Card Thief is a numbers game that encourages audacity and creativity, even self-expression. Moreover, the presentation and core mechanics of Card Thief combine successfully to evoke the tension and fantasy of stealth.
Card Thief takes place in a castle or manor represented by a 3×3 grid of cards crafted from a 45 card deck. You play the titular thief, trying to wring as much gold from each card as you can while remaining unseen in the shadows. To complete each mission you need to steal a treasure chest which is always halfway through the deck, and then escape the manor via the Exit, the last card in the deck.
Our intrepid blackguard must navigate his thieving self through a deck of fixed elements, sneaking past guards, torches, sundry traps, braying dogs, watchful owls and the occasional two-headed ogre while lining his pockets with treasure.
You must keep the thief’s stealth points high by manipulating the order and position of your enemies, as well as the scarce resources you have to refresh strength. To survive, the thief must cycle through the entire deck, pick up the chest which drops halfway through the card count, and then make way to the exit that appears after the deck is exhausted.
How do you play this?
Each turn, you must move the thief at least two spaces on a 3×3 grid, clearing any cards you happen to move through. Usually this means spending valuable stealth on enemies or torches; treasure and stealth cards are free to move through and increase your gold score and stealth points, respectively. What makes Card Thief such a volatile, exciting caper rather than a bone-dry arithmetic puzzle is the dynamic and interactive nature of the many various card types.
Torches light orthogonally adjacent squares, potentially making you visible to guards, who will sound an alarm and increase their base strength if you step in front of an illuminated card they can see.
(Perhaps one of the few ironclad tips one can offer is to eliminate dark enemies rather than lit ones whenever possible) Torches also make illuminated stealth cards worthless, though they paradoxically make treasure more valuable. Enemies will increase their strength if they detect you, presenting tougher obstacles in the future.
The minimalist approach
Such a minimalist, hands-off approach is refreshing and mature. The game is forgiving, especially in the earlier stages, but it is also laconic in the extreme. No one is telling you explicitly how to thrive. Its display reacts clearly to each path you sketch, enabling you to toy with various layouts before committing to the best one.
This detailed audiovisual feedback makes experimenting easy and intuitive. In turn, this means the best way to learn is by iterating, refining your technique and understanding over many runs while mastering the combos and interactions that pay off big.
To this end, the game’s quest and loot system serve dual roles as juicy incentive and dour gatekeeper. There are four castles to loot, a daily challenge, and twelve pieces of equipment. At the end of a successful run, you open the chest for a chance to reveal insignia, which accumulate and unlock harder castles and more sophisticated equipment at certain thresholds.
It’s a special kind of fun
So far, it sounds like a rather straightforward, if complex, game. It’s more special than that. Tinytouchtales knows how to wring every drop of fun from their titles, and in Card Thief that means pushing your luck to get the most loot you can. Each turn you leave the manor’s Chest on the board it will gain a level, becoming more valuable.
If the game has a downside, it’s the chests themselves. Getting a high level chest out of a dungeon feels great, but when you open chests the only treasure you’ll find are Insignias and Trash. The Insignias are used to unlock more castles to rob, while the Trash is literal trash that does nothing. More often than not you’ll open chests filled with nothing but Trash, and even getting an Insignia seems like a huge letdown.
I’m sure that there are plans to make the chests actually mean something outside of each game, but right now they feel like a McGuffin, only existing to give your thief something to do. It’s a minor gripe, but it’s honestly the only issue one has with Card Thief as it currently stands.Get Card Thief on App Store | $1.99 Get Card Thief on Google Play | $1.99