Solitaire 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.


New Release! 'Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story' for Uken Games and Mighty Kingdom

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By Anthony Valterra

New Brunette Games client Uken Games, in partnership with Mighty Kingdom, recently released Ava's Manor: A Solitaire Story, to great success in the app stores. Ava's Manor is a decorating game, but instead of a match-3 or collapse puzzle, it's powered by a TriPeaks solitaire game mechanic. A terrific cast of characters and an engaging storyline make this a winner and shows that there is more flexibility in the narrative puzzle genre than you might think. Brunette Games was brought in to consult on the storyline and characters as well as write narrative ad content and provide VO. We're all very proud of the game's performance already. 

While Dexter, Amanda, and I handled the bulk of the consulting work, with Andy delivering on the VO, it's no coincidence that both title character Ava and BG founder Lisa Brunette are mystery novelists.

Here's the official app store description - be sure to check it out!

Description

Romance? Decorating? Solitaire? YES! Get ready for all of this and more in Ava’s Manor! Renovate and decorate the Manor and gardens while discovering mysterious clues, unwind and relax with solitaire and dabble in a romantic love story all in this FREE solitaire game!

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Help Ava save her Great Uncle’s Manor by renovating and restoring it to its former glory. Brush off your interior design skills as you choose how to decorate the house and gardens, making into your own masterpiece! Play Tripeaks Solitaire and unlock epic boosters to blast through those puzzling levels! Stimulate your mind and train your brain with these unique solitaire card puzzles and express your inner creativity at the same time with DIY renovation and decor! Now you can work both your left brain and your right at the same time all while unwinding to relax!

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Discover hidden treasures, collect clues and uncover secrets as you restore exciting new rooms in the Manor! Experience the mystery and romance as the story plot twists keep you guessing at every turn! Sit back and relax with this Solitaire puzzle game and start the renovation makeover of your dreams!

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Features:

RENOVATE, expand & decorate your Manor with tons of decor and furniture to choose from! Personalize your style!

RELAX with calming Tripeaks Solitaire and solve addicting levels with your card skills! Conquer unique levels and unlock powerful boosters along the way!

ROMANCE is in the air as Ava encounters new love interests while struggling to move on from an ex back home. What’s a story without a little romance?!

MYSTERY awaits you as you unlock the secrets of Ava’s Manor and uncover her family's story. Not even this mystery writer can anticipate these plot twists!

DISCOVER clues to the story and the strange disappearance of Ava's Uncle Marvin.

FRIENDS new and old are ready to help you and Ava restore the Manor, including your sassy BFF, Serena and trusty canine companion, Marlowe!

STORY seems to be Ava’s forte as an accomplished mystery novelist, but will inspiration strike as she finds herself in a mystery of her own?

Ava's Manor_Ava the Writer

Solve relaxing TriPeaks Solitaire puzzles and show off your interior design skills by furnishing and decorating the Manor Gardens, Foyer, Bedrooms, Library and more! Thousands of design options and styles give you the freedom to explore your creativity!

Ava’s Manor will be updated with more solitaire puzzles to solve, more ways to decorate and more romantic story chapters regularly! Stay tuned for updates and let us know your feedback!

What are you waiting for? Come join Ava and friends on this exciting story, unleash your creativity, and start your home makeover now!

Enjoying Ava’s Manor? Learn more about the game!
Facebook: facebook.com/AvasManor


'Power of Storytelling in Blockbuster Casual Games' - A Data-Driven Collaboration with Om Tandon

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Brunette Games Founder Lisa Brunette recently co-authored an article with popular industry analyst Om Tandon of UX Reviewer on the subject of why and how narrative fuels the rise of many blockbuster casual mobile games. "Power of storytelling in blockbuster casual games" is part of a series in which Om takes a deep dive into what makes top tier games in this space tick. In part 1, Om looked at how to crack the match-3 code, part 2 featured an interview with the Playrix team behind the Gardenscapes and Homescapes phenomenon, and here in part 3, Om interviews Lisa.

You can read the full article at GameRefinery, but here's an excerpt:

It's like the old saying goes: Trying to design a major hit game is like trying to capture lightning in a bottle. If there were one sure formula, everyone would have a hit, right? While many ingredients make a game popular with players - from a well-designed match-3 puzzle to the right blend of customization and progression pacing in the decorating element - it's our opinion at Brunette Games that a quality story is key.

With so many match-3 games on the market, and so many decorating games as well, story could be one of the key distinguishing factors you have at your disposal.