When most people think of "solitaire", the game that they have in mind is Klondike. It's easily the most played solitaire card game in the world, largely due to its inclusion as part of the Microsoft Windows operating system in the 1990s, to the point where it is practically synonymous with the word Solitaire. It is easy to learn and can be played in just 5-10 minutes, so it's not hard to see that it has won over millions of players around the world, and continues to be enjoyed globally.
But it would be a mistake to think that this is all that solitaire card games offer. I've often seen the question asked: are there more rewarding solitaire games that involve more strategy and depth? The answer is: Yes, absolutely. If you're looking for a game that rewards decision making and relies more on skill, the popular solitaire game FreeCell is a great next step. It has completely open information where you see all the cards from the outset, and almost every deal is solvable with good and smart play.
But those looking for something more satisfying will especially find themselves savouring solitaire games that use two decks of playing cards. These have a larger pool of cards to work with, and typically provide a more thoughtful and interesting experience for players. I've previously covered some of the more well known builder ones, such as the many variations of Forty Thieves, and other popular building games like Busy Aces, Colorado, Miss Milligan, Queen of Italy (Terrace), and their many variants.
I've trawled through the world of solitaire card games to come up with a list of ten games with two decks that aren't quite as well known as these. But they are still relatively common games, and you'll find them available at most sites that offer solitaire card games, and included in most apps and software. So even though they are technically "less common", they are arguably still quite well known, and are tried and proven games that solitaire enthusiasts have enjoyed and kept coming back to.
I recommend learning and playing these with the help of digital software, because that will organize the layout, enforce the rules, and manage all the practical elements of the game for you. This will enable you to learn the game quickly, and focus on enjoying the gameplay right away. I've tried many programs, and found one of the very best to be BVS Solitaire, which offers a Windows and Mac version, and also a top-notch iPad app.
== Popular Games ==
Algerian PatienceOverview: Algerian Patience is a game of skill that can be completed most of the time. Like Alhambra and Saint Helena below, it's a two-deck game where four foundations build up from Ace to King and four build down from King to Ace. There are eight piles in the tableau (one card on each), and six piles in the reserve (four cards each). The tableau can be built up or down by suit, moving just one card at a time, and wrapping from King to Ace where necessary. Drawing from the stock deals two cards to each reserve pile, where no building is possible.
Thoughts: This is a very rewarding game that requires careful placement, and yet offers real chances of winning. The variant Carthage changes things slightly. Also related is Tournament, which allows no building on the tableau. It was created by Morehead and Mott-Smith as an improvement on the older game (La) Nivernaise. Cicely makes Tournament slightly easier by allowing tableau building up and down by suit, while another variant Kingsdown Eights is more challenging to win, and only builds down by alternate colours. When you first play these games they seem very difficult, but there are tricks that increase your chances significantly, such as keeping spaces open to be used strategically.
AlhambraOverview: In Alhambra there are also eight foundations, four building up from Ace to King and four building down from King to Ace. However there is no building whatsoever in the tableau, which effectively becomes a reserve of eight piles or columns consisting of four cards each. Instead a stock is dealt one card at a time onto a waste pile, and cards from the tableau/reserve can be built onto the waste if they match in suit and are either one rank higher or lower. Two redeals are allowed.
Thoughts: Alhambra is a difficult game to win, but offers a good mix of skill and luck. Being able to play cards to the reserve up and down in the style of Golf makes it very unique. Variants of Alhambra worth exploring include The Reserves (also called The Reinforcements) and Granada (which increases your chances of success significantly by offering reserve cells).
CrescentOverview: Crescent gets its name from the distinctive crescent arc shape typically used for placing the stacked piles with available cards. It's a two-deck game which begins with eight foundations: four Aces that build up, and four Kings that build down. The remaining cards are dealt into 16 stacks of six cards each, with only the top card playable, on which you can build up or down by suit. A distinctive feature of the many games in the Crescent family is that instead of redealing, at three times during the game you can move the bottom card in each pile to the top, thus cycling each pile by one card.
Thoughts: In its usual form Crescent is not easy to win, and variations like Crescent Four seek to make this easier by allowing an extra rotation of the sixteen piles, or by turning it into an open information game by playing with all the cards face-up (effectively making it a Fan game), such as Open Crescent. The cycling mechanism is quite unique, and the ability to build both up and down on the piles gives some flexibility that helps you out. Along with some of its many variations, Crescent is a popular game loved by many, and especially when played with the cards face-up it allows quite some skill.
