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A Genteel Verdict: Regency Solitaire

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While everyone else is off killing monsters and looking at bottoms in The Witcher 3, Pip and Adam have been killing time and looking at butlers in Regency Solitaire [official site]. It’s a game of cards and cads, taking in romantic Regency hotspots such as the baths of Bath, the beaches of Brighton and the ballrooms of London. As well as discussing its finer qualities, we try to work out what it all means, how important theme and setting are to our enjoyment, and whether so-called “casual” games are often unfairly passed over. Onward, gentle reader.

Pip: Adam, I am so into Regency Solitaire that I spent lunchtime on that instead of Dota or Destiny. This is a BIG DEAL.

Adam: I am so into Regency Solitaire that I spent last evening playing it instead of looking at The Witcher 3, which is hot new and fresh, or any of my usual things, such as Crusader Kings II, Football Manager or The Pub. And there’s an interesting point to be made RIGHT THERE, I think. Dota, Destiny and my strategical-tactical things might all fall into the bucket that daft people like to call ‘hardcore’ rather than ‘casual’.

Regency Solitaire is one of those games that people will tend to drop in the casual bucket. And it’s great and appeals to me instantly because I enjoy how sedate it is, but also because it’s really genuinely lovely to have a game that is thematically at odds with the rest of my library.

Pip: How far in are you?

Adam: I don’t really want to say because I know you’ve done more than me and I started sooner. So I feel like a bad Bella. I’m in Brighton. But I bought some curtains just now.

Pip: God, Brighton was so yesterday afternoon. I’m currently in a churchyard at dusk. I won’t tell you more because spoilers but I will explain the game a bit before we go on. Partly for the benefit of readers and partly because you are so far behind I don’t even know if you know what you’re doing :D

SO. You play as Bella – her family are in debt thanks to her brother Edward gambling away the family fortune and she’s trying to work out how to make a good marriage without a dowry and without marrying the creep who lives next door. If you’ve read Pride & Prejudice you’ll know the basic shape of the world this is all taking place in. There are ballrooms and encounters with fine gentlemen in Bath, trips to Brighton and happenings in London.

What you’re actually doing in all of this, though, is playing lots of rounds of solitaire, working out how to chain sequences of face up cards, getting rid of them in order to reveal more cards from the various arrangements. Clearing the board of cards entirely gets you a perfect hand – THREE STARS! – and the longer the chain of cards you make, the better the multiplier on your winnings.

Somehow being good at playing cards on your own lets you play through the love story element as this strong and attractive woman so I think solitaire is a metaphor for masturbation and being happy with yourself sexually. Maybe.

BUT, Adam, I have questions.

Adam: Even if I am stuck in Brighton, I may be able to answer those questions. Not with any degree of accuracy, you understand, but I’ll certainly give it a shot.

Pip: RIGHT:

1. Given the family is in debt because of Edward’s gambling why is everyone so okay with my obsessive sole occupation being playing cards for money?

2. Who is paying me to play cards on my own?

3. Why do people keep hiding their bulky prized possessions under complicated arrangements of cards? There was a TEA SET under my most recent round.

4. Why am I not allowed to use my winnings to pay off my brother’s debt? I’ve made tens of thousands of pounds playing solitaire and generally being superior to the other Regency ladies but the only things I’m allowed to spend the money on are, like, a statue of Cupid and a conservatory and a pair of gloves and a wig for my fucking butler. Why am I not being like “Well, I make more money than Mr Darcy ever bloody did thanks to my card habit and weird benefactor so not only can I get the family out of debt but I also now have a massive dowry and actually I don’t even need to get married and by the way I bought a massive gold Palladian villa and I’m going to go and sit in it on my own “playing cards”?

5. That neighbour guy is a dickhead, isn’t he?

That is all my questions.

Adam: OK, I got this.

1. If you were to marry the Earl of Pleasantry and all was well in the world, you would be as Edward was before the gambling and the rest of the rot set in. You’d be Well Set Up. But what if you then had a child and the child turned out to be a terror? The only solution would be to have another child and hope that it turned out to be a little angel.

