Jenna Hume Feed

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

Ava's manor
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 Takes on Pocket Gamer Connects!

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We're happy to announce: Brunette Games team members Dexter Woltman, Jenna Hume, and Sara Hardin will be conducting a Superstar Session at Pocket Gamer Connects in Toronto, July 6-7. As part of their all-Brunette Games panel discussion on "How to Integrate Gameplay and Story," the three writer | designers will share our team's best practices for story and gameplay integration in casual games. We look forward to sharing an expertise honed over 30 released titles and counting! 

Superstar Session: How To Integrate Gameplay and Story

Game writing requires narratives that ultimately serve players and give them agency. Unlike other forms of writing, game writing needs to support the gameplay experience, and vice-versa! Proper integration sees both elements reflecting each other positively. From tutorials to graphics to dialogue, players have a better experience when gameplay and story are aligned. This panel featuring three full-time game writers includes: Why it’s important to integrate story with gameplay. Examples of what good integration looks like. How to improve integration in certain areas.

About Pocket Gamer Connects

Like all activities under the Steel Media banner, Pocket Gamer Connects – and its partner conferences Beyond Games, Big Screen Gaming and Blockchain Gamer LIVE! – are wholly inclusive events. They provide value to a wide range of industry players, from global corporations looking to hone their strategy, down to indie developers seeking a little inspiration and new contacts.

The Connects series tackles the industry from two angles. On the macro scale, we look at global game publishing strategies and opportunities with a focus on the most interesting markets and hottest topics (including global regulation and brand marketing).

On the more micro level, our indie survival talks look at the process of game making, covering everything from creativity through production to sustainability and how you can match the games you want to make with proven business models – and establish the formula for the next billion-dollar game!

For more information about Pocket Gamer Connects, visit their website here.

Find the full Pocket Gamer Connects Toronto schedule here.


New Content! Unlock the Mysteries of Metacore’s ‘Merge Mansion’!

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By Jenna Hume

As a long-time player of Merge Mansion, I was excited when developer Metacore approached us about consulting on its narrative and thrilled when this consulting project turned into a narrative revamp. It's been an honor for Lisa Brunette, Sara Hardin, and I to work with the established characters of Maddie and Ursula and create an experience new and returning players can enjoy. In Merge Mansion, you’ll explore and restore the mansion grounds with protagonist Maddie, unlocking the secrets of the Boulton family. What’s Grandma Ursula up to? Play to find out!

Official Description

Love, heritage, and betrayal put together in one mysterious puzzle. Maddie’s grandmother has something to tell.

This mansion is full of stories unheard of! Help Maddie discover what her grandma has to reveal about the family's adventurous past.

Wipe off the dust and find new items, merge them into useful tools, and earn surprising treasures. You never know what awaits behind the mansion's next corner.

Unlock new areas within and around the mansion, unveiling decades-old family secrets on the way. With an abundant combination of items to discover and hundreds of engaging puzzles to solve, the mansion makes sure it always has new secrets waiting for you.

Features:

  • DISCOVER—Be it a shocking twist in Grandma's past or a mysterious room in the mansion cellar, there are always new things to look out for.
  • MERGE—Combine what you have into more useful tools. Can a rusty old shovel and a broken lantern come in handy? You betcha.
  • RELAX—Good vibes only, though there are some twisted secrets ahead.
  • EASY TO LEARN—Anyone can learn how to play this simple, intuitive game.
  • PLAY FOR A WHILE OR FOR LONG—Have a quick merge minute here and there, or become absorbed into an engaging merge marathon.

While Maddie’s journey into her grandma's mysterious past has just begun, there’s already a bunch of thrilling updates waiting to expand the story. We guarantee that Merge Mansion keeps surprising you, merge after merge, month after month.

It’s time to kick off your journey—the mysterious Merge Mansion awaits. 

Merge Mansion is available to play today on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

App Store

Play Store