What is Carat Case Creations?
The playing card industry has exploded over the last decade, especially with constantly improving technology, and the arrival of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. Software gives creative designers the ability to produce high quality custom decks on their own computers, to partner with printing companies that can produce these decks at a high quality and in large numbers, and to connect with consumers that will provide the financial backing and market to make it all worthwhile and possible.
As a result of this, the playing card marketplace is thriving today like never before. Big-name publishers like USPCC and Cartamundi are booming, and there is a growing number of independent playing card manufacturers emerging that are producing high quality cards out of countries like Taiwan. Internet forums see high amounts of regular traffic from enthusiastic collectors, and the secondary market continues to do well. The number of online retailers specializing in custom playing cards continues to grow as well. The result is that we have a very lively industry that provides us with everything that modern collectors need. Surely all the pieces of the puzzle are solidly in place: designers, printers, and retailers, alongside reviewers and writers that cover the latest and greatest products.
Or are they? In my view there is one important gap in this market, which is begging to be filled. And that is: attractive and affordable ways to display your collection. What products are there for collectors to protect an individual deck, or more importantly, to show off part of their collection? This is a much smaller niche, and while there are some products on the market already that fit into this category, there's not a lot of them. Part of the problem is that any kind of storage unit is going to take up more space than a deck of cards, and so shipping costs quickly start becoming a bigger factor. But even so, there's a need here, just waiting for an enterprising creator to step into the gap, and take advantage of it.
That enterprising creator is Sherman Tsao. An enthusiastic and passionate collector himself, Sherman is the man behind Carat Case Creations. Under this brand, he produces the famous Carat Cases that many of us have already come to know and love in recent years, as one of the very best ways to showcase the favourite decks from our collection. We were able to arrange an interview with Sherman to find out more about the man himself, about his carat cases, and about his company.
For those who don't know anything about you, what can you tell us about what you contribute to the playing card industry?
I have been collecting cards for over 5 years and during this time, I have had the pleasure to meet and work with most of the top artists in the modern playing card community as well as get to know some of the most knowledgeable people in regards to vintage playing cards, which gives me a different insight than most.
Therefore, I believe that I contribute to the community in various ways, including:
(1) filling a gap/need in the market by providing quality products that allow collectors to protect and display their valued collection at a reasonable price so that the average card collector can afford and utilize them.
(2) providing knowledge about playing cards (history, odd bits of info, value, etc) through my Instagram posts, various forums and via personal discussions.
(3) supporting and giving back to the community by donating my products for events (various CardCons and similar events) and organizations (Magic Beyond Borders) as well as supporting various giveaways.
What can you tell us about yourself and your own background and expertise?
I graduated University with a Bachelors in Business Logistics (which I believe is called Supply Chain Management today). I worked for the oil industry in the US briefly (2 yrs) before moving to Asia to work in pharmaceutical distribution initially (5 yrs), and finally ending up in pharmaceutical informatics (20+ yrs).
What you do for a day job, and/or what are some of your other interests besides playing card related products?
I work for a Chinese company that develops and distributes clinical information on pharmaceuticals to hospitals, clinics and pharmacies as well as to governmental agencies. This information is embedded into their systems and allows them to screen patients' profiles to identify potential medication errors or complications, as well as provide referential information on drugs when needed.
What involvement and experience with playing cards did you have before you started Carat Case Creations?
Playing card games (i.e. Poker, Gin, Rummy, Bridge and Euchre) and gambling in Atlantic City and Vegas. I had been collecting cards for a little over a year before Carat Case Creations came into fruition.
How did you begin having an interest in playing cards?
I have always liked playing card games, but always with a standard Bicycle Rider Back or whatever souvenir/airline deck that was available. It was in late 2013 when I started to notice various well designed playing cards on Kickstarter and began to back a few projects.
The first project that caught my eye and which I backed was the Bicycle Emperor Playing Cards by Joanne Lin. I regret backing for only two red standard decks... of course, now I have multiple copies of both decks, though at a cost. The next deck that caught my eye was the Edgy Bros Bicycle Dia De Los Muertos and I backed it immediately as well.
But I think the deck that sent me down the rabbit hole was Lotrek's Icons Imperial. When I first saw the price of one deck (US$80), my first thought was 'What deck is worth US$80?', but as I read the description and learned more about Lotrek, I was more and more intrigued. I was so intrigued that by the end of the campaign, I had backed the highest tier. After that, I had to have more, and started acquiring more - a lot more.
Carat Case Creations
When did you start Carat Case Creations, and how did this come about?
After collecting for about a year and amassing a number of expensive decks, I started to look for ways to store, protect and display my decks, but the lowest price for a playing card deck display was US$50 for a single deck. Being based in China, I decided to look around to see whether there were any factories that I could work with to develop cases for my own use and after reviewing a bunch of different acrylics manufacturers, I selected one to work with on my design. The minimum order quantity was quite high, but I figured I could use a good portion of the cases for my collection as well as try to sell the extras in the card collecting forum that I belonged to, United Cardists.
To my pleasant surprise, I sold out of over 500 extra cases that I had in less than a week. At that point, I realized that there was a need in the market and thus decided to improve upon the design a little (bevelled edges and rounded corners) as well as develop newer models to accommodate displaying multi-decks. Over the years, I just kept developing new cases as well as started to branch off into different mediums other than just acrylic (PET, Cardboard and now Wood).
What was your initial vision for the company, and how has that changed over time?
To be honest, I never really had a vision for the company as I didn't think of it as a business at the start and still I don't really treat it as one now. It is a side business that I run during my free time and I will continue to run it this way as long as it is fun and profitable. At the moment, I don't make much off of sales as I try to keep retail prices as low as possible while allowing resellers to have a good portion of the profits ... unfortunately, shipping is one of the biggest costs of the equation.
Besides yourself, how many people are involved with Carat Case Creations, and what role do they play?
Carat Case Creations is a one man operation, unless you want to count my son, who helps me out on occasion whenever I have to sort out issues with a particular production run or project.
What is the origin and meaning of the name "carat case"?
Carat was suggested to me by a friend when I started to think about coming up with a brand name after I made the first single deck cases and was considering making different models.
Even though 'carat' is a unit of mass for gem stones and pearls, when I first heard the suggestion, I thought of diamonds, which to me connotes something precious, beautiful and shiny as well being one of the hardest substances on earth. Because of that, the name just stuck in my head and I went with it.
What types of people would especially benefit from your carat cases?
Anyone that has a deck that is precious to them in any way that they want to protect from being damaged yet still be able to enjoy admiring it whenever they wish to.
What are the benefits of a carat case, and why should playing card enthusiasts consider getting them?
Carat Cases are made of 5mm acrylic plates, which is an archival quality material, meaning that it is acid free and won't contribute to the deterioration of anything stored inside. The acrylic is clear so that you have unobstructed views of the deck stored inside from every angle.
The lid is attached via neodymium magnets, which are 10 times stronger than regular magnets, allowing for the lid to be secured to the case bottom tightly while still allowing for easy access to the deck when and if needed.
For the multi-deck cases, I provide removable inserts to allow for displaying of decks separated or right next to each other if the decks form an image when placed together. This also allows for tuck boxes in varying sizes.
What should we know about the quality and components of a good carat case?
Aside from the material (5mm acrylic and neodymium magnets) used, which is the foundation of a good product, the design and craftsmanship of the cases is just as important.
When designing the cases, I wanted to try and make a case that was versatile and capable of storing various sized tuck boxes as opposed to just the most popular decks.
In terms of the craftsmanship of the cases, I wanted them to feel comfortable when being handled, so I had the edges bevelled and corners rounded.
What can you tell us about the acrylic used for your card cases?
It is 5mm clear acrylic, unless it is for a custom case, which I have made for various artists in red, white and black.
What can you tell us about the magnets used for your card cases?
The magnets used in the Carat Cases are neodymium magnets. These are 10x stronger than normal magnets, and provide a stronger hold, so that the lid is securely attached to the case, yet allowing for easy removal when needed.
What can you tell us about the rubber pads used for your card cases?
The rubber pads are provided to give the end user the option to adhere to the case to prevent it from sliding around on a surface, which would result in scratching of the case as well as possibly the surface it is on.
Where are carat cases made, and what is involved in making a carat case?
Carat Cases are made in China. It basically involves me coming up with a design and creating a drawing of the design for the factory with all the specifications. I am old fashioned, so I draw everything out by hand on graph paper and to scale.
Once the design is completed, I have the factory make a prototype to test and make sure that all aspects of the case are as I want them to be. Once I am satisfied with the prototype, I place an order for a production run.
What have been some of the biggest challenges involved in making carat cases?
I think I have been lucky with making Carat Cases, especially since I am based in China so I have easy access to the manufacturers that help me produce all my products. This cuts down on production time, especially when developing new products, as well as costs.
The biggest challenges I have faced so far are shipping fees (which never seem to stop increasing) and copycat producers. I spend a lot of time and energy developing my products and it gets disheartening when others take my ideas, copy them and then try and compete with me in the market by undercutting my pricing.
Are there any imitation or lower quality cases we should be wary of?
Since I started making the Carat Cases 5 years ago, various companies have come out with similar competing products, with the majority of them based out of China. Most of these don't sell outside of China, but one or two do.
Though they use the same basic materials, my main competitor's design is specific to USPCC decks, which makes their cases too small for many decks which have slightly larger sized tucks, whereas my cases are larger and thus more versatile. They also originally had permanent dividers in their cases, also making them less versatile, but it appears that they now offer removable inserts with the newer versions of their cases as well.
Finally, from my understanding, their customer service is somewhat lacking and I have had many people who have purchased cases from them ask me if I can help them fix the issues with their cases, which I unfortunately cannot. For me, quality is first and foremost and if a customer has an issue with any of my cases, I will do my best to rectify the situation, as I myself am an avid collector and have higher expectations of my cases than anyone else.
What is involved between the process of making a carat case and getting it into a customer's home?
