of playing cards, get them familiar with the different values and suits, and have fun at the same time.

Clock Patience

Overview: Clock Patience is found in nearly all books with solitaire games, and exactly the same game can be played with a non-clock layout under the name Travellers. The cards are dealt in the shape of a clock, with a pile of four face-down cards at each hour's position plus four cards in the center. Starting with a center card, you turn up a card and move it face-up to the hour matching its value, with Kings played to the center. Then you turn up that card and do the same, continuing this process. The game ends when you turn up the fourth King, and you win if you've managed to turn up all the cards at this point.

Thoughts: This simple game is an exercise in pure luck, and is an entirely mechanical process with no decisions. Yet younger children will often delight in the simple matching exercise this involves, and play this over and over in an effort to get the satisfaction of achieving a win. The odds of winning Clock Patience are exactly 1 in 13, but several variants and related games increase the odds, or add decisions to the game-play (e.g. Watch Solitaire, Order Time, Dial, Big Ben). German Clock (commonly called The Clock) is an entirely different game with a Clock setup that is also worth trying for beginners. Grandfather's Clock is a builder game that requires far more skill and decisions.

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== Simple Adding & Pairing Games ==

Adding and pairing games are naturally well-suited as simple games, because they rely on the very simple mechanic of requiring you to either match cards of the same value, or match cards that add up to a certain value. I have already covered some of the best of this genre in another article entitled Popular adding and pairing solitaire games.

However that article only covers games of this type that are more rewarding and satisfying, and require a slightly higher level of decision making. I deliberately omitted simpler and more luck-based adding and pairing games suitable for children, saving them for the section below. Note that aside from the game Thirteens, the games immediately below are all pairing rather than adding games, so even the ability to perform basic addition isn't required in order to play any of them.

Aces Up

Overview: Aces Up (less commonly called Aces High, and other names like Firing Squad) is a classic and very easy solitaire game found in most books and collections. The tableau consists of four face-up piles, with an initial deal of just one card on each. If two cards have a matching suit, you can discard the lower valued card, and this is the main mechanism of the game you'll be repeating over and over. When you're stuck, you deal four more cards from the deck and continue this process. Empty spaces in the tableau are filled by a top card from any pile. You score points for every discarded card, with the goal of discarding everything except leaving just the four aces up, hence the name.

Thoughts: This game is one of three different games that sometimes also go under the name Idiot's Delight (the other two being the somewhat similar Perpetual Motion and King Albert), due to the low chances of winning. It is extremely easy and relaxing to play, since the main mechanism is simply to discard a card whenever you have two cards with a matching suit. While there's not a lot of decisions, there's enough to keep it interesting, and it's suspenseful to see whether the luck of the draw will help you discard everything except the Aces. It doesn't happen that often, but sometimes you can discard a large number of cards in succession.

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Memory (Concentration)

Overview: Memory will be familiar to most people as a multi-player game, but it can also be played solitaire with a regular deck of cards. All the cards are laid out face-down in a number of rows. Two cards are turned face-up at a time, and can be removed if they are a matching pair, otherwise they are replaced face-down. The goal is to remove all the cards in pairs of the same rank. The game can be simplified even further for younger children by using just 12 pairs of cards, for a total of 24 cards instead of a full deck of 52.

Thoughts: This game is most familiar as a competitive game under the name Memory. But it can be turned into a solitaire game by adding a scoring system, e.g. you lose a point for each unsuccessful match, and gain five points for every successful match. Alternatively you can simply try to clear the tableau in as few turns as possible. According to probability gurus, perfect memorization and optimal strategy requires an expected value of 41.4 moves.

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Perpetual Motion

Overview: Perpetual Motion has somewhat of a similar feel to Aces Up, with four cards being dealt at a time. Unlike Aces Up, you're looking for cards with matching ranks rather than matching suits. When two exposed cards have the same rank/value, they are placed on top of each other. When you manage to get all four cards of the same rank on top of each other, they are discarded. The goal is to discard the entire deck in this way, redealing as often as necessary.

Thoughts: Perpetual Motion has obtained its alternative name Idiot's Delight due to the fact that it's only achievable slightly over half of the time, and in the case of successful games it takes an average of 128 rounds to complete. Some variant ways of playing do make the game more fun, such as the variant where cards of matching rank aren't moved to the left column, but can be moved to whichever column contains one of the cards. This allows for more decision making and greatly improves the game and your winning chances.

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Simple Pairs

Overview: As the name suggests, Simple Pairs is indeed a simple game. You deal nine cards in a 3x3 grid, and remove any matching pairs, immediately filling spaces thus created from the stock.

Thoughts: This is a much simpler pairing game that is entirely luck-based, to which games like Nestor and Vertical add further complexity and decision making. The variation Criss Cross has just five tableau piles, making it even harder to complete successfully, and is also a game of luck.

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The Wish

Overview: One of the simplest games there is, with The Wish you remove all the 2s through 6s from a deck, and shuffle the remainder of the deck into eight piles of four cards each, with the top card of each pile always face-up. Matching pairs are removed, and the idea is to successfully get rid of all the cards.

Thoughts: There are very few decisions along the way, but despite this almost coming down to luck, it's still satisfying to complete successfully, and suspenseful to see if the cards will turn out. The speedy game time really helps too. In some variations (e.g. Genie) all the cards are face-up and visible, which adds some element of skill and planning. The Wish is effectively a simplified version of the Nestor variant Doublets, a pairing game.

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Thirteens (Simple Addition)

Overview: The game Thirteens (also called Good Thirteen, or Simple Addition) has a layout of ten cards. Cards need to add up to 13 to be removed, with the Jacks counting as 11, Queens as 12, and Kings as 13.

Thoughts: This is a simple adding game in the style of Fifteens, which employs a 4x4 grid, and allows you to remove pairs of cards that add up exactly to 15. Fifteens presents a larger challenge, however, because court cards and 10s need four-of-a-kind to be removed. A lot of luck can be required to win Thirteens. A closely related adding game that increases your winning chances is Tens, which has 13 tableau piles and allows you to replenish cards immediately after they are removed.

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Tri-Peaks

Overview: Strictly speaking Tri-Peaks isn't a matching game, since in this game you are removing cards one higher or less in value than the current card. The layout has an arrangement of three adjacent pyramids (hence the name) of six cards each, and a lower row of ten cards. After dealing a card face-up from the remaining stock to the waste pile, you remove to the waste pile any cards in the tableau that aren't covered by other cards, each time going up or down in value by one. The aim is to remove all the cards in the layout while going once through the deck.

Thoughts: Tri-Peaks is a descendant of Golf, which applies similar game-play to a tableau of seven columns with five cards each. In Golf you can plan your moves since so many cards are face-up, but not being able to `wrap' from Aces to Kings or vice-versa makes it quite difficult. Like Tri-Peaks, Putt Putt removes this restriction, which makes the game much easier than standard Golf (although this is also how many software programs implement Golf). Tri-Peaks simplifies things along similar lines, and shot to popularity after being included in Microsoft Windows' standard solitaire suite. Robert Hogue created it in 1989, and his analysis suggests that most Tri-Peaks games are solvable.

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== Other Simple Solitaire Games ==

As far as simpler solitaire games go, adding and pairing games represent the most common and well-known type, given the simplicity of the mechanism involved. But there are a few lesser known solitaire games that don't rely on adding or pairing, and yet are extremely simple to play, such as the examples below.

Hit or Miss

Overview: Hit or Miss is an entirely mechanical game where you simply deal out a deck one card at a time, counting cards as you go using the values of a suit: "Ace, Two, Three, etc." You carry on all the way to "Jack, Queen, King," at which point you start over with "Ace..., etc." Each time the card you deal matches the value of your count, that card is considered "hit" and is removed from the deck. After going through the entire deck, you repeat the entire procedure. The game stops if you deal through all the cards twice without getting a single hit, and the aim is to eliminate all the cards from the deck.

Thoughts: I first came across this game in The Little Book of Solitaire (Running Press, 2002), and was pleasantly surprised at the level of fun it produced, despite its simplicity. It's a pure exercise in luck, yet it incorporates an element of suspense that makes it surprisingly enjoyable. If you can count from Ace through King, and can recognize the numbers/values, then you can play this game, so it's very easy to do. Very closely related is the solitaire game Frustration, which uses the same dealing and counting process, but has the opposite aim: you win only if you deal through the entire deck without getting a single hit.

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Higher/Lower

Overview: In the simple game of Higher/Lower, which is less well-known than the other games above, you only use a single suit of playing cards, i.e. 13 cards in total. After the first card is dealt face-up, your aim is to correctly guess whether the next card is higher or lower in rank than the previous card. You win if you successfully manage to guess all the 12 cards after the initial one.

Thoughts: I first stumbled on this game on the Solitaire Suite app from RikkiGames. It is more fun than it seems, because you do have probability on your side. Even so, it took me over 100 games to score three wins. But with a digital version it's quick and easy to play, with each game typically lasting less than half a minute. The further you get through the 13 cards, the more information you have to work with, because you know what cards have been played, and this means you aren't just guessing randomly, but have informed knowledge, and can quickly calculate the probability of whether the next card is higher or lower. Much more fun that it first appears!

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Others

I have come across some other simple games that are far less known that are also fun. For example, I quite enjoyed the game 52 Pickup which I came across in the All-In-One Solitaire app from Pozirk Games. All the cards are dropped into a face-up mess, and then you have to grab them all as quickly as you can - but there is a catch: the next card you can pick up must be equal to or one value higher/lower than the last card you picked up. This gives it the feel of a game of Golf with added real-time tension.

