The new indie game ‘Card Shark’ is populated by bastards, revolutionaries, idlers, impostors, and con artists. And you learn a nice game of cards with it – or rather: cheating while playing cards – too.
Let me start with the most important thing: Fortunately, ‘Card Shark’ isn’t one of those stale digital card games that throw you at the app stores. No Solitaire, no Blackjack, no Poker. Or maybe those card games are played in the story of this intriguing indie game, but by definition, you only see what happens behind and around the game. Because ‘Card Shark’ teaches you twenty-eight tricks and techniques for cheating: for example, you learn to hide a deck of playing cards in such a way that your fellow player is dealt favorably. But even more important are the conversations that take place at the table, slowly telling a story of power, loss, death, and greed.
Lay a card
‘Card Shark’ is a game of skill and a philosophical musing at the same time, and has found an excellent theater for it: tables in taverns, aristocratic halls, and caravan parks where a game of cards is played.
During a card game, especially when it comes to the icicles, everyone fully shows what kind of wood he or she is cut from. This is certainly one of the first lessons your young protagonist learns when, by a twist of fate, he has to go on a shock in 1743 France with notorious adventurer trickster Comte de Saint-Germain (a historical figure, by the way, just like a number of others in this game). Playing further and further in the swindles of his teacher, he then sinks deeper and deeper into a conspiracy that reaches as far as the royal court.
All of the twenty-eight card tricks that make up ‘Card Shark’ gameplay are real, says development studio Nerial (also of the well-known ‘Reigns’ card games), but don’t expect to become an accomplished cheater by the end of this roughly five-hour drive.
The game may teach you the tactics, but not the sleight of hand to get started with real playing cards. The gameplay, based mainly on timing, tactics, and speed, doesn’t require too much dexterity and is mainly a test of how cool you are in difficult situations. That element gives the game a somewhat rowdy atmosphere.
Together with the graphics based on impressionist paintings and wood etchings, which are a wonderful anachronism, these kinds of visual influences only appeared in the arts at least a hundred years later than the era in which ‘Card Shark’ is set. And the razor-sharp, witty dialogues also keep you in the game. Philosopher Voltaire who finds it funny and intellectually stimulating to play cards against a cheater, for example: what a nice find. Just like the idea of occasionally presenting your deaf and mute protagonist with a choice dialogue, where he usually has to choose between nodding, smiling, or looking sullen.
In addition to ‘Card Shark’, which shines with its simple yet effective graphics based on impressionism paintings, there have been many video games with a very distinct visual style.