Solitaire game types and families

Game types

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.

If this explanation is confusing, it could help to read our glossary page.

The game types are illustrated by the following examples.

Closed games

Half-open games

Open games

Game families

Besides classifying solitaire games based on their type, they can also be divided into different families. These families are mostly linked to the well-known solitaire games such as FreeCell, Spider and Klondike.

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.

Examples: Forty Thieves, Thieves of Egypt, Emperor, Diplomat, Josephine

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