Pros: Portable solitaire fun with a light-up screen. Buttons laid out logically. Saves scores. Klondike & Vegas versions.
Cons: Small buttons. No "undo".
I've been a fan of Solitaire ever since I was a little kid. These days there are lots of options when it comes to the game -- you can play the version that comes built-in to Microsoft's Windows desktop, you can play online at any of the many gaming sites, or you can pick up a deck of cards and play it the old-fashioned way. Last year my friend gave me the Radica Big Screen Solitaire hand-held game, and I have really enjoyed it, however I've always had a few gripes about it that probably kept me from playing it as often as I might. A few weeks ago I stumbled across a new version, the Radica Lighted Solitaire game, that apparently fixed some of the very things that I didn't like about the Big-Screen version. Since it was so cheap ($9.99), I figured it wouldn't hurt if I had 2 hand-held versions of the same game, so I purchased it. As with most things, there were good changes and bad changes...
The Radica Lighted Solitaire game is a handheld, electronic version of the popular 1-person card game, Solitaire. The unit is small (roughly 3¼ by 5 inches) and very lightweight. The unit comes with a nifty flip-up cover that opens when you press a button at the side. At the top of the unit is a small LCD screen (measuring roughly 2 inches wide and just over 1 inch tall), and the bottom is devoted to a number of buttons. There are 2 different versions of Solitaire to choose from -- Vegas style allows only 1 run through the deck, turning over 1 card at a time, and adding or subtracting from your monetary total (which starts at $500) based on how many cards you can move up into the suits row. Klondike style allows multiple runs through the deck, turning over 3 cards at a time and awarding points for every move (although you are docked 20 points for each pass through the deck after the first 3).
The screen is divided into sections. In the upper left corner is your deck, or where you pull the additional cards to play. In the right upper corner are the 4 suits, or where you place the cards from lowest to highest by suit to accumulate points. Spread along the bottom of the screen is the play-area, where you stack the cards in descending order with alternating colors until you can move them up to the suits section. In the play-area, only the top-most and bottom-most cards in the column are displayed, and you can tell how many un-turned cards are left underneath each column by little lines that appear above the top-most card.
Below the screen are the buttons. The buttons that control the card-play match what you see on the screen -- each play-area column has an associated button underneath, the deck button is to the upper-left of the column buttons, and the suits button is to the upper right. To move a card, you press the button associated with the location of that card. That card (or row of cards) will start to flash to indicate that it has been selected. You the press the button associated with the location where you want the card to move.
There are sounds associated with the buttons as well. The sounds are just little beeps and blips, nothing impressive, but they do tend to help with game play. No only will it make a buzz-type sound when you try to move a card somewhere it cannot go, but also sometimes it is easy to get your "select this card to move" button-press out of whack with the "move the card here" button-press, but because each of those is associated with a different sound it is easy to hear when you've gotten them mixed up. There was another solitaire game we played at the store (manufactured by Tiger Electronics) that had much more impressive sounds (but its game play was a bit lacking).
Below the game-play buttons are additional buttons. Pressing and holding the "New Game" button for a few moments puts the unit into new-game mode, where you can use the "Game" button to choose between Klondike and Vegas versions of solitaire, as well as reset your Vegas dollar amount to $500 if you so desire. There is also a button to turn the sounds off or on, as well as a timer button (you can get extra points if you play with the timer on). The largest, main button in this set is the On/Deal/Draw button, used during game play to draw another card from the deck, as well as used to start games, select options, and turn the unit on.
At the bottom of the unit is a switch you can use to turn a back-light behind the screen off or on. There is also an indented button you can use to completely reset the system (you must use a pencil or some other small, sharp object to press that button).
You might have noticed the lack of an on/off switch. The Radica Lighted Solitaire game (as well as its "Big Screen" cousin) turns on with the push of the large On/Deal/Draw button. It turns itself off after 2 minutes of inactivity. When you turn it back on it will start at exactly where you left off (be that at the end of a game or mid-game), which is very nice.
The manufacturer recommends the game for people ages 8 and up. 2 "AAA" batteries (included) are required.
Thoughts and Experiences:
To be honest, I had held off on purchasing a hand-held version of solitaire for myself because I figured the user-interface would be klunky and annoying (especially after being used to the snazzy online versions where you interact via the mouse). When I first received the "Big Screen" version from Radica I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but there were a few things about it that always annoyed me. My largest issue with it was that the screen was not back-lit, so I could not play it in low light or darkness. This might seem like a minor issue, but it was rather important to me. I like to read in bed for a little while to unwind before I got to sleep. When my husband goes to sleep before I do, turning on the light disturbs him. Previously, I would use my Excalibur Crossword Puzzle game because it is backlit and I can play it without disturbing my hubby. Now I can add Solitaire to the list of things I can do while he's snoozing.
