Elemental is different from other solitaire card games that you might know, so it offers a contrast and you may well enjoy it even if you don't like other solitaires. But no game can cater for everyone's tastes, so here's a summary to help you decide if you fall within its niche.
Most solitaire games involve sorting cards into numerical order. Elemental does not involve sorting. One consequence is that, if you play with real cards and not on a computer, the deck does not require as much shuffling as would be advisable after most games.
Of those solitaire games that don't involve sorting cards, most involve numerical calculations based on their ranks (for example Pyramid involves pairing ranks that add up to thirteen). Elemental does not involve arithmetic - it involves geometry instead, and the ranks of cards play no role in the game whatsoever. I know of no other game where geometry plays a similar role.
Some games require a lot of luck, others involve meticulously planning several moves ahead, but Elemental does not belong in either category. It does involve strategy, but not so much in the planning ahead sense, and it won't burden your memory either. It is more like an adventure where you never know what's over the next hill until you're there, and relevant strategies involve conserving resources, noticing opportunities, taking risks, and dealing with the unknown.
The game takes about fifteen minutes to play, and is quite easy to win. It is intended more as a relaxing amusement than an intellectual challenge, and you should expect to win more games than you lose. However, the rules are complex enough that the best moves might not be obvious at a glance, and there are opportunities for lateral thinking.
The name Elemental comes from a metaphor in which the four suits of cards are equated with the four elements of alchemy. As we will see, the game involves keeping all four suits in balance and using them in conjunction with each other to achieve victory, and a metaphor involving alchemy makes a lot of sense for such a game. As of 18 July 2008, you can choose between using traditional suit symbols or thematic representations of the elements.
Incidentally, the idea for the game came partly from The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett, which says: "The universe, they said, depended for its operation on the balance of four forces which they identified as charm, persuasion, uncertainty and bloody-mindedness." It occured to me that hearts correspond to charm because both have connotations of romance, diamonds to persuasion because you can persuade people to do most things if you give them enough diamonds, spades to uncertainty because you never know what you'll find if you dig, and clubs to bloody-mindedness because having your brains bashed in is relevant to that state of mind.
The rules for many solitaire games make use of the following words. These rules are no exception.
The tableau is a region where many (but often not all) of the cards are layed out at the start of a game. Almost all solitaire games have a tableau, for example in Pyramid the tableau is the pyramid itself, in Klondike it is the triangular arrangement of 28 cards, and so on. As we will see, Elemental has a tableau made up of twelve piles of four cards each.
An elimination game is one where the objective is to remove all the cards. Once removed, a card is placed on a discard pile (which is empty at the start of the game), and the game is won when the discard pile contains all the cards in the deck. Pyramid is a popular example of an elimination game, and Elemental is also an elimination game. One elimination game can be very different from another, because each game has its own rule about when a card may be removed.
When you're ready, please continue to the next page, where I'll explain how to start playing Elemental.