When Card Shark was initially revealed late last year, I glossed over the headlines as I saw the words “cards.” I’d had enough card-based games recently, and the number of trailers for them the past couple of years was growing tiresome on me. Card Shark, however, is not the kind of card game I thought it was, and I’m very thankful I’ve put some time into the demo as it’s now shot into my most anticipated games of 2022 list. 

In Card Shark, you’re never playing cards; you’re playing your opponents. Money is the aim of the game, and winning it honourably isn’t an option. Throughout the ninety-minute demo, I was taught sleight of hand tricks, how to stack a deck and even a coin-flipping technique. I have no idea how many of these are real — at least some of the card stuff I know from my short time obsessed with magic tricks –, but it’s all performed with such detail and against a beautiful water-colour art style too.

You play as a mute who, after meeting Comte de Saint-Germain while working a crappy job, gets invited to be his partner in crime. He introduces you to a troupe of other trickers and magicians before you begin making your rounds of the rich Counts and Baronnesses’. 

There are a lot of tutorials in Card Shark, but they all feel very warranted as the techniques, and ‘mini-games’ to each of them can be rather involved. An early trick Saint-Germain teaches you are peeking at the other players’ cards while pouring them a drink and then translating that information to him by wiping down the table in a specific direction. Later in the demo, this technique is built upon by having to pick up a glass in a particular way to signify which type of card the opponent has. A more complicated trick has Saint-Germain slip you an extra deck of cards while you disappear out back to slip a stacked hand on top of the live deck, which you then have to go through later and remember which cards are the duplicates to remove.

Luckily there is on-screen information to help you remember what buttons to press at all stages. Though there is a bar at the bottom of the screen that builds over timing showing the potential of your opponent accusing you two of being cheats, and the longer you take to do something as simple as shuffle a deck, the quicker that’ll fill up. 

Surprisingly there’s an interesting story happening in the background here. Towards the end of the demo, Saint-Germain gets information out of a Baronessess that leads him on the trail of a mystery he’s been looking to solve for some time. Of course, not all was revealed in the demo, but I was glad there was more going on with the characters than simply being cons. 

Card Shark is from developer Nerial, the team behind the Reigns games. They have the experience of off-genre card games, dark humour, and unique art that all seem to be used in a new and interesting direction. I loved everything I played, and often a demo this long, I would have jumped off early, but I just kept playing until I couldn’t any longer. 

The demo for Card Shark will be playable for everyone during Steam Next Fest (21-28 February).