Mount OlympusOverview: Mount Olympus is a two-deck game that has an unusual aspect in that it requires you to build in piles with odd and even cards. The foundations begin with the Aces and Deuces, while a line of nine cards begins the tableau, which is also built down in intervals of two. It has a Spider-like deal, with nine new cards being dealt each time you use the stock.
Thoughts: This game gives frequent wins, plus the reward of producing the Greek gods and goddesses (kings and queens) at the end of a successful game. This visual display likely accounts for the game's name, since in Greek mythology these were said to live on Mount Olympus. The original rules were much more restrictive, disallowing the moving of partial or complete sequences in the tableau, but the increased options for moving cards makes the game far more interesting and it can usually be won. Related games include Great Wheel, Greater Wheel, and Carousel.
Royal CotillionOverview: In Royal Cotillion there are eight foundations, four beginning with Aces and four beginning with Deuces. Each builds upwards by twos (i.e. Ace, 3,5,7,9 etc; and 2,4,6,8, etc), turning the corner as needed. The stock is dealt one card at a time. A 16 card tableau in the shape of a 4x4 grid gives room for some decision making and skill, and there's also a reserve of twelve cards in four piles. The decision making here comes by not playing cards from the reserve automatically, but waiting for an ideal card to show up at the top of the waste pile before clearing a place in the reserve for it to go.
Thoughts: In essence the game-play is much the same as Sixes and Sevens, which has foundations going down from six and upwards from seven, rather than building by twos. This in turn is closely related to Contradance (Cotillion) and its single deck version Captive Queens (Quadrille), which are mindless and pure luck games due to the absence of a tableau. Odd and Even also has foundations going up by twos like Royal Cotillion, but uses a nine-card tableau in the shape of a 3x3 grid. Patriarchs (and the nearly identical game Picture Patience) has the same set-up as Odd and Even with a reserve in a 3x3 grid, but the foundations consist of Aces and Kings, which are built upwards and downwards respectively by cards that increase/decrease in value by one rather than two; it is effectively the same game. All these games boil down to something similar, and require much the same kind of decision making despite apparent external differences. A little further afield but still related to all these games is Royal Rendezvous, which is a very satisfying and rewarding two-deck game in the same vein.
Royal Parade (Virginia Reel)Overview: Royal Parade is an old but unusually fascinating two-deck solitaire game, with the alternative names Royal Procession, Financier, Hussars, and Three Up. It was reworked by Morehead and Mott-Smith as Virginia Reel. There are three rows of eight face up cards, and the goal is to turn the top row into foundations beginning with 2s and going up by threes (2,5,8,J), the middle row into foundations beginning with 3s and going up by threes (3,6,9,Q), and the bottom row into foundations beginnings with 4s and going up by threes (4,7,10,K). A fourth row of eight cards functions as a reserve, and an entire row of eight new cards is placed on it each time you deal from the stock, while Aces are immediately discarded. There are some special rules about exchanging cards and how to deal with spaces in the layout, but the goal is to get the entire deck onto the foundations, showing only Jacks, Queens, and Kings.
Thoughts: While it has a few quirky rules, and is very difficult to complete successfully, this is a terrific game that requires careful attention and strategy. Once you get the hang of the unusual rule-set, you'll find it to be very rewarding and challenging. Managing the reserve is especially important, and you have to avoid having essential cards in the reserve become blocked by other cards, especially the 2s, 3s, and 4s. The building up of cards by threes gives it a very different feel from a typical building game. While Aces are discarded, you don't necessarily want to remove them from the layout automatically, especially if you're playing with the rule that doesn't allow dealing from the stock when there are empty spaces in the foundations. Several variants exist (e.g. Blue Jackets) which make the game slightly easier, mostly by adjusting how the reserve works.
Saint Helena (Napoleon's Favourite)Overview: Despite the name, Saint Helena isn't to be confused with the more well-known game Napoleon at St Helena, more commonly known under the title Forty Thieves. The foundations start with four Aces (which will build upwards by suit to Kings), and four Kings (which will build downwards by suit to Ace). The tableau consists of 12 piles arranged around these foundations. Building within the tableau only involves the top card, but you can build up or down regardless of suit. A special rule restricts whether certain cards from the top four and bottom four piles of the tableau can be moved to certain foundations, but this restriction is removed after the entire tableau is redealt, which can be done twice after the initial deal.
