★★★★

It’s a few years since Big Fish games first coupled golf and solitaire into a unlikely video game hybrid. But in the intervening time and journey from PC/ Mac to mobile, Fairway Solitaire has been re-landscaped, its rough edges rounded into what is now a bullet-like strike deep into that obsessive compulsive part of the human brain that will endlessly compete against the luck of the draw in search of a victory over the odds.

Fairway Solitaire isn’t a Must Play because it’s beautiful, surprising or especially clever. Indeed, there’s a lot that’s bothersome about the execution here. Rather, it’s a must play because it’s a game that, once you start, you must play, drawn back into its bewitching concoction of fate, skill and timing again and again. For many mobile phone players, that’s the mark of a 9 Iron classic.

The secret is in that recipe of fate, skill and timing. If Fairway Solitaire was a pure game of chance it would grow tiresome within minutes. And, much like the pure card game Solitaire, it’s so close to being a pure game of chance.

You draw cards, one at a time, from your hand, adding to it any upturned cards from the play field that are one unit above or below the deck card. The aim is to clear the play field before you run out of hand cards.

In Fairway Solitaire these basic rules are combined with some of Golf’s own rules to create the mash-up. Each stage has a ‘par’ score and if you end the game with more cards left on the play field than the par score then that penalty is added to your scorecard. Each ‘stage’ is themed like a hole on a gold course and you must finish the set of holes par or under to unlock the next ‘course’. Some courses have ‘sandtraps’ and ‘water hazards’, that can only be overcome when you uncover the relevant club card in the playfield.

Solitaire is arguably little more than a game about paying attention. So long as you notice the runs before you bring out the next hand card it’s a case of playing the game out to a conclusion predestined at the deal.

But Fairway Solitaire’s designers introduce some clever touches that add more strategy into play. Each shot earns credits which can be used to purchase specific cards (or clubs, as they’re called in the game’s analogy). This player agency upsets the pure chance-based play and turns a routine game into an outstanding one: should you use up the cards in your back pocket early, or hang on to them for when you’re in a pinch?

The presentation is slick but confused. The game begins with a Braveheart parody and orchestral soundtrack but this is pretty much the only time that theme is referenced, while play proper is “commentated” on by a couple of American voice actors working an improv-comedy set that’s both distracting and irritating.

The game’s Free-To-Play with an purchasable ‘adventure’ mode for 69p. Those who want to blitz holes without any trouble can buy sets of golden clubs as an IAP – free strikes that can be brought out at any point, upon which any card can be placed, a player crutch that we strongly recommend you avoid.

But despite the flaws and idiosyncrasies, Fairway Solitaire’s core is smart and compelling, the kind of game that pulls your phone from your pocket in any moment of downtime.

Download the game for iOS here, or you can play for free in your browser over at Kongregate here.