Card Shark was developed by Nerial, a UK based team that was the brains behind the Reigns series of games. Another card-based game? I hear you groan. (Or maybe not, I love them). This one is truly worthy of your attention.
Would you like to indulge in the decadence of Baroque France? If so, you will play as a young mute who works at a bar that isn’t exactly… reputable.
The swindling Comte de Saint-Germain comes for a drink. Your nasty tavern lady subsequently suffers a well-timed death. You’re then whisked off to accompany the Comte around France in his coach, helping him cheat history’s biggest players at increasingly higher stakes. While in real life my poker skills couldn’t win me out of a paper bag, with Card Shark I felt like a sneaky, side-man Robin Hood (how English of me), skilfully fleecing the nobility out of their livres to give to a poor Romani caravan.
The storyline is stuffed with all kinds of ancien regime intrigue, backstabbing and adventure, and if you’re a fan of getting tangled up in the seductive allure of pre-revolutionary France, you’re in for a fantastic time. The game sticks to your memory like the oil-based art style it’s based off of. One I won’t be forgetting for a long time.
One would assume that you’d usually assume the role of the principal card cheater Comte de Saint-Germain. However, being the assistant, and the person primarily lurking in the shadows, creates a little more of a puppet master feeling. Your role is to act as the wine pourer, cleverly using your over the shoulder vantage, secretively signaling to the Comte information on his opponent. This information is conveyed using well timed movements of your bar cloth. Though at times you’re seated on the table itself, interfering with the cards.
The gameplay revolves around understanding the various mini game-like card tricks such as QTEs and memory tests, and learning about when to injog a card, stacking a deck with extra cards or memorizing an opponent’s suits. Techniques that would normally take years to learn in real life become mere trifles as you cavort with the Comte, tricking pretty ladies and powerful lords in flickering candlelight. Fleecing at taverns, saloons and estates becomes second nature, as your coffers grow ever larger.
The tricks you learn become more and more complex, increasing your satisfaction once you pull it off. The longer it takes you to pull off a trick, the higher the opponent’s suspicion meter climbs. Being fast and accurate is the name of the game. With the number of tricks increasing, I had to use my brain and a notebook to keep on the right side of the French law. I failed many times simply because I forgot the required pattern, or just sat mesmerized by the gorgeous visuals with my jaw hanging. Unfortunately, larger wins come at a price. The higher the climb, the harder the fall. If you blunder, the narrative throws death and even suicide in your path, as gruesome consequences.
The clinking of livres has never sounded so sweet. The soundtrack by Andrea Boccadoro, a UK composer who’s won multiple awards, accompanying your escapades is full of violins and flutes, an orchestra never far to uppeth the ante. The in-game sound effects are crisp and appropriate. The game has no voice acting.
These visuals are a sure-fire way straight to my heart. If you love hand-crafted art like Hollow Knight, the visuals will also captivate you. I was immediately charmed by this game’s aesthetic, with its lavish style based on Rococo oil paintings, a dash of Impressionism, and storybook whimsicality. Nicolai Troshinsky is the talented artist of Card Shark, immersing me in a world I never wanted to turn my eyes from. The impressionist meets Rococo oil painting style is bursting with charm. The colours are vibrant, the effects and animations smooth. I can’t praise them enough.
If you’re looking for an immersive world and story wrapped in a unique style, with challenging, smart mini games, then this is the title for you.
So, why should you play it?
- If you like dense worlds, challenging mini-games, and 18th century France
- Your memory and card skills are sharp
But why shouldn’t you play it?
- Those who want a fast-paced, intense experience
- If you want an in-depth battle system
A preview code was kindly provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.
Pre-order Card Shark here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1371720/Card_Shark/