Solitaire with a Purpose: Microsoft Solitaire Collection

A couple weeks back, I mused about the “goal” of solitaire. Since that post went live, I’ve been thinking about how not every solitaire game out there really has that kind of goal to it. It’s easy, for example, to play a game of Pyramid or Aces Up, but even if you win, you won’t have gotten the deck any closer to orderly. But what about people who play for points, or that ever-inconsistent Vegas scoring? What are they playing for, besides racking up an imaginary number? And what happens when a solitaire game adds attainable goals and achievements?

Microsoft Solitaire Collection, the Windows Store (and mobile phone) update of the famous Windows pack-in, raised some eyebrows when it was announced that it would be including challenges and unlockables. (Of course, it also raised some much-deserved ire when Microsoft revealed it’d be ad-supported and have a “premium” version, but that’s not quite the focus of this article.) It was a sign of the times, claimed the detractors, that players wouldn’t have much reason to play a classic card game unless it were boosting their Gamer Score and rewarding them for dealing their first card from a stock pile. Others have mused about the nature of in-game Achievements and Trophies, both for and against. I’m of two minds on that, but first, let’s look at what exactly MSC thinks is worth a gold medal.

2017-01-27-16_40_38-greenshot
The list of Achievements (shown publicly on your XBox Live account), Medals, and Challenge Badges…and a small snippet of the Leaderboards that wouldn’t fit all the way on the screen.

Among the things that are worth achievements:

  • Flipping over your first card. (10 points)
  • Playing (5 points) and winning (5 points) your first Daily Challenge game.
  • Creating and saving a theme (5 points).
  • Clearing an entire pack (10 points) or an entire category (10 points) of Star Club challenges.
  • Playing all of the available games at least once (20 points).
  • Flipping cards 10,000 times (10 points).
  • Have a Best Clear Time of less than 10 minutes on 3 specific games (10 points).
  • Clearing one Daily Challenge a day, every day , for a month (10 points).

Things that are worth Medals:

  • Winning a game of Spider by drawing all the extra cards to the tableau before making a single move
  • In Klondike, playing the Jack, Queen, and King of any suit to the foundation with no moves in between.
  • Win a game of FreeCell having never had more than 2 cells filled at any given time.

A good achievement, in this author’s mind, is something that not only highlights how difficult a given task is, but also encourages the player to think differently about how the game is played. I can understand there being rewards for things like winning a certain number of challenges, or for breaking speed records, but it baffles me that things like flipping one card or saving a theme (things that require no effort) are worth points on the public profile, and yet it’s the medals – the ones that aren’t shared to the public and aren’t worth Gamer Score – are the ones that require a lot of skill and aren’t even tracked by Achievements.

So that’s one potential goal. What about those Star Club and Daily Challenge things, though? Well, let’s have a look at those.

2017-01-27-16_16_49-greenshot
This round of TriPeaks is only considered “won” if I’ve reached a certain point goal before the game ends.

Star Club is a curated series of challenges that present you with pre-determined deals and task you with doing specific things. Challenges tend to be things like “Play all four Aces to the foundations,” “Solve the board,” “Score at least 50000 points,” “Play the 9 of Spades to the foundation in less than 150 moves,” or “Clear 2 boards in 3 deals.” Sometimes a timer gets involved, and other times, you are given a game already in progress to work from. Winning challenges awards you stars, which are used to unlock new packs of challenges, sometimes with different themes.

Similarly, the Daily Challenges give you the same sorts of challenges, but only five a day, usually one from each of the five available games. Cleared challenges give you coins, and your coin total is tallied up at the end of every month and placed in a worldwide leader board. Clear enough challenges in a month, and you’ll earn a badge.

Now, honestly, the Daily Challenges are less interesting to me, because it doesn’t feel like the unlockable stuff is as substantial as the Star Club stuff. I mean, I’ve never been a competitive sort of person, but I just don’t see why I should be comparing myself to other solitaire players. It’s a solo game by nature, isn’t it? It falls under the same category as the achievements versus the medals. The things you earn for yourself are infinitely more interesting than the things which you can flaunt to all the other players. Maybe there’s a moral to be derived from this. The things you do for yourself will satisfy you more than the things you do for others…well, that sounds a bit like a flawed Aesop fable, doesn’t it? Perhaps if I phrase it like this: “Your own victories are most important to yourself.”

…I’m still not sure that conveys the right message, but I suppose it reveals more about me (and this blog) than it does about solitaire or anything else. I’ll keep thinking on that, though.

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