Let’s be honest now. Whether you were bored at a relative’s hours or just needed to kill a few minutes, we all played Solitaire at some stage off our P.C.s. From the base game to Spider Solitaire, few editions could boast the sleek design of The Solitaire Conspiracy, however. Marking the third “Bithell Short” from developer Mike Bithell, it follows on from the excellent Subsurface Circular and Quarantine Circular games. Bringing us full narrative experience beatable within 1-2 hours, it makes for another solid short.
Sharing a universe with its predecessors but remaining self-contained, this conspiracy is told via full-motion video, starring Greg Miller and Inel Tomlinson. We’re introduced to Protego, an independent spy network which holds allegiance to no nation. Playing a nameless new recruit, you discover Protego has recently undergone a serious attack by the mysterious criminal mastermind “Solitaire”, leaving its individual spy crews tattered and their network in ruins.
It’s time to d-d-d-duel
Only one analyst remains to help, Jim Ratio (Greg Miller), granting you access to C.A.R.D.S. (Cyber Augmented Recon and Defence System) which lets you take down Solitaire’s operations, finding your spy crews along the way. Though this espionage plot feels a bit cheesy in places, it’s hard to deny that The Solitaire Conspiracy holds intrigue whilst this short tale unfolds. Though I was never completely sold on Miller’s performance, T.S.C. left me curious to see how it finished.
Gameplay uses the Streets and Alleys variant of Solitaire, placing playing cards into a 3×4 grid but leaving the middle column empty. Cards are shuffled into the left and right columns, giving you multiple suits at once. Like normal Solitaire, players must place them in the correct order (Ace to King), and there are multiple suits to place down. Amongst the side columns, you can shuffle the top card onto other piles, but only if it’s a lower-numbered card than the one you’re placing it on top of.
Teamwork makes all the difference
Instead of just using traditional suits of diamonds, clubs, hearts and spades, each suit is based around a particular crew, though there is some overlap. Different missions can use up to 4 different crews, chosen by the game, each coming with special abilities activated by the Jack, Queen or King. As an example, DT6 crew can perform “Extraction”, which automatically sends the next card of that suit to the middle pile, regardless of stack location. Blood Legacy has “Nepotise” which allows you to rearrange a card stack into order of highest number first. Incognito has “Obfuscate” that lets you shuffle a stack at random and more.
It contains three modes altogether, but you’ll mainly spend time in the campaign. The short nature of this experience does limit your scope but what’s offered is pretty enjoyable. Missions offer XP for finishing them and to complete this story; you need to hit level 15. Upon levelling up, you’ll gain new crews, and there’s 8 in total. New levels also unlock coloured themes for your deck, and these really bring the stylish neon aesthetic to life. Admittedly, it would be hard to add any real depth to a Solitaire game, but T.S.C. pulls it off, making good use of the crew system.
Outside of the campaign, you’ve also got Skirmish and Countdown modes that unlock upon hitting level 7 and 9 respectively, adding good variety to proceedings. Skirmish is just your standard solitaire game without the story, letting you choose from up to four of your unlocked crews. Countdown is a race against the clock which adds an increasing series of suits to sort through, pitting players against the clock. Each successfully placed card adds 3 seconds to your time, putting your score into an online leaderboard once finished.
Heart of the cards
Beatable within two hours but offering good replayability, The Solitaire Conspiracy is a short but sweet experience. Featuring some strong visual aesthetics, an engaging narrative and enjoyable gameplay, this bite-sized title proves particularly entertaining and left me wanting more. Though limited by the smaller scope, it marks another winner by Mike Bithell, making this one conspiracy we recommend investigating.