While my blog of late has been dealing with lots of more serious matters than normal, I am still trying to keep it “light” with some ME time. I’ve mentioned before that I play various games on my phone, and of late, that’s mainly one of 9:
a. Traffic Puzzle is still a popular choice for me, although I lost a bit of interest when I cracked the 2000+ board mark, and actually caught up to where their new content ran out. I actually had to wait for new boards to be released. I’m at 2453 now, and I think they’re likely somewhere around 2600, but I’m not actively trying to catch up. I do a board or two every few days. Somewhere there was a run on free rewards, and I now have so many, I could literally play nothing but powerups for about four boards (I wouldn’t, but I could).
b. Penguin Isle was something I thought was cute, with a base to develop with lots of little penguins running around. The downside is that while it is cute, there’s not much to do, and once you get past a certain level, the delays between levels is HUGE. I only play once a day anymore, if that, but it could be weeks to the next level up. Not a lot of “fun”, just grinding.
c. I have three games I use for quick distractions — Super Yatzy has six dice instead of five, and some extra things to aim for; Euchre is similar for duration, although it is either too easy (the opposition is on the highest level, but they frequently don’t lead trump to clear stray trumps from taking aces) or it is ridiculously hard (they make it every hand, including with 3 low cards and no bowers, but their partner has both, cuz that’s not suspicious); and Farkle, another dice game, although not super exciting by yourself.
d. I was really excited previously about Lily’s Garden and Penny & Flo, but after I got through some speed story, it has become agonizingly slow with very little happening. It feels more like a soap opera than the adventure book it was resembling.
So where does that leave me these days? Well, I tried out a new game called Trainstations 2. And I am relatively obsessed with it. Most of the “actions” you can do is either picking up freight or delivering it, or generating stuff in factories, and as I’ve advanced, some of the activities take about an hour to complete. Apparently, this is a great source of frustration to other players, but I have no issues at all. I’m happy to play for 5 minutes or so, send trains off to do their thing, and come back a few hours later. Jacob is playing too, but I’ll play through the day, take a break here or there or at lunch, while he only usually plays for a bit after school. It isn’t particularly challenging, relatively mindless, but it is diverting.
But while all of those games are relatively innocuous, it is NOT the one that is making me feel shallow.
Instead, that honour goes to…drumroll please…the Microsoft Solitaire Collection.
Every day, the MS team releases five new “daily challenges” ranging individually from easy to medium to hard to expert for five different solitaire games.
Klondike is the classic solitaire that everyone knows and loves or hates. Easy and medium are way too easy, even hard is usually relatively straightforward. But often the hard or expert ones will come down to a choice of two cards to play, and if you play one, you win, while if you go with the other one, it likely ends in a stalemate. So you back up and go to the other one. I rarely if ever miss a Klondike game in the daily challenge, but there are hundreds of extra games available in the collection for you to “practice”, so to speak.
The second game is Spider solitaire. On easy and medium, it is one colour/suit; on hard and expert, it is two colours/suits. I have played Spider solitaire for years, and it is one of my favourite e-versions to play. Once in a rare while, I can get stuck, but it doesn’t usually take me much to get “unstuck”. I had one a few days ago, and it was really challenging right up until the last draw from the pile, I think I had cleared about two rows out of ten before I ran out of draws, and still managed to solve the deck.
The fourth game (yes I skipped #3) is Pyramid solitaire, and it isn’t a challenge for me on ANY level. I can do them with my eyes closed. There are only a couple of things that can mess me up, and if I miss something, I almost always know why and how to fix it on a replay. Most of the time, I only get in trouble if I’m trying to go too fast and not really paying attention. Some people hate pyramid, but there’s symmetry in it for me and I find it highly relaxing.
Similarly for game #5, TriPeaks. It’s a BIT trickier at times, some of the expert ones can bite me in the butt, but I can usually go a slightly different direction earlier in the round, and make a difference to the end.