At this point and time, it is much easier for me to get a Carat Case to the end user as I have been lucky enough to build a good relationship with Murphy's Magic, the world's largest magic and playing cards wholesaler. Instead of having to deal with customers individually, which was quite cost prohibitive, especially with small orders due to high shipping costs, I can ship larger quantities to Murphy's, which then sells to their resellers around the world, who then sell to the end user.
What tips do you have for taking care of a carat case, and using it?
Carat Cases are quite sturdy and don't require too much maintenance. The acrylic can get scratched up a little, but I have found that once something is displayed inside, small scratches are barely visible.
Have you come across any interesting or creative uses of carat cases?
The most interesting use of a Carat Case that I have come across is by Lorenzo Gaggiotti of Stockholm 17. He is making a wooden frame for a single deck and has embedded magnets into the back of the frame so that a deck can be placed in the middle of the frame and the bottom of the case placed over it, yet securely to the frame for display.
Which of your products is the most popular, and why might this be?
The Carat DS1 Deck Sleeves are probably my most popular item, followed by the Carat X1 Single Deck Case. The DS1 Deck Sleeve is inexpensive and compact, yet provides great protection for both everyday carry as well as for storage and display. The X1 Single Deck Case is a more elegant display case that enhances the deck on display and can be used with most standard poker sized deck.
What are the benefits of using your Carat DS 1 Deck Sleeve?
The Carat DS1 is a light weight, low profile and inexpensive way to protect your decks while still allowing unobstructed views from all sides. When unfolded, they are flat and can be easily shipped while their lightweight nature helps keep shipping costs down. They also don't add much more size or weight to the deck, providing good protection for your deck when you are on the go, whether it be in your pocket, backpack or travel bag.
Are there any other important features we should know about these deck sleeves?
There are currently two different styles of Deck Sleeves, the Standard and the EDC (everyday carry). There are now a few different kind of Standard Deck Sleeves, including: the original DS1 for most standard poker sized decks; the newly released DS1L, which is for slightly larger single decks like Regalia and Touch sized tucks; a custom made DS2A, which is for two decks side-by-side; and the soon to be released HB1A for custom half brick boxes. All of the standard sleeves are mainly meant for protection of the decks or half bricks while displaying, storing or shipping.
The DS1 EDC is a single deck sleeve that is meant for opened decks that are used regularly. It is the same size as the Standard DS1, but has some revisions to make it more user friendly with open decks including: a longer rounded flap with an incision in it to insert the tuck box flap so that when the EDC flap is opened, it opens the tuck box flap at the same time. The two side flaps at the top opening have been removed to provide easier and unobstructed access to the cards when opened.
All of the sleeves are made of 0.3mm or thicker recyclable clear PET plastic, which provides excellent protection for your decks against accidental dents or dings while allowing for full viewing of the decks inside. They are lightweight and very low profile, so they don't add too much weight or take up too much extra space. When folded, they are quite compact and can be easily shipped or stored.
How do your Carat XCB brick boxes compare with a standard brick box we might get from a playing card supplier?
The Carat XCB Brick Box is made of a sturdy three-ply construction, with a 350gsm paper matte lamination outer layer, B9 corrugated cardboard middle layer and a 250gsm paper gloss lamination inner layer.
The biggest difference between the Carat XCB and other brick boxes is the lid, which has a 21cm x 6.5cm clear 1mm acrylic window, providing stability to the lid, while allowing you to view all the decks inside the brick box without having to open it up, making it much easier and less time consuming to find a deck amongst multiple brick boxes.
What products beside carat cases and the above two items do you produce?
Most of the items I produce are playing card protection related for both storage and display, but I have also made a few coin displays, including one for Dead on Paper's Hobo Coin Collection. I have been recently developing a new bamboo product line with the Carat B4x3 Twelve Deck Tray w/lid and the Carat X12 and X24 Brick and Double Brick Boxes as the first product offerings. I have also produced a few custom folding magnetic brick boxes for some various playing card designers including Butterfly Playing Cards, Stockholm17 and Thirdway Industries.
Where can we buy your products?
It's easiest to purchase my products through Murphy's Magic (if you're a retailer) or one of their resellers like PlayingCardDecks.
Are there any forthcoming new products we should know about?
I have just recently released a deck rack (Carat XDR24 & Carat XDR24L), similar to the old tape cassette racks, and is available with and without a lid. It features 3 columns of 8 slots for a total of 24 decks and the back has 4 countersunk holes to provide you with the ability to hang the rack up. Screws and wall anchors as well as silicone plugs for the holes if you decide not to hang it are also included.
I will be releasing a deck rack (Carat XDR24 & Carat XDR24L), similar to the old tape cassette racks, and will be available with and without a lid. It will feature 3 columns of 8 slots for a total of 24 decks and the back will have 4 countersunk holes to provide you with the ability to hang the rack up. Screws and wall anchors as well as silicone plugs for the holes if you decide not to hang it will also be included.
What can we expect from you in the future with Carat Case Creations?
At the moment, I will still continue to develop products for the playing card market as playing cards is what I know and love and I still have some ideas for displaying and storing playing cards. This doesn't mean that I won't dabble in new things and possibly new markets. But for the time being, I will mainly be focusing on the playing card market.
Collecting playing cards
What is your own interest in playing cards, and how do you use them?
I have been enjoying collecting playing cards for over 5 years now. Though I initially started out purchasing two of every deck, one to open and one to keep pristine in my collection, I have long stopped opening decks as I just have too many. I guess you can call me a 'Tuckist' or a collector who likes to keep their decks unopened, thus only really being able to enjoy the tuck, though I still do enjoy the deck via viewing them on the internet.
When did you start collecting playing cards, and what got you started?
The first deck of playing cards I purchased for collecting purposes was in late 2013 when I backed the Bicycle Emperor Playing Cards by Joanne Lin on Kickstarter. It was the first time I saw custom Bicycle cards and the theme resonated with me as I am of Chinese decent and have always been intrigued with Chinese Opera masks.
The next custom deck that intrigued me was the Bicycle Dia de los Muertos by the Edgy Brothers, another theme that has always intrigued me. After that, I started to specifically look for KS playing card projects as well as online to discover more about the custom playing card market, and that's all she wrote.
How many decks would you estimate that you currently have in your collection?
Probably somewhere between 4,000 - 5,000 unique decks and another 2,000 - 3,000 duplicate decks.
How do you organize and display your collection of playing cards?
My playing card collection is scattered between my home in China and my father's house in the US. At home, I store and display my collection in my own cases. Most of my more expensive and rare decks are stored in individual Carat Cases, some of which are displayed on metal storage racks in my basement or on my shelves in my office. The rest of my collection is either stored in a Carat X12 acrylic brick box (unique decks) or a Carat XCB cardboard brick box (duplicates) on racks and cabinets in my basement.
I organize my collection mainly by brand (Bicycle), producer (AOP, E and T11), artist or brand (Alex Chin, KWP, Lotrek, S17, TWI, Fontaine, Fulton, etc.) and miscellaneous, which is generally sorted by printer and then by artist/producer/series.
Do you have any special categories of decks that you focus on collecting, and what are your favourite types of decks to collect?
I collect a wide range of decks and don't know if I really have a favorite type. I definitely like to collect Bicycle decks, but don't collect them just because they are Bicycle branded. The theme has to appeal to me and the price has to be right for what the deck has to offer.
Though I like a lot of different artists, I do focus on some particular ones, such as those mentioned above.
Which deck (or decks) in your collection is your favourite, and why?
Here are some of my favorite decks:
● Zenith by Paul Carpenter (I love the back design and have everything produced by Paul in regards to the Zenith deck including the uncut and only prototype tuck box.)
● White Tuck James Coffee by AoP (I love the simply, yet elegant design and it is only 1 of 12 produced.)
● Tally Ho Legacy Decks by Jackson Robinson (I love Tally Ho's and especially the ones designed by Jackson. All five wooden Legacy decks are No 6 of 50.)
● National Playing Card Collection Day Palace Editions by Alex Chin (Alex always produces amazing work that pushes the boundaries of playing cards and art. I love the story behind the cards as well as the execution of the playing cards, tucks and how they interact together to be something more.)
● Golden Oath by Lotrek (This is four foiled deck that shows off the mastery that Lotrek has when producing playing cards. Lotrek is always pushing the boundaries of playing card production as well as striving for perfection in every deck he makes. Golden Oath is the industry's first inkless (all foil) playing cards...the precision in which the foils were applied and the artwork are amazing).
What would the most valuable deck in your collection be, and what accounts for its value?
I honestly don't know as I do have some vintage decks that have increased in value tremendously over the past few years (i.e. Steamboats) and am not sure what their value is these days.
I also have a lot of very limited decks by KWP, Lotrek, Stockholm17 and others that many collectors are willing to pay high sums, but I am not sure what they are valued at as I am not willing to part with them.
What are some of the things you especially enjoy about collecting playing cards?
When I first started collecting playing cards, I was attracted to the fact that playing cards provided creators with a compact and portable canvas to present their art and stories. But after engaging in the community, it became more about the comradery and sharing in the hobby.
If you would start collecting all over again today, would you do anything different?
I would try and control what I collected and what I purchased more, instead of trying to buy anything and everything I could get my hands on.
What advice would you give someone just starting to collect playing cards today?
Collect what you like and not what seems to be popular. Don't collect to try and make a profit - there are many easier ways to make money.
In what ways has the playing card industry changed over the years?
I don't think I have been collecting long enough to see many drastic changes. But ever since I have started collecting, it seems that there have been more and more custom playing card decks produced each year.
Due to the latest technologies there have been much fancier decks produced with foiling and gilding, but that has also increased the prices of playing cards. When I started collecting, decks were around $10 per deck on average as compared to now where they are $15 per deck on average, for a standard deck while fancier or limited decks can command prices of $20 or more.
What thoughts do you have on the explosion of custom playing cards that we are seeing today?
