I’ve never been more enthralled by virtual playing cards as I have been playing The Solitaire Conspiracy, the latest game from Bithell Games, of Thomas Was Alone and Volume fame. Once the cards finish falling, it’s a clever twist on the classic solo card game with a heaping helping of video game personality Greg Miller.
In The Solitaire Conspiracy, out now for PC, players take on the role of an operator attempting to gather together the scattered remnants of Protego, the world’s leading spy agency. Their task is taking back control of the various crews that made up Protego, eventually regaining control over the entire organization. Assisting the player on this journey is Kinda Funny’s Greg Miller, a fellow I’ve met in person several times and thus am having trouble buying as Protego analyst Jim Ratio. Miller does a fine job acting out his scenes, presented as video bits between rounds. It’s just…it’s Greg. Hi, Greg.
But Greg isn’t the focus here. It’s the Solitaire. The game is built around a variant of the classic called “Streets and Alleys.” Cards are shuffled and dealt in eight stacks, four on each side. There are four empty spaces in the middle of the card layout. That’s where the various suits are stacked in ascending order, from Ace to King. Only the cards on the top of each stack can be placed in the center.
In “Streets and Alleys,” cards on stacks can only be swapped to other stacks if they are sequentially lower than the target card, regardless of the target’s suit. For example, a five of hearts can be moved atop a six of hearts, six of clubs, six of diamonds, or six of spades. In The Solitaire Conspiracy, cards can be swapped to a new stack as long as they are lower than the target, no matter how far removed. A two card can be placed on a King, a five, a three, whichever, as long as the card being moved is lower. This makes The Solitaire Conspiracy’s particular brand of Solitaire very, very easy. Playing through the short story campaign I never once encountered a dead end, as often happens is normal Solitaire play. It’s all a matter of knowing how to move the cards about. There is always a way.
Aiding (and sometimes thwarting) the player are spy crews. Instead of hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades, The Solitaire Conspiracy’s suits are themed crews whose face cards sport special abilities. Face cards in the Alpha Division crew, when placed atop a stack, order the cards in the stack from highest to lowest. That ability is perfect for when a lower-value card is at the bottom of the stack. Agents from the Blood Legacy crew, on the other hand, re-order cards with lowest on the bottom, highest on the top. That’s not so handy. Moving a Blood Legacy face card to another stack has the potential to screw up the players’ plans.
The eight different crews are where the game’s strategy kicks in. A player can easily get through a round without worrying too much about the special crew abilities, but they might be able to get through it much more quickly and efficiently by tapping into their skills.
Plus the characters look super-cool. Not the live-action ones, who I suppose look cool enough, but the face cards for each of the crews. The character art is superb, blending perfectly into the neon cyberverse in which the card battles take place. It’s one of the best-looking card games I’ve ever played.
The Solitaire Conspiracy’s story campaign, starring Greg Miller and actor/comedian Inel Tomlinson, is a series of card-game rounds with video cutscenes woven between them. You select from a group of missions, each with different experience point values, and then play cards. Once you finish the round, you get the experience, maybe level up, and then play more cards. It’s a race from level one to 15, which takes a few hours. Once complete, you can continue to play randomly generated levels in campaign mode, play against the clock in Countdown mode, or build your own challenges in Skirmish mode, selecting which of the eight crews to shuffle in.
The Solitaire Conspiracy is a short game, but it’s very clever, has an amazing high-tech style, and an outstanding dramatic soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a big-budget theatrical thriller. It’s a very rich experience.
Also a very Greg experience.