Some forms of solitaire are always straightforwardly winnable: they give you something soothing to do with your hands that keeps your brain lightly engaged. Most forms of solitaire aren’t: you have choices to make, but ultimately you’ll only win a fraction of the time, and while those forms give you choices that you can make to increase that fraction, they only give you so much control. And there are a few forms of solitaire where winning is, in practice, always possible, but where you not infrequently have to think quite a bit before finding a winning route.

I certainly don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of solitaire, but until recently, I was only aware of one example of that third class, namely FreeCell. And, no joke, I really do think FreeCell is one of the great games of all time. But with Flipflop Solitaire, we now have a second example.

Actually, Flipflop Solitaire is even better than that: depending on how you play it, it can fit into any of the above three categories. So it’s very adaptable: no matter your energy level or amount of free time, there’s a mode for you!


The way the game works is that you’re trying to play cards off to foundations, which are suited and which play up starting from aces. And, in the main playing area, you can play up or down by rank on a stack, no matter the suit (e.g. if you have a seven of clubs, you could play a six of spades on it, an eight of diamonds on it, and so forth); also, you can move a group of cards of the same suit all at once (so, in that example, you’d really rather play either a six or an eight of clubs). You can move any card to an open slot, but you have to dig to get to open slots, because every stack starts with six or so cards in it. And there’s also a draw pile you deal from when you run out of moves, and two faceup cards off to the side that you can play at any time.

So, basically, you try to dig down into stacks by moving cards from them to other stacks, creating more order as you go; and then, once you manage to empty out one of the stacks, your options expand, because you can move a sequence off the top of a stack to get at a buried card underneath, and potentially you can turn sequences upside down, or even do trickier stuff. Though there’s a limit in how much stacking you can do, because the game imposes a height limit of 20 cards on a single stack; at first, I assumed that was driven by user interface considerations, but now I suspect that the game would be a lot easier / more boring if you could build arbitrarily tall sequences, because you’d end up moving all of your cards into one huge stack.


Those are all familiar enough ideas, though this particular collection of rules is one that I haven’t seen before, and it turns out to work quite well. But there’s additional flexibility in the game, because it gives you different modes to play in: you don’t have to play with the standard four suits. In the most basic mode, in fact, all of the cards are in the same suit. (You still have 52 cards, you just have four aces of spaces, four twos of spades, and so forth.) And this gives you not only more flexibility for how to play cards up to the foundations, it also gives you many more opportunities to move groups of cards at once (because you can only do that if the cards have the same suit, which is easy if there is only one suit!); so, in practice, you can always win that mode in a straightforward but still moderately entertaining fashion.

Once you move to two suits, though, you have to be significantly more careful; still more so with three suits. (In the three-suit mode, you have two copies of every card in one suit, and only one copy of the other two suits.) And four suits is in turn a significant step up from the two and three suit modes; there’s even a five suit mode as well. In either of the latter two modes, you’ll be losing significantly more often than you’re winning, at least until you’re very experienced at the game. (I actually have a little over 50% win rate on the five suit mode now, but it’s taken me hundreds of plays to get there.)


That’s how the game spans the first two buckets in my classification. But there’s also an undo button; and, it turns out, the game is effectively always winnable with undo. (Whereas it isn’t without it, at least with the four and five suit versions: there’s too much hidden information at the start.) Importantly, though, even with that undo ability, the game can be very difficult at times: I’ve gone through something on the order of 700 rounds of the five-suit version, and it’s still not uncommon for me to find myself nowhere near finishing on my first attempt at a deal, then trying a different sequence of columns to focus on and making it pretty close on the third or fourth attempt, but then even with that having to try out subtly different choices of moves to try to somehow squeeze out one last bit of order out of the chaos, with me finally succeeding half an hour later.

And it even turns out that plays of the game often turn out to have surprisingly satisfying narrative plots! For example, say that you haven’t made it as far in building up foundations as you expect when approaching the end of the game, and you’ve made it to the top of most but not all the columns. So maybe you have one draw left (with five face-down cards), and maybe there are another five face-down cards divided across two of the columns on the board.

In that situation, there are probably some key low cards you’re missing: maybe one of the aces and a two or a three, or something. So then you’re nervous waiting to see which ones will appear when you draw; and, typically, when you draw, you actually will get one of those (since you’re close to uncovering all the face-down cards), plus one or two other cards that you can move around. So that’s exciting, because you’ll be able to make progress somehow; and probably that progress will let you reach one of the face-down cards on the board.

And then you have the next level of excitement: when you reveal that card, is it going to turn out to be something useful? What about when you reveal the card underneath it? But, usually, at some point, you’ll reveal a card that isn’t so useful; and, at that point, you’ll feel like you’re 90% stuck, but there’s still a little bit of moving you can do around the margins; and, sometimes, if you experiment enough, you’ll be able to make it over the hump and get to where you can play everything up to the foundations. But you never know when you’re going to get to that phase.


So, basically, getting close to the end turns out to lend itself well to narrative interpretation: you know there are a few key pieces you’re missing, you don’t know where they are so you’re always afraid things are going to fall apart, and it’s exciting either to get the key pieces (having the reward of successfully clearing several cards out) or to not get the key pieces (and having the reward of skillfully trying to dance around that problem).

But, as I said above, if you don’t want exciting narrative out of your card games, that’s fine, too: Flipflop Solitaire supports more soothing modes, too! Really, the game is a testament to what you can do out of randomness combined with well-chosen rule sets.

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