The third game (and last this week) under the Solitaire with a Purpose theme is quite a bit older than the last two, if only to show a different perspective on the idea of a solitaire meta-game. Because while Microsoft Solitaire Collection kept persistent stats for unlockable goodies, and Regency Solitaire had an overarching story and upgrades, I have yet to find another solitaire game that does it quite like Solitaire’s Journey by Quantum Quality Productions. QQP were, at the time, better known for their war games (like The Grandest Fleet, Perfect General, and The Lost Admiral) that made up 90% of their catalog. It’s difficult to say for sure, then, whether Solitaire’s Journey came about as a labor of love, or as something to pay the bills. Either way, I’m glad it got made, and apparently so are the users over at MobyGames, as Solitaire’s Journey holds a MobyScore of 4.32 out of 5, the second-highest-rated Cards/Tiles game in the database.
Solitaire’s Journey is a game that’s intriguing right from the moment you see the box – illustrated by QQP’s Gary Stevens, who certainly had a knack for unusually eye-catching box paintings (see The Lost Admiral for another one I found irresistible). From the gigantic Eye of Providence, to the streams of cards flying through the sky in neat, orderly lines…and that title! How could Solitaire go on a Journey? The almost Dungeons & Dragons-meets-Salvador Dali presentation on the cover just demands that you grab it and give it a closer look. Admittedly, it’s far more dramatic than the game ever gets, unless you are morally required to only play solitaire during sunsets in the Sahara, but you can’t deny that it leaves one hell of an impression.
Upon actually booting up the program, you could probably be forgiven for comparing it with any of the hundreds of “100+ Solitaire Games” collections, since that’s what Journey basically is. Outside of the fact that the game keeps persistent stats (for multiple players, with password-protected logins, at that!), it is very much a collection of solitaire games. It doesn’t do click and drag, auto-play is something you have to specifically activate from a menu, and the Rules text for most games is informative but very terse. It also runs in very safe video modes, giving it bare-minimum system requirements for 1992, and there is next to no animation (which I’m sure saves a lot on memory). And while the game does have music (with support for multiple sound devices), none of the songs in the game is longer than about 15 seconds before looping back to the beginning, so you’ll probably wind up just switching it off and putting on something more appropriate, like some Andrew Sega electronic ambience.
But all that is precisely none of the reason why Solitaire’s Journey is still notable. No, the answer to that riddle is right there in the title: the Journey! The game offers you two special meta-game modes, Quest and Journey. Quest Mode sends you into a mansion, typically of the haunted variety, and tasks you with finding treasure. In order to come out of the mansion with as many gold bars as you can, you move from room to room, with each room requiring you to choose from one of three different varieties of solitaire per room. Interestingly, you don’t need to actually win these games to get through each room; you need only meet a certain minimum score (a simple tally of how many cards made it to their foundation, no timers or combos to be found here). Just achieving the minimum score is enough to progress into the next room of your choice, but doing well at the games is the only way to get all the gold. Fail at a game, though, and you’re booted back to the last room you were in. That’s it – there’s no Game Over, there are no penalties, and there’s nothing stopping you from eventually clearing the entire mansion of its riches.
The real, true meat of Solitaire’s Journey, though, is the Journey Mode, where there actually is a Game Over state. Borrowing some elements from The Oregon Trail and Cross-Country USA, Journey has you traveling coast-to-coast, partaking in solitaire tournaments in major cities across the United States. Each city has three games to choose from, and rather than having a minimum score, doing well at each game determines your winnings. You’re not traveling for free, though; every trip between cities costs money, and it’s up to you to make sure you’re meeting your bottom line by not sucking at cards. If you’ve done poorly at a game, you won’t earn any money, and your tournament sponsors may refuse to pay for your hotel room, costing you more money. And without money, well, you’re stuck. So it’s important to take not necessarily the shortest route, but the route that is most cost-efficient and doesn’t stick you with the really hard, low-scoring games like Bristol or La Belle Lucie. At the same time, though, choosing easier games doesn’t necessarily grant you the best winnings, so you may not necessarily want to take the easy way out by picking Doublets or Fourteens.
The thing I like about Solitaire’s Journey and its Quest and Journey modes is that, in addition to piling an extra layer of strategy on the games, it also encourages you to learn how to play the other games that you might not bother with otherwise. After all, what’s the point of buying 105 solitaire games if you’re only going to play Klondike, Freecell, and Spider? Why not take a risk and learn somewhat more obscure rules like Interregnum, Flower Garden, Clock, or Miss Milligan? After all, you never know whether your favorite game will show up right in front of the exit to that creepy mansion…