You’re Expected to Cheat in Card Shark, Which Is My Kind of Fun

The Comte de Saint-Germain showing you the cards he's dealing in Card Shark.

Card Shark wants you to be a master of strategy who earns your fortune at the card table — but not by winning. Although it’s set in the lavish high society of pre-revolution France, it’s more “eat the rich” by way of Ocean’s Eight than any poker game you’d normally see in a game or movie (or, I hope, play in real life). It teaches you how to cheat at cards with a series of increasingly complex sleight of hand techniques — and some straight-up emotional manipulation — and unravel a royal conspiracy that could shake France to its core.

Going into Card Shark, I was worried — I’ve never been good at poker or bluffing games, and I expected to spend an hour or two in the tutorials simply learning what a straight flush was. But Card Shark isn’t a game about playing cards. It’s a game about cheating people who are too busy playing cards to see you do it. Instead of learning the rules of blackjack, you learn how to cut and stack a deck so it’s dealt in your favour. You don’t learn when to bet and when to fold, you learn how to send your partner a signal to indicate their opponent’s highest card so can they decide whether to bet or fold.

All of these tricks are done by playing mini-games that test your memory, quick thinking and reactions. That was my second pleasant surprise playing Card Shark — it’s not a game about learning to play cards, it’s a game about mastering patterns and recalling intimate details about your mark. If you enjoy games like Wario Ware, Rhythm Heaven or even Elden Ring, where you have to study and memorise a boss’ move set, you’ll feel a natural affinity for Card Shark as well as an exciting new kind of challenge.

There are almost 30 ways to cheat in Card Shark, and they get more and more complex as you play in higher stakes games. You even have to combine multiple techniques in certain games, so Card Shark’s simple gameplay never feels repetitive. You have endless opportunities to practice new techniques, too, so you’re never thrown into a game you feel you’re not ready for. There’s even a map you use to travel between games, so if you don’t feel ready for the next high-stakes game, you can take a detour through a tavern and swindle some locals out of their coin.

Part of Card Shark’s charm is the way it flips the hero complex of games on its head. You rarely play in these card games. Instead, you serve wine to the rich elites at the table and peek at their cards when they’re not looking in order to help your partner in crime play. Even when you do play, you’re not trying to win yourself, just help your partner control the other players. Instead of being boring (what fun is it to play a game if you’re not trying to win?) Card Shark always makes you feel like it’s your actions that decide the fate of the game. And your partner shares his winnings, equal split, so you still get the satisfaction of watching numbers tick up with every successful game.

There’s a story in Card Shark, and it’s tied neatly — although sometimes incredulously — into the card games. Your partner, the Comte de Saint-Germain (a real historical figure who lived an extraordinary and sometimes equally incredulous life) is investigating The Twelve Bottles of Milk, a royal conspiracy that the French elite gatekeep. You see where this is going. The Comte weasels secrets and stories out of conspirators during games of cards, giving the story missions a touch more significance than simply lining your pockets. I haven’t finished Card Shark so I don’t know how the conspiracy ends or how badly the truth destabilises the country. It’s best not to think too hard about that aspect — it is your partner’s goal, after all, not yours — and just focus on cheating. That’s where the fun is.

The Card Shark release date is June 2 for Switch and PC. Watch the trailer to get a taste of what you’re in for or jump right into the full game now.

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