Improving Zapster Solitaire’s Game Design

Zapster Solitaire is a game made for taking just a few minutes to play something light, and I’ve been dogfooding it a lot in that capacity. In all my playtime, I’ve found a strong point in the game’s design as well as several weaknesses, in addition to the “false coin flip” I discussed previously:

  • 👍 Jacks are by far the most interesting element of the game’s challenge. Their varying badness depending on which numbers you have, as well as their ability to introduce duplicate cards in your cells, creates a lot of space in strategizing how to use your zaps.
    • 👎 However, they’re made a little less interesting when they use an ace and add only one card.
  • 👎 It too often feels like the RNG (random number generator) just hates you and doesn’t want you to win. I accept this as inevitable to an extent due to this being a highly luck-based game, but I think things are tilted a little too strong in that direction right now.
    • 👎 This is especially true in the early game, when all ranks are equally represented in the draw pile and you have only six cells.

I want not just to address the weaknesses, but build on that strength. I’ve got a draft of a redesign that could do all those things: Cards of rank 10 will be put back in the game, aces will go out, and starting cells will be increased to 7. In theory, the early game will be more survivable and the false coin flip gone with the extra cell, and the higher 10-cell maximum will improve overall survivability. Jacks will keep the game interesting despite that by drawing at least two cards, and an average of one more (when they have numbered cards to use at all).

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Reflections on Zapster Solitaire’s Game Design

With the release of Zapster Solitaire last week (and the bugfix release today), a game I first dreamt up somewhere around age 10 is finally available for the public to enjoy. While it had potential that I think is now being realized, it’s a relic from when I was much less experienced in game design, so it took some tweaking to get there. Modern-me did a lot of playtesting and made some adjustments:

  • The first thing I did was remove cards of rank 10. This nerfed queens a bit and makes it easier to make matches, and also ensured I could fit the draw pile, current draw, trash, and the maximum number of cells into a 4×3 grid.
  • Next came increasing the number of starting cells from 5 to 6. This made the early game less frustrating.
  • Extensive playtesting in Quick mode made me feel overpowered having 3 zaps. 1 zap felt too weak, so I adjusted it to 2.
  • After the above change, further playtesting in Marathon mode made me realize that kid-me had a point when it came to 2-deck play, so I implemented allowing the starting zaps to vary between modes, and brought Marathon back up to 3 zaps.

While I’m largely proud of what the game evolved into, the combination of the first 2 changes above resulted in a new flaw: If you fill all your cells without getting any matches at the start of the game, intuition tells you the next card has a 50% chance of matching. In fact, due to each of your cards having 1 less match in the deck, it’s only 43% in Quick and 47% in Marathon. I’ve been thinking of how I might eliminate that tempting false coin flip – perhaps I’ll increase the starting cells to 7, or remove Aces. I’ll have to do more playtesting and see what works…

A feature I have planned for version 2.0 will let you try out your own adjustments to the game and share them across the Internet, as I have. I look forward to seeing how players change the game further.