Solitaire games can be a great way to pass the time, either with a deck of actual playing cards in hand, or using a quality app or computer program like BVS Solitaire. One advantage of playing a digital version is that it will do the hard work of shuffling and dealing the cards for you, and enforce the rules, making new games easier to learn and play.
But where should you start, especially if you are new to solitaire card games, or want something so easy that you can even teach it to children? In a previous article I have already covered adding and pairing games, since those are the easiest kind of solitaire games. These types of games simply require players to match cards of the same value, or cards that add up to a certain total.
Many solitaire card games, however, involve more in the way of strategy and decisions, and by far the most fall into a different category, namely: builder games. The usual formula of a builder game is that you must manipulate a tableau and arrange each of the four suits in order from Ace through King. The most common solitaire game of all time, Klondike, is a perfect example of a builder game.
There are varying amounts of luck and strategy in a builder game, depending on which one you are playing. But there are a number of builder gamers that are very easy to play, and are ideal for introducing this genre to children, and are perfect for newbies. The ease of play does often mean they are quite luck dependent, but they are still rewarding and fun. The games below are all well-known and popular builder games that are simple to play, making them an excellent launching point for new players or for children, and they do a good of introducing you to what builder games are about.
== Simple Builder Games ==
Auld Lang SyneOverview: Auld Lang Syne begins with four foundation Aces, and from the deck you deal four cards face-up into what will become four columns. You may play exposed cards to the foundations, building up by suit, with the goal of playing all the cards in each suit from Ace through King. Whenever you get stuck, you deal four more cards to these columns.
Thoughts: This is a simple game in the Sir Tommy family of solitaire games. Sir Tommy is also known as Old Patience, Try Again, Numerica, and is often considered to be the oldest patience game, and may well have been the source that inspired all the solitaire builder games that followed it. While very luck-based and mechanical, Auld Lang Syne is still a fun game for children, and is a good introduction to what building games are about. You really need to be lucky in order to have any chance of winning, because no building is allowed on the tableau. Because Auld Lang Syne is almost impossible to finish completely, make the goal to play as many cards as possible, or try one of the variants that increase winning chances.
Related: Other Sir Tommy variants like Acquaintance and Old Fashioned are slightly easier versions of Auld Lang Syne, and increase the odds of a win. There are many other related games in the Sir Tommy family that involve more decisions, and make an excellent next step, given how luck-dependent it is and how difficult it can be to win. For example, Strategy has similar game-play, but lets you turn over one card at a time and play it to one of eight waste piles
Captive Queens (Quadrille) and Contradance (Cotillion)Overview: Captive Queens is the most common name for this game, but it also goes under French names like Quadrille, La Francaise, or Partners. The four Queens go in the center, and the stock is dealt one at a time. There are eight foundations, four that are built by suit upwards from six through Jack, and four that are built by suit downwards from five through King (Kings going on the Aces). Three redeals are allowed. The two deck game Contradance (Cotillion) works in exactly the same way, but uses two decks, and has a single redeal.
Thoughts: Both Captive Queens and Contradance are somewhat mindless and luck-based games that simply require close observation. But they make a pleasant and rewarding pattern at game end, which is probably why the French names for both games (Quadrille and Cotillion) refer to country dances from the 18th-19th centuries. In the case of Contradance, a win rewards you by showing the Queens and the Kings face up.
Related: The closely related game Sixes and Sevens builds up from sevens and down from sixes, and adds a little more interest with the help of a nine-card reserve in the shape of a 3x3 grid. Other two-deck games much like this are Royal Cotillion, Odd and Even, and Patriarchs. All of these bring in some skill by waiting for an ideal card to show up on the top of the waste pile before playing a playable card in the reserve to make space for it.
CarpetOverview: Carpet is a relaxing single deck game, with a tableau arranged in a 5x4 grid. This is considered the "carpet", and effectively functions as a reserve of 20 face-up cards. The four Aces normally make up the initial foundations, and the aim is to build up on these by suit up to the Kings. You deal the stock just once a single card at a time, and whenever a card is taken from the reserve area and placed on the foundations, that row is moved to fill the space, with the top card from the waste used to replenish the moving carpet.
Thoughts: This game offers enough strategy to make it rewarding, while still remaining easy to play. To play well you should aim to fill empty spaces with cards that can soon be played to the foundation, leaving higher ranking cards in the discard pile until later in the game. If possible, you should use the carpet to build up chains of cards that can be played in immediate succession. The 5x4 tableau is really just a changing reserve of 20 cards, but the moving carpet concept gives added visual appeal and interest to the game.
Related: If you enjoy Carpet, you should also take a look at Four Winds, which has a very similar feel in play. It starts with 16 tableau piles shaped like a compass, along with foundations for all four of the directions North, East, South, and West. You deal through the stock twice, and can only place cards matching the suit of the foundation in the four spaces of the tableau allocated to that foundation. There are also some two-deck games that have a 20 card tableau like Carpet, and a similar feel, but incorporate some Sir Tommy type elements for placing more cards on the tableau and thus more strategy. These include the closely related Twenty (Sly Fox), Colorado, Grandmother's Patience, and Grandfather's Patience. All of these are excellent games that are quite easy and satisfying to play.