What I’m saying is, if the first child is bad, the solution is to follow up with another. And the same is true of gambling. If one sibling botches up the entire family fortune and estate by chucking his chips in with a gang of scoundrels who were PROBABLY CHEATING ANYWAY, you better hope that there’s another sibling willing to gamble against herself and somehow create a perpetual profit machine out of one deck of cards, a fancy embroidered fan and some silk gloves.

The question you should really be asking is why does the sole occupation of card-playing seem to be an entire mode of existence. I like to think that in the world of Regency Solitaire, if you want to dance, you have to play a good hand of Solitaire to perform the correct moves. If you want to ascend into a carriage without exposing yourself or splitting your breeches, you need to play a good hand of Solitaire. If you want to do a kiss, you have to play a good hand of Solitaire.

Just as in a Match-3 game where a line of gems can represent anything from a quaffed potion to a captured animal, cards have become a metaphor for the very stuff of life. And masturbation.

And that touches on one of my disappointments with the game. Not the masturbation thing but the rest of it. It’d be lovely if there were at least some choices involved. You can choose what to buy but how great would it be if you could choose WHY you were playing cards – “Do you want to flirt with Barnaby Bingley or would you rather sit in a corner reading French poetry and scowling at everyone? PLAY CARDS TO DECIDE HOW YOU DO EITHER ONE OF THOSE THINGS.

Anyway. Does that answer the first question?

Pip: Yes. Although I didn’t exactly choose what to buy because I kind of got so rich I could just buy everything.

Adam: I still can’t afford that one £10,000 portrait :( I am terrible at Solitaire, which we have now decided is the Stuff of Life. :( :( :(

Pip: Charlotte’s portrait? Yeah – no idea why her face is worth so much money.

Adam: Before moving on to question 2, this seems like a good point to ask if you think it’s actually possible to be good or bad at Regency Solitaire? Does it mostly come down to luck, do you think, or have you developed ways to succeed handsomely? Also, I guess, does it really matter?

Pip: I think it’s possible to make better or worse choices when picking the order of the cards in a chain. I tend to actually run through the moves in my head before I play them simply so I can see if there’s a better way of doing it that will include more cards. You can also try and keep tabs on the cards which have already been played to work out how likely the card you need is going to come up. If it’s incredibly unlikely or if the board is arranged suboptimally for what you want to do then you can turn to the special moves and the special cards which help you out.

Like, if you can see that the cards you need for a chain are there but unavailable because they’re under other cards then you can use the “shuffle” powerup thing and see if what it gives you lets you make a better move. Or you can use a wildcard which means you don’t lose your combo and starts a new chain with the number on that wildcard. I used those a lot for meeting the combo targets in each round. So much of the game is still in the luck of the draw but it is possible to make better choices and a better use of the helper cards at your disposal.

Adam: Yep, that sounds about right. And I’ll quickly note that none of the powerups or helper cards are in-game purchases. Because that’s the kind of filthy thing that would happen in some similar mobile games. Helper cards are shuffled into the deck and emerge as you play a hand and the powerups are purchased using the in-game currency (they’re represented by things like the fans and portraits we’ve mentioned) and are on timed charges.

Pip: That statue of Cupid I mentioned earlier is one such item. It lets you destroy face up cards when it’s charged up. I did go through a phase wanting to complete everything without powerups and so on. I think I lasted til Brighton and then the ways the cards are arranged makes combos a lot more difficult so I started tapping into the wildcards, then the powerups are more what I try and save for when I’m desperate.

Adam: My first reply kind of covers the second question. “Who is paying you to play cards by yourself?”

If the whole Solitaire thing is a metaphor, then let’s assume the currency represents a treasury of ladylike Regency skills, such as ‘looking demure’, ‘tittering’ and ‘taking elevenses’. I don’t even know if elevenses existed as a term back then or if it was a thing that people took but I’m sticking to my guns here. That money isn’t money – it’s abilities. Regency abilities.

