PT Guides: Card Thief Strategy & Tactics

By Michael Coffer 11 Apr 2017 2

Card Thief is a devil twice-over. In moments of wavering attention, it still catches my idle hands, cozening me into another run. And during those runs it is, without fail, the fiendish details which make or break my score. I’ve collected and collated my experiences, clustering them under some general rules of thumb that will help your next bit of thievery. This article has three kinds of players in mind. For newcomers I hope to lessen your disorientation and hasten your journey to greater understanding and unlocked content. For veterans, I hope to improve your top scores. For everyone who wants to enjoy the experience, I hope to deepen our collective appreciation of how deep and varied the game is.

Want to know what we thought of Card Thief? Read our review!

Be Humble. The game’s progression is paced so that failure really is a stepping-stone and not merely the nattering on of self-help books. During each run, break down and compartmentalize the game’s rules one at a time. For example, to understand how guard values increase, you actually have to keep many separate phenomena in mind. Enemy values go up from when lit (next to torches or wardens), when watched (under the gaze of another card), when alerted (from a dog), when angered (moving in front of them while illuminated), or lastly, when confronted (by moving into their space through the watched direction). All this is discounting the step multipliers, too. If reading the previous details seemed bewildering, no worry. Don’t be afraid to wallow in ineptitude. Fail extravagantly, because each run is really about refining your theory and intuition as much as it about scores and loot. Even experienced players can benefit from humility: sometimes the right call is to proceed cautiously and only move two spaces a turn. Sometimes.


Be Diligent. This one may ruffle some feathers, but hear me out. Have a pencil and paper with you and take notes about each castle. It’s extra material and extra work, but will cement the game’s system more quickly and thoroughly in your head. Like how people who like dictionaries growing up end up with a wider vocabulary later on. Even if you don’t transcribe notes, you should notice what the new enemies do, how common they are, eventually even the exact composition of the deck. Counting cards is totally kosher here, and can help you make better-informed gambits later on. Especially when gauging how long to let the chest level-up. Even when you manage to score fifty gold in a single turn, that achievement is moot if you don’t make it to the exit. So note-taking helps track how many resources you’ve exhausted and how many enemies are left. “Inquiring minds want to know”.

Be Conventional. While in the course of unlocking the castles, if you have a special loadout that works for you or just seems cool, go for it. Maybe you favor the Blackjack equipment for its ability to rearrange the deck, or the Noise Arrow for its utility in setting up backstabs. Whatever the case, use it over and over and see where its limits are. Consistency in Card Thief is not the bugbear of lesser minds; it is the patience to bear through repetition and see what works. The last part of being conventional is to let go of the urge to be artistic or individualistic. Go and see what the leaderboards look like and copy what looks interesting. Right now, using a Rage Potion on an illuminated stealth card to boost its value for free is all the rage. (So much so that I expect it to be nerfed someday)


Be Crazy. Enjoy yourself, do wacky hijinks from time to time. Kinda like people who try to play Pokemon sadistically without invoking any healing. The game rewards deviant playstyles indirectly. The really unique thing about Card Thief is its bifurcated content. To get insignias you need to reliably snatch mid-range chests by playing things safe, but to upgrade your equipment via quests you often have to engineer really impractical situations that often involve burning a ton of resources and scuttling that run’s chances of success. To summarize: Card Thief is a solitaire game, so it’s only as competitive as you’d like it to be. Character is who we are in the dark, and if you’re having fun in the shadows as-is, feel free to take my strategic ramblings with a grain of salt. If you want to top the leaderboards, great. If ‘good enough’ sounds more like it, great. Don’t put constraints on how you get your jollies.

Be Optimistic. If you’re in the former ambitious camp and want to break a record or do something unprecedented, you need to plan for the best-case scenario. Keeping in mind positivity won’t make the deck’s monsters any easier, see how you can manufacture a blockbuster turn. Usually this involves backstabbing, clearing the board, large multiplier values, or ideally some combination of the three. The luck will favor you eventually, provided the perfect setup is something you’ve actually sketched out and envisioned, not just idly hoped for. It might take some hunting for that perfect arrangement. Your playstyle often has to compromise between endgame viability and scoring, so unless it’s a daily, err on the side of audacity.


Be Dastardly. No honor in love, war, and Card Thief. All equipment has the same targeting cost, so use it on zero- or one- point cards whenever possible to maximize value. This actually seems like a design flaw that makes the boosting cards end up being more efficient, but c’est la vie. If, upon discovering something new, it seems exploitative or cheap, by all means go ahead. In my review I said this game has enough style to make way for self-expression, but in the name of success, do toss vaunted ‘self-expression’ to the dogs.

Be Greedy. Playing the game gives such a yo-yo feeling of hope of despair because, in my estimation, that is how it is best played. For example, clearing the field by going negative is especially risky and especially worthwhile, because of the stealth reset. You can go negative by clearing torches or shadow-stepping enemies. More generally, the successes you gain by the skin of your teeth will not only be more emotional, they will also likely bear higher scores, too. Because I’ve peppered so many truisms already, I’ll end with one more: Gotta risk it for the biscuit.

Liked what you read? Got any other tips or tricks you want to share with us? Let us know in the comments below!



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