Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story Feed

All Cards on the Table: Balancing Story, Gameplay, and Deco within the Solitaire Genre

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Ava’s Manor: A Solitaire Story, a game we consulted on for Mighty Kingdom and Uken Games.

By Jenna Hume

It’s 2022 and well past time to acknowledge the impact story has had on the mobile game landscape. Many of the most successful mobile games out there include a fleshed-out story or storytelling elements at the very least. Check out this article Brunette Games co-authored with Om Tandon to learn more about storytelling’s effect on the mobile gaming space. Many of these successful games employ a core loop, balancing puzzle gameplay, story, and deco; we often co-design this core loop with our clients.

Strangely enough, one puzzle subgenre that isn’t leveraging this core loop is solitaire. We recently took a long look at 17 randomly-selected games within this category. Of these 17, only 5 games contained any kind of story. This is a small pool but does provide good insight into the genre as a whole. Of the 17 solitaire games we focused on, 11 included some kind of unique feature to draw players into the game. Prime examples are Solitaire Grand Harvest—a game our team consulted on—with its farming theme and Fairway Solitaire—owner and CCO of Brunette Games, Lisa Brunette, worked on this one while at Big Fish—with its golf theme. However, these are the only two solitaire games that seem to succeed with solitaire gameplay and unique features alone. If this is the case, then the question is: Why don’t more solitaire games employ the above core loop?

The Problem with Solitaire Games

While match-3, blast, and collapse gameplay are unique to mobile games, solitaire has a much longer history. It originated as a card game in the late 1700s and took off in popularity across Europe and the US throughout the 1800s. By the time it hit the virtual realm with Microsoft Solitaire in the 1990s, solitaire had already won over countless lifelong players. 

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Thus the problem with solitaire games is also the key to their popularity. Mobile solitaire games are popular because players today still love solitaire and appreciate the new takes on it that the mobile space can provide. But developers are all too aware that players want to play solitaire games because they’re solitaire fans. This is also where many solitaire game creators go wrong. They assume players who like solitaire games only like solitaire, so they create games that only feature that mechanic, and nothing else. With so many solitaire games on the market, though, that’s not the best way to stay competitive.

Case Study No. 1: Solitaire Fairytale

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Solitaire Fairytale is a solitaire game with cute art… and that’s it. Instead of using story and a meta gameplay element such as decorating to create a strong core loop, the developers opted to extend the typical solitaire play only with fairy tale-themed backgrounds. The problem with this simplicity shows with the game’s numbers; according to Sensor Tower, Ava’s Manor far outperforms Solitaire Fairytale despite the two games being released around the same time.  

With story and another core feature like deco, it’s quite likely that Solitaire Fairytale would be more successful. Simply put, without a core loop, Solitaire Fairytale just can’t compete with the other, more interesting solitaire games on the market. It’s unbalanced without any element other than solitaire, which is why balancing gameplay, deco (or another meta gameplay feature), and story is so important. Any element alone—gameplay, deco, or story—isn’t enough to make an overly successful game anymore when there are balanced games in the casual mobile space.

How to Balance Solitaire Gameplay, Deco, and Story

Achieving a balance with story and other features in any game can be tricky, but the solitaire genre comes with its own unique set of challenges. What does solitaire have to do with the story? How does deco (or another feature) fit into the story? These are major questions to ask when beginning to craft a narrative for a solitaire game. It’s important to keep the core loop in mind and focus on how each part of the loop interacts with the others.

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Achieving balance with this core loop is key to a game’s success. Story should be just as important as gameplay, gameplay should be just as important as deco (or another feature), and deco should be just as important as story. This is where gameplay integration comes in. 

Case Study No. 2: Ava’s Manor: A Solitaire Story

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So why does Ava’s Manor outperform so many other solitaire titles? Its gameplay integration holds the key to its success. Let’s take a look.

Story

The story of Ava’s Manor focuses on the protagonist Ava, who’s a mystery writer struggling with writer’s block. When given the opportunity to stay in a grand manor in Europe, gifted to her by her mysterious uncle, Ava jumps at the chance for a change of scenery. In Europe, Ava encounters mystery (and some romance!) at every turn, with her faithful dog, Marlowe, at her side.

