Tiny terrifying moments of cheating

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A man pours wine while secretly looking at another person's cards.

Screenshot: Digital Devolver / Kotaku

I’m on a boat, the waves rock the boat as I deal cards to a former pirate and my friend (who is also my accomplice). We’re trying to cheat this ex-pirate into information and travel costs via a card game. To help us win, I use a small shiny object on the table to sneak a peek at each card dealt and report this information to my accomplice. However, with every second I linger staring at a map, the ex-pirate-turned-commander grows more suspicious. And then suddenly the waves shake the boat too much and the little mirror-like object moves before I can see the color of the map. But the commander is too suspicious and I can’t move the map anymore to recheck, so I have to risk what little gold we have and hope it was a queen of hearts. I’m pretty sure it was… Oh my God, what if it was diamonds… oh no…

Moments like this are why I love shark card, a new adventure game released on Switch and PC, developed by Nerial and published by Devolver Digital. Set in 18th century France, you play as a speechless young man who soon encounters a charming but sleazy con artist named Count of Saint Germain— a real historical figure who rubbed shoulders with people like Voltaire. Comte teaches you how to use cards, signals and other little tricks to cheat at card games, allowing you to win money, progress through society and eventually solve a mystery involving royalty and twelve bottles of milk.

But while the setting and narrative of shark card are both exquisite and intriguing, the real reason to play the game is the exhilaration you get from learning, practicing, and then succeeding – or failing – various tricks and tips.

Things start off simple enough; a first tactic is to look over someone’s shoulder at their cards while pouring wine, being careful not to overpour and make a mess or underpour and irritate the character. But as you learn more about Comte’s motives and his journey through France, meeting real historical figures and tricking them, you learn more advanced techniques. These scam tactics include having to learn how to skew the shuffle, score a card, turn over high cards, delay gun shuffles, plant rigged decks and more.

A close up image of two hands shuffling a deck of blue backed cards.

Screenshot: Digital Devolver / Kotaku

If that sounds like a lot, it is. But shark card brilliantly takes his time to develop your skills, teaching you smaller, more complex techniques over time. Even with its well-paced tutorials and story, you’ll still need to practice these various moves and tricks. These techniques do not use fake dice rolls or QTEs. Instead, almost every move relies on skill-based touch controls. For example, to fold a card, you grab it using the mouse, pinch it, and bend it forward or backward (depending on the type of card) pushing it into the table. Another example is shuffling, which uses mouse swipes and clicks to recreate the nervous energy of trying to rig a deck with suspicious opponents eyes on you.

Outside of practice, there is no redo button. Each error or long pause increases a suspicion counter which appears at all times at the bottom of the screen. At first, your grades aren’t too hard to cheat. But as the money rolls in and more experienced players come to your table, every little mistake can be a death sentence.

This mixture of watchful eyes always…well, watching and satisfying but slightly clunky controls consistently leads to memorable moments, even if not all of them are positive. Sometimes you’ll pull off that tricky mix and deck switch perfectly and it feels amazing because you pulled it off using your skill and practice. However, it’s just as memorable when you fail. When you screw up a card signal or mark and reveal that you and your accomplice are crooks, there’s no one to blame but yourself.

Two thinly dressed men approach a man holding a gun near a large lake.

Screenshot: Digital Devolver / Kotaku

You can die in shark card, but I won’t spoil what happens next. Although the game supports permadeath, it also has a clever and fun way to deal with death for those who aren’t brave enough for Ironman mode. Just know that you will still have to cheat to save your soul.

I’ve played a lot of card games, but few are as mind-blowing as shark card, which uses a beautiful painted aesthetic with vivid animations and lovely hand-painted textures. And no card game I’ve played before lets me cheat like that.

I’ll be honest, I’ve cheated in little board games before. I am only human. And part of the fun of cheating is that thrill of pulling off something no one has noticed. It’s a feeling that until shark card, no game had really been replicated, especially not a single-player game that doesn’t benefit from real human interaction. But shark cardUsing suspicion, high stakes, and skill-based tactical checks helps recreate that wonderful feeling of cheating, without risking pissing off your friends or getting you kicked out of the casino.

So if you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to scam an old pirate out of his gold and use cheats to score a free voyage on his ship, you should give shark card from.

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