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Subject: Snooker Solitaire: knocking balls has never been so much fun! rss

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Andrew J.
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Let's talk Snooker. Snooker is a table-based game similar to pool, though it is played on a much larger table and with different balls. Wikipedia has a great, concise explanation if you're looking to learn more about the sport. Snooker Solitaire is a print-n-play game by designer Mark Tuck that aims to take the magic of snooker and reproduce it in card-game form.

Image credit: thevig

Let's get one thing out of the way: you don't need to be a snooker fan to enjoy this game, but enjoying this game likely means you'll become a snooker fan. I discovered snooker by accident through a YouTube recommended video, and a few weeks later found this game. Some weeks in, and I'm watching at least parts of all the major tournaments on YouTube, and have probably clocked dozens of hours watching games. So I'm addicted. But the point stands: this is a satisfying simulation of the sport that you can probably enjoy even if you've never touched a snooker cue before.



How to Play

The Wikipedia link above runs down the rules of Snooker proper very well, and Mark has an excellent rulebook for the game at this link. So I'll just give you the condensed version: like snooker, you are trying to pot first a red ball, then a colored ball, until you miss a ball, when your opponent gets a chance to pot some balls. Play continues until all the balls have been potted. In Snooker Solitaire, you are attempting to achieve these by calculating the difficulty of a given shot, adding modifiers (like chalk and power) to escape snookers and sink long balls, and then rolling two dice to see if you rolled high enough to meet the shot's difficulty.

It's a brilliantly simple game, and Mark has amply illustrated different shot difficulty calculations in the rulebook. If you're a glutton for punishment, you can even add spin and doubles to your game for even more pleasure. I've played a dozen matches and still haven't felt the need to add these, though. In each match, your opponent will be a random card drawn from a deck of six opponents. These all take different values from the dice (and play differently at different stages of the match), determining how many balls they will pot during that visit to the table. Your goal is to progress through all five rounds and take the crown of champion!



Why this game shines
First off, the game feels incredibly alike to its real-life counterpart. I have never touched a snooker cue in my life, but I feel the thrill of sinking a difficult shot in Snooker Solitaire just as I'm impressed when Ronnie O'Sullivan or another snooker great nails a tough shot in real life. If you want some examples of just how impressive this game can be to watch, check out this amazing match between Judd Trump and John Higgins (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NanY2h5_Bc). You'll see a couple instances where one player clears the entire table in one visit, but you'll also see some tactical play as they maneuver for the best position. Just as real-life snooker has some incredible shots thrown in, you get all of the same feelings when playing Snooker Solitaire.


The other thing I have to commend is tied to the game design. Mark's AI system is brilliantly simple. Each turn, your random opponent will have some dice on his card that say how many balls he will pot. In this shot -- let's take round one for example -- Rick O'Shea will pot as many balls as he rolls on one die, and will alternate between potting a red and a green. In the finals, he's much, much more difficult, and will pot as many balls as the lowest three dice of four that he rolls. Consequently, no matter who you draw, your opponents become more and more difficult as you progress through the tournament. As your reward for winning a match, you get to upgrade your cue (providing you with extra power and chalk), so you too get the feel of growing in your skills as the game goes on. I absolutely love this system and cannot say enough good about it.



A few drawbacks
One match takes roughly ten to fifteen minutes, so multiply that out over five rounds (all the way to the final) and you are looking at over an hour of play. Sometimes, that's great, and yet Snooker Solitaire has little middle ground between a one-off match and full drag-out five-round tournament. Of course, you will often be eliminated early, and you could mitigate this by beginning at the Quarter Finals (perhaps with an upgraded cue) so it's really a small knock against such a good game.


The other problem is the dice. They're inherently random. Rolling snake-eyes, for example, is a foul. Not only does your opponent get to come to the table and clear some balls, you've also gifted him a free four points. And absolutely nothing in the game -- not power nor chalk -- allows you to mitigate a foul. Sure, the odds are very small, but it's unsatisfying when you're rolling through a fifty-point break and by freak luck you roll some snake eyes. Never have I been so tempted to cheat a solo game than when I roll double ones in Snooker Solitaire. Sure, this is just luck of the dice, but here's the thing: in the later rounds, you essentially get only one chance to win a match.


