543850 is a quasi-random number.

FreeCell vs. Solitaire

May 16, 2002 review

When I went to my grandparent’s house as a kid, I started playing solitaire. Mostly because my grandmother plays a lot of solitaire. And also, I love games. But solitaire became mostly a last-resort option for boredom removal.

Then I got a computer. And I discovered a game called FreeCell.

My life is now 89% FreeCell.

FreeCell is something of an instinct for me now. When I turn on my computer, and I’m waiting for the Internet to connect, I will open FreeCell. There is no thought process involved. While writing articles such as this, I will stop every paragraph so that I may beat a game of FreeCell. But I rarely, rarely, rarely ever open solitaire. And, if I can remember correctly, I am not terribly pleased when I do. But, for the sake of fairness and also not being hypocritical, I will play a game right now.

Well. That was an interesting experiment in conditioned behavior. Indeed, I had to relearn the rules to solitaire. And try to stop double clicking on cards. Now, for purists out there, this is the version of solitaire almost exclusively played in the US called Klondike.

But my third… or maybe fourth, I lost count… deal exampled why I generally dislike solitaire: a game is limited to the deck’s shuffle. An unfortunate deal will ultimately bring your game to an end. This brings up FreeCell’s strong advantage: all games (except one, I’ve read) can be won. And even if there are a limited range of deals you can be given, you’re eventually going to forget them anyway. I mean, I’m sure I’ve played hundreds upon hundreds of repeat games. But I’ve never ever noticed it. Of course, if you want to be very picky, solitaire has a finite number of playable permutations. But it probably is in the millions so it’s not worth considering.

Another advantage that FreeCell has over solitaire — and this is a personal bias and I’m sure many will disagree — is that it can be played very quickly. I’m pretty sure a game of FreeCell can be played in anywhere between 30 seconds and a minute. Now, let me time myself in solitaire.

Well, dammit. In the first game I played, it took me about 30 seconds to realize I was stuck. The second time, it took me about 75 seconds to realize I was stuck. And for the third game, it took 100 seconds. I fucking hate solitaire now.

Now, these figures are somewhat unreliable since a) I’ve played very, very little solitaire in the past few years and b) my blood has been known to contain trace amount of FreeCell. But it’s my guess that solitaire is sort of the secretary’s friend. It’s simple, time-wasting fun. He’ll get a little peeved when he doesn’t win, but he doesn’t sweat it: it’s all in the cards. FreeCell, by contrast, is the programmer’s companion. She’ll switch over for a game and try to drive through it. When she loses, she’ll curse herself for making the wrong moves. She’ll be compelled to try it again. So which game you like is favored by temperament.

But ultimately, I have to say that FreeCell is the better game if only because it can (almost) always be beat. You have a clear goal, it can knowingly be achieved, and even through defeat you become better. FreeCell deals can be played until it is solved. Even if you know it was your mistake that cost you a game of solitaire, you usually cannot go back to solve it. And really, there aren’t too many times when player error counts too greatly in solitaire. To my knowledge.

And, as for how the games are presented, FreeCell is more intuitive. Useless cards are automatically removed, whereas in solitaire, you have to at least right-click to get rid of them. And maybe there are some shortcuts I don’t know about… but moving piles in solitaire consists of drag-and-drop. In FreeCell, you can usually get away with click, move, click.

FreeCell just requires more thinking. I really like thinking in my games. I know sometimes mindless blasting can be a good diversion… but my guess is that people who only play those kinds of games also rate their movies according to explosions and cleavage.

Which isn’t to say solitaire is a mindless game. Well… kinda it is. But FreeCell is like the smarter, older sibling. Except younger. And if your Windows or Mac didn’t come with FreeCell, I am sad for you. But also, I’m sure you can find yourself a freeware version on download.com.