At the risk of having my posting priveledges stripped my second day on the job, I'd like to direct your attention to one of my favorite computer games, Solitaire. Now before you vanish into the forums again, bear with me a moment. I'm not talking about the lower-case computer solitaire that's been with us since UNIVAC. I'm talking about Solitaire with a capital "S", as in Hardwood Solitaire 3. Obviously, this is the update to the popular (among certain circles) Hardwood Solitaire 2. And, yes, believe it or not, it is possible to take solitaire to "the next level". Silver Creek Entertainment has done it again by releasing their latest of their series of excellent card games. This game is more polished and has a more gorgeous presentation than a lot of the fodder that lines the shelves at CompuBestMart. Every interface and detail has the trappings of a labor of love. The special effects are as whimsical as the high fantasy theme. Everything from the shimmering waterfall of stars cascading from the Silver Creek splash screen, to the satisfying fireworks and flying cards after a win, is just another top-notch accent to a simple game of cards.
The game mechanics are pretty straightforward and what you would expect. This is solitaire, after all. However, the card game clearly takes advantage of the shortcuts that computers allow. Cards are automatically shuffled and dealt in nice organized tableaus. Piles are transferred hither and thither without scrambling the tidy rows. There are always 52 cards in a standard deck. If you wish, you can have Auto-Play turned on so you don't have to manually drag each card up to the goal piles when you get a good run of cards (very important if you're shooting for a record time). All of the tedious tasks involved with hunting down an actual deck of cards, finding a flat surface, and playing solitaire the old-fashioned way, is neatly swept away into the code of HS3.
Sick of Klondike? Hardwood Solitaire 3 has a lovely inventory of 111 different games. Only know how to play Klondike? Each game has a set of instructions explaining the rules, and a button to watch the computer play. And if those weren't enough, you go ahead and jump into a couple rounds of the new game. The software won't let you make illegal moves (however it does allow you, thankfully, to Undo and Redo), so before long you'll start to figure things out. Some games are clearly based on chance while others involve some actual skill. There are ratings listed for each game to show typical game length, chance rating, and skill rating. This should give you a good idea of whether or not you even want to bother learning one of the games.
What game would be complete without a high scores list? Whenever you play a round of solitaire, there is a timer and a slowly dwindling number of bonus points. So far, I've won so infrequently that I haven't really paid much attention to the scoring system. Also, with 111 different games, it's going to take a while to fill the high score list for each game. However, this being solitaire, I actually have competition at home. This is a game that my wife is more than happy to trounce my scores in. It's pretty much a guarantee that when I get home from work and check the high scores, her name and adorable little avatar will be featured in the marquee. That's right, I said avatar. One of the dozens of customizable features in the game is your own little avatar. You choose one of the 6 or 7 characters and customize the background and color of clothing, skin, hair. What you end up with is a nice little icon so everyone in your house can tell who's on top of the high scores list.
Everything from your accompanying song list, special effects, background environments, the deck of cards you play with, is completely customizable. You don't even have to stick with Silver Creek's built-in options. You can import your own decks created with their Deck Press application. Create your own entire themes if the wizards and pixie dust don't appeal to you.
Their games are all playable in unregistered shareware format. Download Hardwood Solitaire 3 or any of their other games and try them out to your heart's content. Their non-solitaire games are fully multiplayer over the Internet. They all really sell themselves once you try the demo. If you want access to all of the features, pay for a license online ($25 for Hardwood Solitaire 3). For those of you who often gamble $50 on the latest EA game, this will feel like a sure thing. They will send you a registration key, and all you have to do is enter it into your already installed program. And if this is my last article before I'm booted back to the mail room, at least I went out for a good game.