Saturday, August 28, 2010

Order and chaos in solitaire games

Almost all solitaire games can be seen as an effort to impose order onto chaos. While there are exceptions, in general, any move which sorts, collates, or organizes the cards or pieces is usually a positive move. Getting cards of the same color, or suit, or number, to be together, is usually the end goal and very often it's also the intermediate goal. Even in games like Klondike where you have to make opposite color combinations, you're still imposing order onto randomness, just a slightly different pattern of order.

The reason that almost all solitaire games work this way is almost obvious. The games always start from randomization and disorder because that, resulting from shuffling the deck, is the only means readily available to ensure that you get a new game each time. Playing against another player, you don't generally need a random factor as certainly; games without one, like chess and checkers, are still eminently entertaining. (Though games with less tactical complexity often need a randomizer, like dice, to avoid the game coming out the same every time, when the winning tactics are more clear.)

There are a new breed of solitaire games that run on computers, notably some of the "PopCap" games and other web-based Flash or Java games, that have turned this on their head. If you see a game where the object is to create just enough order to cause something to disappear, making more room for new pieces, then you've found one. A few examples include Bejeweled and Bubble Breaker. In these games, while you are sometimes trying to arrange order, your overall score also depends on the constant infusion of more randomness, so sometimes you have to choose a strategy in order to encourage more chaos which you can then use to score more points.

I can't readily think of any examples of non-computer solitaire games in which an important tactic is to increase randomness in the pieces. There must be one somewhere, despite the fact that creating randomness is a key tactic in designing a solitaire game, but none occur to me.

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