The same app introduced me to 60/90 Seconds, which is also a Golf-style of solitaire, where you race against the clock to collect cards one value higher or lower than the dealt center card, earning as many points as you can in either 60 seconds or in 90 seconds.

Conclusion

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does represent some of the best and well-known simple adding and pairing games, and a few other simple non-builder solitaire card games. Undoubtedly there are others that could be added. But this should give you a great entry point for keeping your children amused with a simple solitaire game with a standard deck of playing cards, or even for yourself.

I especially recommend playing with a lovely custom deck of cards, because even a simple solitaire card game serves as a great way to appreciate and enjoy the artwork and design of a quality custom deck. Or alternatively, play digitally with the help of some excellent software like BVS Solitaire, which allows you to choose from different solitaires by type, including many simpler adding and pairing games.

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Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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Popular Adding and Pairing Solitaire Card Games

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Popular Adding and Pairing Solitaire Card Games

Most people identify "solitaire" with Klondike, which is easily the most popular and familiar solitaire card game. But the average person often doesn't realize that there's a rich diversity within the family of solitaire games. Some are very casual games that can be played in a very relaxed frame of mind, and can come down to blind luck of the draw and mechanical play. Others require real skill to play well, and can involve strategic placement and careful card counting.

In previous articles I've covered the three most played solitaire card games in the world, namely Klondike, Spider, and FreeCell. This trinity of classics does not represent the best solitaire games of all time, but simply shot to stardom by being included in the software that Microsoft packaged with every Windows system since the 1990s. As a result, almost everyone who has used a personal computer has played one or all these versions of solitaire. Two other classic solitaire games were later added to the Microsoft Solitaire Collection, and are also well-known favourites, namely Pyramid and Golf, with Tri-Peaks being the Golf variant used by Microsoft.

Pyramid and Golf are widely considered to belong to the category of matching games, usually referred to as "adding and pairing games". In these types of solitaire games, the objective is usually to match two cards, either by adding two cards together to reach a certain value (e.g. a Six and a Seven to make 13), or by pairing two cards of the same rank (e.g. two Aces) or two cards of adjacent ranks (e.g. an Ace and a Two). Given how easy these kinds of solitaire games are, they are ideal for children and first-timers to enjoy. At the same time they are also popular with adults looking for something easy, relaxing, and casual to play.

Many fine adding and pairing solitaire games exist, and Pyramid and Golf are a good place to begin if you want to get a taste of what such games are like. But there are plenty of others in this category that you should know about, and which you might even enjoy more, and in this article I'll cover some of the more popular solitaire games of this sort. Most of these are games that I've had personal experience with and found to be particularly satisfying or superior in some way.

NB: You can play these solitaire games on many websites, but I've chosen to use Solitaired for most of them, simply because it's free and easy to use, so the accompanying screenshots below are typically of games on their site. If you're looking for a good solitaire program for your PC or app for your mobile device, I highly recommend BVS Solitaire.

== Pairing Games ==

Beehive

Overview: Beehive has a starting layout much like the Canfield variant Storehouse, except that the ten card reserve is called a "beehive". The goal is to move cards around a six card tableau, trying to build piles of four cards of the same value, which can then be removed. The stock is dealt three cards at a time, and you can only move cards to an empty space in the tableau or onto a card of the same value.

Thoughts: This game is fairly easy to play and to win, but it's still satisfying to play, making it a good introductory level solitaire game for beginners. Despite the frequency of your successes, it still offers a pleasant and relaxing diversion.

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Monte Carlo

Overview: The goal of Monte Carlo is to discard the entire deck, which begins in a 5x5 grid. Any pairs of cards that are immediately adjacent (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) and that match in rank can be removed. The tableau can be consolidated at any time by moving cards up in the grid to remove the empty spaces, and by dealing new cards to bring the total cards back to 25.

Thoughts: This was one of the very first solitaire card games I ever learned as a teenager, and is still a game I enjoy playing quite a bit. If you remove all the possible pairs before consolidating, it becomes a game of pure luck. But you add interesting choices by giving yourself the option to consolidate the cards at any time, which forces you to envisage where the cards will end up after removing spaces. Sometimes it is a better move not to remove a matching pair in order to open up better options. Careful planning in this way will usually be rewarded, and a large number of games can be won.

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More: If you enjoy the spatial and matching elements of Monte Carlo, also take a look at Aces Square. This simplifies things by requiring you to match cards of the same suit that are in the same row or column, and results in a simple matching game that is particularly fun to play. On the other hand, if you want to ramp up the strategy of Monte Carlo, you simply must try Slide. This solitaire game was created by Warren Schwader in 1988, and features 24 cards in a grid that consists of four rows of six cards each. By playing cards to the right or left of a row, the entire row moves sideways, and the goal is to remove cards by aligning three cards of the same value in a vertical column. It is both unique and enjoyable.

Nestor

Overview: With all cards dealt face-up into a 8x5 tableau and a four card reserve, the object of Nestor is to discard matching cards of the same rank, in this manner trying to clear the entire tableau.

Thoughts: The fact that the entire tableau is visible means that quite a bit of planning is possible. While the luck of the draw still dominates and it isn't easy to achieve a victory, with repeated attempts it is not impossible to win. In the Nestor variation Vertical, there is a 7x6 tableau and a 10 card reserve, making it easier to win; while in the variation Doublets, there is a 12x4 tableau and a 4 card reserve. The Wish is a simplified version of Doublets, and is perfect for complete novices or children.

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Pile Up (Fifteen Puzzle)

Overview: Pile Up (sometimes called Pile Sort or Fifteen Puzzle) is a very straight forward game to learn and play. An entire deck is dealt into 13 piles of four random cards each, overlapping so you can see all the cards. Two additional empty spaces bring the tableau to 15 piles. The goal is to have each pile consist of four cards of the same rank, but you can only move a card onto a card with a matching value, and you can never exceed four cards a pile, so you have to use the empty spaces (onto which any card can be placed) wisely.

Thoughts: Despite the ease of game-play, the limits you're working with make this a real challenge to complete. The fact that the information is completely open gives real room for skill, and makes it very rewarding to play. Playing a digital version and using "undo" should enable you to win quite often. The game-play has the feel of a pairing game since you're arranging cards by value rather than suit, and because you'll need to match pairs to determine legal moves. If you enjoy this game, chances are good that you'll also like the game Beehive covered earlier in this list.

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Golf

Overview: Golf isn't a pairing game in the strictest sense, which is why I've left it to last in this section. But has a similar feel so it deserves at least some mention here. A total of 28 cards are dealt in seven columns of four cards each. You deal a card from the stock, and then can remove any available card that is one higher or lower in value. Proceeding through the stock once, the aim is to remove the entire tableau this way.

Thoughts: This is a super quick game that only takes a couple of minutes to play, and is easy and fun. There are many common rule variations, the most common ones making the game easier by allowing turning the corner from Ace to King (e.g. Putt Putt). Tri-Peaks is a very popular variation included in Microsoft Windows, and is easier to win due to its altered starting layout. Other variations that change how the tableau is organized by play in a similar way include Golf Rush and Cheops. If you enjoy the idea of removing cards one higher or lower in value, you should also try the games Black Hole and Eliminator.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of all pairing games. I've already mentioned several variations and games related to the above ones, and there are others as well. Due to the simple mechanism employed by matching games involving pairs, a number of very simple pairing games exist, which I'll save for coverage in a separate article devoted to very simple solitaire games more suited to children.

== Adding Games ==

Blackjack Squares

Overview: In Blackjack Squares (also called Blackjack 21s), cards are dealt into a 3x3 grid, and you can remove any combination of cards that totals 21. Kings, Queens, and Jacks are considered to be worth 10, and Aces are worth either 1 or 11 according to what you need. Cards removed are replenished from the stock, and you win if you successfully manage to work your way through the deck until no cards remain in the stock. There are several variations which adjust the rules for Blackjack Squares in one or more ways.

Thoughts: This game will naturally appeal to those who enjoy the classic game of Blackjack. But besides Blackjack Squares, there are also a number of other solitaire games which turn the concept of the traditional casino game of Blackjack into a solitaire game. So there are others to try, but I found this one particularly easy to learn and satisfying to play.

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Fifteens

Overview: Fifteens is set-up by dealing cards into a 4x4 grid, and cards are then discarded and replenished if two or more add up to exactly 15. Kings, Queens, Jacks, and Tens are only discarded in sets of four of the same rank. The goal is to get through the entire deck in this fashion.

Thoughts: This is a relaxing game, where the real challenge comes as a result of only being able to remove court cards and tens as a quartet. These will start clogging up the grid until they get removed, thereby increasing the tension as you play. In the easier variation Straight Fifteens the court cards and tens can be removed in a group of one of each, rather than a four-of-a-kind. Fifteen Rush has the goal of removing cards that add to 15 (or a pair of Aces), but applies this concept to a Klondike style set-up and deal. You only have partial information to work with due to most cards being face-down, but having seven piles and a stock dealt three cards at a time makes it significantly easier to win.

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More: Several games work in basically the same way as Fifteens and its immediate siblings, but involve adding to totals other than 15. Similar to Straight Fifteens is Elevens, where the layout is a 3x3 grid, and pairs adding to eleven are removed, as well as triplets consisting of a King, Queen, and Jack. Block Ten also uses a 3x3 grid, and requires you to remove pairs adding to 10 (court cards are paired with the matching rank), while 10s remain to block the grid; this can be frustrating due to the high luck element. Tens is a game of luck that works more like Fifteens, with removed cards immediately being replenished, but has 13 tableau piles, and at least you will occasionally get a win. The common game Thirteens (also called Simple Addition) has a layout of ten cards, and cards need to add up to 13 to be removed. There are even games like Eighteens which require you to remove groups of three cards adding to eighteen, each time along with a court card.