Ava’s Manor’s story blends with the other elements of the core loop well. The story naturally integrates with the decorating mechanic as Ava renovates the mansion. The game’s opening introduces the gameplay by having Ava claim she needs a moment to clear her head before speaking to Cooper, the mansion’s landscaper, for the first time. The European countryside and old manor provide the perfect setting for a solitaire game.

Solitaire Gameplay

In Ava’s Manor, the gameplay supports the story as much as vice-versa. For example, some of the gameplay’s boosters are mystery-themed, such as the broom booster that looks like a brush a crime scene analyst would use. The same goes for the solitaire background that resembles the English countryside. These are subtle references, but they can add a lot to the overall game experience.

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Deco

In terms of story, deco fits right in and offers support. With Ava staying at the manor, it makes sense for her to clean it up. Using Marlowe’s antics as further need for renovation works well but isn’t overused. Periodically, there are moments where the deco reveals something surprising that supports the story’s mystery. For example, Ava begins a new task to clean up the fallen chandelier and finds a boot in the rubble. With the chandelier’s cut wire and this boot, the player begins to wonder if someone could’ve caused the chandelier crash and why. This is a prime example of deco supporting a game’s story.

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Key Takeaways

Solitaire games are their own beast, but incorporating story with them is possible. Here are three things to remember when working on a solitaire game:

  1. There’s room on the market for more story-focused solitaire games: Ava’s Manor is a great example, but—as the sheer number of successful match-3 games has proven— it’d be great to see more games like it. 
  2. Solitaire and story can work together: You just need the right story!
  3. Complete integration of story, solitaire gameplay, and deco is possible: Integration takes time, thought, resources, and effort, but all of these things are well spent when the game succeeds. 

Still struggling with integrating story and solitaire gameplay? Our skilled team of writers can help! Visit the contact tab on our website to find out how to best get in touch with us.


Brunette Games' Year-End Giving Is All About Gardening

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Many of the games we write feature a garden as a key renovation space. In Merge Mansion and Lily's Garden, the garden is the main game-play focus - at least at the game's outset. Lily's great aunt was a somewhat eccentric gardener and beekeeper, and in Merge Mansion, Grandma Ursula seems mysteriously reluctant to step back inside the mansion she's kept hidden away all these years. That's quite all right, as Maddie's pretty content to putter around outside. While the grounds are secondary to the interior decorating in Matchington Mansion, it's an exciting moment when you move out to tackle the overgrown yard, especially when your neighbor-the-gardener shows up. The first thing the protagonist in Ava's Manor does is spruce up the garden, before she's even set foot inside the old British manor. And while we love decorating the many shops in Sweet Escapes, it's the outside areas that often pique our greatest interest: Who can forget the moment when Duncan jumps through the giant donut hole?

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Designing and writing within garden spaces comes naturally to us. Half our team is comprised of avid gardeners, and even those who are relegated to apartment living excel at indoor houseplants. Dexter and Anthony both grew up in farming families. Sara inherited a native plant garden when she and her husband bought their first house last year, and Anthony and Lisa own a 1/4-acre plot of land they've transformed to something they call a 'homestead habitat.' They even blog about the project.

So when we mulled over how to go about our year-end giving for 2021, we naturally thought of gardens. Two organizations stood out as great candidates for our support: Wild Ones and Seed St. Louis.

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This past year, the St. Louis chapter of the national organization Wild Ones blew the doors off membership, growing to become the largest chapter in the U.S. It's easy to see why, as the community here is super volunteer-focused, with active citizen involvement and a great deal of cooperation between organizations when they can share a mission. One example is the St. Louis Audubon Society's Bring Conservation Home program, which enjoys terrific support from Wild Ones in their shared mission to promote native plant gardening.

Founded in 1998, Wild Ones encourages landscaping with native plants in residential, business, and public landscapes. They accomplish this through monthly gatherings at member gardens, grants for native plants to schools and organizations, educational outreach, and annual plant and seed sales and giveaways. Brunette Games is happy to support this important organization.

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Lisa has fond memories as a volunteer during her college years at Saint Louis University in the 1990s, putting in community gardens for a group called Gateway Greening. The organization is still around and serving as a tremendous resource for urban and suburban gardeners, though they've just changed their name to Seed St. Louis. Anthony and Lisa have personally benefitted from the plethora of free workshops on topics like 'how to create an organic backyard orchard' and 'how to extend your growing season.' Seed St. Louis also sells seeds they save from their demonstration garden directly to the public for as little as a dollar a packet, and their 'New Kuroda' carrot variety is phenomenal.