You can see above how strong Rick O'Shea is in the finals -- and he's the 8th opponent (the weakest overall!). If you miss a ball, your opponent will likely end the match at the visit, and you will be out -- all because you rolled double ones. It's frustrating, but it only slightly diminishes my enjoyment of this game. Overall, these random dice freaks occur about as often as they should -- and they'll equally often break your way, when you're forced to try a five difficulty shot and you roll a five and a six. Thrilling stuff!



Print and Play

Like The Shooting Party, you can't beat the price -- free! Mark has generously made a whole lot available to the general public here. THe game is easy to craft (less than fifty cards required overall), and all you need beyond that are a few paperclips (or wooden cubes) and four dice. You could even use a dice-rolling app on your phone and have even less to acquire. As if that's not enough, Mark's art is simply great for this game. I love the opponent cards and the wooden scoreboard. It's all very, very neat and I've definitely enjoyed crafting, learning, and playing Snooker Solitaire.

Should you try it? Absolutely! You're not wagering much. Unless you physically vomited at the sight of those snooker youtube videos (above), I think you just might enjoy snooker. It's a fun and entertaining sport, and who doesn't want to hear a couple of british announcers commentating on a match every once in a while? (I'll tell you a secret -- sometimes I secretly commentate in my own head -- in a british accent of course! -- while I play Snooker Solitaire. I recommend this variant highly ).



Snooker Solitaire

Gameplay
.. Abstract ----------♦ Thematic (Mark does so much with so little in this game)
....... Luck ---♦------- Skill (dice are always a little luckier than I'd prefer)
.... Simple ---♦------- Complex (stark simplicity is good here)
. Strategic --------♦-- Tactical (you'll evaluate every single shot carefully)
... Friendly ----------♦ Cutthroat (those AIs make me want to tear my hair out! Fantastic )

Other
Graphic Design/Components: 4/5 (excellent!)
Insert: N/A (print and play)
Rules Clarity: 5/5 (very well-written)

Overall: 5/5 (my top solitaire game)

tl;dr: Snooker Solitaire is my very top 'meaty' solitaire game. I love investing an hour in trying to beat the tournament. In a dozen plays, I've only walked away with a victory once! Challenging, replicates the feel of real Snooker very convincingly.
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Paul S
United Kingdom
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Excellent review, this is now firmly on my radar. I started off thinking "no way" but now am looking forward to giving it a go.

Also: as I decidedly below-average snooker player I can totally confirm that the 4 point fouls are pretty common!
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Andrew J.
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Beloch wrote:
Excellent review, this is now firmly on my radar. I started off thinking "no way" but now am looking forward to giving it a go.


Hey, I'm glad I could sway you. For the cost of an evening spent cutting and gluing the whole thing, you're not risking a whole lot and it really is a satisfying little game


Beloch wrote:
Also: as I decidedly below-average snooker player I can totally confirm that the 4 point fouls are pretty common!


I'm sure! I don't even want to guess how many I'd commit on a real snooker table. Mercy!
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Paul S
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Fun trivia fact, for pool-only players: a snooker table measures 11 feet 8.5 inches by 5 feet 10 inches for a standard full-size table. Good play will force your opponent occasionally to make a shot from a ball up against one cushion, to one nearly 12 feet away - and frankly I can barely see the object ball in that case! laugh
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Andrew J.
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Beloch wrote:
Fun trivia fact, for pool-only players: a snooker table measures 11 feet 8.5 inches by 5 feet 10 inches for a standard full-size table. Good play will force your opponent occasionally to make a shot from a ball up against one cushion, to one nearly 12 feet away - and frankly I can barely see the object ball in that case! laugh


That's why I love snooker so much -- the pots are often so long!

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