Screenshot via YouTube

I like stealth games. I like mobile games I can play with one hand so I don’t have to decide between playing and holding the subway pole. I like Card Thief.

I’ve been playing this card-based stealth game for iOS (available now for $1.99) on all my commutes since it came out last week. As a thief who navigates through a dungeon created from a deck of cards, you have to avoid guards, steal treasure, and get out with a chest containing insignias that allow you to purchase gear and unlock new levels. The levels get harder as you go; I’m not quite through the second dungeon yet, and I’m nervous about what the remaining two have in store.

Card Thief features many interlocking systems that, though simple on their own, combine into a satisfying tactical experience. The main focus is managing your stealth points in order to move successfully around the board. Your thief has a certain number of points, as do the obstacles in your way. Light, in the form of torches or guards who illuminate cards, can raise the point value of other cards. If an enemy has more stealth points than your thief and spots you, you’re captured, and fail the level. With careful planning, you can extinguish torches, ambush guards from behind, and regain stealth points via sneak cards or hiding.

Card Thief lets you plan your path before committing to it, which goes a long way in planning your heists.

You also need stealth points to carry the chest, the point value of which goes up the longer it stays on the board. I’ve planned poorly and been unable to get to the chest when I reached it and found that it required more points than I had left. Card Thief allows you to map out your moves before committing, so you can get a feel for how a particular path will affect your points. It’s great to carefully plan your moves and slide stealthily across the board, only for a bunch more cards to fall and present you with a new challenge.

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You also have a variety of tools that can help, including water arrows that extinguish torches, a cloak that replenishes stealth points, and a potion that lowers enemies’ point value. Tool cards have a point value too, however, and can only be used on enemies with equal or lesser values. I’ve poorly planned myself into situations where my tools are useless, but I’ve also deployed them at just the right time to get out of a sticky situation. I haven’t unlocked too many, but a scroll of the options is pretty exciting and I’m sure will change up the way I play a lot.

On the left my thief is hidden, but on the right they’re visible. The thief makes a pretty awesome ‘oh I’m visible!’ animation.

The presentation is as clever as the concept. Even the menu has a fun bounce to it, and the animations add a bit of life and personality to what would otherwise just be shuffling virtual cards around. I don’t often play mobile games with sound, but I do in this case just to hear the satisfying riffle of the deck.

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Card Thief confused me at first, but after running through the tutorial and playing a few rounds I quickly got the hang of it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but its bite-sized levels and perfect mix of just the right amount of planning and luck make it an engaging part of my commute.