The other big gripe I had about the "Big Screen" version of the game was that I could not just throw it in the bag to take with me on a trip. Because it has no master on/off switch, pushing the large, main button turns the game on -- thus if I packed it in luggage or a bag it would ultimately turn itself on. The smaller, "Lighted" version takes care of this by having a hard, slightly see-through plastic cover that protects the keys and keeps them from being pressed whilst packed away. The cover is pretty spiffy too, as I love to watch it sloooowly open after I press the side button that releases the catch. I still wish there was an off button -- for some reason it bugs me to just set the units down and wait for them to turn themselves off.
Although game play in the "Big Screen" and "Lighted" versions of the game are nearly identical, there are other minor differences. The "Big Screen" version has some additional buttons that the smaller, lighted version is lacking -- namely an "Undo" button (I do find myself wishing for that button, even though using it could be considered cheating), as well as a "High Score" button. I don't know why the lighted version had to have separate buttons for "New Game" and "Game", as the "Big Screen" version managed to do all of that with a single "New Game" button. The "Lighted" version has a high-score limit of 5999 -- if you score higher the numbers won't change. Unlike the "Big Screen" version, the lighted one will not automatically move cards up to the suits row when you've solved the game.
I find game play to be pretty easy-to-use and the button-layout quite intuitive. Not as easy as using a mouse, but pretty easy nonetheless. There are some gripes I have from a programming standpoint. The game doesn't allow you to select a card from the suits row to move back down into the columns again, which is something that most online games allow (actually it will let you select the suits row, but doesn't let you choose which card is activated to move, rendering it fairly useless). Also, you cannot move partial columns -- you can only move based on the top-most or the bottom-most card in a column (so if you have a black-7, red-6, and black-5 stacked in a column, it won't let you take the red-6 and black-5 and move them together to a different black-7). This does bug me, as I see opportunities to move more cards to the suits-row and get more points if I could only do a bit of columnar shuffling (again, something that most online games allow). Lastly, when playing Klondike style, you cannot see what the 2 skipped cards are during a 3-card turnover (something many, but not all, online games show).
There are some other niceties that I really appreciate. Something that seems minor but is actually quite important -- in the Radica games the red suits are drawn hollow, or as outlines, whereas the black suits are colored in. As I said, this seems minor until you are playing. I tried playing a solitaire game made by Tiger Electronics, and you'd be surprised how much a spade can look like a heart when the symbols are tiny and all in black -- it makes scanning for potential moves much more difficult because you've really got to stop and focus. I appreciate this distinction Radica makes between the black and red suits, as it really does make game play easier. Another nicety is that to start a different game you must press down and hold the "New Game" button for a few moments. With the buttons as close-together as they are, I could certainly see a lot of accidental re-starts were this not the case (and if you were close to clearing the deck and getting a great score when the game was lost, well, it wouldn't be pretty).
Another difference between the Tiger Electronics version I played in the store and the both of the Radica ones I own is that the button layout on the Radica games is much more intuitive. In all games the 7 buttons representing the columns in the play-area are underneath their respective columns -- however the buttons for the deck and for the suits were strangely situated on the Tiger Electronics version, whereas on the Radica games they are logically placed to match where they are on the screen (the deck button to the upper left of the column-buttons, the suits button to the upper right). I'm sure that if you played the Tiger version long enough you would get accustomed to the oddly situated buttons, but the Radica way just makes logical sense because it matches what you see on the screen.
My fingers are pretty small, so I don't really have much trouble with the small buttons on the Radica Lighted Solitaire game (unless one of my fingernails gets rather long). I would think that people with larger fingers might have a hard time, as the buttons are small and quite close together. Even I will admit that it is easier to play the "Big Screen" version of the game because the buttons are larger and a bit farther apart, and the shape of the unit conforms to your hands nicely. What would make these games really cool is if they had full color screens, rather than LCD screens -- that would make the cards and their suit colors so much easier to read, however I suppose that would also vastly increase the price.
I haven't had the lighted version for very long, but speaking from many months experience with the "Big Screen" version, the batteries last a very long time (I haven't yet replaced the batteries on either unit). Of course, if you use the light the batteries are going to drain faster.
+) Portable fun!
+) Hard cover protects unit during transport
+) 2 versions of Solitaire (Klondike and Vegas)
+) Backlit screen
+) Keys logically laid-out
+) Can turn sounds off and on
+) Red suits displayed "hollow", Black suits displayed filled-in -- makes it easier to read
+) Must press-and-hold to start a new game -- it makes for fewer accidental restarts
+) Turns itself off after 2 minutes of inactivity
-) I still wish there was an on/off button
-) The sounds are just beeps and buzzes (another manufacturer's version had much nicer sounds)
-) Cannot move cards from the suits back down to the columns
-) Cannot move from the middle of a column to another column (can only move based on the top-most and bottom-most cards)
-) No "Undo" button
-) Buttons are small and close-together
For someone who didn't really want a hand-held Solitaire game, I sure have enjoyed the heck out of mine. I adore the Radica Lighted Solitaire a lot and think it made some major improvements over old versions -- namely the backlight and the protective cover. It isn't perfect, but it is still a lot of fun!
Radica Big Screen Solitaire