Five Piles (Baroness)

Overview: The goal of the game of Five Piles (commonly also called Baroness) is to remove pairs that add up to 13 just like in Pyramid. But instead of replenishing cards as they are removed, five cards are dealt at a time. As the game progresses and cards can't be played, these will become five columns of overlapping cards (hence the alternative name Five Piles), with only the top card playable.

Thoughts: Five Piles is a very difficult game to complete successfully, and you're often dependent on luck of the draw. But much like Pyramid, it is something that plays very quickly, and it's a challenge to just play again and again in an attempt to eke out a win.

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Fourteen Out

Overview: Alternatively called by a variety of names including Fourteen Off, Take Fourteen, and simply Fourteen, Fourteen Out is an adding game in the style of Pyramid but with 12 columns of four face-up cards each (four get an extra card). The idea is to remove cards that add up to 14, with Jacks, Queens, and Kings having a value of 11, 12, and 13.

Thoughts: Because this is an open information game with the entire deck laid out, you can plan carefully, and it is possible to accomplish a win at least half the time by making careful choices. Fourteen Out has the feel of Pyramid, but is much less restrictive and more rewarding, and is a very fun casual game. Tens Out is a variant in the same vein, but where pairs adding to 10 are removed. Also similar is Juvenile, which uses two decks, has a starting tableau of 16 columns with six cards and one column with eight cards, and pairs adding to 14 are removed.

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Gay Gordons (Exit)

Overview: Created by famous games scholar David Parlett, Gay Gordons (alternative name Exit) is one of the best in the adding and pairing genre. Cards are dealt into a tableau consisting of ten columns with five cards each and one column with two cards. Pairs adding up to eleven are removed, with Jacks matching other Jacks, and Kings matching any Queen of a different suit.

Thoughts: This is a terrific solitaire game with a lot of room for planning ahead, given that all the cards are dealt face-up. Chances of success are good, especially if you plan carefully and make good decisions about which cards to remove, watching to ensure no essential cards prove blocked in the late game. This game could arguably be grouped together with the similar games listed under Fourteen Out, but is such an excellent game that it deserves separate mention.

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Kings in the Corners

Overview: Slightly more difficult than the previously mentioned Fifteens is Kings in the Corners (or simply Kings Corner, but not to be confused with another game also called Kings in the Corners). This has you play cards to a 4x4 grid with the goal of getting the court cards to the outside spots: the Kings in the corners, the Queens on the sides, and the Jacks at the top and bottom. Each time the square is full, you can remove cards adding to ten. You lose if you draw a court card that cannot be placed, or if the grid is full and you cannot remove cards.

Thoughts: This solitaire game is best played digitally, because it requires liberal use of the "undo" button if you're going to avoid frustration. But with persistence it can be completed successfully on a regular basis, making it an easy game that has enough choices and push-your-luck elements to make it satisfying to play. The tactical and positional element of the game, where you have to place court cards in specific spots, makes it especially interesting, and adds an enjoyable aspect of tension.

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Monte Carlo 13s

Overview: Gameplay in Monte Carlo 13s is identical to the game Monte Carlo, but turns it into an adding game where you remove pairs of cards that total 13. As the name suggests, in the closely related game Monte Carlo 14s, cards totalling 14 are removed.

Thoughts: The overall feel of game-play is much like standard Monte Carlo, and similar decisions are involved. The game Fourteens uses the same concept as Monte Carlo, but makes the game significantly more difficult because only cards in the same row or column can be discarded. Even so it can be a fun challenge to select the right pair, in order to increase your chances of winning as the game progresses.

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Ninety One

Overview: Ninety One is very achievable and fun adding game with a very different feel to the previous adding games. A single deck is dealt into 13 piles, each consisting of four cards, with only the top card visible. Cards can be moved from the top of any pile to the top of any other pile. With Jacks worth 11, Queens 12, and Kings 13, the goal is to make the top cards of all 13 piles total exactly 91. A sequence of cards from Ace through King will accomplish this, but any other combination of cards adding to 91 satisfies this requirement, in which case all these top cards are removed. Accomplishing this four times will remove all the cards and win the game.

Thoughts: This game is easier than it sounds, and can be a lot of fun to play. Trying to achieve a complete set of cards from Ace through King is one way to win, but won't always be the easiest method. Ninety One is best played digitally, where the computer tracks the cumulative total as you play, and where you can move cards accordingly.

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Pyramid

Overview: Arguably the most well-known solitaire card game that uses adding is the classic Pyramid. Cards are dealt in a pyramid shape consisting of 28 in total, and the aim is to clear this whole pyramid. You can remove any two available (unblocked) cards when their total adds up to 13. Jacks and Queens count as 11 and 12, and Kings are considered as 13 and can be removed on their own. The deck is dealt one at a time, and you may add the face-up card to an available card in the pyramid to remove it.

Thoughts: The odds of winning the basic game are very low, and so there are many common rule variations that make things easier by adjusting how cards are dealt (e.g. King Tut), or increasing the number of waste piles (e.g. Apophis). For a harder game you can also make it mandatory to clear the entire deck as well as the pyramid. Other variations that change things up more include Giza, Triangle, and Double Pyramid.

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Conclusion

The genre of adding and pairing games covers a large number of solitaire games. But what they all have in common is very simple mechanics, and rule sets that are easy to learn. That makes them very approachable for new players, or for anyone that just wants a relaxing game to play. Typically they aren't very taxing on the brain, so they are good choices for casual play.

Many of these games are quite luck dependent, but they also play quite quickly, so they lend themselves well to be played speedily and with multiple games in a row, in an effort to win. And there certainly are some that are quite rewarding and enjoyable to play, and I'd especially single out Gay Gordons (Exit) as a lesser known game that is well worth trying. But all the games I've included here are rewarding in some way; I've left off the much simpler adding and pairing games that are more luck based and suited to children, and will save those for a separate list.

Like me, you may enjoy the challenge of exploring the diversity of games of this type, trying each in turn a few times, and then moving on to the next. There's a rich variety of solitaire card games that exist, and the many games in the adding and pairing genre alone is proof of that!

Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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Sun Aug 8, 2021 10:54 pm
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10 Less Common but Popular Two-Deck Solitaire Card Games

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10 Less Common but Popular Two-Deck Solitaire Card Games

When most people think of "solitaire", the game that they have in mind is Klondike. It's easily the most played solitaire card game in the world, largely due to its inclusion as part of the Microsoft Windows operating system in the 1990s, to the point where it is practically synonymous with the word Solitaire. It is easy to learn and can be played in just 5-10 minutes, so it's not hard to see that it has won over millions of players around the world, and continues to be enjoyed globally.

But it would be a mistake to think that this is all that solitaire card games offer. I've often seen the question asked: are there more rewarding solitaire games that involve more strategy and depth? The answer is: Yes, absolutely. If you're looking for a game that rewards decision making and relies more on skill, the popular solitaire game FreeCell is a great next step. It has completely open information where you see all the cards from the outset, and almost every deal is solvable with good and smart play.

But those looking for something more satisfying will especially find themselves savouring solitaire games that use two decks of playing cards. These have a larger pool of cards to work with, and typically provide a more thoughtful and interesting experience for players. I've previously covered some of the more well known builder ones, such as the many variations of Forty Thieves, and other popular building games like Busy Aces, Colorado, Miss Milligan, Queen of Italy (Terrace), and their many variants.

I've trawled through the world of solitaire card games to come up with a list of ten games with two decks that aren't quite as well known as these. But they are still relatively common games, and you'll find them available at most sites that offer solitaire card games, and included in most apps and software. So even though they are technically "less common", they are arguably still quite well known, and are tried and proven games that solitaire enthusiasts have enjoyed and kept coming back to.

I recommend learning and playing these with the help of digital software, because that will organize the layout, enforce the rules, and manage all the practical elements of the game for you. This will enable you to learn the game quickly, and focus on enjoying the gameplay right away. I've tried many programs, and found one of the very best to be BVS Solitaire, which offers a Windows and Mac version, and also a top-notch iPad app.

== Popular Games ==

Algerian Patience

Overview: Algerian Patience is a game of skill that can be completed most of the time. Like Alhambra and Saint Helena below, it's a two-deck game where four foundations build up from Ace to King and four build down from King to Ace. There are eight piles in the tableau (one card on each), and six piles in the reserve (four cards each). The tableau can be built up or down by suit, moving just one card at a time, and wrapping from King to Ace where necessary. Drawing from the stock deals two cards to each reserve pile, where no building is possible.

Thoughts: This is a very rewarding game that requires careful placement, and yet offers real chances of winning. The variant Carthage changes things slightly. Also related is Tournament, which allows no building on the tableau. It was created by Morehead and Mott-Smith as an improvement on the older game (La) Nivernaise. Cicely makes Tournament slightly easier by allowing tableau building up and down by suit, while another variant Kingsdown Eights is more challenging to win, and only builds down by alternate colours. When you first play these games they seem very difficult, but there are tricks that increase your chances significantly, such as keeping spaces open to be used strategically.

