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Video Game / Card Shark

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Enter a world where you’ll need to play your opponents better than you play your cards.
Card Shark is an indie Action-Adventure game developed by British studio Nerial (Reigns), published by Devolver Digital, and released on June 2, 2022 for Steam and Nintendo Switch.

Card Shark takes place in late 18th century France. You take on the role of a mute orphan employed in a countryside inn. After a chance encounter with the mysterious Comte de Saint Germain, he enlists you in a card scam against the temperamental Colonel Gabriel. The scam goes poorly, and Gabriel ends up framing you for an Accidental Murder he committed. Feeling guilty for your situation, the Comte takes you under his wing and decides to teach you the art of scamming. As you and your new mentor venture all over France to escape the law, the two of you soon key into the mystery of the Twelve Bottles of Milk, which seems to have ties to the very crown itself...

Card Shark takes a unique approach to the whole "card game" business by being about cheating at cards instead of playing them. Over the course of the game, the player learns 28 unique strategies for scamming targets of increasing complexity, starting with simply peeking at your opponent's cards while pouring them some wine, to stacking the deck against them, and even marking cards. These scams take the form of unique timed minigames, with players being tasked to memorize each strategy and execute them accordingly. With high stakes, complex scams and lots of money on the line, players need to pay close attention to the proceedings of the game if they wish to escape with a full wallet.

Not to be confused with the card Game Show Card Sharks.

Card Shark contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Murder: One such murder kickstarts the story. Colonel Gabriel, furious over being cheated in a card game, pulls a gun on the Comte but accidentally shoots and kills Ms. Porterhouse. The Comte, knowing Gabriel will pin her death on the protagonist, ends up taking him under his wing and drawing him into the investigation of the "Twelve Bottles of Milk."
  • Bittersweet Ending: No matter what the player decides to do in the final game, it all ends the same; the King gets fed up with the cheating and orders the protagonists to leave, ultimately showing that despite all their trickery and attempts to get him empathize with others, the King is blind to the troubles of those beneath him. This antagonism towards the poor will eventually lead to the very bloody French Revolution, which happens nearly fifty years after the game ends. Luckily, Eugene gets himself set up as the caretaker of the very inn he started the game in, allowing him to live a pleasant life in the countryside away from the imminent chaos of the cities (though the money he donated to the Camp is used to help the cause). Erdnase and the Comte meet various ends, with Erdnase usually disappearing after getting his revenge, and the Comte dying in a variety of ways.
  • Book Ends: The protagonist starts and ends the game by performing the same card trick. Additionally, the first and last thing he can do while under the player's control is to pet the dog in the tavern.
  • Card Sharp: The game is all about learning to be one of these via various ways to cheat your way through card games.
  • Chess with Death: If the player dies, they can play cards with Death in order to return to life. And, of course, they can cheat.
  • Deletion as Punishment: If you die and allow Death to win the card game, they will offer to either take your money and return you to the world above, or they will eat your soul. Choosing the latter option completely erases your save file. Save file deletion also occurs if you die while playing on the "Con Artist" difficulty.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: If you die, you can play a hand of cards with Death to return to life. And you can cheat.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The Comte gets one in the first scam. First, he calls over the protagonist and empathizes with their muteness, before deciding to enlist them into his scam. He then patiently explains his scheme and how to perform it, taking time to compliment the protagonist for their cleverness. In the middle of the scheme however, he spends too long talking to the protagonist and causes Colonel Gabriel to become enraged, kickstarting the plot. In short, he's a smart, empathetic and decent Lovable Rogue who nonetheless brings trouble with him.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: The protagonist is backstabbed by the Comte in the climax. The Comte arranges a fake duel with MacGregor to declare the protagonist legally dead, at which point he and the Comte will disappear with enough cash and land to be set for life. Except MacGregor really does kill the protagonist, who is saved by Julie at the last moment. The Comte is later found gambling his fortune away and attempting to get a game at Versailles, and is confronted by the protagonist. He seems regretful of what happened, but S.W. Erdnase and the protagonist do not believe him.
  • Gamebreaker: Invoked. The final scam you perform is undoubtedly the strongest, as it gives the dealer total control over the deck. First, you riffle through the deck for four aces, placing them at the bottom of the draw. You then steal those four aces and hold them in a personal dealing pile, distributing them as you please. This gives you the ability to give four aces to any player at the table, which is the highest possible hand a player can have. Fittingly, its only used in a final game with Louis XV, though it is impossible to "win" this game at this point.
  • Friendly Rival: Voltaire and Jean-Baptiste are both fully aware that the Comte and his mute friend are swindlers, but enjoy the Comte's company enough to be happy to give the two whatever they manage to take.
  • Heroic Mime: The protagonist is a mute who communicates through facial and hand gestures.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • The Count of St. Germain plays a major role in the plot. Other historical characters from his era, such as Voltaire, appear as well.
    • Some minor characters are a nod to real-life people from other eras. For an example, Victor Lustig is based off of a con artist who was active in the early 20th century.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: When one of your targets starts catching onto what you're doing, the best option is to intentionally fail your sleight-of-hand and let them win a round. Otherwise, as the Comte warns you at the start of the game, you can lose a lot more than money.
  • Lovable Rogue: The Comte de Saint Germain is a scoundrel and a cheat, but he also donates much of his winning to the widows and orphans among the Romani who taught him his skills. He also takes the main character under his wing after one of his schemes inadvertently gets his guardian killed and landed as Wrongfully Accused. He's also extremely patient with the protagonist, taking the time to allow him to practice new card tricks as many times as he likes, as well as teaching him how to write properly so as to work around his disability.
  • Minigame Game: Most of the game revolves around playing different games with cards.
  • Multiple Endings: A grand total of seven, depending on to whom you deal the aces to, or if you get caught cheating in the final card game against King Louis XV.
  • New Game Plus: As of the version 1.36 update, a completed game will wrap-around back to the tavern with all tricks retained, as well as being given skip privileges.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: The main idea of the game is to cheat at various card games and not get caught.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Quite a few pieces of music are from the game's time period, particularly a few from the real Chevalier de Saint-Georges.
  • Roguish Romani: While they are portrayed in a uniformly positive light, the Romani in the game are nonetheless all experts at sleight-of-hand, card tricks, and scams.
  • Timed Mission: The patience/wariness of your marks makes for a timer that ticks down whenever you're in the middle of stacking things in your favor.