Pros: Fun, hand-held Solitaire. Klondike & Vegas versions. Saves scores. Logically placed buttons.
Cons: Screen not backlit. Unprotected "on" button makes it not suitable for travel.
I've always enjoyed Solitaire and have played it in a variety of ways -- on my computer, over the web, and with real cards. I now have two hand-held versions of the game, both from Radica. One is a small, travel-convenient version called Radica Lighted Solitaire, and the other is the one I'm reviewing here, the larger "Big Screen" Radica Solitaire (it was originally titled "Radica Solitaire", but now the packaging calls it "Big Screen" Solitaire to differentiate it from the many other versions now put out by Radica). Both versions have their own sets of pluses and minuses, however both have proven to be quite addictive.
Until Epinions can get a picture of the product loaded, here is a link to one from the manufacturer's website: http://www.radicagames.com/images/products/big_screen_solitaire.jpg
The Radica "Big Screen" Solitaire game is a handheld, electronic version of the popular 1-person card game, Solitaire. The unit is small (roughly 4 by 6 inches) and very lightweight. At the top of the unit is a decent sized LCD screen (measuring roughly 3 inches wide and just under 2 inches 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. Not 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 "Game/New Game" button for a few moments puts the unit into new-game mode, and if you press it again while in new-game mode you can 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 LOTS of extra points if you play with the timer on). The "Undo" button is a very handy one (that is lacking from our Lighted Solitaire version), but using it docks you 2 points each time. There is also a "high score" button for displaying your best score (so you can brag to your friends and family). 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.
You might have noticed the lack of an on/off switch. The Radica "Big Screen" Solitaire game (as well as its "Lighted" 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 & Experiences:
Although I enjoy Solitaire quite a bit, 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). I received this "Big Screen" version as a gift and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, but unfortunately 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 (which may be unimportant to some, but I like to read in bed for a little while to unwind before I got to sleep, and if my husband goes to bed before I do the light disturbs him). I enjoyed my Excalibur Crossword Puzzle game because it is backlit and I can play it without disturbing my hubby, and wanted to do the same my Solitaire game. That's why I eventually purchased the Radica Lighted Solitaire game for myself -- however it has its own share of disadvantages. For one, the "Big Screen" version is very ergonomically styled, with indentions to help it fit perfectly in your hands. The "Lighted" version is wedge shaped and not nearly as comfortable. There is also something to be said for being bigger -- the buttons on the "Big Screen" version are larger and more widely spaced, making them much easier to press. Lastly, the screen is a bit larger. I don't have problems with my eyesight, but with everything being in black-and-white it is a bit easier on the eyes to have a slightly larger screen.
As I stated above, my main gripe about the "Big Screen" version is that the screen is not backlit. Another big gripe is that I could never just throw it in my purse to take it to a doctor's appointment or 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 my purse 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, which is very nice.
Although game play in the "Big Screen" and "Lighted" versions of the game are nearly identical, there are other minor differences. The "Lighted" version does not have the "Undo" or "High Score" buttons. The "Lighted" version has a high-score limit of 5999 -- if you score higher the numbers won't change. The "Big Screen" version has a high-score limit of 99999, and once you pass it it loops around to begin again at 0. The "Big Screen" version will automatically move cards up to the suits row when you've solved the game (the "Lighted" one will not).
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 seconds. With the buttons as close-together as they are, I could certainly see a lot of accidental mid-game re-starts were this not the case.
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.
When I read the instructions for my Solitaire game, it said that you could play with the timer on for "bonus points" based on how quickly you won the game. I'm a pretty fast player, so I was figuring that, when playing the Vegas version, I would get a good amount of points when I won -- maybe a hundred or something -- I was not expecting THOUSANDS of extra points! I mean, if each card is worth 5 points, the most you can get for a single game is 260 points -- then the "timer bonus" kicked in and added roughly 5000 points to my total! Talk about blowing my previous high score out of the water. A timer bonus of that much just seems a little silly to me.
I will admit that the game is hard to win. I've played a lot of Solitaire online and with real cards -- I usually can win quite a bit. When my "Big Screen" game was new I was surprised about how long it took to finally win a game. I do think it is partially because you cannot more partial rows and usually cannot pull the card you want from the suits/home row. After that initial dry spell I do seem to win a lot more now (enough to have looped the score keeper, with the "timer bonus" on, that is).
I've had both versions of the game for quite a while now, and have yet to replace the batteries. It definitely isn't a battery hog.
+) Portable fun!
+) 2 versions of Solitaire (Klondike and Vegas)
+) Very ergonomically correct and comfortable to hold
+) Large screen makes it easier to read
+) 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
-) Screen is not backlit
-) 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)
-) Not convenient for travel (nothing protects the too-easy-to-press on button)
For someone who didn't really want a hand-held Solitaire game, I sure have enjoyed the heck out of mine. If I had to choose just one, I would probably go with the "Big Screen" version, even though the Lighted Solitaire version has some major improvements -- namely the backlight and the protective cover. Still, when I look back over the time spent with both games, I've used the "Big Screen" version more because it is so much more comfortable to hold and easy to read.
Radica Lighted Solitaire