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Alhambra

Overview: In Alhambra there are also eight foundations, four building up from Ace to King and four building down from King to Ace. However there is no building whatsoever in the tableau, which effectively becomes a reserve of eight piles or columns consisting of four cards each. Instead a stock is dealt one card at a time onto a waste pile, and cards from the tableau/reserve can be built onto the waste if they match in suit and are either one rank higher or lower. Two redeals are allowed.

Thoughts: Alhambra is a difficult game to win, but offers a good mix of skill and luck. Being able to play cards to the reserve up and down in the style of Golf makes it very unique. Variants of Alhambra worth exploring include The Reserves (also called The Reinforcements) and Granada (which increases your chances of success significantly by offering reserve cells).

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Crescent

Overview: Crescent gets its name from the distinctive crescent arc shape typically used for placing the stacked piles with available cards. It's a two-deck game which begins with eight foundations: four Aces that build up, and four Kings that build down. The remaining cards are dealt into 16 stacks of six cards each, with only the top card playable, on which you can build up or down by suit. A distinctive feature of the many games in the Crescent family is that instead of redealing, at three times during the game you can move the bottom card in each pile to the top, thus cycling each pile by one card.

Thoughts: In its usual form Crescent is not easy to win, and variations like Crescent Four seek to make this easier by allowing an extra rotation of the sixteen piles, or by turning it into an open information game by playing with all the cards face-up (effectively making it a Fan game), such as Open Crescent. The cycling mechanism is quite unique, and the ability to build both up and down on the piles gives some flexibility that helps you out. Along with some of its many variations, Crescent is a popular game loved by many, and especially when played with the cards face-up it allows quite some skill.

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Mount Olympus

Overview: Mount Olympus is a two-deck game that has an unusual aspect in that it requires you to build in piles with odd and even cards. The foundations begin with the Aces and Deuces, while a line of nine cards begins the tableau, which is also built down in intervals of two. It has a Spider-like deal, with nine new cards being dealt each time you use the stock.

Thoughts: This game gives frequent wins, plus the reward of producing the Greek gods and goddesses (kings and queens) at the end of a successful game. This visual display likely accounts for the game's name, since in Greek mythology these were said to live on Mount Olympus. The original rules were much more restrictive, disallowing the moving of partial or complete sequences in the tableau, but the increased options for moving cards makes the game far more interesting and it can usually be won. Related games include Great Wheel, Greater Wheel, and Carousel.

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Royal Cotillion

Overview: In Royal Cotillion there are eight foundations, four beginning with Aces and four beginning with Deuces. Each builds upwards by twos (i.e. Ace, 3,5,7,9 etc; and 2,4,6,8, etc), turning the corner as needed. The stock is dealt one card at a time. A 16 card tableau in the shape of a 4x4 grid gives room for some decision making and skill, and there's also a reserve of twelve cards in four piles. The decision making here comes by not playing cards from the reserve automatically, but waiting for an ideal card to show up at the top of the waste pile before clearing a place in the reserve for it to go.

Thoughts: In essence the game-play is much the same as Sixes and Sevens, which has foundations going down from six and upwards from seven, rather than building by twos. This in turn is closely related to Contradance (Cotillion) and its single deck version Captive Queens (Quadrille), which are mindless and pure luck games due to the absence of a tableau. Odd and Even also has foundations going up by twos like Royal Cotillion, but uses a nine-card tableau in the shape of a 3x3 grid. Patriarchs (and the nearly identical game Picture Patience) has the same set-up as Odd and Even with a reserve in a 3x3 grid, but the foundations consist of Aces and Kings, which are built upwards and downwards respectively by cards that increase/decrease in value by one rather than two; it is effectively the same game. All these games boil down to something similar, and require much the same kind of decision making despite apparent external differences. A little further afield but still related to all these games is Royal Rendezvous, which is a very satisfying and rewarding two-deck game in the same vein.

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Royal Parade (Virginia Reel)

Overview: Royal Parade is an old but unusually fascinating two-deck solitaire game, with the alternative names Royal Procession, Financier, Hussars, and Three Up. It was reworked by Morehead and Mott-Smith as Virginia Reel. There are three rows of eight face up cards, and the goal is to turn the top row into foundations beginning with 2s and going up by threes (2,5,8,J), the middle row into foundations beginning with 3s and going up by threes (3,6,9,Q), and the bottom row into foundations beginnings with 4s and going up by threes (4,7,10,K). A fourth row of eight cards functions as a reserve, and an entire row of eight new cards is placed on it each time you deal from the stock, while Aces are immediately discarded. There are some special rules about exchanging cards and how to deal with spaces in the layout, but the goal is to get the entire deck onto the foundations, showing only Jacks, Queens, and Kings.

Thoughts: While it has a few quirky rules, and is very difficult to complete successfully, this is a terrific game that requires careful attention and strategy. Once you get the hang of the unusual rule-set, you'll find it to be very rewarding and challenging. Managing the reserve is especially important, and you have to avoid having essential cards in the reserve become blocked by other cards, especially the 2s, 3s, and 4s. The building up of cards by threes gives it a very different feel from a typical building game. While Aces are discarded, you don't necessarily want to remove them from the layout automatically, especially if you're playing with the rule that doesn't allow dealing from the stock when there are empty spaces in the foundations. Several variants exist (e.g. Blue Jackets) which make the game slightly easier, mostly by adjusting how the reserve works.

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Saint Helena (Napoleon's Favourite)

Overview: Despite the name, Saint Helena isn't to be confused with the more well-known game Napoleon at St Helena, more commonly known under the title Forty Thieves. The foundations start with four Aces (which will build upwards by suit to Kings), and four Kings (which will build downwards by suit to Ace). The tableau consists of 12 piles arranged around these foundations. Building within the tableau only involves the top card, but you can build up or down regardless of suit. A special rule restricts whether certain cards from the top four and bottom four piles of the tableau can be moved to certain foundations, but this restriction is removed after the entire tableau is redealt, which can be done twice after the initial deal.

Thoughts: This is a relatively straight-forward game with considerable flexibility for building, and can often be completed successfully. Some variations exist (e.g. Box Kite, Louis), which adjust the restrictions prior to the first redeal, and eliminate redealing altogether. Swiss is an original and related variant created by Boris Sandberg. All of these are solid two deck games that will appeal to players who enjoy winning the majority of their games, and aren't looking for too much complexity.

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Salic Law

Overview: I first came across Salic Law in one of David Parlett's books about card games. In this two-deck game, cards are dealt one at a time upon a starting King to form a tableau, with a new column beginning each time another King appears. Aces are placed above the Kings and will form the foundations, while Queens are removed as they show up. This explains the game's name, since under Salic Law women were prohibited from gaining the throne and from receiving an inheritance. There's no building within the tableau, and the aim is to build eight foundations from Ace to Jack, ignoring suit.

Thoughts: In most cases the game-play is mechanical and it makes sense to play a card whenever you can. But as more cards are laid out, you often have choices about which card to play, and that's where you can begin planning some strategic decision making. Under the strictest rules the game is hard to complete, but when you play as described by Parlett where cards can be transferred to exposed Kings as a temporary reserve, your decision making and chances for success increase significantly. Among the variations is Fairie Queen, but several related games also exist which apply the Quadrille/Cotillion concept where fives build down to Aces and sixes build up to Jacks; these include Intrigue, Laggard Lady, and Glencoe.

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== Original Games ==

Aces and Kings

Overview: Most of the above games have been around for a while, but there's also some newer and original games that are worth knowing about, and have become quite popular on solitaire sites. Aces and Kings (playable online here) is an original two-deck game created by Thomas Warfield that is based on several common solitaire games and combines elements to produce a pleasing game. Once again there are eight foundations, four building from Ace to King and four from King to Ace, with building happening regardless of suit. There are two Canfield-style reserve piles where only the top card can be played to the foundations. The tableau consists of just four face-up cards, and there is no building on the tableau, only to the foundations, with empty spaces immediately replenished from the stock.

Thoughts: Playing by these rules, good players can expect to win only as many as 1 in 10 games. Moving cards between foundations is allowed, and this is what is key to good play. There are some variants that increase your chances of winning significantly, such as by adding a single re-deal. Deuces and Queens makes the game easier by allowing building in the tableau, while Acey and Kingsley starts with cards on the foundations. Double Aces and Kings is like the original game, but with four decks and four reserves, while Racing Aces is a three deck version.

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Demons and Thieves

Overview: Demons and Thieves (playable online here) is also the creation of Thomas Warfield, and can best be described as a game with a split tableau, where you play with Canfield rules on one side and Forty Thieves rules on the other side. This means that on the left side you have a reserve pile of 13 cards (only the top one is available) and a tableau of four cards that will build downwards in alternate colours; meanwhile on the right side you have a tableau of five columns with eight cards each where you build downwards by suit. Cards can be built on both sides while trying to complete eight foundations from Ace through King.

Thoughts: I first came across this game over on Pretty Good Solitaire, where it is one of their all-time most-played games. It's not hard to see why, because it is a very satisfying game that rewards strategic play and good decisions. The fact that you have two redeals gives you time to get the cards arranged within the tableau in order to successfully complete it, and I've found that I typically don't need the final redeal. In the variation Demonthief there are no redeals allowed, and a win can still be accomplished if you play well. Those who enjoy Demons and Thieves should also check out Antares, which is Thomas Warfield's combination of FreeCell and Scorpion, also with a tableau consisting of two halves.

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If you find yourself really enjoying solitaire, and want a more thoughtful challenge than the relatively simple and luck-dependent Klondike, the above ten games make great choices for you to jump into the world of more satisfying games with two decks. Once you begin exploring here, you'll find plenty of other similar games by browsing the other games implemented in BVS Solitaire.