So where does that leave me to be “challenged”? Game #3 — FreeCell. I have consistently sucked at FreeCell for years. There was just something about it that I’d play, and without fail, I’d get stuck. Now, the MS collection has the advantage that it ONLY posts challenges that are actually solvable, unlike some other games that just give you a random deal (no different than dealing paper versions yourself), so you KNOW with this version that it CAN be solved. You just missed something.
I’ve played MS Solitaire on and off for about three years. It comes with Windows, you can play direct from the browser or install the app, but it wasn’t until probably January that I realized they have an app version. Of course they do, duh. And it is totally synchable with your MS account so I can play on laptop or desktop or phone, and it is completely synched. I pretty much ONLY play on my phone now, but still, I COULD play on other devices.
In previous years or months, with five puzzles a day and about 30 days per month, that gives about 150 puzzles for the month if you want to get perfect. And now it is time for the really shallow part.
About 3 years ago, I would regularly get about 120/150 in a month. I didn’t play consistently every day on my desktop, but if you miss a day, you can go back and fill in the gaps. I regularly would end up playing about 10d in the month, so every one of those days, I had to play 3d worth of games. Last year, I played a couple of months consistently in a row, and I bumped my score up to almost 140 / 150. There were always a handful I couldn’t get that were almost all FreeCells, and then perhaps a wonky Klondike one or something.
But when I started playing in January on the phone, I played a bunch of these other collections too. It levels you up with your gameplay, and I’ve raised myself up to about level 50-70 for all of them, which is nothing compared to the hard core fans who are well above 1000 in their game levels. I’m shallow, but I’m not crazy. At least not in that way. Maybe.
I missed under 10 in January. In February, I tried REALLY hard, and I missed about four or so. There is a FB group — I mean, why not? — and someone posts SOLUTIONS there for really hard ones. So I checked them out, looked at the solutions to get a perfect month, but it isn’t really a perfect month if I had to cheat, right? But here’s the funny thing. When I looked at the solutions for the FreeCell ones, I picked up a few tricks that I likely wouldn’t have figured out on my own.
The game play is VERY different from the other four games, and there’s actually a bunch of gameplay theorists out there who study optimization techniques tied to FreeCell. I noticed in the solutions that often they will run a suit to the stack quite high, something you would almost never do in Klondike for example, at least not without it likely messing you up. Equally, even when there are obvious lines of advancement sometimes, it’s better to try and get really long runs in one or two columns, leaving the others with room to move. Again, that often bites you in the behind in Klondike and a few others. Plus, Pyramid and Tripeaks, and even Spider to some extent, require a general symmetry to most of the solutions. FreeCell embraces asymmetry for many of the solutions. And I’m learning.
For March, I only missed ONE game all month, an Expert FreeCell early in the month. I almost wish I hadn’t looked up the solution, as I think I could probably get it now.
And I am ridiculously tickled pink by my performance. Seriously, it’s SOLITAIRE. Why do I care? I have no idea.
But it is a bit of brainpower applied to permutation and combinations theory, and as I said, I’m learning. If I get a perfect month in April, what will I get out of it? Almost nothing. It pops up with a little “ta da” sound, and it says, “Congrats, you got perfect this month!”. No ticker tape parade, no prize in the game. In fact, there are a LOT of cheaters in the games … they show the leaderboards, and it is not uncommon for the scores to say that the person who came in first overall for the day managed to solve the five games in 3 minutes. It is literally not possible, they could barely click that fast, let alone solve it, and there have been some with solutions down to barely a minute. Apparently, they are coders who create bots that play for them…they treat it as a coding challenge to look at the cards, choose an optimal strategy, and let the AI play for them.
I don’t know what they get out of that, as they aren’t tweaking the AI every day, they’re just letting it run every day for giggles I guess. But who am I to judge? My mood is controlled way too much by whether or not I got all five of the day’s challenges on the first try.
I really am quite shallow.