Thoughts: This is a relatively straight-forward game with considerable flexibility for building, and can often be completed successfully. Some variations exist (e.g. Box Kite, Louis), which adjust the restrictions prior to the first redeal, and eliminate redealing altogether. Swiss is an original and related variant created by Boris Sandberg. All of these are solid two deck games that will appeal to players who enjoy winning the majority of their games, and aren't looking for too much complexity.
Salic LawOverview: I first came across Salic Law in one of David Parlett's books about card games. In this two-deck game, cards are dealt one at a time upon a starting King to form a tableau, with a new column beginning each time another King appears. Aces are placed above the Kings and will form the foundations, while Queens are removed as they show up. This explains the game's name, since under Salic Law women were prohibited from gaining the throne and from receiving an inheritance. There's no building within the tableau, and the aim is to build eight foundations from Ace to Jack, ignoring suit.
Thoughts: In most cases the game-play is mechanical and it makes sense to play a card whenever you can. But as more cards are laid out, you often have choices about which card to play, and that's where you can begin planning some strategic decision making. Under the strictest rules the game is hard to complete, but when you play as described by Parlett where cards can be transferred to exposed Kings as a temporary reserve, your decision making and chances for success increase significantly. Among the variations is Fairie Queen, but several related games also exist which apply the Quadrille/Cotillion concept where fives build down to Aces and sixes build up to Jacks; these include Intrigue, Laggard Lady, and Glencoe.
== Original Games ==
Aces and KingsOverview: Most of the above games have been around for a while, but there's also some newer and original games that are worth knowing about, and have become quite popular on solitaire sites. Aces and Kings (playable online here) is an original two-deck game created by Thomas Warfield that is based on several common solitaire games and combines elements to produce a pleasing game. Once again there are eight foundations, four building from Ace to King and four from King to Ace, with building happening regardless of suit. There are two Canfield-style reserve piles where only the top card can be played to the foundations. The tableau consists of just four face-up cards, and there is no building on the tableau, only to the foundations, with empty spaces immediately replenished from the stock.
Thoughts: Playing by these rules, good players can expect to win only as many as 1 in 10 games. Moving cards between foundations is allowed, and this is what is key to good play. There are some variants that increase your chances of winning significantly, such as by adding a single re-deal. Deuces and Queens makes the game easier by allowing building in the tableau, while Acey and Kingsley starts with cards on the foundations. Double Aces and Kings is like the original game, but with four decks and four reserves, while Racing Aces is a three deck version.
Demons and ThievesOverview: Demons and Thieves (playable online here) is also the creation of Thomas Warfield, and can best be described as a game with a split tableau, where you play with Canfield rules on one side and Forty Thieves rules on the other side. This means that on the left side you have a reserve pile of 13 cards (only the top one is available) and a tableau of four cards that will build downwards in alternate colours; meanwhile on the right side you have a tableau of five columns with eight cards each where you build downwards by suit. Cards can be built on both sides while trying to complete eight foundations from Ace through King.
Thoughts: I first came across this game over on Pretty Good Solitaire, where it is one of their all-time most-played games. It's not hard to see why, because it is a very satisfying game that rewards strategic play and good decisions. The fact that you have two redeals gives you time to get the cards arranged within the tableau in order to successfully complete it, and I've found that I typically don't need the final redeal. In the variation Demonthief there are no redeals allowed, and a win can still be accomplished if you play well. Those who enjoy Demons and Thieves should also check out Antares, which is Thomas Warfield's combination of FreeCell and Scorpion, also with a tableau consisting of two halves.
If you find yourself really enjoying solitaire, and want a more thoughtful challenge than the relatively simple and luck-dependent Klondike, the above ten games make great choices for you to jump into the world of more satisfying games with two decks. Once you begin exploring here, you'll find plenty of other similar games by browsing the other games implemented in BVS Solitaire.
It's somewhat of a pity that many people identify solitaire exclusively with the classic Klondike, and that they aren't aware of the rich diversity of more thoughtful solitaire games that exist. Over time a wide range of unique and creative solitaire games has developed, just waiting to be enjoyed by those diligent enough to give them a chance.
You can certainly play these games with a regular deck of playing cards, but for learning these games from scratch, I'd strongly advise using a good software program that implements them digitally. At the top of my list of recommendations is BVS Solitaire, whose programs were consistently ranked in the best of the bunch in my comparative review of iPad apps and my comparative review of Windows programs.
With software like this you'll be able to play several hundred different solitaire games, including most of the above ones, and customize your experience with your own preferred looks. So get yourself hooked up with a good digital version, and discover the enjoyment that these great two-deck solitaire games can offer!
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.