It's somewhat of a pity that many people identify solitaire exclusively with the classic Klondike, and that they aren't aware of the rich diversity of more thoughtful solitaire games that exist. Over time a wide range of unique and creative solitaire games has developed, just waiting to be enjoyed by those diligent enough to give them a chance.

You can certainly play these games with a regular deck of playing cards, but for learning these games from scratch, I'd strongly advise using a good software program that implements them digitally. At the top of my list of recommendations is BVS Solitaire, whose programs were consistently ranked in the best of the bunch in my comparative review of iPad apps and my comparative review of Windows programs.

With software like this you'll be able to play several hundred different solitaire games, including most of the above ones, and customize your experience with your own preferred looks. So get yourself hooked up with a good digital version, and discover the enjoyment that these great two-deck solitaire games can offer!

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Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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Sat Jun 19, 2021 9:02 pm
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What's Good About Solitaire Card Games With a Standard Deck

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What's Good About Solitaire Card Games With a Standard Deck

20 Reasons Why You Should Play Solitaire

The word "solitaire" is closely connected with the word "solo", which means "for or done by one person alone; unaccompanied." According to Merriam Webster's dictionary, the word "solitaire" means "any of various card games played by one person, the object of which is to use up all one's cards by forming particular arrangements and sequences." In short, we're talking about card games that you play alone. More specifically, in this article I'm focusing on what is sometimes called Patience, and the kind of solitaire game which you'd play with a standard deck of cards.

Solitaire card games can be enjoyed with a physical deck of traditional playing cards, or on the screen of your personal computer or favourite digital device. However you choose to play them, solitaire card games are a perfect activity to keep you amused when you're looking to kill time while on your own. Quarantined? Bored? Want to play a game but your friends or family doesn't? That's when solitaire card games come to our rescue. And they actually offer us a lot, with a real range that covers the extremes of pure skill to dumb luck, and everything in between.

Maybe you already enjoy playing solitaire card games, or I've already convinced you to try them. But whether you're an avowed fan looking to justify your addiction, or a skeptical bystander looking to be persuaded to give them a go, here are some good reasons why you should check out the fun you can have playing solitaire card games.

1. They don't require other players. Unlike most other card games, you can play a solitaire game even if nobody else is around. You might be in the mood to play a game, but your friends or family aren't always going to be available to play games 24/7. Solitaire card games help fill these gaps. Sometimes we even need some `alone time', without the stress of human interaction. When you're playing solitaire, you don't have to explain things to someone else, adjust your pace to suit them, or wait for their move. You also don't have the additional headaches of the arguing or bad behaviour that can sometimes happen when competitive games bring out the worst in us! Playing on your own means you can play at your own pace, whenever, wherever, and however you want, and that usually makes for a more relaxing experience.

2. They are easy to learn. Part of the beauty of solitaire games is their simplicity and elegance. Within a relatively straight forward set of rules that is easily and quickly grasped, you are presented with a good challenge. Some modern card games come with 20 page rule books - seriously! Others have complex rule sets that you finally only begin to understand after playing a game or two. In contrast, most solitaire card games operate with very simple rulesets. And once you've mastered the rules of one, it becomes even easier to learn others, because they often borrow from each other in terms of the style and approach of play. For example, many share the basic objective of trying to collect cards from each suit in order from Ace through King, as well as mechanics of building within a tableau.

3. They are easily accessible. All you need is a deck of cards, or a good website or computer, and you are ready to go. Often we don't have the time or energy to pull out the paraphernalia needed for some other hobby or interest. You might like fishing, water-skiing, or playing music, but hobbies like these have equipment requirements and often take time to set-up - or considerable clean-up afterwards! But with solitaire, you just pull out your cards or click on your computer, and away you go. It also helps that almost everyone around the globe is already familiar with a standard deck of traditional playing cards, and the suits and values of playing cards are a universal language, so there's a very low thresh-hold for entry. Playing a digital version that enforces and teaches the rules makes this learning and playing process even easier.

4. They are completely free. Unlike a lot of modern card games and board games, all you need is a deck of traditional playing cards - which you probably already own. You can purchase apps or software if you really want, but there's plenty of websites where you can play for free, as well as free apps. And if you're running a computer with Microsoft Windows, you likely have a couple of good solitaire games built right in, ready to go! While many other hobbies have equipment costs and require a significant investment of money or time to get into, there's no such entry barrier with playing solitaire.

5. They are time-tested and proven. Many solitaire games have been played and enjoyed by millions of people. They aren't a flash-in-the-pan fad that will go away any time soon. Many of them are classic games that go back decades and more, and have proven themselves to be games of worth, so they have held up over time.

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6. They have an incredible variety. When I was first introduced to solitaire card games many years ago, it was with the evergreen Klondike, which is the game that's been included with Microsoft Windows for the last 30 years. But don't make the mistake of thinking that your limited experience with solitaire on Windows is all that there is solitaire. I had no idea how many different solitaire games actually exist! It's true that many solitaire games share similar building techniques with a tableau and foundations, with the goal of arranging suits from Ace through King. But there are also many solitaire games that are very different from this. So there's plenty of variety to explore and keep you busy for a long time, and just because you don't like one style doesn't mean you won't find another type of solitaire card game that you might really enjoy.

7. They can be as short or long as you like. One nice thing about solitaire games is that you can play them in bite sized chunks. The most popular solitaire game of all time, Klondike, typically takes only around 5 minutes to play a quick game. Many other solitaire games can be played even more quickly. But if you want to fill more time, you can easily play a number of short solitaire games back-to-back. Alternatively, there are also more thoughtful solitaire games that will take you up to 15-30 minutes to play on their own, and which provide a longer experience that is satisfying and more challenging.

8. They can be as easy or hard as you like. Solitaire games typically contain a good balance of luck and skill, and which way this balance will lean can vary from game to game. If you want to really chill out, and really don't feel like thinking too hard, there are very simple and almost brainless solitaire games that lean heavily on the side of luck, and which you can play almost on auto-pilot. But if you're in the mood for something more challenging, there are also many solitaire games that require a high degree of skill and careful thought. The choice of difficulty level is yours - and there's plenty of it!

9. They can develop strategic thinking. Some solitaire games require real skill, and typically require both short-term tactical thinking as well as long-term strategic thinking. The first time you play a game of solitaire, you're likely to do anything that is a legal move, thinking that this will help you accomplish your goal. But as you become more experienced, you'll start to realize that some choices are better than others, and there are long-term considerations that should play an important role in your decision-making. To play well, you often need to plan ahead, and optimize your moves to increase your chances of success. Having a good sense of probability will also enhance your game-play. Solitaire is definitely something that you can get good at, and with practice you can even learn to master the harder forms of the game.

10. They can develop logical thinking. Solitaire games especially appeal to people who enjoy the challenge of logical sequences and puzzling. Contrary to the perceived notion of some that they are mindless exercises and brainless activities, wise play in a good solitaire game requires both concentration and logical thought. That makes it an intellectual exercise that will have a real appeal particularly for anyone who enjoys puzzles, while remaining accessible to almost everyone else as well. What's more, the patterns of logical thinking that they require have a lot of crossover to other areas in life where we need to plan things. The logical planning required by solitaire can also bring real rewards when we apply this same principle to other aspects of life.

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11. They can stimulate your mind. Our brain is like a muscle, and it does need regular exercise. A lot of "time waster" apps are essentially games where your brain is on autopilot, and very little thinking is involved. While there are times where that might be appropriate, we also need moments where we are amusing ourselves with an activity that actually engages our brain in a positive way. Most solitaire card games do that, because they require you to switch on your thinking cap, and activate your mind.

12. They can relax your mind. This may appear to contradict the previous point, but it all depends on what solitaire games you choose. Certainly there are solitaire games that require you to burn some serious brainpower in order to play them. But there are also solitaire games that cater for those moments where you just want your brain to idle. You can choose something as stressful or as chill as you like - it's totally up to you. Especially if you are busy with a stressful series of tasks in the work place, then it's not healthy to go on indefinitely, and it's important to give your mind a break from time to time. A solitaire card game can provide exactly that quick break you need, getting your mind totally off what you were doing. After 5-10 minutes, you're refreshed and ready to resume whatever work you were busy with.

13. They help you learn to cope with bad luck. While many solitaire games require real skill, they aren't only about strategy. Typically they also have a real element of the luck of the draw, which can make games easier or harder to win. Much the same can be said about real life. Things don't always go our way, and it is important to learn how to deal with this. Even the failures in solitaire can help us learn to cope with disappointments in the real world.

14. They are a great time-filler. One of the challenges we all face in life is finding something to do in an empty moment. Boredom can be mentally destructive, and it is important to fight boredom by filling empty moments with something constructive and positive. Especially if you don't have a large block of time, a solitaire game does a great job of filling that space by giving you something to do for 5-10 minutes or more.

15. They are incredibly satisfying. The moment when you complete a solitaire game can give you a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This helps bring you to a state of happiness, and helps you feel positive. Especially in a world where there is so much negativity, we need positive moments like this, and solitaire gives us regular moments of reward. And even if you don't "win" a game, there's still a sense of achievement and accomplishment of having built up something. And since most solitaire games are played quickly, when this happens you simply start over and try again, and eventually you will get those winning moments that make you feel good.

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16. They are very addictive. There's something about solitaire games that keeps you coming back to them. I don't mean this in a negative sense, but they have a unique and intangible quality about them that puts them in the same category as other good things in life, like chocolate or fast food. Of course, it's not wise to consume everything that tastes good in excess. But the point is that there are some things in life that have that magical and indefinable quality about them that makes you gravitate to them again and again, and solitaire is one of those. Usually if something is addictive, it doesn't mean that there's something inherently bad about it, but that it has something good about it that makes you want to return to it regularly.

