I wasn't sure what I expected from Donald Rumsfeld's first iOS game — as if I expected the phrase "Donald Rumsfeld's first iOS game" to exist at all — but it wasn't Churchill Solitaire. For a man so irrecoverably linked with hawkishness, jingoism, and the push for the American military invasion of Iraq, I thought a game connected with Rumsfeld would open with explosions, bald eagles, the stars and stripes fluttering against a proud red, white, and blue background. But instead of America, Churchill Solitaire focuses on one of Britain's most notable figures — Winston Churchill — and opens with archive footage of the wartime prime minister touring bombed-out cities and visiting troops.
I expected explosions and bald eagles
In fact, there's almost nothing to tie Churchill Solitaire to the former secretary of defense at all. The game's menus are understated, decorated only with pictures of Churchill himself, scattered playing cards, and a map of the UK. Its playing surface is similarly classy, with players moving cards around on a desk of digital mahogany. Churchill Solitaire is a fairly simple tweak on the classic card game, a variant with two decks of cards instead of one that was reportedly played by the wartime prime minister when he was suffering from insomnia. Churchill taught it to André de Staercke, serving as ambassador to the Allied forces for the Belgian government while it was in exile during World War II, and de Staercke in turn taught it to Rumsfeld while the American operated as US ambassador to NATO in the early 1970s.
It's tempting to think of Rumsfeld as a new-wave indie developer, coding frantically in his bedroom, but the programming work was done by others. Rumsfeld's contributions came in the form of "snowflakes," short and sharp memos he'd provide to younger staffers on the direction of the game. "Instead of capturing history, it is getting a bit artsy," he wrote on one, The Wall Street Journal says, while another complained that his team "need to do a better job on these later versions," because "they just get new glitches." As well as hands-off designer, Rumsfeld seems to have become chief tester, spending "countless hours" on beta releases of the game and signing off on "something they call 'UX.'"
The music sounds like a Japanese RPG's battle theme
The result is the most intense game of Solitaire I've ever played. Normally a meditative exercise in time-wasting, Churchill's variation on Solitaire is already trickier than normal, and it's made even more stressful by a soundtrack that sounds like a cross between a military march and a battle theme from a Japanese RPG. Rumsfeld says the money made from the app will go to charity, but that doesn't mean Churchill Solitaire will offer you mercy. "You can make a mistake very early on that can prevent you from winning a hand that would have been winnable," Rumsfeld told the WSJ. "And that is also true in life," he added.
But unlike life, Churchill Solitaire comes with undos — a limited chance to roll back bad moves — and a hints system that will point you to any possible actions. Surely, as a staunch Republican, Rumsfeld is against such form of handouts from a higher power, but George W. Bush's old right-hand man can take solace in the fact that such advances are only open to those with the financial means to buy them — packs of 15 undos or hints cost 99 cents a pop.