Fortune's FavorOverview: Fortune's Favor requires a single deck, and the goal is to build up the foundations by suit from Ace through King. A tableau of twelve face-up cards is used, with only single cards allowed to be moved, building down in the tableau by suit, and empty spaces filled from the waste and stock. Cards from the stock can be played onto the foundations or tableau.
Thoughts: No redeal is allowed in Fortune's Favor, and manipulation within the tableau is somewhat limited, but because you have a large tableau and only a single deck, the chances of success are very good, so wins are common. It's wise to play cards to the foundations whenever you can, while it's best to leave high valued cards (e.g. 9s, 10s, and court cards) in the waste pile, while using empty spaces and building in the tableau to get lower valued cards into play.
Related: Fortune's Favor is a simple single-deck descendant of the two-deck Busy Aces, which represents a small family of solitaire games that are somewhat related to the classic Forty Thieves, but play considerably easier. Many of the Forty Thieves style games that use two decks are quite difficult to win, and require real skill. But the games in the Busy Aces family are more accessible, especially those that only use a single deck.
Osmosis (Treasure Trove)Overview: While not in many older books on solitaire, Osmosis is certainly a very popular game on a lot of websites. It's unusual in that cards are built up by suit regardless of value. There are four reserve piles with four cards each, but the main part of the game comes by dealing through the deck and playing to the foundations. The interesting part of this game is that you can only play a particular card on the next foundation if a card of the same value is on the previous foundation. As a result, cards of the same value slowly filter through to successive foundations by `osmosis', hence the name. You can redeal the stock as many times as you like.
Thoughts: Osmosis breaks away from the usual mould of building games in a few interesting ways, which help make it stand out as unique. It's also enjoyable and relaxing to play, even though much of the game relies simply on careful observation rather than strategy. The most common way of playing Osmosis involves dealing three cards at a time. Just like one of the main ways of playing Klondike, this can add a strategic element by sometimes leaving a playable card, in the hope that you'll get to see different cards on your next deal. Dealing one card at a time does make the game easier. Either way, your ability to succeed often depends on being able to successfully get out the cards from the reserves.
Related: In a common variant called Peek, the cards in the reserves are played face-up. Bridesmaids is another related variant.
Sultan (Emperor of Germany)
Overview: Sultan is also known as Sultan of Turkey, or Emperor of Germany. The Middle East theme is evident in that the goal is to have the Sultan (King of Hearts) surrounded by his eight Queens, while the reserve is sometimes described as a "divan" (couch). This two deck game begins with the Sultan surrounded by the other seven Kings and an Ace. These eight surrounding cards are the foundations you'll build up on (turning the corner from Ace) to the Queens. The divan consists of two reserve columns of cards on each side, and the rest of the deck is dealt one card at a time, with two re-deals allowed.
Thoughts: This game is a builder game that is quite easy and very fun to play, is often recommended as a simple game suitable for children and beginners. Careful management of the divan is critical to success. Ideally you want spaces in the divan filled with lower cards. This becomes extra tricky in variants of the game where the divan is automatically filled from the top card of the waste pile, so you shouldn't always play a card to the foundations immediately if it means the divan gets filled with a card that won't be played until much later. Careful play will nearly always lead to a win in Sultan, without the game ever becoming brain-burning.
WestcliffOverview: Klondike is the classic solitaire game most people will be familiar with, but if you're looking for a slightly simpler Klondike-style game for children or beginners that you can win most of the time, Westcliff is one of the easiest in this family. The goal is to build the four foundations by suit from Ace through King, and the initial layout involves ten piles, each with three cards (two face-down and one face-up). This tableau can be built downwards by alternating colour, just like in Klondike, and the stock is dealt one card at a time.
Thoughts: There is no re-deal of the stock, but the game is so easy you can win virtually all of your games anyway, making it an excellent introduction to other building games like Klondike.
Related: Many other more challenging games in the Klondike family exist, but there is a range of levels of difficulty. Another good simple one to try besides Westcliff is Thumb and Pouch.
ConclusionPlaying cards naturally lend themselves to builder-style solitaire games, due to the arrangement of cards in a deck into four suits with 13 rankings. Builder games like Klondike, Spider, and FreeCell are arguably the three most played solitaire games of all time, and there are many other popular ones in this genre, like Baker's Dozen, Beleaguered Castle, Canfield, Fan Games, Yukon, and Forty Thieves. Some of these can give significant opportunity for skill and decision making, while others are simply difficult to win.
It's good to know that there are some simpler builder games, which serve as a better starting point if you're looking for something slightly easier to play. While the luck-of-the-draw element will always remain a factor, many of the above games have the advantage that they enable you to successfully complete the game more often than not, and that they are simple to learn and play. More meaty builder games do exist for those wanting deeper games offering more of a challenge, but meanwhile simpler games like the ones covered above will give you a great introduction to the fun that solitaire card games offer.
So get yourself a good program or app like BVS Solitaire, or pull out your favourite deck of cards, and get playing!
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.