Solitaire is one of the most well-known and most played computer games ever. Solitaire games (also referred to as patience games) are card games for one person, played with regular playing cards. Over 500 different solitaire variants exist, each having unique rules and using different fields. These fields can include the tableau where the majority of the gameplay happens, the foundation, the stock, the waste pile, the free cells, and the reserve.
The most well-known solitaire games are Klondike Solitaire, FreeCell, and Spider Solitaire. But the other solitaire variants are also fun to play and can be learned easily because they are all based on the same principles.
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Each solitaire variant can differ in terms of rules but also in terms of layout. Layouts differ in terms of which fields they use and how many piles in each field they have. In total, there are 6 different fields: tableau, foundation, stock, waste, reserve, and cells.
- Tableau: The tableau is where the majority of the gameplay happens. It typically has between 7 and 10 piles, but there can be less (e.g. 4 in Canfield Solitaire) or more (up to 13). Piles are typically shown fanned downwards.
- Foundation: The foundation is where in most games the cards have to be moved to in order to win the game. Its number of piles depends on the number of decks used. If one deck is used, there are typically 4 piles, and if two decks are used, then there are typically 8 piles.
- Stock: The stock has the remaining cards that are not dealt to the tableau in the beginning. Cards in the stock are typically face-down. There is typically only one stock pile.
- Waste: If the stock is turned over, cards are typically moved to the waste pile. This can be one at a time or multiple cards. There is typically only one waste pile.
- Cells: Cells allow one card to be placed in them, usually any card. You can look at cells as maneuvering space.
- Reserve: If a solitaire game has a reserve, it is dealt some cards at the beginning. No additional cards can be moved to the reserve. Cards from the reserve can mostly be moved one at a time to the tableau or the foundations.
One way to classify solitaire games is by the degree to which the cards are visible at the start of the game. Solitaire games in which all cards are visible (face-up) are called open games. If a game has face-down cards, e.g. in the stock or tableau as in Klondike, it is called a closed game. In between is a hybrid group of half-open games.
Another way to classify solitaire games is by the type of gameplay. In most solitaire games, the objective is to move all cards to the foundation, arranging them in runs from Ace to King of the same suit. This process is known as building, and in theory all solitaire games that use this principle belong to the builder type of solitaire games. Often, cards are arranged in reverse order (from King to Ace) on the tableau first. This step in between is known as packing, so games using this process are called packers (while also being builders). An additional distinction is made between games with a reserve (reserved builders and reserved packers) or without (simple builders and simple packers). Games that don’t use building or packing are called non-builders.
These game types are illustrated by the following examples.
- Simple builders: Clock Solitaire
- Reserved builders: Golf Solitaire, Pyramid Solitaire, Sultan Solitaire
- Simple packers: Klondike, Napoleon at St Helena, Westcliff
- Reserved packers: Alhambra Solitaire, Canfield, Crazy Quilt
- Non-builders: Accordion, Aces Up
- Builders: Royal Parade
- Blockades: British Blockade
- Planners: Calculation, Colorado, Poker Squares
- Packers: Agnes, Algerian, Russian, Yukon
- Spiders: Scorpion, Spider
- Open builders: Black Hole, Crescent
- Open packers: Baker’s Dozen, Baker’s Game, Eight Off, FreeCell, La Belle Lucie, Seahaven Towers
- Open non-builders: Gaps
Besides classifying solitaire games based on their type, they can also be divided into different families.
Adding & pairing solitaire games
Games in which cards are removed by pairing them. How cards can be paired differs between games, but often evolves around summing up to a certain amount (e.g. Pyramid, Fourteen Out) or finding pairs (Nestor). Despite not involving pairing, Golf Solitaire and Tri Peaks Solitaire also belong to this family.
Examples: Pyramid, Nestor, Fourteen Out, Golf, Tri Peaks
Canfield solitaire type games
Games that resemble Canfield, having a small number of tableau piles (typically four) and a single reserve pile with a lot of cards.
Examples: Canfield, Acme, American Toad, Duchess, Seven Devils
Fan solitaire type games
Games that have a large number of tableau piles with a low number of cards in each pile. The cards in the tableau piles are laid out in a fan, resulting in the name of these type of games.
Examples: La Belle Lucie, Black Hole Solitaire, Crescent Solitaire, Trefoil Solitaire
Forty Thieves type games
Games that share similarities with Forty Thieves solitaire. Forty Thieves is played with two decks and has simple rules. Because of its simple rules, many variations exist that belong to this family of games.