17. They give you personal incentives. Many computer implementations of solitaire games allow you to keep track of personal statistics. It can especially be rewarding to see what percentage of games you "win", or to try to beat your best time. These kinds of statistics give you extra incentives and goals to play for. Some digital versions have implemented scoring systems for specific solitaire games, which you can use to try to beat your personal best, or to score higher than your friends.

18. They can be played competitively. While solitaire card games are ... well, solitaire ... there are also ways to play them with other people if you really want. You can even play solitaire cooperatively with another person if it is a shared experience that you're looking for. But there are also excellent ways of playing competitively, with games like Double Solitaire and Russian Bank being fine examples. These take the basics of classic solitaire games like Klondike, and turn them into a two player game. For real time frenzied play in the style of solitaire, try the very popular game Nertz, which is also known under other names like Pounce or Racing Demon.

19. They are a great way to enjoy a custom deck of cards. Nowadays there are some wonderful decks of high quality playing cards on the market, which have magnificent artwork and very creative graphic designs, and they look fantastic on the table. Personally I own a large collection of custom playing cards, and pulling out a custom deck or two to play some games of solitaire on the dining table or coffee table is a great way to enjoy the visual feast of the artwork on these cards. The tactile feel and act of moving around physical cards can also help you relax and tune out from the stress of the real world, and there can even be a therapeutic component to this.

20. They are plain fun! What other reason do you need, really? If you enjoy solitaire games, as I do, that's reason enough to play them! Certainly it's the reason that so many people just keep coming back to them. Playing solitaire card games is a form of entertainment, recreation, and leisure. And if it's an enjoyable activity that you simply like, then by all means go ahead and enjoy it!

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I'm not advocating that you play solitaire as a permanent escape from real-life responsibilities, or that you immerse yourself to the point where it interferes with your ability to function, or causes you to ignore friends, family, or work. But when given its proper place, solitaire can help you function better at life, and there is a rich and rewarding variety of treasures to be found and enjoy in the family of solitaire card games.

So next time you're stuck on a plane, waiting in a doctor's office, fighting boredom while quarantined at home, or desperate to kill time in a boring conference, fire up that solitaire software or website, or whip out a deck of cards, and fill a few minutes with a satisfying challenge. Happy solitaire to you!

Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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Sat Jun 12, 2021 12:27 am
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10 Builder Solitaire Card Games With Unusual Layouts

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10 Builder Solitaire Card Games With Unusual Layouts

I love solitaire card games. There's some terrific games that have stood the test of time, but it is true that many of them are variations of the same theme. For example, Klondike and Spider are two of the most popular solitaire card games of all time, along with FreeCell. But there's a whole genre of popular building games that are closely related to these, and you'll often see names of games like Baker's Dozen, Beleaguered Castle, Canfield, Forty Thieves, La Belle Lucie, and Yukon pop up on sites about solitaire card games.

Personally I enjoy exploring things that are somewhat out of the ordinary. I'm the kind of guy who heads off the well-marked trail trampled by tourists, and ventures down the narrow path that runs off the main track, just to see what lies around the corner on the road less-travelled. Much the same is true in the world of solitaire card games, because there are some wonderful solitaire games with unusual layouts just waiting for you to discover and enjoy.

In this article I'll introduce you to ten great solitaire card games with unusual layouts. To be fair, these aren't exactly obscure games by any means. If you check out books and sites about solitaire card games (and I've personally done a lot of reading and research in this area) you're bound to come across these. So these aren't exactly uncommon or unproven games, that are an awkward mess to play, or just don't work. In the world of solitaire, most of these are all quite well known, so they are solid and reliable games. But they are somewhat `odd ducks', in that their layout departs from the norm, and that's exactly what makes them interesting.

The best way to learn these games is to use some software to give you a helping hand. That way you'll see how the cards are supposed to be laid out, and the program will enforce the rules as you play, and manage all the book-keeping for you. Of the many programs I have personally tried, I've found the top one to be BVS Solitaire, which has versions for Windows, Mac, and an excellent iPad app that I consider to be the best of the many apps that I've tried. I can highly recommend their programs as an excellent way to play and enjoy these and many other solitaire games. But enough about that, let's get to the games themselves!

== Games With One Deck ==

Four Seasons (Vanishing Cross)

Overview: Also called Vanishing Cross and Corner Card, Four Seasons is a single-deck game that gets its name from its layout where you are building onto four foundations in the corners, with a cross-shaped tableau consisting of five cards in the middle. The rank of the foundation bases are determined by the initial card that is placed on the first foundation, and building up is done `turning the corner' from King through Ace. The five cards of the cross build downwards irrespective of suit, but only one card can be moved at a time, with the goal of building up all four foundations in a single deal of the stock.

Thoughts: Four Seasons proves quite hard to win, and the odds of achieving success have been estimated as 1 in 10. Several variations exist (e.g. Corners, Czarina, Little Windmill, and Simplicity), but I particularly enjoy the Florentine variant, which gives you two passes through the stock, making the game much more achievable. Effectively Four Seasons is like a solitaire with a tableau of just 5 cards (the cards below the top card being hidden), so it can be quite difficult; Florentine removes this frustration and makes it far more pleasant.

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Grandfather's Clock

Overview: The game Grandfather's Clock uses 12 foundations arranged in the circular shape of a clock. At the start of the game the following cards are dealt as foundations in clock-wise order from the 5 o'clock position: 2♥, 3♠, 4♦, 5♣, 6♥, 7♠, 8♦, 9♣, 10♥, J♠, Q♦, K♣. The remaining cards form a tableau of eight columns of five cards each. Cards are placed in ascending value onto the clock, and the tableau must be manipulated by building down one card at a time in matching suits in order to successfully access the cards needed. The goal is to play all the cards to the clock, with the values of all the top cards correctly corresponding to their positions in the clock.

Thoughts: The set-up is reminiscent of the much simpler luck-based games Clock Patience and German Clock, which rely purely on observation, and are more suited for younger children to play. In contrast Grandfather's Clock requires skill in arranging cards within the tableau to get the cards you need. It is nearly always possible to complete with good play, and because you have open information about all the cards, it's a satisfying and straight-forward game.

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== Games With Two Decks ==

Archway

Overview: Archway is a two-deck game by noted games scholar David Parlett that is based on an old French solitaire called La Chatelaine (Lady of the Manor). Four Aces are laid out to represent four foundations that will build up, and four Kings to represent four foundations that will build down. Below these eight foundations is a tableau consisting of four piles of 12 cards each. The remaining 48 cards make up the reserve; these are separated by rank (Ace through King), and placed in an arch shape around the other cards. You can move any card from the top of the tableau or any card in the arch-shaped reserve piles to the foundations.

Thoughts: You'll need good luck-of-the-draw to win Archway, even though you have completely open information. The original version of the game increases your chances of success significantly, because it makes suits irrelevant, so you can build up with any card of the rank you need. In that form of the game the tableau is no longer open, however, and consists just of four piles of cards. This removes some of the skill and makes it more of a casual game, but at least you can try your luck and have a decent chance of winning, even if it's less than half the time.

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Backbone

Overview: Backbone is somewhat related to the more well-known Pigtail (Braid) covered below, and also has 21 cards down the middle. But instead of being interlaced, they make two separate columns of ten cards each (the "backbone"), with a single card (the "tail-bone" or "coccyx") overlapping both at the bottom. The tableau consists of four "rib" cards on each side of the backbone, and these build down by suit, while the stock is dealt one card at a time.

Thoughts: This game's structure makes it interesting, removing the tail-bone early is key to success. A game that uses a similar structure to Backbone is Herringbone (and the similar Adela). In this case of these games the backbone structure makes up the foundations, with eight Jacks that build downwards in the middle, and the matching Queen and King on either side of each Jack. A six card tableau that builds up by suit assists with this. Confusingly, Herringbone is sometimes also used as an alternate name for Pigtail, even though it is in fact a different game. It could be argued that despite their unusual shapes, in essence many of these games are ultimately variants derived from the popular two-deck game Forty Thieves.

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Casket

Overview: Casket is an interesting two-deck game where a pile of 13 face-down represents "Jewels". A tableau of eight face-up cards around them represents a "Casket" where building happens downwards, on top of which is a "Lid" of five face-up cards where no building happens. The goal is to build up onto the eight foundations, with the stock turning up cards one at a time into three waste piles but with no redeals.

Thoughts: To succeed you have to prioritize opening the Lid so that you can begin accessing the Jewels, as well as using the waste piles cleverly. With good play you have decent chances of successfully completing the game, making it a fun and rewarding two-deck game to play. This game is implemented in quite a number of digital versions of solitaire, which is an essential way to learn the game given its nuances. It certainly meets the criteria of being thematic, unique, and satisfying.

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Crazy Quilt

Overview: Crazy Quilt offers a truly unique spin on solitaire. Four foundations start with the Aces and build up, while another four start with the Kings and build down. 64 cards are placed in a 8x8 patchwork quilt layout, with cards alternately placed horizontally and vertically like woven threads in a rug. This checkerboard style `quilt' is the tableau, and only cards with an exposed short edge are considered available for play. The stock is dealt one at a time, and cards from the quilt and the stock are used to build onto the foundations. Available cards may also be moved from the quilt to a waste pile, but only if they match the suit of the top cards and are one higher or lower in value.

