There’s a lush, lived-in feel card shark, a witty and pleasantly stressful game that casts you as a gambler and a cheat, cutting a swathe through 18th-century French society. The writing is rich in humor and historical detail, and the woodcut-style artwork has a rough, expressive texture and candlelight. You can almost taste the wine and smell the straw.
Expected release on Steam and Nintendo Switch on June 2nd card shark is a collaboration between Nerial – the Devolver Digital in-house developer of ruled, a medieval monarch simulator – and artist Nicolai Troshinsky. It combines Nerial’s sharp, colorful writing and simple gesture mechanics with Troshinsky’s vibrant artwork, in which the characters are animated like shadow puppets.
This artistry is put at the service of a wonderfully specific and tasteful storyline inspired by Troshinsky’s interest in card manipulation and his love of the 1975 Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon. The player takes on the role of a dumb servant boy in a humble tavern in Pau, southern France. One day, a seemingly wealthy patron, the Comte de Saint-Germain, catches the young man’s attention and lures him into helping out with a card game scam. When the game ends in violence, the boy flees with this enigmatic gentleman and rejoins his life on the road, tricking players in parlor after parlor while uncovering the truth behind an alleged royal conspiracy with a ridiculous name: The twelve bottles of milk.
(The Comte de Saint-Germain is a historical figure – Though he went by many names, his origins remain mysterious, and his achievements, adventures, and the claims made by and about him are so far-fetched as to strain credulity. This imaginary version of him is basically Ricky Jay in a powdered wig and great to spend time with.)
As you progress through the game, the Comte will teach you a variety of real-world card cheating techniques including sleight of hand, shuffle manipulation, card counting and secret signals. There are 28 strategies in total of increasing challenge and complexity, with impressive names such as The Disheveled Gatherer and The Indiscreet Fingers. Some would be easy enough to perform in the real world, while others would require extreme skill and training. In game, these manipulations are reduced to simple gestures: a quick flick or circle of the stick, a well-timed button press here and there.
That’s because card shark It’s less about skill and more about nerves. Smooth operation under pressure is what counts here. The deceptions often require you to perform quick calculations, memorize maps or gestures, or focus on two things at once. What cards are duplicated in this traded deck? How do I ensure that the player third at the table gets the best cards in the deal? There’s time pressure: as you execute each cheat, your opponent’s suspicion meter builds, and the longer it takes, the more you risk. Cocky betting can also raise suspicions.
It’s tense stuff. Even the simplest technique can make you sweat—like pouring wine while secretly reading cards over an opponent’s shoulder. You must make a smooth pour with a gentle pressure on the wand, not too little wine, not too much; You must keep one eye on the glass and one on the cards; Pour too slowly and you won’t have good vision, too fast and you won’t have time to memorize the cards. It’s a wonderfully simple, effective, and balanced challenge.
It’s worth pointing out card shark it’s not really about card games. The details of the games and hands played are not specified and they are not important. Only the execution of the cheat is important. In any case, you’re the Comte’s sideman, and you don’t play to win but to help him to win.
Based on a few hours of gameplay, one might wonder if card shark will build and combine his cheating strategies into more complex set pieces, or if each scenario amounts to a one-shot education in a bit of cheat esotericism before moving on to the next technique. But I’m not sure if I mind one way or the other. This is a unique, sophisticated and fun game that will teach you the honest secrets of the card shark and transport you to another place and time. It’s a place where you can cheat Voltaire out of his coin while enjoying some Enlightenment-era philosophical banter. It’s a time of gossip, scandal, humor and devilry, where deceit is a way of life and the only thing you can trust is everyone to fall by the wayside.
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