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NetCELL/Freecell Instructions




Versions

We have user to have two versions of Freecell here, the "regular" one written in HTML and Javascript, and an older original Java version. The Java version fell into disuse and Java in general is not widely used on the Internet these days. As such it's been discontinued. The regular version works in almost all modern browsers and we strive to keep it running probably in Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Your mileage may vary if you're using another browser.

It's easy and fast to download a release of a modern browser. Just type "download firefox" (for instance) into a search engine.


Signing On

You may wonder why you are asked for a player name and a password before playing a game on your own machine. This is because we can keep track of your games and scores for you, letting you resume a game at a later time, or letting you compete against other players out there on the net. We store games and scores back on a central game server machine.

The player name you select need have nothing to do with your real identity. The password you select should not be an important password you use elsewhere. It serves only to keep someone else from entering the game using your player name. Of course, you may always play as "Anonymous", but then we will not be able to save games for you or store your streak. Depending on the capabilities of your browser, your streak and scores may still be stored locally on your computer, but you won't be on the big list with the other players.


Basic Play

The rules are quite similar to common solitaire rules. The object is to get all the cards moved up onto the ace piles at the top right of the screen. This is accomplished by moving cards from the main stacks onto other cards, into the "free cells" in the upper left on the screen, or by moving cards directly up onto the ace piles.

You start a move when you indicate a source by clicking on it with your mouse. A blue highlight will appear around the column or cell you have selected. You then indicate the desired destination by pointing and clicking again. You may also move cards by dragging the bottom card of a column to a new location. This method may also be used to imply multiple card moves.

As in common solitaire, cards may be placed on cards of opposite color and one higher in rank. Thus a two of diamonds my be placed on a three of clubs or on a three of spades. A jack of spades may be placed on a red queen, either the queen of diamonds or the queen of hearts. Kings may be placed only on open columns or in free cells (discussed next).

The area where Freecell differs from regular solitaire is that four "free cells" are provided as temporary storage locations for cards. You may move any card from the bottom of a stack to an open cell. These cells are a key resource as they are used to let you move "strings" of cards from one stack to another. For instance, if you have a string consisting of a red four, a black three, and a red two and want to move it onto a black five on the bottom of another pile, your must have at least two open free cells. The red two must first be "parked" in a free cell, the black three in another, and only then may the red four be picked up and placed on the black five.

If that sounds tedious, it's really not. The computer is happy to figure out how to do that temporary "parking" of cards in the free cells for you. Thus, you would only need to indicate the column containing the 4-3-2 by clicking on it, and then click on the five you want to move them on to. The computer checks to be sure there are sufficient free cells and makes any necessary intermediate moves. Alternately, you can drag the two onto the five and the computer will figure out that you're intending to move the entire run of cards.

Of course you may still explicitly place a card in a free cell yourself. But be careful. Once you've filled up your free cells, further moves become much more limited if not impossible. If you get to a position where you have no further beneficial moves, you must quit the game, thereby losing the game and also any streak you may have attained.


Moving Whole Columns

As alluded to above, it is common in Freecell to need to move entire columns of cards, sometimes in very complex ways. This is accomplished easily in Freecell with the computer doing much of the work for you. To move an entire column to either an empty column or onto a suitable base card, simply click anywhere on the cards in the column you want to move. A blue highlight will appear around the column or cell indicating that it has been selected. Then click on the destination column or any cards it contains. Then the computer will attempt to complete the move for you. If the move is legal, you will see the cards animate as they are moved to the new column. If the move is not legal, either nothing will happen or you will see a partial animation as the computer attempts the move.

Or, as described immediately above, you can simply drag a card from the source to the destination and if a run can be moved, the computer will move the entire string of cards for you.


Streaks

All our 8x4 games are winnable if you exercise a little patience and planning. Thus, the goal becomes not simply to win individual games, but to see how many games you can win in a row without tripping up. A run of wins is called a streak. People have attained streaks of thousands of games!

