The History of Solitaire

Bringing Cards Into Play

Whereas playboards, tokens, dice, and calendar cards were known in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, playing cards made of paper or cardboard are more recent. Their first accounts point to 12th century China and Japan. Via India, the Persian Empire, and the Arab world, playing cards eventually came to Europe.

The first European accounts of playing cards date back to the 14th century: In 1367, a court in Bern, Switzerland, banned a deck of cards vilifying it as a “prayer book of the devil”. Prohibition was attempted for a couple of decades, but neither authoritative bans nor condemnation by the Christian church had much effect.

Designs of card decks, some very valuable ones, are passed down from the 15th century. Often, significant artists of their time painted them. Each card game was one of a kind. The resulting costs made the vice and virtue of card games accessible mainly for the well-to-do. A guild of card painters was founded in Nuremberg, for example, whose excellent reputation lasts until today.

The invention of woodcut and the ensuing constant improvement of printing technology gave ordinary people access to formerly expensive playing cards. This led to the victory of the joy of playing cards in Europe. By the end of the 15th century, Lyon blossomed out as one of the most important centers for card game production. And French playing cards remain prominent until today. Of course, tax authorities demanded their share: Already in 1583 in France, a tax was imposed on playing cards.

Solitaire’s Origins

The roots of solitaire games, which are also called patience games in Europe, are not fully known. Some scientists assume France as its place of origin. Others locate it in Germany or Scandinavia.

Legend has it an imprisoned nobleman waiting for his execution during the French revolution began playing Solitaire to pass the time with nothing else to do and, apparently, a deck of cards at hand. The game would spread among his fellow prisoners and from there somehow to the new rich, who also had playing cards and plenty of time to pass.

The earliest written proof for patience games is provided by a book published in 1788 in Germany. The book is a collection of rules for different games, and its title translates to The new Royal l’Hombre. This refers to a popular, most likely Spanish card game at the time, which strongly influenced the history of card games in Europe. This book dedicates a chapter titled Patience to explaining a single-player card game. For a detailed explanation of our modern Solitaire, have a look at our manual.

The French term patience came to the English language, describing endurance and longanimity. The French solitaire was incorporated into English, too, as solitary meaning alone. These terms fittingly define the course of the game: You do not need fellow players to play the game. But you do need a lot of patience. The challenge lies in the mental exercise of resolving the constellation of cards: You compete with yourself.

Going Solo

It seems like patience games have not always been single-player games. The book mentioned above describes Patience as a game for two people, with only one person actively playing. The person not playing could bet for or against the player. After one round, they would switch. It was not passed down, when or why this element disappeared, and Solitaire became a true single-player game. It seems likely that players practicing alone to improve their skills caused this change.

The Rise and Boom

There are plenty of unverified tales about famous Solitaire players. Among others, Napoleon allegedly played the game intensively in his exile in Saint Helena. This can neither be proven nor does it seem very likely. Napoleon would have probably opted for a more contemporary game of the early eighteen hundreds. It is true, however, that by the middle of the nineteenth century, Solitaire gained momentum in France and England. One hundred years later, our modern solitaire games started emerging. Many books describing even more variations were written in that period.

In the 1980s, Solitaire began its extraordinary triumph. This is directly linked to the development of the first personal computers (PCs). To understand the connection, we open up the scope a little bit: Solitaire comes with an elaborate preparation phase for dealing the cards. While playing, revealing and moving the cards follows specific rules. These tasks can take away some of the fun in playing. This is where the PC comes to the rescue! Quickly and accurately, it takes care of these monotonous tasks. Suddenly, the player only needed to press a button and watch the cards automatically move across the screen. What was left was the addictive essence of the joy of playing.

Global Popularity With Windows

There already were aesthetic, digital realizations of Solitaire for the C64 or Amiga 500. But worldwide success and popularity came with the development of Microsoft’s operating system.

When working on Windows 3.0, Microsoft wanted to add a couple of games to their basic version. Alongside the popular Minesweeper, they chose Solitaire, which an intern was working on at the time. The motive was to get users acquainted with the mouse and the concept of drag and drop, which were new in 1990 when Windows 3.0 was released.

Since then, until 2013 with Windows 8.1, Microsoft always included Solitaire with the operating system, which explains the game’s high profile. Microsoft Windows Solitaire was installed on more than an estimated billion of computers. It is a distinct brand today, and many Windows users probably think that the game’s original idea and development go back no further than to Microsoft. As recently as May 2019, Microsoft Windows Solitaire finally made it to the World Video Game Hall of Fame. We think rightfully so!

Solitaire as a Multiplayer

Enough of the past – let us take a look at the present and the future! At the Solitaire Palace, we want to make Solitaire a group experience while preserving challenging yourself, playing calmly, and the fun of pondering. If you wish, you can play while socializing with players across the globe in our Solitaire community.

At a table of the Palace, everybody faces the same challenge: At the beginning of a round, all players receive the same cards in the same way. Then, each player resolves their game on their own. The moves each player makes are scored – positively or negatively. Both efficiency and speed are vital to maximizing your points. Consequently, the players’ approaches to solving the game are comparable. The player gaining the most points wins!

See for Yourself

Be part of the ongoing history of Solitaire games and give our innovative realization of Solitaire a try. We hope you will enjoy our game and become part of the Solitaire community!