I think that the recent explosion of playing cards is a good thing overall as it provides collectors with a large variety of decks to choose from. Though the down side is that that means there are a lot more not so great decks as well.
What impact do you think crowdfunding like Kickstarter has had on playing cards and on collecting?
I think the biggest benefits of crowdfunding platforms like KS are the expansive audience it gives a creator access to (that's how I got interested in collecting playing cards) as well as the means to produce a deck when they normally wouldn't have the funds to do so. In most cases, it also gives a creator the opportunity to interact with collectors to refine their work and make them even more desirable, if they are interested in doing so.
The kind of people that the playing card industry needs most are passionate collectors of playing cards. I'm not just talking about the need for consumers that buy playing cards. Rather, this is a quality that is essential any other person involved in the process of getting custom playing cards to our door. There's a lot of key players in the playing card industry that all make important contributions to help us get our hands on the decks that we love. From designers, to consultants, to manufacturers, to retailers, to writers - these all play valuable roles, and without them the industry wouldn't be what it is today. But the kinds of people who will do this best are those who are informed collectors themselves. If someone is knowledgeable and passionate about playing cards, they're far more likely to do a better job in designing them, making them, selling them, or whatever other role they play.
Sherman Tsao is unquestionably the kind of individual who meets these criteria. He's first and foremost an enthusiastic collector himself, so he knows what collectors look for in their playing cards. His comments about collecting playing cards are fascinating to read, in light of his personal experience as a collector. In other words, he understands people like you and me. But this also means that he understands the kinds of things that we like and appreciate - including our need to show off our favourite decks, while ensuring that they remain well looked after at the same time.
That makes him very well placed to step up and try to find ways to meet one area that has been sorely lacking in the playing card industry, namely attractive and quality ways to display our custom decks. With Carat Case Creations he has produced some wonderful and innovative products to help us do exactly that. He didn't come up with these as a way of making money, but because he saw a need as a passionate collector himself. Even now, his profit margins are small, because he realizes that shipping costs will be high, and he wants these to be viable for retailers to sell and for collectors to buy.
The Carat Cases that Sherman produces, and his other associated products, are undoubtedly the modern benchmark if you are looking for a quality item that displays your best decks, and protects them at the same time. If you've not checked out his range of products yet, you owe it to yourself to take a look at what he offers, and consider picking something up for yourself. While getting these shipped to your house may sometimes cost you a bit more than the cost of your typical deck, it is well worthwhile given the quality and attractive looks these offer. After all, anything that enables us to make our favourite decks look even better, has to be good, right?!
Where to learn more? Check out the official sites:
● Official websites: caratcasecreations.com and caratcardcases.com
● Social media: Instagram, Email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Where to get them? Most popular products from Carat Case Creations are available from PlayingCardDecks:
● Deck displays: X1 Case, XXL Case, DS1 Sleeve, EDC Sleeve, XDD Display, XDS Display & Stand
● Card cases: X2 Case, X3 Case, X4 Case, X5 Case, X6 Case, X3x2 Case, X4x2 Case, X4x3 Case, T3 Case
● Brick boxes: XCB Box, B12 Bamboo Box, B24 Bamboo Box, B4x3 Bamboo Tray, X12 Box, XHB Box
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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Telltale Signs That You Have Too Many Playing Cards
Do you own too many decks of playing cards? "Surely that is impossible," I hear you say. "I can never have too many playing cards!"
But that could just prove my case. Isn't denial one of the first signs that you have a problem? Saying "No, I don't have an alcohol problem" can be a hint that an addiction is already happening. Maybe you're just finding ways to justify yourself. "No, I don't have too many decks! NO, I AM NOT RAISING MY VOICE!"
What should you be looking for to know if your collection is too large? Read this list, and ask yourself honestly if you see any of these signs in your own life. Could this perhaps be the moment of enlightenment, the day that you realize that you have a problem, the day that you need to start purging your collection of playing cards? Let's find out.
Indications You Own Too Many Decks
This is of course written tongue-in-cheek, and is intended to put a smile on your face rather than be taken too seriously! With that disclaimer out of the way, you know that you have too many decks of playing cards if:
1. There's no more room under your bed.
This is where it often starts. You've put decks in every place you can think of in your house, including under your bed. This is simply being sensible with your space. Of course you don't have a problem. But there is a problem with the amount of space under the bed. It's all filled up with boxes of unopened playing cards, and so is the closet. And there's more decks arriving in the mail next week. What to do?
2. Your postman measures your mail deliveries in playing card bricks.
You like your postman. After all, he's the guy who brings you your playing cards. And he likes you, because if it wasn't for people like you, he'd be out of a job. But he's starting to recognize the shape and size of the parcels that are being delivered regularly to your door. So when he shows up for a delivery, he can tell you exactly how many bricks of playing cards you're getting this time.
3. You are starving your pets to pay for new decks.
You are cutting back on pet food, because you want to use that money to buy more decks. Your cat is mangy and in desperation has resorted to eating grasshoppers, while your dog has started a new habit of going through your garbage looking for food scraps because it just isn't getting fed. Even your pet fish are suffering. You don't have the money to feed these animals. There are decks to buy.
4. You put items of your clothing on Facebook Marketplace to raise more money for decks.
Decks cost money, and your regular day job isn't bringing in enough money to pay for all your purchases. So you come up with a genius scheme. Iff you sell some of your clothing, you'll have more money for playing cards. We don't really need that much clothing, do we? Come to think of it, you really only need one pair of shoes, one shirt, one set of trousers. And you can find a way to make do with two pairs of underwear. As an added bonus, you'll get extra storage space in the wardrobe for more decks.
5. You don't support Kickstarter, but Kickstarter supports you.
You've supported so many Kickstarters, they are giving you regular kickbacks and freebies, because they don't want you to stop. They are already giving you grocery vouchers, and promising to feed your pets. Apparently they're even thinking of buying you a new couch, so that you'll have something to sleep on after you get evicted for failing to pay your rent. You're one of their best customers, and they're pulling out all stops to look after you.
6. You play Jenga with new decks at family functions.
When the family gets together for Christmas or birthdays, they know that they can count on you to bring along several boxes filled with new decks of playing cards. You're the favourite uncle who uses decks of playing cards to set up a giant game of Jenga on the back veranda for the younger cousins to play. And what happens when the tower falls over, and all those pristine tuck boxes get dinged up? No problem, you have plenty more where they came from.
7. You're considering building your new house with bricks of playing cards.
Building bricks made from clay or stone? That's old school. In our modern era, surely it is time to build houses made out of bricks of playing cards. The classic story of The Three Little Pigs story is overdue for a modern makeover. Shouldn't there be a fourth little pig who builds his house out of bricks of playing cards? They're exactly the right shape and size, and there's no reason you can't use mortar together playing card bricks to form walls. Imagine the potential value this could have for your grandchildren in years to come!
8. You accidentally buy decks that you already have.
Remember that amazing deck you saw online last week? It looked terrific, so you bought it. Actually you bought a brick of them. Just in case. But when it shows up in the mail and you are putting it into storage, you come across another 3 bricks of the same deck that you bought 7 months ago. "Oh that's right, I remember now." But you have so many decks that you simply can't remember everything you have, and so you often find yourself buying playing cards that you already own.
9. It takes you three days to hunt through your collection to find a specific deck.
You want to show off a particular deck to a friend. You know that you have it, because you saw it just three months ago. Well, perhaps it was a year ago when it came in the mail. Another 27 decks arrived that same day, so you never got a chance to look at it closely, but you know this one must be cool. After all, you did see a picture of the cards on Instagram when at the time you bought it. Fortunately you have some time off work to dig it out. But you didn't quite expect to spend three solid days going through all your boxes until you found it again.
10. You've rented a storage unit just to store your collection.
The space under your bed is already full, and so is your closet. There are boxes piled to the roof on your desk and bookshelves, and all over your bedroom floor. So you take the obvious step: you rent a storage unit. It just makes so much sense. After all, really, how can a serious collector expect to keep all his playing cards in just one house? Whatever made you ever think that your collection could fit here to begin with? You've clearly outgrown it, and renting a storage unit (or maybe two or three) seems the obvious thing to do.
11. Your neighbours and family have nicknamed you "The Crazy Card Guy".
Word has got out that you're a card collector. You could hide it at first, at least when your collection was tucked away under your bed. But as it started growing, spreading into your hallway, into your living room, and filling your garage, you've developed somewhat of a reputation. It's not all bad, because some of your neighbours start giving you decks of unwanted playing cards they've picked up at garage sales. And your brother-in-law bought you some decks for Christmas. But along with this new stage of life comes a nickname. It just comes with the territory.
12. You plan to break some world record with playing cards.
You've researched the current world records that involve playing cards. Building the highest house of cards. The largest structure made out of playing cards. Surely there is some world record you can beat. Between what is under your bed, in your closets, in your garage, and in your three specially rented storage units, you have enough playing cards to do it. You've always wanted to break a world record, so why not become the first person who builds an entire life-sized house out of playing cards? With a collection your size, there must be a way to build something that gets the attention of the folks at Guinness World Records.
13. Your spouse is considering leaving you.
Your spouse was patient at first. Initially they indulged you. They even bought you playing cards for your last birthday. And they chuckled politely at your request for more decks at Christmas. They humored you when you wanted more space in the closet. They snickered when you started building a wall of boxes in the shed. But now they're getting tired of it. They've already threatened you more than once: Choose me or your decks.
14. The elderly lady at the playing card club is trying to hook up with you.
You've started attending playing card conventions. You've woken up at 3am to drive seven hours to a release event in another state. And you've met like-minded collectors who do exactly the same. So this is all perfectly normal behaviour. But after you show some of your favourite decks and photos of your collection at your playing card collectors club, you notice that the elderly lady with the thick librarian glasses, 1960s hairstyle, and lisp starts taking a real interest in you. She starts making passes at you, and invites you over for a cup of tea. But all the signs are pointing to the fact that it's not you that she has a crush on, but your playing card collection.
