Pop quiz! What is the most popular video game of all time? It's not Call of Duty, or World of Warcraft, or anything with Mario in it. The most popular video game in the world is Solitaire. Almost everybody plays it. It's simple, it's addicting, and it comes pre-installed on most computers. For millions, it's the first thing to click on when waiting for a large download, or just when the boss isn't looking at work.
When I first got my Gateway 486 running Windows 3.1 back in the early 90s, Microsoft's version of Klondike Solitaire was waiting for me and sucked away many hours of my time. When I got my Windows 95 system, it had a new Solitaire game to offer, a game called FreeCell. I quickly became a convert from Klondike to FreeCell and never looked back. Almost a decade ago when I had an early Sidekick II smartphone, I downloaded my first mobile FreeCell game from its app store. When I made the switch to Windows Mobile, the first thing I downloaded was a FreeCell game, and again when I jumped on the Android bandwagon. I've spent a lot of time playing a lot of video games over the years, but I believe I've spent more hours playing that Android FreeCell game than I have any other.
Before getting into my review of this particular App, I should start out by giving an overview of the game itself for those of you less familiar with it.
Unlike most forms of Solitaire, a game of FreeCell begins with every card on the table face up. The initial shuffle and deal to start the hand is the only random element to the game. There is no guessing what might come next, no hoping for the card you need, only thinking and strategizing. FreeCell is a puzzle. If you have the time, it is entirely possible to deal a game, and then just stare at it until you've figured out the entire solution. I've never done that myself, but I often think through several moves before touching the first card.
What gives FreeCell its name is that rather than moving entire stacks of cards at a time as in most Solitaire variations, you can only move a single card per turn. Four free cells are available to hold any card you'd like to put there, but can hold only one card each. Keeping these cells from filling up is the key to success. Moving one card at a time is a tedious process, so most electronic releases allow you to move multiple cards at once, provided that you have enough free places to accommodate the move if you were to do it one at a time. Some games have you click on the highest card in the stack that you want to move, some have you click the stack multiple times to select multiple cards to move.
In order to be user friendly on a small phone screen, Softick's Freecell has an intuitive system to just know what it is you want to do. You drag the top card off of a stack, and the maximum amount of cards that can be moved will highlight, along with any stacks that any of them can be placed on. After dragging to one of these other stacks, the game works out how to make it work and you don't have to think about it. The dragging is fast and responsive and feels incredibly fluid as you drag the virtual cards around the screen, even on older devices such as the first generation Motorola Droid that I used to own.
Winning a hand presents the expected animation flourishes which can be skipped simply by tapping the screen if you'd rather just get on to the next deal. Several gameplay options are available including keeping score and timing your game. I usually leave these disabled, as I play for the puzzle, not the score. There are also several aesthetic options controlling the style of the cards, the background, and what animations the cards perform. It even allows custom backgrounds based on images on your phone, or even can use your phone's camera to make new backgrounds.
The best part about this app is that it saves the card layout as you go. Even if your phone locks up and you have to take the battery out to reset it, the next time you launch the game you'll find the cards sitting exactly where you left them. There's no need to go into a save menu or an options screen, like so much else in the game, Softick made it thoughtlessly simple and intuitive.
Overall, there's not much to this game, but it's not a game that needs a lot. As I mentioned earlier, out of all of the games I've ever played, this is the game I've spent the most time playing. It's been my first choice for years for when I've got a minute or two to spare, and out of all of the FreeCell games I've tried, this one just feels the best. It's a free game too, so if you've got an android device and like solitaire, it's worth looking up.