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Not exactly a Royal Flush, but I'll take it.

I made a story mode for my favourite card games

I had a lot of time on my hands over the holidays. That’s the only way to explain how we ended up here. During those many free hours, I wondered whether I could create stories that correspond with the gameplay of various card games. Basically, I wanted to see whether I could create a story mode for these card games. It turns out it was possible and not that hard.

I’ve actually had the idea for Solitaire’s story mode kicking around in my head for over a decade. Back when I worked at a grocery store, I realized the game was functionally similar to what I did at work. Then I realized most of life consists of organizing stuff in various arbitrary ways. Like, almost everything I could thing of fit the bill. Even video games often make you organize things. These are the places my mind goes when I have too much time on my hands.

Anyway, I wanted to do the same for a bunch of other games that currently involve no storytelling. Basically, I looked at how the games were played and tried to think of real-life scenarios that mirrored them. Then I added a little bit of flavour to the worlds and …  

Oh god, I’ve written card-game fanfiction. Extremely vanilla, G-rated fanfiction.

Hearts

I love Hearts, but I don’t think I’ve ever played against real humans. I did, however, spend many hours of my teenage years whipping the hell out of 2004-era artificial intelligence. Those hours led me to believe I’d be playing a lot more cards as an adult than I currently do. When I do play cards, they’re usually trading card games. Oh well. Maybe one day I’ll get to whip real-life players. Unfortunately, Windows no longer includes Hearts as a freebie in its operating system, so I can’t even whip 2021-era AI.

How you play

It’s most common to play with four players. In that case, one player deals out a hand of 13 cards to everyone at the table. (You use slightly different rules for dealing if three or five people are playing, but the rest is the same.) Then, each player picks three cards from their hand and places them face down. Players pass the chosen cards to their left. Expect to both give and receive some stinkers.

Whoever gets the Two of Clubs plays that card to start the game. Then, going clockwise, each other player plays a card of that suit if they have one. If not, they can play any other suit. Whoever played the highest card “wins” the trick (though it’s more like loses, especially if Hearts or the Queen of Spades are involved). They collect the cards, place them face down, and lead the next round. This process repeats until everyone plays their last card. It’s important to note that Aces are the highest card, above even Kings.

The object of Hearts is simple: be the player with the lowest score when the game ends. The game ends when one player reaches some threshold agreed upon by the players (often it’s 50 or 100). Players get points by winning tricks that include Hearts or the Queen of Spades. Each Heart is worth one point, but her majesty is worth 13. That said, if a player manages to get all the Hearts and the Queen of Spades, all their opponents are penalized. Each other player’s score increases by 26.

There are a couple of restrictions on what players can do. If a player has cards that match the suit of the card that led a trick, they must play them. Even if they have no Clubs, a player cannot play a Heart or the Queen of Spades on the first hand. Furthermore, no one can lead with a Heart until someone else has played one.

Hearts story mode

The world of high-end art sales is cutthroat, and nowhere is that truer than at the Pretentia Art Auction House. Ultra-rich buyers come from around the world to bid millions on rare works by Old Masters and trendy pieces by contemporary artists. Wouldn’t it be nice to fleece these old moneybags for everything they’re worth? When the difference between $8 million and $18 million is meaningless to them, why not jack up the prices a little bit?

You play as a contractor for Hearts and Queen Art Sales, a company that buys and sells rare artworks at Pretentia. You’re here to manipulate the market and drive up prices to ensure people spend big on your client’s paintings. But you’re also looking to win a few cheaper sales yourself, sales that won’t break the bank, on works you can sell for a markup elsewhere.

You slip in fake bids to fuel bidding wars when it benefits you. And you’ll put up big money on under-the-radar art to show everyone you really do mean business. Just be careful your fraudulent bids don’t backfire, or you’ll be on the hook for the money. If you’ve made everyone else spend more money then you, you and your client will go home feeling victorious.

The game has an alternate ending though. You can play the “art hoarder” route that lets you try to buy all the art instead. If you succeed, the game shows you a fun cutscene in which your competitors get punished by their bosses.

Solitaire

An unwinnable game of Solitaire. In story mode, that would mean my player gets fired.
This Solitaire hand turned out to be one of many that could not be won. In story mode that means I would have been fired.

There are a ton of Solitaire variants. I’m going to discuss the rules of the variant I know best, but the story mode below will work with any version. Solitaire is a one-player game, hence its name. Variants often diverge in how the cards are dealt, but the object is always to rearrange the cards somehow.

