Introducing Bowling Solitaire
Sid Sackson was a game designing genius. Admittedly, he is no longer with us today, having died many years ago already, but he left a legacy of fantastic games that continue to show that he was ahead of his time. As a result, he continues to be highly regarded for his contributions to modern gaming. If you've never played any of his titles before, your credentials as a gamer are incomplete.
Certainly this title, Sid Sackson's Bowling Solitaire, is one place you could start, and you can even give this a shot on your own, with a deck of standard playing cards. Sid Sackson originally designed this game to be played with two suits of cards numbered from 1 to 10, so you can certainly play with cards taken from a regular deck, which is how Sackson originally designed the game to be played. But with this particular edition, Eagle Gryphon Games has done a fine job of bringing this relatively unknown game to a wider audience, with a lovely edition that does justice to the theme, and also includes a printed copy of the rules, and a handy scorepad. It is included as a Bonus game with Elevenses for One (see my review), as part of their EGG series, so you get two solitaire games for the price of one.
In this review, I'll be showing this fine new edition, but you can certainly play this with a deck of regular cards you might have handy. Let's go take a look!
As mentioned already, this game is included in Elevenses for One, also a solitaire game. Components for Bowling Solitaire are as follows:
● 20 cards (two each of cards numbered 0 to 9)
● rulebook (downloadable here)
Scoring works just like standard ten pin bowling, which I won't explain here - I'll just explain how a frame is played out. At the start of each of the ten frames that make up a full game, you shuffle all 20 cards, and set them up with ten cards randomly placed face-up in the same pattern as the pins are arranged for a normal game of ten pin bowling, while there are three piles of face-down cards (five, three, and two cards each) representing your bowling balls.
Flow of play
You flip up all three ball cards, and choose one to "bowl" at the ten face-up pins. You can remove a single pin card if it matches the number on the ball card, or two to three adjacent pin cards that add up to the number of the ball card (just consider the last digit of their total). There are a few special restrictions that I won't describe in detail here (e.g. you can't use the very first ball card played to knock over any pins in the back row; pins knocked over must be adjacent), but that is the gist of it. All the ball cards must have a face-up card on top, so you can keep doing this multiple times.
If you manage to get rid of all ten pins this way, you have achieved a strike, i.e. all ten knocked over with just one ball! Otherwise you can roll a second ball by discarding the top card from all the ball piles and playing with the new top cards on each, again trying to knock over as many of the remaining pins as you can. The total number of pins knocked over with those two balls represents your score for that frame, with strikes/spares earning bonus points just as in regular ten pin balling. At the end of a frame, you reshuffle all 20 cards and repeat the process, until the completion of ten frames.
What do I think?
Theme: If you enjoy sports in general, and bowling in particular, you're almost certain to take a real liking to this game. The scoring system Sackson has used is derived from the actual game, and since the arrangement of cards also reflects bowling pins, and adjacency rules for removal simulates the path of a moving ball, there is a strong sense of thematic flavour. Very thematic, and very clever!
Strategy: The gameplay is fairly straight forward, but there's a lot of scope for careful play. To play well, you'll want to keep track of what cards have been played (there are only 20 in total, so card counting is not difficult), and exercise some basic probability and risk management to maximize the chances of drawing what you need. You should also remove cards in such a way that the remaining cards are more likely to correspond to the ball cards remaining in the game. Giving careful thought to your options and possibilities before playing anything will definitely lead to better scores (to illustrate: we only scored 93 in our first game, whereas in our second game we'd already improved enough to score 138!). A score of over 150 is very good in this game, and scores of over 200 have been reported. There's definitely a lot of room for skilful and calculated play, and that's what makes this game so good.
Luck: There's also also enough luck to ensure that each frame plays out differently. You can never be entirely certain what cards are face-down in which pile, so there's enough of an unknown that requires some calculated risk-taking, while at the same time the majority of your decisions are going to be made on the basis of the knowledge that you do already have from the face-up cards. So there's just enough luck to ensure replayability, while not so much that it becomes frustrating or takes away too much from the genuine skill required to play well.
Solitaire: You can play competitively with two players if you wish (it will take twice as long); it will be a multi-player solitaire experience, but the same can be said of a real game of bowling! To my way of thinking, the fact that Bowling Solitaire is intended firstly as (surprise, surprise) a solitaire game is a positive, and will be especially welcome for solo gamers looking for a small and thoughtful game like this. It does take around 20 minutes or so to play, and offers a lot of decisions in that time. Sid Sackson developed this in part as a result of his distaste for `traditional' solitaire games (e.g. where you lay a red 9 on a black 10), and he certainly succeeded in coming up with a far more interesting, original, and thematic game that feels worlds apart from the solitaire we've all played on our PC.
Components: The theme is particularly enhanced with the artwork of the published game. Although you can certainly play Bowling Solitaire with standard playing cards (two suits of cards numbered 1-10 will work), it is more enjoyable with this edition, also taking into account that it comes with a handy score pad. The cards themselves are of high quality and should prove very durable. And of course, you don't just get one solitaire game, but two, since this is included in the same package as Elevenses for One.
So is Bowling Solitaire for you? This really is a clever and very thematic game. Despite its age, it feels fresh and modern, and playing it is a very satisfying experience. As further testament to this game's popularity, earlier this year the 1 Player Guild ran a Solitaire Bowling League with this game that proved to be popular and successful - confirming that Bowling Solitaire really is as fun as everyone says!
Eagle-Gryphon Games has done us an excellent service by making a quality published version of this clever game, and hopefully this will lead to many more discovering this Sackson gem. The fact that it comes included with another game, Elevenses for One, means you are getting two good games for the price of one, which is all the more reason to consider picking this up.
Sid Sackson's genius is evident once again with Bowling Solitaire, and with this title he has achieved yet another successful strike. Kudos to Eagle-Gryphon games for injecting this game with new life in this nice portable edition!
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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