15. Your family is thinking of staging an intervention.
Your family hasn't seen you in nearly a year, because now you aren't showing up for family events. Even last Christmas you couldn't make it to the family dinner, because you had your latest shipments of decks to sort through. They've called an emergency family meeting to decide what to do about you.
Do you have too many playing cards? To be honest, the notion can seem absurd to most of us. But if you genuinely do have too many cards, there are plenty of things you can do about it. I've given away a lot of decks to friends and family. I've also given away a couple of hundred decks to high school kids who were keen to learn cardistry and magic. I'd teach them some moves or some card tricks, and give them a custom deck of their choice to help them get started. I'd even give them a second or third deck if they came back to me to show me what they'd learned on their own.
If your decks are still in shrink, you can always resell them. Some decks hold their value surprisingly well, especially if they are geared to collectors and are popular decks made in a limited edition. Or you might hit some local charities to see if they're interested in selling them in their thrift shops. Or you might donate them to a school or youth organization, so they can be used for playing card games and events. You can even give them away as prizes, or put together a brick or two as a lot for a charity auction.
Not that owning too many playing cards would ever happen, right? Or would it?!
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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10 Builder Solitaire Card Games With Unusual Layouts
I love solitaire card games. There's some terrific games that have stood the test of time, but it is true that many of them are variations of the same theme. For example, Klondike and Spider are two of the most popular solitaire card games of all time, along with FreeCell. But there's a whole genre of popular building games that are closely related to these, and you'll often see names of games like Baker's Dozen, Beleaguered Castle, Canfield, Forty Thieves, La Belle Lucie, and Yukon pop up on sites about solitaire card games.
Personally I enjoy exploring things that are somewhat out of the ordinary. I'm the kind of guy who heads off the well-marked trail trampled by tourists, and ventures down the narrow path that runs off the main track, just to see what lies around the corner on the road less-travelled. Much the same is true in the world of solitaire card games, because there are some wonderful solitaire games with unusual layouts just waiting for you to discover and enjoy.
In this article I'll introduce you to ten great solitaire card games with unusual layouts. To be fair, these aren't exactly obscure games by any means. If you check out books and sites about solitaire card games (and I've personally done a lot of reading and research in this area) you're bound to come across these. So these aren't exactly uncommon or unproven games, that are an awkward mess to play, or just don't work. In the world of solitaire, most of these are all quite well known, so they are solid and reliable games. But they are somewhat `odd ducks', in that their layout departs from the norm, and that's exactly what makes them interesting.
The best way to learn these games is to use some software to give you a helping hand. That way you'll see how the cards are supposed to be laid out, and the program will enforce the rules as you play, and manage all the book-keeping for you. Of the many programs I have personally tried, I've found the top one to be BVS Solitaire, which has versions for Windows, Mac, and an excellent iPad app that I consider to be the best of the many apps that I've tried. I can highly recommend their programs as an excellent way to play and enjoy these and many other solitaire games. But enough about that, let's get to the games themselves!
== Games With One Deck ==
Four Seasons (Vanishing Cross)
Overview: Also called Vanishing Cross and Corner Card, Four Seasons is a single-deck game that gets its name from its layout where you are building onto four foundations in the corners, with a cross-shaped tableau consisting of five cards in the middle. The rank of the foundation bases are determined by the initial card that is placed on the first foundation, and building up is done `turning the corner' from King through Ace. The five cards of the cross build downwards irrespective of suit, but only one card can be moved at a time, with the goal of building up all four foundations in a single deal of the stock.
Thoughts: Four Seasons proves quite hard to win, and the odds of achieving success have been estimated as 1 in 10. Several variations exist (e.g. Corners, Czarina, Little Windmill, and Simplicity), but I particularly enjoy the Florentine variant, which gives you two passes through the stock, making the game much more achievable. Effectively Four Seasons is like a solitaire with a tableau of just 5 cards (the cards below the top card being hidden), so it can be quite difficult; Florentine removes this frustration and makes it far more pleasant.
Overview: The game Grandfather's Clock uses 12 foundations arranged in the circular shape of a clock. At the start of the game the following cards are dealt as foundations in clock-wise order from the 5 o'clock position: 2♥, 3♠, 4♦, 5♣, 6♥, 7♠, 8♦, 9♣, 10♥, J♠, Q♦, K♣. The remaining cards form a tableau of eight columns of five cards each. Cards are placed in ascending value onto the clock, and the tableau must be manipulated by building down one card at a time in matching suits in order to successfully access the cards needed. The goal is to play all the cards to the clock, with the values of all the top cards correctly corresponding to their positions in the clock.
Thoughts: The set-up is reminiscent of the much simpler luck-based games Clock Patience and German Clock, which rely purely on observation, and are more suited for younger children to play. In contrast Grandfather's Clock requires skill in arranging cards within the tableau to get the cards you need. It is nearly always possible to complete with good play, and because you have open information about all the cards, it's a satisfying and straight-forward game.
== Games With Two Decks ==
Overview: Archway is a two-deck game by noted games scholar David Parlett that is based on an old French solitaire called La Chatelaine (Lady of the Manor). Four Aces are laid out to represent four foundations that will build up, and four Kings to represent four foundations that will build down. Below these eight foundations is a tableau consisting of four piles of 12 cards each. The remaining 48 cards make up the reserve; these are separated by rank (Ace through King), and placed in an arch shape around the other cards. You can move any card from the top of the tableau or any card in the arch-shaped reserve piles to the foundations.
Thoughts: You'll need good luck-of-the-draw to win Archway, even though you have completely open information. The original version of the game increases your chances of success significantly, because it makes suits irrelevant, so you can build up with any card of the rank you need. In that form of the game the tableau is no longer open, however, and consists just of four piles of cards. This removes some of the skill and makes it more of a casual game, but at least you can try your luck and have a decent chance of winning, even if it's less than half the time.
Overview: Backbone is somewhat related to the more well-known Pigtail (Braid) covered below, and also has 21 cards down the middle. But instead of being interlaced, they make two separate columns of ten cards each (the "backbone"), with a single card (the "tail-bone" or "coccyx") overlapping both at the bottom. The tableau consists of four "rib" cards on each side of the backbone, and these build down by suit, while the stock is dealt one card at a time.
Thoughts: This game's structure makes it interesting, removing the tail-bone early is key to success. A game that uses a similar structure to Backbone is Herringbone (and the similar Adela). In this case of these games the backbone structure makes up the foundations, with eight Jacks that build downwards in the middle, and the matching Queen and King on either side of each Jack. A six card tableau that builds up by suit assists with this. Confusingly, Herringbone is sometimes also used as an alternate name for Pigtail, even though it is in fact a different game. It could be argued that despite their unusual shapes, in essence many of these games are ultimately variants derived from the popular two-deck game Forty Thieves.
Overview: Casket is an interesting two-deck game where a pile of 13 face-down represents "Jewels". A tableau of eight face-up cards around them represents a "Casket" where building happens downwards, on top of which is a "Lid" of five face-up cards where no building happens. The goal is to build up onto the eight foundations, with the stock turning up cards one at a time into three waste piles but with no redeals.
Thoughts: To succeed you have to prioritize opening the Lid so that you can begin accessing the Jewels, as well as using the waste piles cleverly. With good play you have decent chances of successfully completing the game, making it a fun and rewarding two-deck game to play. This game is implemented in quite a number of digital versions of solitaire, which is an essential way to learn the game given its nuances. It certainly meets the criteria of being thematic, unique, and satisfying.
Overview: Crazy Quilt offers a truly unique spin on solitaire. Four foundations start with the Aces and build up, while another four start with the Kings and build down. 64 cards are placed in a 8x8 patchwork quilt layout, with cards alternately placed horizontally and vertically like woven threads in a rug. This checkerboard style `quilt' is the tableau, and only cards with an exposed short edge are considered available for play. The stock is dealt one at a time, and cards from the quilt and the stock are used to build onto the foundations. Available cards may also be moved from the quilt to a waste pile, but only if they match the suit of the top cards and are one higher or lower in value.
Thoughts: The unusual arrangement of the cards means that cards in the middle of the quilt-like tableau are blocked, and you have to find ways to free them. It's more important to open up cards in the tableau than to use cards from the stock. There are three waste piles, and managing them well is important to success. Some variants (e.g. Japanese Rug, Indian Carpet, Parquet) increase the amount of redeals to make the game easier, which really helps your chances of success. Crazy Quilt is a game that is achievable, and its unique setup makes it interesting, fun, and rewarding to play. While unrelated, the single deck game Labyrinth also uses a spatial puzzle to determine availability of cards that can be played; while chances of success in Labyrinth are low, it can be a rewarding challenge to get a win.
Pigtail (Plait, Braid)
Overview: The two-deck game of Pigtail takes its name from a "pigtail" of twenty overlapping cards dealt down the middle, the top card being the only one available. The tableau consists of 12 cards, where no building is allowed, and only four of these can have cards played to it from the pigtail. The stock is dealt one card at a time, with up to three re-deals allowed, and the goal is to build up eight foundations from Ace through King.
Thoughts: Pigtail is often found under the name Braid or Plait, but was renamed by David Parlett to avoid confusion with a related but different game called Plait. The variation Fort plays exactly the same way, but starts with a central "garrison" of 21 cards down the middle, and the four of the foundations are built upwards from Ace to King and the other four are built downwards from King through Ace, which greatly increases your chances of winning. A version of Pigtail with 24 instead of 21 cards in the middle and more flexible rules about playing from the center column is called "Long Braid". In the unrelated game called Plait there is a "plait" of only 13 cards down the middle, and the tableau has eight rather twelve cards, and building is allowed (each is dealt four cards to begin with); in that game there are no redeals.