We keeps track of streaks for all players who select a player name during sign on. Even if you quit your browser during a losing game, or power down your computer, we will obstinately remember your game and will not let you play again until you quit out of a loser. So be careful, use free cells cautiously, and we'll hope to see you in the All Time Top Streaks list.

Note: the average difficulty of the game will increase as your streak gets bigger. When your streak is small, the deals are biased to make the games a little easier. As your streak gets bigger the deals will approach a true random card distribution. Don't let the easy early games make you overly cocky as you get further along!


Variants

The standard Freecell game has 8 columns of cards and 4 free cells. This version is commonly referred to as 8x4. We also have a wide range of other variants here. The number of columns of cards may range from 4-13, and the number of free cells may range from zero to 10. Thus, a game with 13 columns of cards and no free cells is referred to as a 13x0.

The game is usually harder when is has lower numbers of columns and/or free cells, and it's typically easier as the count increases. A rough rule of thumb for difficulty is to simply sum the number of columns and cells. Thus, a standard game is a 12-sum game, and is usually pretty winnable. 16-sum games, such as 10x6, are typically extremely easy, in fact they're a bit hard to lose.


"Winnable" Variants

We also support a handful of "winnable" variants where we've gone through with an automated solver program and eliminated deals which can not be proven as winnable. This will guarantee that the loss of a streak will be due to human error, not due to the simple laws of probability that affect the pseudo-random layout of cards in a deal. Huge thanks for Jay Ackerman for the heavy lifting with the solver. See the Unwinnables section below for more context.


Difficulty Levels

If you happen to explore the Custom option you'll find that you can specify that variant (as described above), a game number and a difficulty level. The game number is a number in the range 0 to 32767 that uniquely controls the deal of the cards. The game number is shown whenever you win or lose a game.

The game numbers as shown on the win/lose screens are of the form:

        14622-6 

The number following the hyphen is the difficulty level of the game. This parameter is used to bias the deal algorithm to yield, on average, easier or harder hands. An easy level of play simply increases the likelihood that high cards will be dealt out first (buried) and lower cards like aces and deuces will be dealt out last so that they are more accessible. Note that this doesn't guarantee that games will always be easier or harder as expected. Distribution can still have a lot to do with the challenge of solving a hand. But on average you'll find it seems to work. Think of it like climate versus weather--overall the difficulty level applies but individual games may be much harder (or easier).

The difficulty level parameter affects the layout of the deal just as much as the hand number. Hand number 14622 played at difficulty level 6 will be a different hand than 14622 played at any other difficulty level. So it is important to note both the hand number and the difficulty level if you want to recall a hand for later replay.

The rules for scoring these hands are simple: if you explicitly specify the game number, the game will not be scored. This is to prevent someone from running up a big streak by playing the same game over and over again. If you select a random deal, however, but specify a difficulty level of at least 10, you will have the option of having that game counted towards your streak.

The game is currently scaled so that when your streak is small, you are automatically given somewhat easier games. As your streak increases, the difficulty level will go up until at a streak of 50 you will be playing complete random deals (difficulty level 10). Here's the progression:

Streak Difficulty
0-9 5
10-19 6
20-29 7
30-39 8
40-49 9
>= 50 10 (random)



Locate Card Function

A series of buttons are provided at the bottom of the screen to allow you to easily spot where specific cards are hiding. For instance, clicking on the A button will locate all the aces, flashing them several times. Obviously, any cards which are already up in the aces piles and covered by other cards will not be visible. See below for keyboard shortcuts for finding cards.


Keyboard Play

You can use the keyboard instead of the mouse to play if you prefer. As you become more experienced, you may find you can execute rapid sequences of moves more easily this way.

  • Identify the main columns by using the number keys 1-8. Higher columns 9-13 are accessed via 9, 0, -, =, and + respectively.
  • Identify the main free cells by using the lower case keys a, b, c, and d. Higher cells of course use higher lowercase letters in expected sequence.
  • Move a card up to the aces piles by selecting the source card and then hitting u or U. It will move it to the correct ace pile.
  • Locate cards by holding shift and pressing A, 2-9, T, J, Q, or K.