Since 1984, Seed St. Louis has connected people to the land, to their food, and to each other. The organization supports a network of more than 250 community gardens, school gardens, and urban orchards in neighborhoods throughout the St. Louis region. Their purpose is to provide communities with the tools, education, and empowerment to grow their own food.

With crucial issues like climate change and food security top of mind for all of us, Brunette Games is proud to support this amazing organization.

We also want to take this opportunity to thank our clients for trusting us with your game stories. Our work together throughout the year is our joy and sustenance. And finally, a shout out to all the people who play the games we help design; without you, none of this would be possible. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Brunette Games Team Promotions!

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Dexter Woltman, recently promoted to writer|designer II, sporting his Brunette Games logo jacket.

Brunette Games has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year. We're now a crew of six full-time writer/designers, supported by a pool of five contract voice actors who voice our scripts. One measure of our success is the individual professional growth you can see in our many team promotions in the first half of 2021. Here's a breakdown, and note that we use the title "writer/designer" to capture our team members' dual roles as both game designers and writers of all manner of in-game text, from character dialogue to tutorial messages.

Dexter Woltman: Writer|Designer II

Employee No. 3 at Brunette Games, Dexter has worked on 16 released titles to-date, which includes a wide variety of casual and mid-core games, from My Beauty Spa to Kingdoms of Heckfire. He joined us as a contractor during his senior year in Scriptwriting at Webster University, stepped right into a full-time job as writer|designer I once he graduated in 2019, and was just promoted to writer|designer II, in recognition of his increased leadership and innovation on our clients' projects.  

Jenna Faulkner: Writer|Designer I

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Writer/Designer Jenna Faulkner proudly displaying her new biz card.

The fastest promotion our company's ever seen happened this winter when Jenna went from writer/editor to writer/designer I after just six weeks on the job. Maybe it's the fact that she came to us with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing already in hand, or maybe she was just born for this kind of work! Whatever the case, Jenna's been a key asset as writer and editor for our G5 titles, Homicide Squad: New York Stories and Crime Mysteries: Find Objects, as well as pitching in on Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff and a couple of meaty, unannounced projects where she's already proved her mettle at designing narratives and characters that integrate superbly well with gameplay. 

Amanda VanNierop: Associate Writer|Designer

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Amanda VanNierop, associate writer|designer, in her spiffy Brunette Games polo.

In just a year and a half on the job, Amanda has racked up credits on eight released titles, including the high-profile games Sweet Escapes and Disney Frozen Adventures. Wise beyond her years and in possession of enviable talent and confidence, she started out as an editor but quickly took on both writing and designing duties as well, proving she could handle some tough assignments, hence the promotion to associate writer|designer. Amanda's with us full-time for the summer, but the rest of the year she keeps up the good work while finishing her double majors in English and Psychology. In her spare time, she wields a sword in her fencing classes, too! We're all in awe.

Anthony Valterra: VP Game Design & Strategy

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VP Game Design and Strategy, Anthony Valterra, one-half of Brunette Games leadership.

Along with our creative team promotions, with a growing staff has come expanded roles for leadership as well, with two key title changes.

First, Anthony's done a bang-up job as business director over the past two years, and a good deal of our tremendous growth is to his credit. He's also written, designed, and consulted on 14 released titles since joining Brunette Games, including Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story and Sweet Escapes. He's more than earned his new title as vice president, game design and strategy, which does a better job of encompassing his dual roles, too, as well as showcasing his veteran status in the game industry, having shepherded illustrious brands such as Dungeons & Dragons and Avalon Hill prior to the top-grossing games currently under his purview.

Lisa Brunette: Chief Creative Officer

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CCO Lisa Brunette, with her award for five years at the helm of Brunette Games.

Last but not least is founder and owner Lisa Brunette, a game-industry influencer who shaped the way we design stories and characters in casual games through her work on top titles Matchington Mansion, Lily's Garden, and literally hundreds of other released titles in her nearly 15-year career in games. With one foot in the narrative puzzle genre and the other in interactive novel apps, Lisa has grown Brunette Games from a solo act to a highly respected team of creatives in just five years. While she never imagined herself in C-level shoes, she finally found the right title for her work in this one: chief creative officer.

Join us in congratulating the team on their well-deserved promotions! Here's to another successful year.