|Genre: Board & Card|
|Min OS X: 10.5|
Mac OS X: 10.5 | CPU: 1 GHz Intel | RAM: 1 GB | HD Space: 234 MB | Graphics: 1024 X 768
Under normal circumstances, when deciding what to write about for IMG, we reviewers take our pick from a selection of the latest titles. But clearly it’s not possible to cover absolutely everything, and sometimes a game slips through the cracks. This tends to be the case particularly with casual games: the cheap ones that get churned out in huge numbers, often to something of a formula. I don’t mean to imply that casual games aren’t well worth a look, though: on the contrary, some of them are really great. Recently it occurred to me that one of my personal favourite games, which also happens to fall under the ‘casual’ heading, had never received the IMG treatment, so as a good deed this Christmas I decided to put the matter to rights.
A few years ago I got a game called Fairway Solitaire from Big Fish Games. I probably wouldn’t have paid it a second glance normally, as golf doesn’t particularly thrill me, but it was on offer for free, so I grabbed it. Well, I loved it: it was far better than I’d have imagined, and I played it a lot. So when a completely rewritten version of the game arrived, called Fairway Collector’s Edition, it was a no-brainer: I jumped for it immediately. (Note that there’s also a ‘standard’ version of the game, called simply Fairway; it’s cheaper but it doesn’t have as much content. I’m covering just the Collector’s Edition in this review. Rather sadly, the original Fairway Solitaire that first hooked me – and which is still a great game – is no longer available to buy.)
The game has also since appeared for iOS, and there are separate versions for iPhone and iPad (with different courses to suit the different screen sizes). Although I’m reviewing primarily the Mac version here, I’m going to refer to the iOS versions too, because there are some differences worth knowing about between the platforms. One, in fact, is the name: on iOS, it’s Fairway Solitaire (HD for iPad), and there’s no choice of versions. The Mac version has dropped Solitaire from the title (perhaps to avoid confusion with the discontinued original) and you can get the standard Fairway or the Collector’s Edition.
Patiently Playing Golf Solo
Notwithstanding the confusion of versions and titles, what everything boils down to is one very simple concept: Golf Solitaire, or Golf Patience if you prefer – the card game. Many patience games on the computer include an implementation of Golf, not least because it’s dead easy to learn and play: it’s just about the simplest patience game ever devised. Basically, all you have to do is to play cards in ascending or descending order, regardless of suit, until all the cards on the tableau are gone, at which point you win. You can change direction at any time – e.g. you can go 6-7-8-9-8-7-8-7-6-5 if those cards happen to be available – and the only caveat in some variants is that you can’t go ‘below’ Ace (which is low in Golf) or ‘above’ King. However, in some versions of Golf, this rule is relaxed and you can ‘wrap around’ between Ace and King; and Fairway is one such variant. Thus, the cards are ‘circular’ in this version of the game, and you can keep on playing up and down the numbers for as long as suitable cards are available. When you can’t play any more cards, you just turn over another card from the stock, and hopefully, by the time they run out, you’ll have played all the cards on the tableau.
So much for the basic concept of Golf Patience. What makes Fairway special is the variety it presents on this basic theme, how it plays the Golf metaphor for all it’s worth, and how it does so in such a splendidly entertaining and thoroughly polished way.
Gameplay: Gopher Broke
Unexpectedly enough, Fairway actually has a ‘storyline’ of sorts. That’s to say, the levels of the game are punctuated by cartoon movies of Gutsy McDivot, a nefarious gopher on a constant quest to make life difficult for the hapless golfer. The gopher is at war with the player, and is working to create some kind of anti-golfer doomsday weapon called The Golfinator. Of course, as with all cartoon villains, things always go wrong in amusing fashion, so there’s nothing to worry about really. McDivot isn’t restricted to the inter-level story scenes, though; he’s well integrated into the game itself. Sometimes he pops up on the course, and you can earn a little money, if you’re quick enough, by clicking him, Whack-a-Mole style. He pops up quite often in the Wild Shot minigames (of which more anon), and he even occasionally interferes with the in-game commentators (again, of which more anon). Although the gopher is an extraneous element that could have spoilt the game by being an intrusive irritation, McDivot manages to be entertaining rather than annoying… most of the time, at least!
As for actually playing the game, there’s a lot of material to work through. The game is divided into many packs of courses, where each pack comprises nine courses, and each course is composed of three, six or nine holes. Each course has its own setting, picked from over a dozen different locations around the world, and each hole has a unique layout of cards. This variety of hole layouts is what gives the game its great feeling of variety and lasting interest, as well as making the gameplay reasonably strategic: some of the hole layouts are really quite challenging because of the way in which some cards are trapped by others. Picking the right cards to turn can make all the difference, and is more important in Fairway than in regular Golf Patience.
You don’t have to actually win the game on every hole; the scores work just like they do in real golf, with ‘par’ being the basic minimum to aim for and any score under par being desirable for achieving a good score. So you can earn a perfect score by removing all the cards from the tableau, but finishing with a small number of them remaining doesn’t necessarily matter that much. Depending on the hole, you can score (at best) −5 for any given hole, though often the best score will be only −3. If you do really badly, and end up with loads of cards left on the tableau at the end, the worst you can do is to score +5; the maximum score per hole is capped at that. All scores are referred to in golfing terms (birdie, eagle etc.).
As you play, your ‘career’ in the game progresses and you earn in-game money: Golf Bucks. These can be used in many ways, such as to purchase irons, to unlock courses (as some special courses have to be unlocked with Golf Bucks) and to buy aids in the Golf Shop. The better you play, of course, the more Golf Bucks you earn, and you’ll also gain them for winning the game’s many achievements. (Plus the odd handful for clicking McDivot when he appears on the course.)
When playing a hole, there are various extra features to spice up the gameplay and make it more interesting and strategic than straightforward Golf Patience. There are water hazards, in which certain cards appear blue and watery. These must all be cleared from the tableau before certain other cards become unlocked and available for play. There are sand hazards, which can’t be unlocked until you have unearthed and collected the Sand Wedge card, which will be buried somewhere in the playable section of the tableau. And there’s the rough: nasty tall-grass-covered cards that have to be matched twice before you can get rid of them.