Thoughts: The unusual arrangement of the cards means that cards in the middle of the quilt-like tableau are blocked, and you have to find ways to free them. It's more important to open up cards in the tableau than to use cards from the stock. There are three waste piles, and managing them well is important to success. Some variants (e.g. Japanese Rug, Indian Carpet, Parquet) increase the amount of redeals to make the game easier, which really helps your chances of success. Crazy Quilt is a game that is achievable, and its unique setup makes it interesting, fun, and rewarding to play. While unrelated, the single deck game Labyrinth also uses a spatial puzzle to determine availability of cards that can be played; while chances of success in Labyrinth are low, it can be a rewarding challenge to get a win.

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Pigtail (Plait, Braid)

Overview: The two-deck game of Pigtail takes its name from a "pigtail" of twenty overlapping cards dealt down the middle, the top card being the only one available. The tableau consists of 12 cards, where no building is allowed, and only four of these can have cards played to it from the pigtail. The stock is dealt one card at a time, with up to three re-deals allowed, and the goal is to build up eight foundations from Ace through King.

Thoughts: Pigtail is often found under the name Braid or Plait, but was renamed by David Parlett to avoid confusion with a related but different game called Plait. The variation Fort plays exactly the same way, but starts with a central "garrison" of 21 cards down the middle, and the four of the foundations are built upwards from Ace to King and the other four are built downwards from King through Ace, which greatly increases your chances of winning. A version of Pigtail with 24 instead of 21 cards in the middle and more flexible rules about playing from the center column is called "Long Braid". In the unrelated game called Plait there is a "plait" of only 13 cards down the middle, and the tableau has eight rather twelve cards, and building is allowed (each is dealt four cards to begin with); in that game there are no redeals.

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Sultan (Emperor of Germany)

Overview: Sultan (also called Sultan of Turkey) is less commonly known as Emperor of Germany. The Middle East theme suits best given than the reserve used in this game is described as a "divan" (couch), and the goal is to have the Sultan (King of Hearts) surrounded by his harem of eight Queens. This two deck game begins with the Sultan surrounded by the other seven Kings and an Ace. These eight surrounding cards are the foundations you'll build up on (turning the corner from Ace) to the Queens. The divan consists of two reserve columns of cards on each side, and the rest of the deck is dealt one card at a time, with two redeals allowed.

Thoughts: This game is quite easy and very fun to play, making it a good choice for beginners. Careful management of the divan is critical to success. Ideally you want spaces in the divan filled with lower cards. This becomes extra tricky in variants of the game where the divan is automatically filled from the top card of the waste pile, so you shouldn't always play a card to the foundations immediately if it means the divan gets filled with a card that won't be played until much later. Careful play will nearly always lead to a win, without it being anything brain-burning.

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Windmill (Propeller)

Overview: As the name suggests, Windmill (also called Propeller) is a two-deck game with a distinctive layout in the windmill shape of a large cross, around which you build down on four foundations from King through Ace. It bears an obvious relationship with the simpler single deck game Four Seasons, as is clearly evident from the name of the Four Seasons' variant Little Windmill, but the two deck game is more challenging and interesting. The center card starts with an Ace, which is effectively a fifth foundation that you build up to King, turning the corner and repeating this another three times, aiming to collect 52 cards here. The remaining eight cards of the windmill or propeller effectively function like a reserve, to help you get best results from a single deal of the stock.

Thoughts: This game has been around since the late 1800s, and continues to be enjoyable today. The fact that you're building 52 cards in the center foundation means you have to focus especially on getting cards there, using the occasional card already on the other foundations to assist where necessary. The use of the reserve is critical, but it is still difficult to complete the game successfully; to make the game easier, allowing a single redeal should enable you to win many games. Some variants also remove restrictions on moving cards from the four foundations to the central one, also increasing chances of success. One variant I recommend trying Dutch Windmill.

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Zodiac

Overview: If you want to try something truly different, you must take a look at Zodiac. A row of eight face-up cards forms the "Equator", around which 24 cards are dealt face-up to form the "Zodiac" (two for each astrological sign). Game-play has two distinct phases, the first of which involves dealing the stock one at a time (with as many redeals as desired), and playing these cards to the Equator or Zodiac. The Equator is effectively a reserve that contains eight cells that can hold single cards. Building on the Zodiac happens by suit and cards can be built up or down as you go, but only using cards from the stock/waste or from the Equator. If you can eventually manage to play all the cards from the deck, the second phase begins, where you build up four foundations from Ace to King and four from King to Ace.

Thoughts: Zodiac is a unique game that already appeared in books containing patience games in the 19th century. Numerous rule variations developed until it was standardized about a century ago. The real skill lies in how you play cards to the Zodiac, planning ahead so that you don't block cards during the second phase where you're playing to foundations. The unusual theme and separate phases of the game-play help make it stand out from most ordinary solitaire card games.

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Final thoughts

These are by no means the only solitaire games with interesting layouts. If you enjoy experimenting with unusual layouts, another fun and easy game to try is simply called S (for obvious reasons once you see how the cards are laid out). You'll find others if you browse through the many games implemented by BVS Solitaire.

Many people identify solitaire with the classic Klondike, not realizing that there are plenty of unique and creative solitaire games that have arisen over time, which are fine games that are well worth the effort to learn and play. You can certainly play these with an actual deck of playing cards, which is particularly satisfying with an attractive custom deck. But when it comes to learning the rules of a new solitaire game, the best way to learn is to use a reliable software program, like the ones offered by BVS Solitaire. Their Windows program is one of the best of the many I've tried (see my comparative reviews), and so is their iPad app (see my comparative reviews). They also have an equivalent version for Mac OS. All of these offer a few hundred different solitaire games, and the ability to customize your experience with attractive sets of different custom decks and more.

So what are you waiting for? Get yourself a good program for playing solitaire digitally, and try some of these terrific and unique solitaire games. And then you'll be all set to pull out your favourite deck of playing cards, and can introduce some of these gems to your family and friends!

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Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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Sun Apr 25, 2021 8:01 pm
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10 More Popular Builder Solitaire Card Games

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10 More Popular Builder Solitaire Card Games

Most solitaire card games with a standard deck of playing cards classify as "builder" games. It's a popular archetype, and means that in these games players are trying to arrange all the cards in ascending order from Ace through to King, for each of the four separate suits. The three most popular solitaire games in the world - Klondike, Spider, and FreeCell - and the many games closely related to them, all belong in this category. Besides these three, there are a number of other popular builder games, each of which represents its own family of games: Baker's Dozen, Canfield, La Belle Lucie (Fan games), Beleaguered Castle (Castle games), Sir Tommy, Yukon, and the popular two-deck game Forty Thieves, which has inspired many variants.

While these ten games represent the most popular families of builder games, there are some other very popular builder games in the world of solitaire that you really should know about as well. Some of these do fit loosely in one of the above categories, but deserve special mention. Others don't really fit in any of the above-mentioned families. Either way, these are unquestionably all popular classics in their own right, and can be highly recommended.

In the case of some solitaire types like Beleaguered Castle or Sir Tommy, the main game is somewhat mediocre, and it's really some of the variations that shine. But in the case of the games covered below, they are all worth trying as excellent games of their own. Especially with the games that use two decks, these are games that are thoughtful and satisfying, and can require real skill, rather than being mere exercises in luck and frustration, as can be the case with some of the more simpler solitaire games.

== Games With One Deck ==

Bisley

Overview: Bisley is a classic but more difficult game in the Baker's Dozen family. Like the other games in that family, all the cards are face-up at the outset, so there's no hidden information. You use a tableau of thirteen columns of four cards each to build upwards on the four Aces (which are removed from the tableau as four starting foundations), and simultaneously build downwards on the Kings as four more foundations whenever they become available. You can only move the top card of each column in the tableau, with building in the tableau happening by suit, both up or down.

Thoughts: This game feels somewhat like a simpler Forty Thieves style of game that uses a single deck, so there is real room for decision making. Winning can still depend to some extent on the luck of the initial draw, and you can get key cards trapped. Building the foundations from both sides - down from Kings and up from Aces - can increase your chances of completing the game. Unlike Baker's Dozen, you must build by suit in the tableau, but the fact that you can build both up and down gives extra flexibility.

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Calculation (Broken Intervals)

Overview: Calculation is a classic derived from Sir Tommy that puts a real spin on the usual solitaire mechanics, because some of the usual rules for building are thrown out of the window. Unlike Sir Tommy, the four foundations begin with any Ace, Two, Three, and Four respectively. The first foundation is built up by 1s (i.e. A,2,3,4 etc), the second by 2s (i.e. 2,4,6,8 etc), the third by 3s (i.e. 3,6,9, etc), the fourth by 4s (i.e. 4,8,Q,3 etc). You win if you manage to get 12 cards onto each foundation in a single deal.

Thoughts: This game requires a lot of skill, and new players will find it very difficult to make much progress at all. Experienced players will point out that much of the skill is about how you place cards onto the tableau, and that you can win more often than not. The real trick lies in trying to set these up for future placement on the foundations, by effectively building these in reverse (i.e. from King backwards), initially playing onto the foundations only when necessary. Having the four sequences necessary written down as a guide to consult while playing can really help. Reserving a single waste-pile for Kings is also recommended, since they are the final card placed on each foundation, and can otherwise block other cards. Betsy Ross is a variant that makes the game much easier, albeit more dependent on luck; you have the same goal, but deal three times onto a single discard pile. Other closely related games include One234, Appreciate, and Devil's Grip.