Which begs the question – why are you able to buy a statue of Cupid with the currency if it isn’t actually currency? At this point we have to contemplate the possibility that Bella’s drawing room is also a metaphor. It’s her mind palace. She doesn’t have a home anymore. Edward really screwed the pooch.

Pip: Will titter for portraiture?

Adam: Actually, yes, let’s go with that. Less bleak. Oh, but speaking of Bleak – that dickhead neighbour you mentioned is called Mr Bleakley, isn’t he? A horrible little wretch. I know you didn’t ask about him until question 5 but I think I’ve lost the flow of these answers. I’ve accidentally made the game into the fever dream of a dispossessed family living on the streets of Bath and I don’t want that to be the case anymore.

It’s a very jolly game actually!

Pip: Well, to be fair you answered question 4 with question 2 – if the money isn’t real then that rather explains why it’s not going to settle a real debt. That holds true whether it’s a fever dream or a masturbation metaphor. There’s also the possibility that Bella is somehow being paid by the Solitaire fairy and simply doesn’t like helping her brother but DOES like conservatories and butler wigs.

Anyway, yeah. Bleakley’s a cad, it’s true. He gets worse the more you find out about him too. At one point Lord Henry Worthington says he is “no gentleman”. A real insult.

Adam: Holy shit. I have my suspicions about him. I think he’s a proper villain and that he intentionally foisted the debt onto Edward so that Bella would be forced into a marriage with him. No gentleman indeed.

I think the whole game is a superb example of how a decent design can be elevated by a strong theme. It’s not even particularly overindulgent – flourishes throughout but no extended dialogues or huge slabs of exposition. It’s a few attractive backgrounds (though with an inaccurate non-pebbled Brighton beach, I’m told by RPS chatroom stalwart and Brighton denizen Alec Meer), a handful of characters and miniature conversations to set the tone. But it’s all done so well. It seems to be aware of its own posture in a way that allows it to be well-mannered, well-meaning and not at all over-bearing.

If it had been pixies or space marines, I don’t think I’d have been particularly interested at all – and that’s not to say the actual card game isn’t well-constructed because it is – but even though the story is slight, it’s a great reward at the end of a few hands.

Pip: I’d agree with that, particularly about the setting. It’s a game that has a good understanding of its own size, scope and the tone which suits it.

Adam: I’m all for games that add much-needed colour and variety to my collection. If a regency RPG popped up next week, I’d be more inclined to spend time with it than yet another swords and sorcery thing, even if it wasn’t quite as accomplished. Theme and setting are often seen as flavour or window-dressing but I think that’s at least partly because we’re so often looking at slightly different magic systems or elves with different hair rather than the broader palette that you might expect from other media.

And I don’t mean to be dismissive of the elves there. I think it’s as much a symptom of the people who have traditionally made and bought games, or have been expected to make and buy games. Something Warren Spector once said about Deus Ex being a cyberpunk game because that’s what publishers thought games should be – and then the guy goes off and makes Epic Mickey and is still thought of as the Deus Ex guy even though his passion was in early 20th century cartoon animation as much as anything else.

TANGENT, I know, but it really is very good to have a game like Regency Solitaire which seems to have come from somewhere that doesn’t normally intrude on this big old clump of interactive gubbins.

Pip: What I like is talking about good casual games because that market does get looked down on. Even the term “casual” is annoying – I mean I’ve spent hours on this, I’ve sent enough belligerent tweets about it that you know I am not casual in my approach to it and I’m really enjoying myself.

Adam: As am I. And I agree – the term is annoying and there’s a tendency to look right past some games rather than even looking down on them. I think a lot of people will enjoy Regency Solitaire and even though I’m STILL IN BRIGHTON, I’m already hoping for a sequel. Victorian Solitaire maybe. Or Regency Poker: The Fall of Edward.

Pip: Oh god. I would play that game so hard.

Regency Solitaire is available now, direct from the developers or through Steam.

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