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Zachtronics turned a lockdown hobby into a free competitive card game

Forget breadmaking or starting a podcast. After the global pandemic shut its studio doors, indie developer Zachtronics has turned the staff's favourite lockdown hobby into free-to-play card game Nerts! Online.

Nerts (or Peanuts, Scramble, Pounce, Squeal, Scrooge, or a half-dozen other names) is a competitive form of Solitaire that has been around in paper form for some time, one  that sees players compete to get rid of their respective stacks of "Nerts" cards the fastest. It was apparently a hit in the Zachtronics office—so much so that, when lockdown hit, the studio decided to develop an online version to keep their favourite pastime afloat. 

"We learned about it from our artist Kyle, who has played it for years, and started playing it after lunch in the Zachtronics office," the game's Steam page explains. "Over time we added more to it, including house rules, longer tournaments, and even a theme song.

"When we started working from home in early 2020 we made a rough version of the game to play over the internet, which eventually (nine months later) was cleaned up and turned into this."

While the game is completely free, you do get some snazzy card backs for owning the developer's other games—a move Zachtronics is happy to pretend is "a legitimate monetization strategy."

Card backs or not, Zachtronics games are worth checking out on their own merit. Having cut its teeth on programmatic puzzlers like Opus Magnum and Infinifactory, the developer has been skewing in stranger directions—from anxious visual novel Eliza and Mobius Front '83's alt-history cold war tactics to, yes, online multiplayer Solitaire.

Natalie Clayton

20 years ago, Nat played Jet Set Radio Future for the first time—and she's not stopped thinking about games since. Joining PC Gamer in 2020, she comes from three years of freelance reporting at Rock Paper Shotgun, Waypoint, VG247 and more. Embedded in the European indie scene and having herself developed critically acclaimed small games like Can Androids Pray, Nat is always looking for a new curiosity to scream about—whether it's the next best indie darling, or simply someone modding a Scotmid into Black Mesa. She's also played for a competitive Splatoon team, and unofficially appears in Apex Legends under the pseudonym Horizon.