FreeCell solitaire type games
Games that share similarities with the very popular FreeCell game. Because it is an open solitaire game, winning a FreeCell game is all about skill and less about luck. Other games in the family of FreeCell games have variations in the way the tableau is built (e.g. Baker’s Game), the number of free cells (e.g. Eight Off), the number of tableau piles (e.g. Sea Towers), or the number of decks (e.g. Double FreeCell).
Examples: FreeCell, Baker’s Game, Eight Off, Seahaven Towers, Penguin Solitaire
Klondike solitaire type games
Games that are based on the classic and most well-known solitaire game: Klondike Solitaire. Games in this family often have a similar starting deal (one card in the first pile, two cards in the second pile, …). The variations might have different building rules, extra fields (e.g. a reserve), open instead of closed, cards dealt to each tableau pile instead of to the waste pile when turning the stock, and more.
Examples: Klondike, Double Klondike, Lady Jane, Agnes Bernauer, Flower Garden, Easthaven, Westcliff, Kingsley, King Albert
Spider solitaire type games
Games where sequences from Ace to King are not made on the foundations, where the objective is to make sequences from King to Ace in the tableau. Depending on the game, these completed sequences are removed from the tableau.
Examples: Spider, Scorpion, Simple Simon
Yukon solitaire type games
Games where any face-up card can be moved, irrespective of the cards above that are moved along as a group. In solitaire games of other families, only correctly ordered sequences can be moved.
Examples: Yukon, Russian, Australian Patience
Klondike Solitaire is the classic solitaire game we all know. Despite all the existing variants, Klondike is still the most played solitaire game, balancing skill and luck.
FreeCell Solitaire is a well-known solitaire game that requires more skill than luck. 99.99% of deals can be won because all cards are face-up at the start.
Spider Solitaire is a very challenging game that can take a long time to complete, but it is very rewarding when you win. The goal is to make 8 in-suit sequences from King to Ace in the tableau, which will be removed when completed.
The deal of Pyramid Solitaire is quite unique: 28 cards are dealt face-up in the shape of a pyramid, partly overlapping. The goal is to remove all these cards from the pyramid by pairing cards that add up to 13. Pyramid Solitaire is probably the most well-known game in the Adding & Pairing category.
Golf Solitaire is played by removing cards from the tableau to the waste pile. Only cards that are one higher or lower in rank than the top card of the waste pile can be removed, irrespective of suit. The rules are very simple, making golf solitaire a very relaxing game to play.
Tri Peaks Solitaire
Tri Peaks Solitaire has similar gameplay as Golf Solitaire, but the tableau is laid out in the shape of three peaks. It is a short game with a relatively high change of winning.
Forty Thieves is a difficult game despite its simple rules. At the start, 40 cards are dealt face-up into 10 tableau piles. The remaining cards form the stock and can be turned over one at a time to the waste pile. The tableau is built down by suit. Only one card at a time can be moved. Empty spaces can be filled with any card. The foundations are built up in-suit, from Ace to King.
Solitaire games date back to the 18th century, with the first reference occurring in a German text (Das neue Königliche L'Hombre-Spiel, 1783). The first mentions of solitaire seem to indicate it was first practiced as a competitive card game, while now the single player games are most popular.
Despite many games being named after him (e.g. Napoleon at St Helena, Emperor, Napoleon’s Heart, …), Ross and Healey have shown that Napoleon did not play solitaire while he was exiled.
Because many books about patience games were published in Sweden in the first half of the 19th century, it is believed that Sweden is the ultimate origin of the game. In English society, solitaire gained popularity thanks to a book called Illustrated Games of Patience, written by Lady Adelaide Cadogan. The exact date when the first version was written is unknown, but the second version appeared in 1874 and this version is still sold today!
In modern history, the addition of solitaire to the Windows operating system made solitaire gain broader popularity.
Each solitaire game is different, so it is difficult to give tips that apply across all games. However, we did our best to find some common best practices for playing any type of solitaire game.
- Think ahead: Always think a few steps ahead before you make a move, especially in open games such as FreeCell.
- Don't make a move just because you can: Never move a card just because you can. It always has to be part of a tactic, e.g. to reveal more cards. If there is no reason to move a card, don’t do it yet and a much better option might become available.
- Increase your options: When you encounter a situation in which you can make two moves, choose the move that will increase your options for further play. One example is when there are two cards of similar rank available to play, pick the one that will result in uncovering the most cards or gets you closer to clearing a column.
- Watch out for Kings and Aces: Most solitaire games don’t allow players to move a King on top of another card, so always keep this in mind. Similarly, for Aces it is almost never allowed to put a card on top of an Ace, so once you have an Ace as the top card in a pile, you cannot use that pile anymore.
- Use the undo button: Most games feature an undo button, so don’t hesitate to use it to your benefit.