Sultan (Emperor of Germany)
Overview: Sultan (also called Sultan of Turkey) is less commonly known as Emperor of Germany. The Middle East theme suits best given than the reserve used in this game is described as a "divan" (couch), and the goal is to have the Sultan (King of Hearts) surrounded by his harem of eight Queens. This two deck game begins with the Sultan surrounded by the other seven Kings and an Ace. These eight surrounding cards are the foundations you'll build up on (turning the corner from Ace) to the Queens. The divan consists of two reserve columns of cards on each side, and the rest of the deck is dealt one card at a time, with two redeals allowed.
Thoughts: This game is quite easy and very fun to play, making it a good choice for beginners. Careful management of the divan is critical to success. Ideally you want spaces in the divan filled with lower cards. This becomes extra tricky in variants of the game where the divan is automatically filled from the top card of the waste pile, so you shouldn't always play a card to the foundations immediately if it means the divan gets filled with a card that won't be played until much later. Careful play will nearly always lead to a win, without it being anything brain-burning.
Overview: As the name suggests, Windmill (also called Propeller) is a two-deck game with a distinctive layout in the windmill shape of a large cross, around which you build down on four foundations from King through Ace. It bears an obvious relationship with the simpler single deck game Four Seasons, as is clearly evident from the name of the Four Seasons' variant Little Windmill, but the two deck game is more challenging and interesting. The center card starts with an Ace, which is effectively a fifth foundation that you build up to King, turning the corner and repeating this another three times, aiming to collect 52 cards here. The remaining eight cards of the windmill or propeller effectively function like a reserve, to help you get best results from a single deal of the stock.
Thoughts: This game has been around since the late 1800s, and continues to be enjoyable today. The fact that you're building 52 cards in the center foundation means you have to focus especially on getting cards there, using the occasional card already on the other foundations to assist where necessary. The use of the reserve is critical, but it is still difficult to complete the game successfully; to make the game easier, allowing a single redeal should enable you to win many games. Some variants also remove restrictions on moving cards from the four foundations to the central one, also increasing chances of success. One variant I recommend trying Dutch Windmill.
Overview: If you want to try something truly different, you must take a look at Zodiac. A row of eight face-up cards forms the "Equator", around which 24 cards are dealt face-up to form the "Zodiac" (two for each astrological sign). Game-play has two distinct phases, the first of which involves dealing the stock one at a time (with as many redeals as desired), and playing these cards to the Equator or Zodiac. The Equator is effectively a reserve that contains eight cells that can hold single cards. Building on the Zodiac happens by suit and cards can be built up or down as you go, but only using cards from the stock/waste or from the Equator. If you can eventually manage to play all the cards from the deck, the second phase begins, where you build up four foundations from Ace to King and four from King to Ace.
Thoughts: Zodiac is a unique game that already appeared in books containing patience games in the 19th century. Numerous rule variations developed until it was standardized about a century ago. The real skill lies in how you play cards to the Zodiac, planning ahead so that you don't block cards during the second phase where you're playing to foundations. The unusual theme and separate phases of the game-play help make it stand out from most ordinary solitaire card games.
These are by no means the only solitaire games with interesting layouts. If you enjoy experimenting with unusual layouts, another fun and easy game to try is simply called S (for obvious reasons once you see how the cards are laid out). You'll find others if you browse through the many games implemented by BVS Solitaire.
Many people identify solitaire with the classic Klondike, not realizing that there are plenty of unique and creative solitaire games that have arisen over time, which are fine games that are well worth the effort to learn and play. You can certainly play these with an actual deck of playing cards, which is particularly satisfying with an attractive custom deck. But when it comes to learning the rules of a new solitaire game, the best way to learn is to use a reliable software program, like the ones offered by BVS Solitaire. Their Windows program is one of the best of the many I've tried (see my comparative reviews), and so is their iPad app (see my comparative reviews). They also have an equivalent version for Mac OS. All of these offer a few hundred different solitaire games, and the ability to customize your experience with attractive sets of different custom decks and more.
So what are you waiting for? Get yourself a good program for playing solitaire digitally, and try some of these terrific and unique solitaire games. And then you'll be all set to pull out your favourite deck of playing cards, and can introduce some of these gems to your family and friends!
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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10 More Types of Playing Cards You Should Know About
In my previous article I introduced you to ten different types of decks of playing cards. That doesn't exhaust the types of decks, and so to follow up, here are another ten different types of decks you should know about!
A souvenir deck is a deck of playing cards created in order to serve as a souvenir for tourists or visitors. Typically such playing cards have scenes from different locations, and depict things like notable landmarks, buildings, wildlife, flora, or other unique elements about the place in question. In many cases the card backs will have an image or text that captures something of the overall locale. Each card will then have a different photo or image that occupies most of the space on the card in the area where you would normally find the main images for the court cards and pips. Indices on opposite corners that indicate the suit and value of each card ensure that it can still serve as a playable deck of cards. Effectively such a deck of playing cards serves as a miniature photo album, capturing key images of a place, so it's an ideal product for tourists to purchase in a souvenir shop.
Souvenir decks need not necessarily be about a particular country or city, but could even be created for an attraction like a Zoo or theme park, and even for a notable event. They are primarily created for the visual images on the cards, rather than for intensive use in playing card games. As a result, they tend to be made very cheaply, with thin card-stock that performs poorly for handling and shuffling. But they do make great novelty items, and achieve the purpose for which they were created, which is as an item of memorabilia. At the same time they have some practical function, and enable you to play card games while you're on vacation if you really want to.
While not strictly souvenir decks, many of the decks produced by US Game Systems Inc and Piatnik almost qualify for this category. Their novelty decks don't come close to matching the quality of a Bicycle deck, but they are quite inexpensive, and contain many delightful images and pictures that are the center-piece of the individual cards, which are the real attraction and reason for buying these decks.
It didn't take playing card manufacturers long to realize the potential to use playing cards as a means of advertising. In a way much like souvenir cards, playing cards are ideal for companies to use to market their business or products. Advertising decks have been around for a long time, and there are some wonderful examples of 19th century decks. My favourite one is the Murphy Varnish deck, which features transformation cards, and wonderful court cards that depict and promote Murphy's Vanish.
Many advertising decks are created on a budget, since the goal is about marketing a product or a brand, rather than producing a quality deck of playing cards that will be durable or visually exceptional. But there are many famous brands that have devoted fans, that makes advertising decks featuring these companies or products immediately attractive to collectors who collect memorabilia associated with that company or product. For example, a deck of playing cards that pays homage to Coca Cola won't only appeal to playing card enthusiasts, but will have a crossover appeal to anyone who collects Coca Cola paraphernalia. Decks that feature brands of beer and whisky are popular for similar reasons. As a result you'll find playing cards that advertise popular alcoholic drinks like Jack Daniels, as well as famous makes of motorbikes and motor-vehicles, like Harley Davidson and Ford.
Closely related to the category of advertising decks are playing cards that pay tribute to popular movies, TV shows, books, music, or other icons in popular culture. These are extremely collectible, due to their immediate appeal for anyone who is a fan of the cultural icon in question. But to make them, creators of playing cards often need to pay a licensing fee to the owner of the "brand" or intellectual property that appears on the cards, and hence the unofficial designation "licenced decks". They could equally be considered "fan decks".
Examples of these include playing cards that pay tribute to films like Jaws, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings; TV shows like Saturday Night Live; comic strips like Peanuts, Spider Man, and Marvel's Avengers; and characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck from Disney. Some of these are created as pure novelty decks, and the artwork is such that they could never even be used for card games.
Card flourishing is not something new, and magicians have long incorporated flourishes within their acts. However in the last decade cardistry has really developed an independent existence alongside and separate from card magic, and is rapidly cementing its legitimacy as an art-form in its own right. Cardistry can loosely be described as the performance art of card juggling, and typically involves someone doing visually impressive cuts, twirls, spins, and more with a deck of cards. Social media and the ability to share videos online have really helped cardistry grow rapidly, and it's especially being embraced by a younger generation.
But cardistry has also spawned a new type of deck, created especially for cardistry. Given that it is all about visuals, card flourishing will benefit the most when the deck used is colourful and has striking patterns that enhance the visual aesthetics of the flourishes themselves. This led to the creation of decks that were optimized and designed specifically for the purposes cardistry. Singapore-based cardistry group The Virts was at the forefront of this development, with the creation of their Virtuoso deck, which became a popular and highly sought after series.
The success of the cardistry movement meant that playing cards did not have to be functional for playing games or card magic, and that there was a ready market prepared to drop money to buy decks that were simply about visual aesthetics. Some cardistry decks can serve a dual purpose of being used for games or magic, but the primary goal of a cardistry deck is the visual appeal. Typically a cardistry deck demands the very highest standard in terms of quality and performance, and features a design and pattern that looks great when the cards are being handled. Some cardistry decks abandon pips and indices altogether, and there are even cardistry decks where every card is identical on both the front and back.
Also deserving separate mention are decks intended specifically for card throwing. Card throwing has received significant media attention as a result of the impressive feats of Rick Smith Jr, who has been featured in some remarkable viral videos from Dude Perfect, and who holds several world records for throwing playing cards the fastest and furthest. While any deck can be used for card throwing, there are custom decks that have been created specifically with the idea of enhancing this unique use of playing cards.
In some cases, the intended goal of a dedicated throwing deck is all about creating a visual effect when the cards are rotating and in motion. Rick Smith Jr's Falcon Throwing Cards have been designed with exactly this kind of aesthetic in mind, and even incorporate a special marking system in the artwork to help measure how deep the cards go when thrown into objects like foam or fruit. Besides this, they are a relatively standard deck of playing cards in terms of the quality and feel, although a thicker than normal card-stock has been adopted in view of their intended use.
Some of the Banshee decks also include a measuring system on the card faces, but also have bevelled edges geared to maximize their ability to penetrate objects. Perhaps best of all, they incorporate custom holes uniquely designed to produce a sonic scream when the cards whiz through the air.
