This format is a shorter, more to the point, off-shot of the normal review/op-eds I normally do. A ranking will be given at the end from a scale that starts at (from the lowest to the highest): Bad – meh – fine – good – great. Anything not appropriate for these “scores” will likely warrant a more in-depth discussion, which is what I normally do, so this range does not cover all games, just the ones that I think are suited to this format.
Mike Bithell is a game director whose work speaks for itself: Thomas was alone was a massive hit and since then, every game he has made is something completely new and original, ranging from puzzle stealth (Volume) to new takes on text adventures (the Circular series) and turn-based combat (John Wick Hex). Although the latter I have very mixed feelings on, I always look forward to a new Bithell game, because of how interesting and unique they turn out to be; his latest release is called The Solitaire Conspiracy and is a new take on Solitaire with a campaign to introduce you to it and two modes to seriously test your skills on. Although not his best short, TSC still carries the trademark qualities of a Bithell game and is well worth the price and time.
Let’s get the big selling point out of the way first: TSC is a new take on solitaire and its actually quite fascinating and addictive. The game is played as regular solitaire (meaning you still have to start with the Ace card and place the correct order of cards on top of it), but essentially each suit has a power up attached to it that can harm or help you in equal measure, and is only activated when face cards are moved. There’s a lot of tactical depth present, especially when the player is done with the campaign and starts playing the unlocked modes; getting to learn the intricacies and compete in leaderboards is where the ‘meat’ of the game is at and conquering those spots is both exhilarating and relaxing. There’s also an earned sense of satisfaction when you line up everything just right and execute the deck perfectly with the suits in mind.
While the core of the game is fascinating, the packaging around it is less so; the idea of an FMV campaign to contextualize the solitaire/hero aspect is goofy enough that it might work, but in the end its just uninteresting and weak. The actors are very cartoonish (which is unquestionably the right call) but without the charm or the natural charisma needed to draw me in and make me interact with them. However, I don’t want to be hard on the actors because the writing and storyline is uncharacteristically stale and boring from Bithell; there are a few twists, which are easily predictable, but my biggest issue is that this is a goofy premise that should last a couple of hours, but somehow it feels lifeless and ready to be over after just 30 minutes. Furthermore, I was surprised at how easy the campaign was and how unnecessary the suit powers were for its duration. There was an update after I was done that adds optional turn restrictions to make the campaign more challenging, but I have no interest in replaying the campaign, so hopefully it makes it a bit more challenging at the very least.
With the campaign done, the game is now free to be what it actually should have been all along; an arcade-inspired, leaderboard chasing experience. As soon as I was done with the campaign and started dipping my toes into the new modes, I muted the sound of the game, fired up my own playlist and started losing hours chasing scores and leaderboard places – one of the few times I’ve ever done that I should note. There are two modes to choose from: The skirmish mode which is exactly what you think it is (choosing which suits and how many to start a new round with) and a Countdown mode, where you start solving decks against the clock – the longer you go the better your score and using skills or adding cards to suits or ending a suit will get you more time. I feel like if these two modes were unchanged and something more interesting replaced the campaign, then TSC was going to get a lot more positive vibes, but the price is low and the replayability is through the roof, so I won’t complain too much on that.
That’s basically it for TSC; there’s some nice artwork for the factions, some of the writing eludes to some cool connections with other Bithell shorts and can be occasionally entertaining, but there’s nothing more to say. I highly recommend this game, and even though it could have been better, it is still a GOOD game. I was surprised at how uninterested I was at the campaign, but the other two modes more than make up for those shortcomings.