Fairway Solitaire is a nice puzzle variant of solitaire, tainted only very slightly by the stink of "pay to win" microtransactions, but not enough to significantly weigh the game down.

You start out with rows of cards, and the goal is to remove these rows from the playfield. In keeping with the golf theme, there's some extra elements, like cards covered in "rough" that take two plays to remove, or groupings of cards that represent a sand pit or water hazard that first have to be removed before another grouping can be unlocked. There's also a jerk gopher who pops up randomly and can be whacked for extra points, and you'll sometimes draw a "wild card" that launches you into a random bonus mini-game such as hitting a drive as far as possible.

The "pay to win" aspect takes the form of an in-game currency called Golf Bucks. You earn these for completing courses, for long combos without drawing a new card, and for certain achievements. Golf Bucks are used to buy clubs, basically a deck of #2-9 cards you can keep on hand and play when needed. If you care to, you can pay $2 of Real Moniez to get a full set of clubs. Some of the later, more complex courses virtually mandate that you bring in a full club set to get through them. However, it's fairly easy to get enough Golf Bucks in-game to keep your clubs stacked. If you run out on a tough course, it's a simple matter of grinding a few holes on the opening courses, and that's not even all that repetitive since cards are randomized with each play.

The randomness does help to keep things fresh, but it's also sometimes the enemy of strategy. You'll hit holes that you just can't possibly win due to the draw. This actually doesn't happen all that often, though, at least from my experience. And it's the cumulative score on a course that determines whether you pass it or not, not each hole, so you can afford one or two rough holes here and there.

The strategy element of scanning the playfield and plotting out combos really helps elevate this over bog-standard Solitaire. And rather than being a simple pay-to-win scheme, the addition of clubs actually adds another layer of strategy, as you can only hold one of each at a time and there's a "cooldown period" of six holes after you purchase one before you can buy it again. It's certainly not deep strategy, but it hits a nice sweet spot of being complex enough to not be boring while not being so complex that your brain refuses to process it after a long day at work or whatever.

I have to grudgingly admit Big Fish knocked it out of the park with this one, and it's one of the very few games that has taken up residence on my ultraportable Windows work lappy due to just never really getting old. An excellent mutation of Solitaire with very good production values to boot. I'd rather not see microtransactions at all, but when it's this far in the background and unnecessary for regular play, I can live with it I suppose.
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