In a unique category of their own are decks designed specifically to be animated. Typically this involves using a flip-book animation technique. The method used to do this is sometimes described as "taking a deck to the movies". The idea is that you use your thumb to flip through all the cards rapidly, thereby creating the illusion of a moving image.
The Bicycle Cinema Playing Cards are one example of such an animation deck. It has cards that look like a film strip, with a classic yellowed finish for a nostalgic and old time look. When flipping through the cards, an animation feature creates the 3-2-1 count-down that old movies would have, while the film strip sides also appear to move vertically. The Mechanic deck uses a similar technique to create the impression of moving cogs, while the Optricks deck is designed to create a mesmerizing hypnotic effect with moving lines. Also belonging in this category are the Clockwork decks.
Those interested in card magic will also love Dan Harlan's Card Toon deck, which is a gaff deck featuring an animated stick man, and which uses this principle to reveal a selected card in an amusing manner.
Limited edition decks
Not every deck of playing cards is intended to be used for playing card games, or for card magic or cardistry. There many collectors who enjoy the hobby of collecting out of sheer love for the variety and novelty of the playing cards themselves. Particularly in the crowdfunding era, many creators have emerged and cemented themselves with a solid reputation as designers whose goal is to create highly collectible playing cards, some of which are produced in limited editions to make them even more exclusive. In some cases, these can be in high demand in the secondary market, and over time can be highly sought after by collectors.
These limited edition decks often have extra touches that make them appealing to the card collector, with an individually numbered tuck seal being a key element of this. Such tuck seals will often indicate the size of the print run, and give each deck an individual number, e.g. 578/1000. Limited edition decks often have lavish tuck boxes, or have other intriguing features about them to help make them unique and interesting. They tend to be produced by well-known designers with an existing reputation of creativity and success, but even new creators will sometimes produce a limited edition version of a project, in order to appeal to the collector looking for something especially classy or unique.
Once in a while what you're looking for is something absurdly expensive and over-the-top. There are lots of ways to add bling to a deck of playing cards, including gold foil and embossing on the tuck box, or else flashes of iridescence or UV spot printing on the cards, all delivered in an exotic looking tuck case. But perhaps there is no other feature in a deck of playing cards that screams "luxury" as much as gilded edges.
Traditionally, gilding was accomplished by hand, with master craftsman literally painting the edges of the cards with gold or silver paint. Sometimes this manual process is still used to create a gilded deck, although technology has opened up other ways of accomplishing this. But there's no doubt that the end result looks absolutely fantastic! Gold and silver are the two most popular colours of choice for gilding, but modern gilding methods allow for a range of different colours to be used, so you'll find gilded decks of all styles and colours.
Often a gilded deck will arrive with the cards still stuck together, because the gilding is still intact. That's perfectly normal, and you need to carefully separate the cards individually before using them. Regular use will cause gilding to wear, so you can't expect a gilded deck to retain its shiny look forever. However, even after lots of shuffling and handling, you will still be able to recognize that a deck was gilded, and distinguish it from a non-gilded deck. Primarily intended for collectors, a gilded deck certainly adds an impressive amount of bling to your deck, but naturally this also means that it comes at a much higher cost.
Tarot decks deserve a separate category, and are often misunderstood. To begin with, the key difference that distinguishes a Tarot deck from a standard deck of playing cards is that it has 26 extra cards. Each suit has four court cards instead of three, and there are also 22 additional cards, usually described as Major Arcana. These extra cards are the simple explanation that lies behind the emergence of the Tarot deck, since it simply came about as a way of increasing the complexity of card games by including extra trump cards.
The origin of the Tarot deck is often the subject of controversy, with some people believing that Tarot cards had roots in the occult and that they were linked to ancient secret societies that disseminated esoteric knowledge. According to this view, Tarot decks were the original form of playing cards, from which the standard deck developed. But after the publication of The Game of Tarot: From Ferrara to Salt Lake City (1980) by respected academic Michael Dummett, there is a growing consensus that there is no evidence of Tarot decks being used for fortune-telling and the occult until the 18th century, while standard playing cards already appeared in Europe in the 14th century. The "Major Arcana" was first added to the traditional deck already in the 15th century, long before any occultic use, and it served as a fixed trump suit in trick taking games. That's how Tarot decks were used for several centuries, until they cartomancers became infatuated with them around the 18th century, causing them to develop a life of their own for fortune telling, and taking their artwork in a new direction.
Regardless of the history, the number of cards in a Tarot deck is quite firmly established, and today it is clearly distinguished from a regular deck. It typically comes with highly attractive and visual artwork, often reflecting occultic themes linked to fortune-telling. Regardless of your position about their history, development, and function, it's not hard to see how Tarot cards are very collectible, in view of their distinct characteristics and visual appeal.
Unlike traditional decks, and Tarot decks, Oracle cards don't have a set number of cards or fixed structure. A deck of Oracle cards could consist of anything from 12 to 100 cards, for example. There are no real rules about what cards a deck might contain, other than that the cards are spiritual in nature. Besides that, an oracle deck can be anything that its creator wants to make it consist of, both in terms of the number of cards, and which ones. The Lenormand decks are good example of this kind of fortune-telling deck.
While the Tarot deck can be used for card games, Oracle cards are strictly used for fortune-telling. The expression "fortune-telling cards" need not refer exclusively to Oracle decks, however. The practice of fortune telling using a deck of cards is referred to as cartomancy, and the most popular deck used by cartomancers today is the Tarot deck. Sometimes even a traditional deck of 52 playing cards can be used for fortune telling and divination. There are also decks of standard cards that are particularly created with a view to cartomancy, such as the Ye Witches Fortune Cards (1896), Kadar Fortune Playing Cards, and Cartomancer Fortune deck.
Well, there you have it, an introduction to some of the diverse types of decks that you'll find on the market today. There is indeed a tremendous amount of diversity, so the modern playing card collector has plenty of choice for different types of decks to enjoy.
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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10 Types of Playing Cards You Should Know About
People new to playing cards are typically familiar only with what they've seen and experienced firsthand, namely the classic Bicycle deck with standard court cards. The average person simply isn't aware of the many beautiful custom decks of playing cards that are on the market today, and how popular these are.
But as any collector will know, there is a wide range of fantastic and creative playing cards available today, and a vast array of different types of decks is being produced on a regular basis. Many of these display wonderful creativity in terms of their graphic design, with heavily customized faces and pips, card backs, and stylish tuck boxes. This variety is not a new phenomenon by any means. Already in the 15th and 16th centuries, when playing cards were first spreading rapidly throughout Europe, they were anything but "standard". The history of playing cards is a rich tapestry that includes a wide range of different styles of playing cards.
So what are some of the different types of decks that are available? In this article, we'll introduce you to some of the more common types that have been produced. It's not an exhaustive list, but is intended to serve as an introduction to some of the different types of decks that are available. The aim is to arouse your curiosity about these types, and perhaps whet your appetite to learn more about them, and explore some of the other kinds of non-standard or unique decks that you'll find in the wonderful world of playing cards.
When collectors refer to a "standard deck", what they typically have in mind is a deck that has a very traditional look. Over the years the court cards have become more or less standardized, and so has the shape and style of the pips and indices. While card backs vary, and the Ace of Spades and Jokers can also be customized, the rest of a standard deck typically looks the same. Typically the faces of the cards are exactly as you'd expect to see them in a normal Bicycle style deck, aside perhaps from minor variations, such as in the colours used for the court cards.
Card gamers tend to prefer relatively standard decks like this, primarily for practical reasons. While it's fine for a deck of standard playing cards to have a classy looking tuck box that exudes sophistication and style courtesy of embossing and foil accents, the cards themselves need to be functional and immediately recognizable, in order to play games with them. A standard deck of playing cards, with clearly recognizable indices and suits, will usually serve that purpose best.
Most magicians also prefer to work with a standard deck, because they don't want their spectators being distracted by fancy artwork or hard-to-read pips and indices. Furthermore, the sleight of hand skills they have developed will often make tricks seem more impossible and miraculous if the deck of playing cards they are using looks ordinary in every respect. So despite the success of custom playing cards, we can expect standard decks to continue to be popular for card games and card magic.
A "novelty deck" is simply a different way of referring to a "custom deck". The definition of the word novelty is something new, original, or unusual. As a result, any deck that has been heavily "customized" with original or unusual elements will sometimes be described as a novelty deck.
In contrast to a standard deck, a novelty deck or custom deck will at a bare minimum have completely customized artwork for the court cards. Often the pips and indices will be stylized and customized as well. A fully custom deck is usually preferred by collectors since each and every card in the deck has a unique look that sets it apart from a standard deck.
Some standard decks have been slightly altered to optimize them for use in playing popular card games, even though many of these card games could be played just as easily with a traditional deck of playing cards. Often this simply involves adding point values to specific cards. A classic example is Canasta, which was especially popularized in the 1950s. Canasta sets usually consist of two decks, and point-scoring cards have their values printed on them to make it easier to play the game.
The popular trick-taking game Euchre, on the other hand, doesn't employ anywhere near a complete deck. Decks of Euchre cards typically include enough cards for two games of Euchre, along with special cards that can be used for scoring during the game. Wizard is another very successful trick-taking game, and is effectively just a standard deck with slight adjustments to incorporate custom Wizard and Jester cards. The classic card game Pinochle, on the other hand, requires a custom deck because it consists of two copies of the 9s through Aces in each suit, thus creating a 48 card deck. These are also sold separately, but strictly speaking it is no longer a traditional deck given the unusual composition of cards.
Just like there are decks for gamers, so too there are decks for magicians. Most custom decks nowadays will come with some "gaff cards", so collectors will usually be accustomed to getting a modern deck of playing cards that comes with a double backer or blank card. These cards are used by magicians for card magic, and are typically included because USPCC offers a 56 card deck as a standard when printing, meaning that there's two additional cards besides the Jokers and the deck itself. While these can be used as ad cards, using these extra cards to include gaff cards increases the likelihood of a particular deck having appeal to magicians, and so creators will often choose that option.