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Cruel

Overview: Cruel immediately stands out as an unusual game due to the way re-deals work. With the four Aces beginning as starting foundations, the game begins with a tableau consisting of 12 face-up piles of cards, with only the top cards visible. You can move single cards down by suit within the tableau, but the truly interesting part happens in that whenever you wish you can gather all the cards and re-deal them (a process carefully prescribed by the rules) to create a new tableau; if you've played any cards previously this will alter which cards are now available in the tableau. You can redeal as often as you like, and you lose only when there's no more moves possible from the tableau immediately after a re-deal.

Thoughts: This game's popularity began with its inclusion in one of the Microsoft Windows Entertainment Packs in the 1990s, and so it continues to be in demand today. It's a fine example of a game that would be cumbersome to play with real cards, but being able to instantly gather and restack the tableau piles with the click of a button makes it well-suited to a digital version. Despite its idiosyncrasies, Cruel also feels familiar in light of is close connection to other popular solitaires: the tableau is like Baker's Dozen, the game-play feels somewhat like Fortune's Favor (without the stock), and the re-dealing is reminiscent of some fan games; some sites even use a starting layout that displays the tableau in a fan-style with completely open information. Managing the redealing and restacking is key to successful play, and while the game can feel somewhat random initially, experienced players can do very well. Choosing the right cards to play and the right moments to redeal is essential. Cruel is easy to learn, and yet you can get good at it, making it relaxing and fun to play. Other variations of Cruel worth trying include Lucky Thirteen, Perseverance A, Perseverance B, and Ripple Fan.

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Flower Garden (Bouquet)

Overview: In this single-deck game you start with a tableau consisting of six columns of six cards each (your "flower-beds" or "garden"), hence the appropriate name Flower Garden. The remaining 16 cards are a face-up reserve (your "seeds"), with all the cards available for use. The idea is to build cards up in suit onto four foundations (your "bouquets") - although some describe the reserve as the "bouquet". Only single cards can be moved in the tableau (flower-beds), building down irrespective of suit.

Thoughts: This classic is based on an old Japanese game, and is found in several books and in numerous solitaire programs. It's not an easy game, but with a good draw and careful play a skilled player can win up to a third of their games. You'll have to use the reserve judiciously, and try to get an empty column in the tableau to make manipulation of the cards easier. The game is slightly easier with playing with a variant that has an initial tableau of seven columns with just five cards each. Other variations include Brigade and Stonewall.

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Raglan

Overview: Raglan is a Klondike style game with open information, so all the cards are dealt from the outset. The four Aces start as the foundations, which must be built up to Kings, while the remaining cards form a tableau with nine columns varying in size from one card to seven cards, plus there's a seven card reserve. Building within the tableau happens like Klondike, in alternating colour downwards, but only the top card may be moved.

Thoughts: The fact that sequences can't be moved is a significant restriction that makes this so much harder than Klondike, but having all the cards face-up means you can plan your game carefully. Raglan is derived from King Albert, a game named after Albert I of Belgium. King Albert is identical to Raglan except that the Aces start in the tableau, making it incredibly difficult, hence its apt alternative name: Idiot's Delight. In contrast to the almost impossible King Albert, you can win as many as half of your games of Raglan with skillful play. Also in the same family of games are Somerset, Morehead, Muse, and Queen Victoria.

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Scorpion

Overview: Scorpion is categorized by some as part of the Yukon family, and by others as part of the Spider family. But it is a very popular game that has long been a staple in published books about Patience, and deserves separate mention. The rules for moving unarranged stacks in Yukon may even originate in Scorpion, which has the same game-play in that regard. However Scorpion uses Spider's requirement that stacks from Ace to King of the same suit must be assembled within the tableau before they are discarded.

Thoughts: Numerous Scorpion variants exist, including favourites like Wasp and Three Blind Mice. Chinese Solitaire is a Scorpion variant with a Klondike style set-up that also feels very much like Yukon in how it plays, because cards are played to foundations rather than retained in the tableau. All of these are very satisfying games that will reward the player who enjoys a good blend of luck and strategy, and where decisions do matter.

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== Games With Two Decks ==

Busy Aces

Overview: As you might expect, games with two decks give room for additional strategy and decision-making, because there's a larger pool of cards to work with, and greater options are available for arranging tableaus and other aspects of a solitaire's layout. Busy Aces is a common and relatively straight-forward game with two decks that is arguably a descendent of the popular game Forty Thieves. Along with its close sibling Courtyard, first reference to it appeared already in 1939. The goal is to build eight foundations from Ace through King, with the help of 12 tableau piles. Only the top card can be moved within or played from the tableau, which builds down by suit. The stock is dealt one card at a time, and there are no redeals.

Thoughts: Busy Aces is an excellent place to begin exploring one of the simpler two-deck solitaire games. Courtyard plays the same as Busy Aces but is slightly harder because spaces in the tableau are filled automatically from the stock's wastepile. There are several other variants which make the game harder by changing the number of piles in the tableau to ten or eight, such as with Deuces. Some variations allow a redeal. Thomas Warfield has created several other variants, including Three's Company, Fours Up, Penta Solitaire, Eights Down, Cast Out Nines, Dimes, and Jacks in the Box. Stages makes Busy Aces easier by allowing sequences to be moved. There is also the well-known Fortune's Favor, which is a commonly recommended game for beginners, as a simple single-deck variant derived from Busy Aces.

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Colorado

Overview: I've opted to go with Colorado, but there are a few closely related games that are equally worthy contenders for this list. There are eight foundations, four which build upwards from Ace through King, and four which build down from King through Ace. The tableau consists of twenty face-up cards in two rows of ten. The stock is dealt one card at a time, with cards being placed onto any of the twenty face-up tableau cards, regardless of suit or value.

Thoughts: This game owes its origins to the simple single-deck game Sir Tommy, which is arguably the oldest solitaire game from which many developed, and in its original form is quite boring. I personally find Colorado and its closest siblings to be the most fun of all Sir Tommy variants, and they're also very achievable to win more often than not. Being able to place cards anywhere makes it feel different from many other builder solitaire games, and one of the main things to keep in mind as you play is to avoid blocking key cards. Colorado's closest relative is Twenty (often called Sly Fox), which is very similar, but requires cards to be dealt from the stock 20 at a time before continuing play rather than just one at a time. Other excellent games that are closely related include Grandmother's Patience (Grandmamma's Game), and Grandfather's Patience.

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Miss Milligan

Overview: Miss Milligan is a classic English solitaire game found in most patience books. It has elements of Klondike and Spider, but stands somewhat on its own. Like Forty Thieves it uses two decks and requires building eight foundations, but it has a tableau of eight columns. Building happens down by alternating colour and sequences can be moved. Only a single row of eight cards is dealt initially, and each time you want to draw more cards an entire row of eight cards is dealt Spider-style from the stock.

Thoughts: One of the most interesting aspects of Miss Milligan happens when the stock is depleted: you get a single reserve cell which can be used for a card or sequence to manipulate the tableau. Games typically take around 20 minutes to play, and you can win as many as a third of your games with sharp play and a good draw, and there's nearly always some juicy decision-making along the way. Closely related variants include Imperial Guards and Giant. I can also recommend two original games created by Rick Holzgrafe that are closely related to Miss Milligan, namely Tabby Cat and its more challenging variant Manx.

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Queen of Italy (Terrace)

Overview: Also known as Terrace, or Signora, the classic patience game Queen of Italy is is a thoughtful and meaty two-deck game, and will appeal to people who enjoy Forty Thieves and its variations. The chief feature that makes the game is a face-up line of 11 overlapping cards, called the "terrace". It's a reserve, with a special twist that cards from here can only be played directly to the foundations, and not to the tableau. You deal four cards and choose one to be the foundation; building happens around-the-corner, so you'll especially have to check carefully to see what is in the `terrace' to decide what value card makes a good choice for the foundations. After your choice, you'll deal more cards to make an initial tableau of nine columns with one card each. Building on the foundations happens upwards by alternate colour regardless of suit, and on the tableau downwards by alternate colour regardless of suit, but only one card at a time can be moved on the tableau, and not sequences.

Thoughts: This is a marvellous game that requires real thought and planning, and can be completed successfully as often as half of the time. The art of playing well requires you to carefully figure out where your terrace cards will go, and focus all your tableau building efforts to accomplish that aim. A single deal means that the waste pile will grow as you play, but typically you can work your way through that in the latter stages. The fact that both foundations and tableau involve building in alternate colours means that you can quickly place lots of cards from the tableau when the opportunity arises. Several variants exist that alter the initial deal or how empty spaces in the tableau are filled, such as Blondes and Brunettes, Redheads, and Falling Star, while General's Patience makes the game harder by building up the foundations by suit.

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The above games show how rich the world of solitaire really is. The main families of builder solitaire card games are quite well known: at their head being Klondike, Spider, and FreeCell, and following closely behind are Baker's Dozen, Beleaguered Castle, Canfield, La Belle Lucie (Fan games), Sir Tommy, Yukon, and Forty Thieves. But each of these families offers a lot of variations that have developed over time. It's worth finding a type of solitaire game that you enjoy, and exploring from there.

Of course there are also builder games that don't really fit in any of the above categories, and can be recommended for the rewarding play that they offer in their own right. The ten games in this list are all fine examples of some of the most enjoyable solitaire games, and are all quite accessible. A separate list can easily be made of more meaty two-deck games for true strategists - but I'll save that for a separate article, and first give you a chance to get your feet wet with some of these popular gems.

Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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Tue Mar 2, 2021 3:32 pm
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