Donald Rumsfeld's 'Churchill Solitaire' Mobile Game Is Hard as Hell

No more candies and angry birds. Mobile gaming revives history with 'Churchill Solitaire.'

Donald Rumsfeld has a mobile app. A star-spangled Candy Crush it is not.

For 40 years, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense has played a brain-crushing version of solitaire made up by Winston Churchill himself. “It’s a card game that can frustrate even the most skilled player because a single move can make or break an entire game,” explains Rumsfeld at Medium. “A number of hands are simply unwinnable.” Poetic that a prime minister invent a game as high risk and uncertain as navigating the second World War.

Now on the App Store, anyone can think like the cigar-swilling British Bulldog through Churchill Solitaire, an app that immortalizes Churchill’s private card game into the age of smartphones. To a generation, solitaire may conjure memories of lime green screens, jumping pixels, and the hum of a CPU tower. Churchill Solitaire offers Retina HD dark oak and a sweeping soundtrack that lends the game a museum reverence even though you’re just tapping and swiping on your phone.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Churchill Solitaire is available as a free download on the App Store and will soon be on other mobile devices.
  • As the name implies, Churchill Solitaire is Winston Churchill’s take on solitaire and it’s harder than neat Blue Label. Only a handful within Churchill’s circle knew the game, including a Belgian aide André de Staercke. Rumsfeld learned the game from de Staercke in the ’70s during a diplomatic trip to Europe. If Rumsfeld snoozed or thumbed through a SkyMall, the game could have been lost forever.
  • Churchill’s game still involves moving cards back into single-suit piles from ace to king, but uses two whole decks and 10 rows of cards instead of seven. There is also an extra row of six cards, called the Devil’s Six, that players can only move to the Victory Row at the top right above the main playing field.
  • Adding to the difficulty, players are timed but can cash in on a finite number of “hints” that basically spell out what to do next.
  • The presentation is somewhere between a Ken Burns documentary and Call of Duty 2. There is a “story” where you play alongside a young Winston Churchill, where somehow mastering a card game means you’ll become better than him even though you clearly won’t because you’re never going to lead the UK against the Axis.

Tempting as it is to imagine Donald Rumsfeld writing code while snacking on Pringles, the former Secretary of Defense handed the engineering work to Snapdragon Studios while he signed off on its elements to “closely resemble the game Churchill played.” The result is a sleek and elegantly designed app that reveres the Bulldog and lulls you into getting your soul destroyed for something that would have otherwise been a distraction on a Starbucks line.

Churchill Solitaire is hell. It isn’t hard in the way one would describe games like Ninja Gaiden or Dark Souls, but Churchill’s traps are chess-like: One wrong move can be disastrous. More a puzzler than a card game, the true enemies are the player’s own individual instincts to think 10 steps ahead with laser precision. Rumsfeld, himself, admits Churchill Solitaire isn’t for “everyone” despite its mission to immortalize a clever game from a clever man. “It takes patience and perseverance, cunning and concentration, and strategy and sacrifice,” writes Rumsfeld, as if backhanding Bejeweled.

Going through smartphones is definitely how you get the attention of millennials to play a 70-year-old card game, but its intensity isn’t the straight IV shot of dopamine like Candy Crush or Peggle. But Churchill Solitaire is not about bright rewards. It offers something unlike other mobile games. As de Staercke told Rumsfeld, “What one needs in life are the pessimism of intelligence and the optimism of will.” You can’t get that slingshotting angry birds at pigs.