How you play

In classic Solitaire, you deal the first card of each row face up, and you skip any column that has a face-up card when dealing the next row. So, Row 1 has seven cards and begins in Column 1, Row 2 has six and begins in Column 2, and so on until you deal one face-up card in Row 7, Column 7. Then place the deck at the top left of the game board.

The object of Solitaire is to arrange all cards in four face-up piles sorted by suit and ascending in value, from Ace to King. Not every game can be solved.

To play, you move around the face-up cards and access more from the deck three at a time. This pile of cards is “the hand”. If you run out of cards in the deck, you can turn over the hand and keep going through it three cards at a time.

You can only use the card on “top” of the hand, which is the card you dealt last. You can move entire piles of cards on the board if the bottom card of that pile can legally be placed on the top card of its new pile. If you move all face-up cards from a column, turn the top face-down card up.

Cards on the board must be placed on one another in descending order and red cards must be placed on black cards, and vice versa. For example, you can only place a Three of Hearts on either a Four of Clubs or Spades. If you move all cards out of a column, you can only place a King or a pile with a King on the bottom in the open space.

Any time you see an Ace, place it at the top right to start your victory piles (the official name is “The Foundations”, but I like “victory piles” better). You can place the next card from that suit upon the pile any time you see it if it’s on top of its pile or the hand.

Solitaire story mode

Order is important in Solitaire. There are two different organizational methods to keep in mind, one of which is “ideal” (i.e. the piles up top that start with Aces). Our story is going to be one where the main character’s role is to organize.

In Solitaire, you play as an overworked grocery clerk, the greatest to ever set foot in a store. After your manager is fired for gross incompetence, their replacement comes in promising a swath of changes to make the store more efficient. First and foremost: the team is going to organize the back room. “The team” means just you.

You organize the boxes currently in a pile of cascading heights, along with those simply stacked up in a corner, into four stations co-ordinated by attribute. You have to make sure that when you’re moving boxes in the piles that the smallest ones are on top, but the new method is compartmentalized shelving that allows smaller boxes to go at the bottom. It’s an industry trend, apparently. Look, you don’t make the rules, you just work there.

What makes this game special is that sometimes the boxes are arranged in such a way that it would be impossible to organize them, in which case you must report the situation to the manager. They immediately fire you. Game over. Story mode, like real life, is harsh.

Go Fish

Who hasn’t played Go Fish? This was probably the first card game I learned how to play. It’s easy to learn and play, which makes it very kid friendly. It also scales up or down very well, so you can play with any number of people. It also lends itself well to storytelling.

How you play

One player deals a hand of cards to each other player (seven cards if you’re playing with two or three people, five if you’re playing with four or more). The dealer places the remaining cards face down in the centre of the table.

The player to the left of the dealer starts the action. They may ask any other player for a card that they also have in hand. You can do this politely (“Do you have any threes?”) or assertively (“Give me your Jacks!”), but you must have at least one copy of whatever card you’re requesting. The player who was asked for cards must hand over all copies of that card.

If a player succeeds in getting cards, they may ask again (either that same player or someone else). When a player’s request fails, they are told to “Go fish!” and draw a card from the deck. If they draw the card they asked for, their turn continues. If not, their turn ends and the person to their left takes a turn.

When a player gets the fourth card of a set, they place the set face-up on the table. If they are empty-handed, they first draw a card before making a request. The game ends when all 13 sets are face-up. However, a player can exit the game earlier than this time if they run out of cards in hand and the deck is also out of cards. The object is to be the player who gets the most sets.

Go Fish story mode

The island nation of Tropicandia is home to many people who make their living in the fish trade. Each day a busy marketplace opens, and fishmongers vie to sell more fish than their competitors. But this is no ordinary market. The sellers actively steal among one another. When a seller meets a customer whose needs can’t be met by what’s on sale, they’ll head out to sea and try to catch the appropriate fish right away.

Customers gravitate toward popular-looking stalls, so one sale will often lead to several more. But popularity will also catch the attention of the competition, which may try to scoop up your stocks as you amass them. Of course, if they do that, you can either steal another type of stock or go out to sea and try to catch something new.

End of the story

So there you have it, story modes for old-fashioned card games. I stuck with just three because these were a lot more work than I thought they would be. Also, this article is already long enough. I got all my rules from Bicycle Cards’ rules database, which I strongly encourage you to check out.

If you’d like to see me create more story modes for card games, let me know on social media or in the comments. I’d be happy to do some more, especially for more complicated games like Poker or Euchre.

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