A gaff deck, however, is when an entire deck consists of gaffed cards, also sometimes referred to as gimmicked cards. Sometimes these will just consist of a deck with individual gaff cards that are intended to be used separately, like a double backer or blank card. But there are also some special decks created purely as "trick decks", and these enable you to accomplish things that you couldn't achieve with a regular deck. Highly specialized gaff decks are occasionally created for a single magic routine, but there are also some very common gaff decks that are widely known and readily available. These are often sold to the general public by pitchmen at fairs and markets, such as the Svengali deck and Stripper deck.
Another handy tool for the magician is the marked deck. Don't expect me to reveal everything here, because some performers use these as part of their livelihood! Let me first say, however, that while it is true that magicians and mentalists will occasionally use marked decks, the bulk of card tricks you'll see performed are accomplished with a completely regular deck, by sheer skill and sleight of hand.
But occasionally a magician will rely on a marked deck, which is where the playing cards have secret marks on the back of each card, enabling them to identify the value and suit of the card in question. There are two main systems used by marked decks. Marked decks with reader systems actually have the name of the card written somewhere on the back - usually just with a number and letter that indicates its value and suit - carefully camouflaged into the artwork. Marked decks with coded systems indicate the value and suit of the cards using shapes or some other visual clue that needs to be decoded from the card back.
Marked decks do have an Achilles heel, because they can usually be identified by "taking the deck to the movies", or giving it a "riffle test", which involves using your thumb to quickly flip through the entire deck, in the process watching the backs closely to see if there is any movement or change in the back design. Marked decks certainly shouldn't be used for cheating in a card games or gambling, and are strictly to be used for performing magic type routines.
Serious collectors will usually be careful to distinguish the term "vintage" from "antique". While "antique" technically refers to something that is more than a hundred years old, the word "vintage" is more flexible, and can refer to anything from an earlier generation or time.
A vintage deck, then, is a deck that hails from a previous era. Vintage decks from before World War II that are in good condition are often quite rare, because playing cards are a commodity that was created to be used rather than preserved, and most playing cards from that era have long since been thrown away, or if they do surface, are very well used. As a result, the market for vintage and antique decks typically brings prices into a much higher bracket, considerably more than what the average playing card enthusiast is prepared to pay.
However just because a deck has vintage look doesn't necessarily mean it has to be old. There are some delightful and eye-catching decks that look very tired and old, even though they are in fact made of high quality playing cards that are brand new. This can be achieved by using a graphic design which gives the cards a vintage or a deliberately distressed look. Sometimes these are actual replicas of a classic deck from the past, while other times they have artificially been given a vintage look using artistic license to create something that merely has the appearance of age. Either way, many of these modern decks can be described as "vintage decks", and look like they have arrived into the present straight from the distant past, while still being quality products that feel great and perform well.
With the availability of technology that enables us to quite readily reproduce decks from yesteryear, a whole category of playing cards has sprung up that is devoted to producing reproductions of historically significant or rare decks from the past. This is not a new development, since historically important and attractive decks like the J.G. Cotta transformation decks have seen several reproductions of the original since it first appeared more than two centuries ago. But today's technology certainly makes it easier to accomplish this, with the help of digital scans and digital art. And with the advent of crowdfunding and the internet, there are now more ways than ever before for collectors to find out about these projects and to support them.
One of the publishers leading the way here is Home Run Games, who have produced some delightful and authentic reproductions of some of the very first playing cards produced in America. These include iconic and notable decks like Hart's Saladee's Patent (1864), Triplicate No. 18 (1876), Mauger Centennial (1876), Murphy Varnish (1883), and Tally-Ho No. 9 (1885). All of these reproduction decks were produced by USPCC in high quality editions with a modern air cushion finish, so they handle beautifully and look great.
PlayingCardDecks has also been at the forefront of this development, and has brought some wonderful reproduction decks to the market in recent years. These include Eclipse Comic (1876), Faro Vintage (1887), Vanity Fair (1895), Hustling Joe (1895), Ye Witches Fortune Telling (1896), Circus Reproduction (1896), and most recently the J.G. Cotta decks (1805).
Another contributor in this area is publisher US Games Systems Inc, and they have produced some lovely reproduction decks, although not with the same quality. I particularly like their Airline Spotter and Naval Spotter decks, and some of their other reproduction decks are well worth looking at as well, e.g. Samuel Hart's 1858 deck, Cohen's 1863 Patent National deck, and Cohen's 1864 Highlanders deck.
Faro decks are a particular kind of Vintage deck, and have come to refer a particular style of deck, namely one with no indices. The name may be familiar from the Faro Shuffle, which is quite well known among playing card enthusiasts and cardists. That is a technically difficult move where you place the two halves of a deck into each other, card by card, and weave them together like a zipper. The name however, has its origin in a 19th century gambling game, which first appeared in France, and became extremely popular throughout Europe. From there it migrated to the United States, and quickly became the gambling game of choice in American casinos until it was eclipsed by Poker in the 1950s.
Gambling decks from this era typically had one-way court cards that occupied the full face of the card, and had no indices. Indices only became standard on playing cards as a result of American innovation in the mid 19th century, and prior to this point, playing cards simply consisted of the pips and courts. Given the popularity of the game of Faro in the pre-index era, playing cards without indices have come to be described as a Faro deck, because they epitomize the look of the gambling decks from the Wild West when Faro was the game of choice. Today, the term "Faro deck" is an indication of the style of playing cards from this period, and can be used to describe any deck that has playing cards without indices.
Now we come to one of my all-time favourite types of playing cards: transformation decks. These are playing cards where the pips have been incorporated creatively and artistically into a larger image. So for example, the pips on a Six of Clubs might be transformed into the leaves of a tree, and the pips on a Two of Hearts might be transformed into two swans, with the tree and swans perhaps being part of larger pictures that occupy most of the space on the card faces.
A conventional transformation playing card retains the original location and shape of the pips, while a semi-transformation deck gives the artist more freedom to work with, because the pips can be altered and moved however the artist wants. A fine modern example of a semi-transformation deck is the Ultimate deck produced by Art of Play. It's not hard to see that this type of artwork brings with it a real limitation on the part of the artist. At the same time it gives scope for tremendous creativity, since there is the challenge of producing something that is innovative and attractive, while operating within the constraints of the genre, and it is this creativity that makes them so attractive and popular.
Transformation playing cards first started appearing at the turn of the 19th century, with the famous J.G. Cotta transformation decks being the very first complete decks of transformation playing cards that were published. This led to a period of real fascination with transformation decks, and some delightful decks were produced in this style towards the end of the 19th century, and again towards the end of the 20th century. In our modern crowd-funding era there has been a renewed appreciation for this type of playing cards. Some classic transformation decks have been reprinted in fine reproduction editions, while new transformation decks created by original designers have also hit the market and been well received.
Playing cards aren't the same the world over, not just in terms of the designs, but also in terms of the composition of the deck. Most of us are used to a standard Bicycle deck of playing cards which consists of 52 cards, plus two Jokers. But this is the result of centuries of development, and even the "traditional" artwork as we know is the result of a long period of evolution. Even the Joker is only a very late American addition. When playing cards first arrived in Western Europe in the late 14th century, and first spread throughout Europe, there was considerable diversity in the names and styles of the suits, and even the number of cards in a deck.
The suits used in Italian and Spanish cards were cups, coins, swords, and clubs, and Spanish court cards consisted of a king, knight, and knave, with no queens. German decks adopted more rural flavour, with acorns, leaves, hearts, and bells used as the suits, while in Switzerland the leaves were replaced with flowers and the hearts with shields. A 52 card deck with the four suits of hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs only became dominant after the French developed techniques to produce playing cards more rapidly and cheaply than other parts of Europe, and it was their success in production that saw their form of the deck monopolize Europe.
But regional decks still persist in parts of Europe, and many of them trace their roots back to earlier centuries. Such decks aren't likely to disappear quickly, because they are closely linked to a particular cultural heritage, and also to regional card games that remain incredibly popular in these parts of the world. Many of these decks also consist of smaller numbers of cards, such as a 40 card deck or a 32 card deck. European publisher Piatnik still publishes many of these regional decks in large numbers for the European market, and they often have incredibly vibrant and beautiful artwork. One of my favourites is the Tell deck, which depicts characters from the story of William Tell.
These ten types of decks of playing cards don't exhaust all that there is just yet. In a follow-up article I'll cover ten more different types of decks, including several types of novelty decks. You'll find that next article here:
10 More Types of Playing Cards You Should Know About
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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02 Apr 2021
Award-winning Decks of the Year: A Collection of Greatest Hits
Awards are always controversial. Whenever they are handed out, they generate public debate about whether the right decision was made, and whether the winners really were the best.
But if you want to get a snapshot view of some of the best output, looking at a list of award winners is an excellent way to get an overview of the cream of the crop. One of my other hobbies is board games, and annual awards like the Spiel des Jahres award and the Golden Geek award are genuinely helpful tools that point out some of the very best games in the business.
The same is true of playing cards. Fortunately for us, there are several annual "Deck of the Year" awards that have been running for some time. By taking a look at the award winners, we get a good overview of some of the cream of the crop that has been produced in recent years. So let's take a look at some of the best of the best!
Diamond Award winners (52 Plus Joker)
52 Plus Joker is the official name of the American Playing Card Collectors Club, one of the biggest and best organizations in the world for playing card collectors. Each year they have an annual convention, at which they unveil the winners of their Diamonds Awards. One one of the most prestigious awards that is announced each year goes to "Deck of the Year". The folks at 52 Plus Joker These are very well-informed, well-rounded, and passionate collectors, so their awards have a lot of credibility. Here are their Diamond Award winners for Deck of the Year, which has been run since 2017.
