Need to know
What is it? A card-based game about gambling and sleight-of-hand set in 17th century France.
Release date: June 2
Expect to pay: $20/£17
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Reviewed on: Ryzen 5 3600X, 32GB RAM, RTX 2070
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
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There are plenty of card games around at the moment. From Hearthstone to Inscryption, Slay the Spire to Monster Train, deck-building to set up lethal combinations is everywhere. But Card Shark is different. Card Shark is about cheating your opponents and being damn good at it.
It’s set in the early 17th century, while Louis XV is on the throne, and you play a young mute boy on a whirlwind adventure, avoiding prison, cheating death (literally), and emptying the pockets of French nobles. After your soon-to-be teacher Comte de Saint-Germain enters the inn you’re working in, your life changes forever. Suddenly you’re on the run as the King’s lackeys want your partner, and by extension you, dead. The Comte happens to be a very talented trickster and your job as his apprentice is to assist him in cheating, and learn some tactics of your own to survive.
Every new encounter requires a new card technique. These start out easy but become increasingly difficult to pull off and remember. You learn shuffling techniques, sleight of hand movements, and even some fencing tactics. Though you don’t have too much influence over the plot, your brow is so deeply furrowed trying to remember how to single card shuffle then injog (when you put a card out of line to mark where it is in a pack) that the story beats come as breaths of fresh air between your studying.
(Image credit: Devolver Digital)
Each trick has its own mechanics to master. Holding fingers up, injoging, raising and lowering, dog-earring or picking up cards from the left or from the right. Wiping tables, picking up wine glasses, or pouring the wine itself. There’s a depth to every trick that requires genuine thought and a calm temperament, just like pulling off magic in reality. Even on the intended difficulty it’s hard to get things right the first time in Card Shark. When The Comte offers you an opportunity to retry a demo you happily take it. Now that doesn’t happen often in a game, does it?
Mechanically, Card Shark is glorious. Its visuals are charming and expressive, and its music is delightful. Though the story is about the struggling success of a young boy in an unforgiving world, the characters made me laugh and even surprised me. When using all your techniques to leverage information out of the rich you feel powerful, yet there are times where it doesn’t feel right even if it’s necessary. Card Shark is a delight. It’s a card game like no other and as someone who never could do any magic tricks, now I feel enlightened as to how trickery could be afoot with just the smallest flex of a finger.
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