Fullscreen Mode

The regular version of the game is designed to be played immersively on today's large monitors. To get all those unnecessary things in life out of the way, just hit F11 and your browser will enter fullscreen mode. Hit F11 again to return to normal viewing. While in fullscreen mode the game will select card images that fit the screen so you can play without squinting.

You might even want to hide the browser's status bar. The procedure for that is slightly different in the different browser versions, but it usually starts with selecting the View menu option. Instructions are certainly available on the 'net if you search.


Tips and Techniques

The most important thing to remember is to be careful to not fill up your free cells. This can not be stressed enough. Without open cells, you are dead in the water.

As you play, you will want to glance up at the ace piles to see what the lowest cards are that are still out. If you have all your twos up except the two of diamonds, you might want to make it a priority to extract that two.

One other word of warning: you may be tempted to move cards up to the aces any time you can. This can be unwise. Moving a black four up to the aces piles while you still have red threes in play on the board may lead you into a sticky situation later as you look around for some place to put one of those red threes.

One interesting effect that you should be aware of is that having an open column provides a considerable increase in the size of string you can move from one column to the next. This is because the computer can use this open column as an additional "parking" area during long string moves. An open column dramatically amplifies the number of cards you can move by functioning not just as an additional free cell-- unlike the free cells, it can store whole strings, not just single cards.


Saving Your Game

When in doubt, we save your game for you. If you leave the game web page, any game in progress is remembered. If you close your browser, turn off your computer, unhook your network connect, it's still the same. The game is stored almost move by move at the central server so it's always right there when you come back.


Quitting a Game

A Give Up button is provided for when you've gotten yourself into a situation from which there is no escape—use this button to acknowledge the loss. Otherwise, your losing game will be saved indefinitely. Quitting a game of course also causes you to lose any streak you may have built up, so be sure it's really a lost cause before you reach for the button.


Score Keeping Information

There are a few things that you might want to know about how we track scores for all the individuals who play here.

First of all, inactive user records are scrubbed after a few months based on the size of the best streak they managed. A best streak of 50 in some variant will never expire. Wanna preserve your record forever? Go win 50 10x6s real quick.

On the All Time scores list, streaks never expire.

On the Current Streak scores list, expiry works like so:

  • If you're in a game for more than 7 days but haven't logged on, you're assumed to be in a stuck game that you haven't gotten the guts to quit out of and are removed from the current listings. If you get back on and win though, you're back up of course.
  • If you're not in a game but haven't been on for a month, your streak will disappear from the Current Streaks. Of course if you get back on and play, you go right back up.
Why are we so aggressive about cleaning up streaks? Answer: we have to be. If folks all over the planet who are actively playing are going to have any hope of getting on the scoreboard, we have to clean up the stale stuff from folks who've quit playing or who have changed player names.


Unwinnable Games

There is a unique degree of "winnability" for each variant. It so happens that all our 8x4 (standard) games are currently winnable. In general the sum of the numbers of columns and cells in a game gives a rough idea as to its winnability. 12-sum games such as the standard 8x4 are usually pretty winnable. As you get into things like the 16-sum games (10x6), it actually becomes pretty hard to lose a game.

But when you trend down into the <10 sum games and such, winnability gets pretty dicey. 5x4 games, a 9-sum variant, are only rarely winnable. Look at the cumulative stats page to see how the different variants and difficulty levels play out.

These mostly unwinnable variants are simply hard and we didn't deem the effort to identify the small number of winnable deals to be worth it in terms of additional storage and such. So feel free to play these harder variants but don't expect a streak!


NetCELL Chat

There is a button at the top of the game board to launch chat. It's a bit quiet but sometimes you'll find folks there who want to talk about game, life, you name it.


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Maintained by Dennis Cronin