In 1987, Spectrum Holobyte released Solitaire Royale, the very first commercial solitaire game, at least according to Citation Needed on Wikipedia. Originally released for MS-DOS, the historical significance of this game has been largely ignored.
Some might blame this on the shameful lack of coverage that solitaire gaming and its rich history are given by the gaming press, but the proper blame is probably given, as usual, to Microsoft, and a release of theirs just a few years later, that would give birth to one of PC Gaming’s most controversial controversies.
In 1990, Microsoft was riding high with the recent release of one of their versions of the Windows operating system. Included in this release, seemingly innocuously, was their version of the much beloved Klondike variant of Solitaire.
Looking to ease Americans into the idea of Solitaire on computers, Microsoft claimed their new Solitaire program was simply to “help acclimate people unfamiliar with graphical user interfaces, and introduce them to use of the mouse”.
However, if we’re to believe their intentions were innocent, we would have to ignore the mountains of inconsistencies in their story. For example, how are so many of the elderly still functionally computer illiterate, despite an average of 27 logged hours of Solitaire per pensioner, according to some studies that can be found.
But Microsoft was unsatisfied with just one Solitaire variant. Despite their success, they immediately they began work on a secret project that would come to be known as the Microsoft Entertainment Pack. But entertainment was never its goal.
The first phase of the MEP unleashed on the public included two new Solitaire games, Golf and Cruel. The rulesets were less commonly known to most Americans, but similar enough to existing standards as to not make too many waves.
What should have seemed odd, and what did raise questions among those observant enough to notice, was the clear assistance from Chinese and Soviet interests, as indicated by the inclusion of Tetris and Mahjong Solitaire alongside Golf and Cruel.
And questions were raised, as they still are. What reason could Microsoft have had to increase their Solitaire offerings by 300% in just a few months? Who stood to gain from this increase? And who had the power and political clout to give marching orders to the PC behemoth?
Fast forward to 1991, and to Phase Two of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack, which included two new Solitaire variants to Microsoft’s already overtaxed Windows Operating System. Though they tried to distract us with games about skiing and rodents and jezzballs, Microsoft’s total Solitaire output had increased to the insane, almost reckless, 7 distinct games. Included in that 7 was Free Cell, which in their hubris they boasted an unheard-of 32,000 unique deals.
Scientists and independent researchers alike have worked with advanced computing technology and reported that all but one of the 32,000 unique configurations can be solved. All but one. Why would Microsoft include an unsolvable configuration? Was it truly unsolvable? What secrets lay behind Puzzle #11982? And how did it connect to the Russian Trials ship codenamed Project #11982?
Also included in Phase Two was Microsoft’s first public foray into Egyptian Mysticism and the occult, Tut’s Tomb. Tut’s Tomb was to be the American public’s formal introduction to the Pyramid Solitiare ruleset, and was the most thematically cohesive of all Microsoft’s Solitiare projects. Players found themselves working through an Egyptian pyramid with nothing but the power of the number 13 to guide them.
Standing at odds with Solitaire conventions of the time, Microsoft expanded on the established Pyramid ruleset by allowing players to match a card with the card directly behind it. This was known among enthusiasts as “Grave Robbing”, and was as controversial a move then as it is among Solitaire historians today.
What sparked Microsoft’s sudden interest in the occult? Why did they believe they were so beyond reproach that they could present their new rules as gospel to the general public? What were the stakes, and who stood to gain?
1995 saw the release of the aptly titled Windows 95, and the scaling back of their Solitaire enterprises. After 8 unique Solitaire games across 4 Microsoft Entertainment Packs and even an incomprehensible attempt at spreading their MEP influence onto the Game Boy Color, Microsoft all but abandoned their Solitaire project. All that remained on the operating system was Free Cell, and the original Solitaire offerings.
By 2012, all traces of Solitaire had been excised from Windows. The Great Solitaire Purge took not only their solo card games, but Minesweeper, Space Pinball, and the never popular Hearts as well. Windows 8 was released without a trace of their former offerings, and without explanation. Some in the community voiced their concerns to deaf ears, asking why had they abandoned the Microsoft Entertainment Pack project? Had they simply accomplished what they had set out to do? Or, perhaps, had some third party stepped in?
Like with so many of the changes made in Windows 8, the 2015 release came to the rescue. Or so Microsoft would have you believe. On the surface, the triumphant return of the Microsoft Solitaire Collection, with fan favorites like TriPeaks, Free Cell, and the classic Klondike seemed an olive branch from the software giant.
But who else had come along for the ride? Pyramid. And was this the faithful recreation of Tut’s Tomb one might expect? Hardly. It was still a well-made interpretation of the Pyramid Solitaire ruleset, but missing from this new release? Grave Robbing.
Why had Microsoft chosen to create a new Pyramid concept from scratch, rather than reinstating the classics like they had with the others in the Microsoft Solitaire Collection? Why, with the thousands of other enhancements and quality of life improvements did they choose not to include their signature maneuver? Why has Microsoft categorically refused to address this issue? Who benefits from the confusion generated by this change? And who are they protecting with their silence?