Ace in the hole

Fairway Solitaire  is a stroke of genius
By MITCH KRPATA  |  January 14, 2008
4.0 4.0 Stars

ADDICTIVE: The game’s endless complexity becomes apparent only when you try to explain it to others.

Fairway Solitaire | For Windows 2000, XP, and Vista | Not rated by the ESRB | Developed by Grey Alien Games | Published by Big Fish Games
Fairway Solitaire ought to come with a warning label: “Product may cause sleep deprivation, loss of productivity, and the ire of spouses.” The only puzzle game that dares to combine the rarefied pleasures of golf with the elegance and simplicity of a card game, Fairway Solitaire is dangerously addictive.

What’s it all about? Like the best puzzle games, Fairway Solitaire seems simple while you’re playing it. The endless complexity becomes apparent only when you try to explain it to others. At its most basic level, Fairway Solitaire is set up like a golf game — your goal is to play through 70 different courses, each with nine or 18 holes. There’s just one major difference: instead of swinging a club, you play a modified game of solitaire.

Each hole is represented by a different array of cards to be cleared. That’s accomplished by drawing a “foundation card,” which dictates what you can remove from the board. In solitaire tradition, you can remove any card that’s one higher or lower than your foundation card. So if you draw a 3 to start the round, you can remove any 2 or 4. If you remove the 4, you can then eliminate any 3 or 5 from the board. The challenge is to go on long runs, plucking as many cards from the board as possible without drawing a new foundation card. When you’re out of foundation cards, your score is finalized — and the more cards left on the board, the worse off you’ll be.

The fundamental strategy is simply to analyze the visible cards on the board to plot out potentially long runs. Runs of six cards or more multiply your total earnings on the hole, so finding them is of utmost importance. But, of course, it’s not quite that easy. Some holes have sand traps, in which certain face-down cards can’t be flipped till you find the hidden sand wedge. Water hazards are groups of blue-tinted cards that must all be removed in order to access certain sections of the board. With dozens of courses, and hundreds of unique holes, the difficulty keeps ramping up.

You get some help, too. You can acquire irons — cards that can be deployed at any time without interrupting the run you’re on. You can also put your tournament winnings toward purchasing helpful items in the pro shop. X-ray goggles allow you to see the next card in the deck before you draw it. The Powershot belt automatically increases your dollar earnings per hole by a third. And special golf shoes will overturn one-quarter of the face-down cards at the start of each hole.

As addictive as the gameplay is, it’s the quirky presentation that helps push it to another level. From the faux reverential introductory sequence to the gently sarcastic musings of the announcer, Fairway Solitaire pokes good-natured fun at golf. (A typical exchange between the play-by-play man and the color commentator: “Looks like he’s pulling out the five-iron, Tommy.” “I think it’s a six — no, you’re right.”) But there’s some real respect for the game there too. Take a look at the suspiciously familiar blond-haired gentleman on the Jack card. And note the dead-on audio when the crowd groans after a particularly bad hole. It’s like something out of the Tiger Woods series.

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