Earlier this year, Bithell Games helped UK micro-indie Grey Alien Games publish Ancient Enemy, the latest in a series of what can only be called solitaire adventures by Jake Birkett. Mike Bithell – of Thomas Was Alone and John Wick Hex – must have enjoyed the experience, because here he is with his own twist on solitaire-with-a-story, The Solitaire Conspiracy, as part of his Shorts series of smaller-scale projects. It’s out now for PC and Mac on Steam and the Epic store.
Now, two of my favourite time-wasters of the last decade have been Birkett’s delightful, Jane Austen-inspired amuse-bouche Regency Solitaire and Klei Entertainment’s mini-masterpiece of future espionage tactics, Invisible, Inc. The Solitaire Conspiracy appears strongly influenced by both, so I was excited to try it. Like the Klei game, it features a cast of augmented spooks and hackers on daring undercover missions, and has a sharp-edged, neon-lit aesthetic, all violet and cyan over midnight blue and suspenseful synth music. Like Regency Solitaire, it playfully – perhaps arbitrarily – frames a ripping yarn around hands of solitaire, where the aim is to clear a layout of cards to progress to the next chapter.
Both comparisons are unfortunate ones for The Solitaire Conspiracy. Invisible, Inc. found, in a procedurally generated, XCOM-style turn-based tactics game, a perfect engine for creating knife-edge stealth scenarios for its cartoon espionage action. Bithell tries to find a similar thematic sympathy in solitaire, envisioning the cards as unruly agents, the suits as spy teams of contrasting styles, and the player as spymaster, brooding over the field of play and trying to bring order to the chaos.