German independent game developer Tinytouchtales had quite a hit with its first game “Card Crawl,” which released on mobile devices in 2015. “Card Crawl” received critical acclaim and managed to carve out a niche audience — no mean feat in a mobile game market almost totally dominated by titanic incumbents with bottomless marketing budgets. In a 2015 interview with the Daily, Tinytouchtales’ Arnold Rauers emphasized the importance of appealing to a small, dedicated audience, and his blog posts provide in-depth analysis of the game’s success. But with such a successful first game under Tinytouchtales’ belt, the stakes were high for its follow-up game, “Card Thief” (2017).
Released on iOS on March 19 and on Android on April 19, “Card Thief” is an “[attempt] to condense the classic stealth genre into a solitaire style card game,” according to its website. Players play as a masked thief, who must pilfer as much treasure as possible while avoiding detection. Players accomplish their goal by moving their character card around a 3×3 grid of cards, each of which represents an enemy or an obstacle. Charting an advantageous path through the grid each turn is the essence of the game, and mastering the various edge-cases that must be exploited to best maneuver the grid requires some serious dedication. This level of mechanical complexity is a refreshing departure from “Card Crawl,” which only required players to perform some simple addition to determine if a move was worth making. In “Card Thief,” there are many right moves, but divining the best move in any given situation is a deliciously infuriating exercise in self-doubt. Those with a penchant for maximizing efficiency will be right at home playing “Card Thief.”
“Card Crawl” had uncommonly good art direction for a small, independently developed mobile game. Visually, “Card Crawl” was accomplished and distinctive, pairing off-beat character designs with a subdued color pallet that nevertheless made masterful use of accent colors. “Card Crawl” also succeeded aurally, as it featured an atmospheric soundtrack and immersive sound design. Fortunately, this strong art direction returns in “Card Thief,” which features a darker, cooler color pallet than “Card Crawl.” In an improvement over “Card Crawl,” cards in “Card Thief” are now lavishly animated, with the dancing flame of characters’ torches a particular highlight.
It’s a shame that Tinytouchtales is not better known outside of a dedicated cadre of hardcore mobile gamers. Its games are magnificently well designed — visually, aurally and mechanically. Even if you aren’t a part of the card-game-playing niche that is Tinytouchtales’ target audience, “Card Thief” is worth a look, if only to prove to yourself that mobile games crafted with love and care still exist in a world where “Clash of Clans” (2012) can afford to hire Liam Neeson for a Super Bowl spot.
On Android, “Card Thief” is free to play, but it uses video advertisements as a means of revenue generation. Players can purchase a chest for $1.99 from the Guild Master on the game’s main menu, which removes advertisements from the game. On iOS, the title retails for $1.99.