Timewaster Tuesday: Freecell

Back when Rosalind posted about Minesweeper, I was inspired to do the same about my favorite basic Windows game, and that’s Freecell.

Usually when I tell people I love Freecell I get one of two reactions. Either “You’re crazy, that game is impossible to win!” or “I don’t even know how that game works.”

Luckily for you, I’m here to say it’s not impossible (in fact, nearly every game has been beaten) and it’s a pretty simple concept.

Hopefully, after reading on, you won’t be so intimidated by my favorite card game.

Like most people, I was a little confused when I first started playing, but as I messed around with the game a bit more, I learned that it wasn’t too difficult.

I then began my epic Freecell quest: to beat each game I play, never skipping a game, starting with game 1.

If you’ve ever played a round on your PC, you may have noticed that each game is numbered, 1 to 1 million. I’d have to play and beat, on average, 50 games a day to win them all. Luckily, my goal (which originally was to beat them all until I realized that was crazy.) is just to beat every game I play.

I can generally beat 5-10 in one sitting, but to laze around all day playing Freecell would be simply insane. (Though a great job, I wonder if anyone would pay me to do that?)

Not every game of Freecell is winnable, but in general they almost all are. So far, I have not encountered an unbeatable game up to 500. (That’s right, I’m only .05% finished)

There are websites dedicated to solving them all like Solitaire Laboratory & Free Cell Solutions, but among these many valiant questers, no one has beaten game #11982. I challenge you to try, since I’ll probably never get that far, but it’s considered unwinnable!

Other unbeatable rounds include the hidden games which Windows installs with the game. Open up Freecell, go to Game > Select Game and type in “-1” or “-2” and you’ll see something like this, which is -2:

This is about as close as you can get to solving it:

Of course, if you’re feeling helpless (or need to up your win percentage), you can always jump to -3 or -4, right click and voila! Instawin:

As for a real game, here are the basic rules and some of my tricks:

Freecell in General

1. The four cells in the top left are your freecells. You may use these to hold cards until you can use them or get cards out of your way. Don’t abuse these cells, as they control how many cards you can move at once.

2. You can always move 1 card at a time. For each free cell you leave open, you can move an additional stacked card. At the beginning of the game, you are able to move a stack of 5 cards, because you have four cells open, plus your 1 card you can always move.

3. The play area is where all the cards are. All 52 cards are laid out face-up. No secrets. No surprises. Cards start in a shuffled deal, but you can stack them in alternating suits decreasing from King to 2.

4. If an Ace is ever on top of a stack, it will automatically be placed into Home (the cells on the top right).

5. Home cells stack upward in suit from Ace to King.

6. Unlike Klondike solitaire, any card may be moved to an open cell in the game play area. However, open cells also give you the ability to move larger stacks of cards.

Dawn’s Tricks

1. Analyze the game board before you do anything. Figure out which columns have the lower cards, because you don’t want to get those stuck underneath huge stacks you can’t move.

2. The game will automatically place cards into the four boxes at the top right. If you see a card which can go Home, you can put it there, but you may need it later and you can’t get it back.

3. Most people start the game by trying to uncover Aces, then 2’s. Instead, your focus should be on getting the columns stacked Kings down, so the game can finish automatically.

4. Don’t be afraid to use the free cells, but don’t use them all either, unless you have an escape route planned. In newer versions you can undo indefinitely, but I still always plot a few moves ahead.

That should be everything you need to know, so good luck. If you want to know which games are the easiest/hardest to get you started, check out this awesome site.


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June 2010
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