Forty Thieves Solitaire is an old solitaire card game whose popularity has been experiencing a new surge thanks to the internet, as online versions removed the hassle of having to set up the tableau at each new game.
Although the game has kept its gameplay and rules from its beginning, it has been known by different names throughout the years. Avid solitaire players might also know it simply as 40 Thieves, Big Forty, Roosevelt at San Juan, or Le Cadran.
Interestingly, the most used alternative name is Napoleon at St Helena, following a story that Napoleon used to play this solitaire game quite frequently when he was exiled in St Helena after losing the Waterloo battle. Even if there is no evidence to back up the story, it still goes to show that solitaire games are definitely a fun way to pass time.
Forty Thieves Solitaire - rules and tableau
Forty Thieves Solitaire uses two standard 52-card decks. The goal in this card game is to build 8 foundations, one per suit, starting with the aces and ending with the kings.
At the beginning of the game, 40 cards are dealt face forward on the tableau to form 10 columns with 4 cards each. These are the 40 thieves set to prevent the players from winning. The remaining cards are grouped face down to form the stock pile.
In the traditional version of the game, the players can only go through the totality of the stockpile once. An easier version is also available, allowing infinite redeals.
How to play
To win the game the players must rearrange all the cards by suit and in ascending order (from ace to king) on the 8 foundations at the top of the tableau.
It is only possible to play cards that have no others on top of them. This means that the players need to move the cards between the columns to uncover the ones they need. A card can only be moved to top another one rank higher and of the same suit.
Unlike the majority of Solitaire games, in Forty Thieves it is only possible to move one card at a time. For example, if the players have an 8 of diamonds followed by a 7 of diamonds, only the 7 is moveable, not the partial sequence.
An empty slot on the tableau can be filled with any card. The players can use the stock to help them build the foundations or to create possible moves in the tableau. By default, the stock can be used in its totality only once. In the easy mode, it is available endlessly.
Tips to win at Forty Thieves Solitaire
Turn up the first card in the stock
If you are playing the standard version of this card game, then you can only go through the stock once which means you need to use it wisely.
That being said, you should always start the game by exposing the first card in the stock. This will not make a difference in terms of the availability of the stock, but can be important to reveal the best way to tackle the tableau.
Focus on the low-raking cards
You want to bring forward as many low-ranking cards as possible. The aces are the priority, but you should try to balance the columns as much as possible. There is no point in bringing forward an ace if it makes the remaining columns longer and with no structured sequence. You might get the ace only to find out that the deuces and 3 are buried down in the other columns, for example.
Ideally, you should start by devising a plan to bring low-ranking cards forward and, if possible, in sequential order. Even if you cannot get the ace, you will likely find the one you need in the stock. When it finally shows up, you will have your sequence ready to go and can get rid of several cards right away.
Empty piles are your friend
To beat the forty thieves, the best strategy is to breach their defenses and try to empty as many piles as possible. These slots are very important and useful because you can only move one card at a time in the tableau.
The more empty spaces you get, the easier it will be to shift the cards around to organize the columns into sequences or to clear the way to the cards you need.
Fill the slots with high-ranking cards
When you cannot keep an empty space any longer, try at least to fill it with high-ranking cards. They will be the last ones to go into the foundations, which makes them the hardest to shift around and get rid of.
By sending them to the bottom of the columns you can use them as the base to start building sequences on the tableau and avoid having them preventing you from getting to the cards you need in the meanwhile.