Combining a Jane Austen-style story with Golf Solitaire doesn’t sound like an immediately natural combination, does it? And yet, somehow, Regency Solitaire makes it work. The game has you complete various solitaire levels, before purchasing furniture upgrades for your stately manor. And, of course, there’s time to charm some suitors too. It sounds unconventional, but it’s an addictive concept.
The brainchild of husband and wife team, Jake Birkett and Helen Carmichael, it’s been quite the success since its release in May for PC and Mac, garnering critical acclaim from sites such as Rock, Paper, Shotgun, as well as having a ’very positive’ response rating on Steam.
We chatted with Jake and Helen to find out more about how the game came to fruition.
“The solitaire game theme came to me while watching Downton Abbey,” explained Helen. “We had recently moved back to Bridport from Canada, and we were keen to revisit our favourite historical locations in the UK. We wanted to find a fun way to share our love of British history in a game.” Jake started his own games company, Grey Alien Games, in 2005, while Helen is an experienced science writer. Helen turned into a historical researcher for this game, conducting various checks to ensure Regency Solitaire was as accurate as possible.
As Jake explained, “we love the Regency period because it had such grand architecture and instantly-recognisable fashion. It was also a time when card games were hugely popular, both as a social pastime and also as a means to lose your family fortune at the gaming tables. So for us, a card game set in the early 1800s seemed like a great fit.”
It was far from an sheltered experience either, with Jake and Helen visiting various historical locations within the UK. These included Stourhead House in Wiltshire, the Roman Baths and museums in Bath, and the Victoria and Albert museum in London, all for inspiration for the title. As Helen explained, they’ve done their “best to go to the original sources and locations to make every detail historically-accurate.” Her hope was for “players [to] feel they have spent a few hours in [the] England of 1812.”
Why solitaire though? What do they think is the appeal behind such a traditional game? “Solitaire games, when they are done well, can be both relaxing and addictive,” explained Jake. He continued, “…it’s very important to get the gameplay just right, to keep it rewarding and introduce just the right amount of challenge.”
Regency Solitaire offers hard and easy modes to ensure that you can choose between relaxing or dealing with the strategy involved in such a game. Primarily marketed at the ‘casual’ market, Jake explained that while it’s predominantly a female audience, that wasn’t their core aim in mind. “…We wanted the game to have a broad appeal to anyone who loves card games, history, and a good Jane Austen costume drama. We definitely have a lot of true fans who are men who totally love the game.”
Sensibly, he pointed out that the key here is to “think about a player who enjoys a certain subset of games and themes, rather than focusing on their gender.”
The husband and wife team aren’t resting on their laurels either, with their next release-Shadowhand-currently set for release in Spring 2016. It offers a connection to Regency Solitaire too. “One of our older characters suggests that she may have had an exciting past. So initially the project was conceived as a kind of prequel to Regency Solitaire,” explains Jake. It goes a little further than that though, he points out. “…as the design progressed, the game has evolved to include RPG elements and battles against AI enemies.”
Using a kind of ‘combat solitaire’ system. Shadowhand will involve turn-based battles against many different opponents. You’ll be able to customize weapons, costume, and other accessories such as bombs and potions via an inventory screen. Besides that, there’ll be an experience system that can be used to upgrade abilities to gain an edge over your enemies.
The story sounds gripping and female focused too. Jake told all, “the story begins with disaster as a lonely coach ride is brutally interrupted. With her female companion missing, and compromising secrets at stake, Lady Darkmoor sheds the fetters of polite society to become the highway woman, Shadowhand…as you play you will attempt to uncover the truth about those close to our heroine – and perhaps Lady Darkmoor is also hiding something?”
It sounds compelling stuff and an original way to use typical solitaire gameplay. Perhaps best of all, it’s dodging using stereotypical female characters, immediately making it stand out from the crowd. Something that’s always welcome to see. The solitaire genre might be quite traditional in nature, but it’s far from old fashioned under the watchful eye of Grey Alien Games.