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This Free Card Game On PC Will Teach You to Be A Dirty Cheater

What’s that up your sleeve?

screenshot from Card Shark
Devolver Digital
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Xbox Game Pass may be the best subscription service for games around, but if you’re subscribed to Amazon Prime, you already have access to another game library. In the leadup to this year’s Prime Day sale, it’s offering a total of 15 games for subscribers, including the excellent Card Shark from now until July 16.

Even if you've had your fill of deckbuilding card games, Card Shark is worth a look. Although it uses cards as a central mechanic, it’s a game about deception as much as it is a game about cards. In Card Shark, you play as an 18th-century French peasant who’s been taken under the wing of notorious gambler Comte de Saint Germain. Working as his assistant, your job is not to perfect your card-playing skills, but to learn the noble art of cheating your way to victory.

Card Shark looks even better in motion than it does in screenshots.

In practice, you’ll spend a lot of time at a card table, but you’re not playing the same game as everyone else there. Rather than playing cards, you’ll be using a set of skills taught to you by your co-conspirator to make sure he wins. That means you’ll spend your time peeking at other players’ hands, counting cards, and relaying information using a complex set of signals. As you progress through the game, the techniques you need to master get more complex, requiring multiple steps that need to be pulled off precisely to avoid the other players’ suspicion.

All of Card Shark’s devious tricks are pulled off through mini-games that demand precise timing of button presses or positioning of the joystick to get right. You might get away with being a little sloppy as you tip off your partner with a particular hand movement, but tricks like faking a shuffle or subtly flicking cards require patience to master. It’s even harder to remember what information you’re stealing from the others at the table and what code you’re using to convey it back to your boss.

If you mess up too badly, your card game might lose you more than your cash.

Devolver Digital

Bit by bit, you build up a repertoire of these moves that you can string together in increasingly complex ways, which does a great job of actually making you feel like you’re pulling a fast one on your opponents. And you have to do it all quickly, since taking too much time means the person you’re trying to fool will catch on and expose you, often ended with you being at the wrong end of their sword.

As you work your way through the ranks of France’s best card players, you’ll also be working to uncover a conspiracy. The real point of all this deception — aside from the obvious financial gain — is to expose a secret of King Louis that’s pulled from real-life conspiracy theories. It’s a compelling enough mystery, but what it really adds is a sense of escalating tension as you constantly raise the stakes. If you think getting called out by a low-life gambler for cheating is bad, getting on the bad side of the king is incomparably worse. And since your rise through society’s ranks corresponds with learning harder and harder tricks, Card Shark keeps beautifully ramping up the feeling of danger the whole way through.

Card Shark’s focus on secrets and deception meshes perfectly with its conspiracy plot.

Devolver Digital

One thing that remains constant the entire time is Card Shark’s sense of style. Its gorgeous art style conveys the world through thick black outlines and vibrant splotches of paint, backed by a period-appropriate soundtrack to really sell the drama of your deception. As you might expect, you’ll spend a lot of time watching cards be shuffled and keeping an eye on your opponents’ facial expressions, and those subtle movements are all rendered with energy and flair.

Ultimately, Card Shark is a game about acquiring skills. For all its gorgeous background about card-playing and trickery, the real meat of the game comes in slowly mastering minute patterns and movements, and learning how to combine them in new ways. It brings some of the same thrill you might feel by mastering combos in a fighting game or learning to counter a Soulslike boss’ patterns, but in an original form that sets it apart from every other game. Whether card games in real life or digital form interest you or not, Card Shark offers a fabulous form of tension and challenge you won’t find in any other game.

Card Shark is free with Amazon Prime until July 16.

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