2017: Golden Oath (by Lotrek)
Lotrek was the winner of the inaugural Diamond Award for "Deck of the Year" with his stunning Golden Oath deck. This is a true collector's item and a dream come true for playing card enthusiasts. It continues to be highly regarded and valued due to its amazing all-foil artwork on the cards. Lotrek is considered to be one of the most sought-after and highly regarded designers in the world of custom playing cards, and collectors are typically prepared to pay top dollar for his extravagantly luxurious creations, so it is fitting that a Lotrek deck took out the very first ever Diamond Award for Deck of the Year.
The other decks nominated for this category in the inaugural edition of the Diamond Awards were Apothecary (Alexander Chin), Pagan Blue Edition (Uusi), Silver Arrows (Jackson Robinson), and Vitreous (Adrian Valenzuela).
2018: Cartomancer Poker Deck (by Alain Benoit)
Alan Benoit's Cartomancer Poker Deck was actually his first contribution to the world of playing cards. In this creative deck he cleverly incorporated all kinds of fortune-telling elements into the design. It was inspired by old French cartomancy, and also cleverly utilized archetypes from famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. The result was truly creative, which is why it was applauded and embraced by collectors.
The other decks nominated for the award this year were Masquerade (Denyse Klette), and Luna Moon (Kevin Yu).
2019: House of the Rising Spade (by Stockholm17)
Popular designer Lorenzo Gaggiotti, who runs the brand Stockholm17, has a signature style that is in high demand, so it isn't surprising to see one of his decks on this list of the elite. This particular deck is easily one of his best, and one of my personal favourites from his many terrific decks. This deck is also influenced by cartomancy, and has been given a deliberate feel borrowed from the world of Tarot.
The other decks nominated in 2019 were De Novo (Rick Davidson), Monolith (Thirdway Industries), Six Strings (Kardify), and Top Aces of World War II (Black Ink Playing Cards).
2020: National Playing Card Collection Day 2019 (by Alexander Chin)
The winner of many awards for his creative and stylish tuck boxes and designs, it's no surprise to see an Alexander Chin deck on this list. He always stretches the boundaries of what is possible with his annual National Playing Card Collection Day decks, and his amazing 2019 deck was a worthy winner of the 2020 award, despite some tough competition.
The other decks nominated for 2020 were Ascension (Steve Minty), Iron Spades (Roxley Games), Luminosity (Black Ink Playing Cards), UC2019 No 7 (Montenzi), and Vivaldi (Passione Playing Cards).
United Cardists winners
United Cardists is one of the most popular forums for card collectors to hang out and to discuss the latest projects for crowd-funded playing cards. Despite the name, they aren't focused on cardistry first and foremost, but this forum is primarily a vibrant and active community of enthusiastic collectors. Their annual awards include individual categories for the best back design, the best court cards, the best Jokers, and more. But the crowning honour of course goes to whichever deck is announced as the overall best deck, or Deck of the Year.
2013: Federal 52 (by Jackson Robinson)
The Federal 52 deck by Jackson Robinson and Kings Wild Project is cleverly inspired by bank notes, and is one of his most sought after decks by collectors. He produced several different versions of it, and the idea to use a graphic design that mimics currency turned out to be a brilliant move.
This deck proved so popular that not only did the main deck take out the Deck of the Year Award, but his Federal 52 Black Reserve Note Limited Edition and his Federal 52 Silver Certificate decks took out the two runners-up places in the Deck of the Year category for this year.
2014: Origins (by Rick Davidson)
New Zealand designer Rick Davidson might be familiar to some readers from his recent De Novo deck, and his older LUXX Palme and LUXX Greille decks. His Origins deck was inspired by 16th century designs, drawing on the important history and tradition of playing cards that goes back to the French region of Rouen.
Second and third place for the 2014 Deck of the Year went to Lotrek's Venexiana Gold and Stockholm17's Requiem.
2015: Heretic (by Stockholm17)
One of Stockholm17's early projects, Heretic was based on alchemy and the hermetic world, with many alchemist symbols recurring throughout the playing cards. Two decks were produced, a Lux deck (light) and a Noctis deck (dark).
Giovanni Meroni's Omnia, Jackson Robinson's Scarlett Tally Ho, and Chris Ovdiyenkos' Arcana were the other nominees for the award in 2015.
2016: Icons Imperial (by Lotrek) and Wicked Kingdom (by Wylie Beckert)
The competition was tough in 2016, with unsuccessful nominees including Giovanni Meroni's Omnia: The Golden Age, Stockholm17's Le Chat Rogue, Alex Chin's Magna Carta, and Steve Minty's Anubis and Osiris. All of these would be good enough to pull out a win when stacked against the winners of some other years.
This year's contest featured a shared award, with a tie for the first place. The first of these two winners was Wicked Kingdom, a hand-painted deck by fantasy artist Wylie Beckert. It features a range of unique characters set in a dark fantasy world, and will best be appreciated by those who enjoy art playing cards.
The other winner for 2016 was Lotrek's Icons Imperial. Inspired by Byzantine art, the style captures something of the pictorial style of religious altar pieces, while the card backs feature foil stamping in gold and silver for the ultimate luxury look.
2017: Golden Oath (by Lotrek)
Lotrek's magnificent Golden Oath deck would see him crowned with a winning deck for the second year in a row. This is the deck that also won 52 Plus Joker's inaugural Diamond Award for Deck of the Year.
Second place in the 2017 awards went to Stockholm17's Gemini, and third place to Alex Chin's pair of Apothecary decks (Ponderings and Insights).
2018: House of the Rising Spade (by Stockholm17)
House of the Rising Spade was Stockholm17's second Deck of the Year win, and was also the deck that took out the Diamond Award. Given the popularity of this deck, a second edition of this deck was later produced to meet the demand from collectors.
The minor placings for the 2018 Deck of the Year went to Lotrek's Arabesque (Collector's Editions), and to Alain Benoit's Cartomancer.
2019: Silk (by Lotrek)
Lotrek is absolutely at the top of the game when it comes to innovative luxury custom playing cards, and he is the first person to have three of his decks crowned as winners of Deck of the Year in the United Cardists awards. As we've come to expect from Lotrek, Silk is a fully custom deck that uses foil on the playing cards. When viewed in the light the 3D effect is reminiscent of the weaving of renaissance silk fabrics, while the court cards are inspired by engravings from this era. The results are spectacular.
Alex Chin's 2019 NPCCD deck took out second place for the 2019 Deck of the Year, while a two-way tie means that third place was shared by Luminosity (Jody Eklund's Black Ink Playing Cards) and Monolith (Giovanni Meroni's Thirdway Industries).
2020: Crypt (by Lotrek)
This United Cardists winner is the fourth for Lotrek, and once again he's found a way to produce something unusual, the likes of which haven't been seen before. It's a remarkable deck in that unless you have the deck yourself, you won't be able to find out much about it. No pictures of this deck were released, and the concept was that it would keep its secrets hidden - like a crypt - from everyone other than owners of the deck. Those who bought this luxury mystery deck on faith alone, universally praised it as a masterful piece of art that is truly next-level.
Second place went to the Devil's in the Details deck from Riffle Shuffle, and third place to the Robin Hood deck from Jackson Robinson's Kings Wild Project. The awards stepped up a notch this year by partnering with Porfolio52, and included a presentation show.
Cardistry Con winners
Cardistry Con is an international convention that is held annually for cardists. One of the biggest ways cardists connect is online, but this meeting is a highlight of the calendar, and includes an award ceremony that crowns Move of the Year, Video of the Year, Breakout Cardist of the Year, Cardistry-Con Champion, and of course Deck of the Year. Cardists have different requirements for their playing cards, because the visual aesthetic of cards in motion is very important. As a result, cardists look for very different things than what collectors do, and that is also reflected in their choices for Deck of the Year.
2016: Virtuoso Spring/Summer 2016 (by The Virts)
In the world of cardistry, The Virts are considered to be one of the most influential cardistry groups, with several of their dazzling cardistry videos going viral. They've been a bit more quiet in recent years, but their contribution to cardistry has been significant, and their series of Virtuoso decks is still highly respected and sought after by cardists and collectors alike.
Their Virtuoso decks were arguably the very first ones to be designed exclusively for cardistry, with an aesthetic designed around an optimal look for flourishing. That makes it fitting that they were the inaugural winner in this category with their 2016 SS deck, which featured strong geometric shapes, and a vibrant yellow colour.
2017: ORIGIN (by Touch Cardistry)
The stylish and creative tuck box of this deck already makes a big first impression, in view of the unusual way it opens. These decks also use Cartamundi's amazing C9 stock, which is expensive to produce, has supreme quality, and was only used for a handful of decks on the market. But the real innovation with this deck is in the cards themselves. First of all they have a unique geometric design, optimized for cardistry.
But perhaps more importantly, the design on each card is identical. I suppose it was inevitable that playing cards would evolve in this direction, given the popularity of cardistry. It means that we now have playing cards that you can't even use for playing card games, because there aren't any suits or values on these cards at all. But they certainly are great for flourishing, making this a worthy winner.
2018: Dots (by Anyone Worldwide)
In recent years Anyone Worldwide has become one of the biggest brands in the world of cardistry. The minimalist design of their Dots deck is sheer genius. The card backs feature a plain grey colour with white borders, and with a single red dot.
But the genius is that the dot is not in the center of the cardback, but three-quarters of the way down. This completely breaks the usual convention of avoiding one-way backs, and opens up completely new options for cardists to create new patterns with the help of this deliberately off-set image.
2019: Echo (by Lotusinhand)
Lotusinhand is an extremely popular cardistry channel and brand, and these guys are also highly respected for their contributions to cardistry. With the Echo deck they came up with a design that has a carbon fiber look on the backs, where the central point of interest is a simple target shaped image in white on black.
The cleverness comes in the fact that the card faces dispense with pips except for the corner indices, and reprise the target shaped design but with an inverse colour scheme of black on white. It's a very effective design that works well for card flourishing, and has unsurprisingly become a big hit.
The 2020 CardistryCon planned for Brussels had to be postponed in view of the coronavirus, so we'll have to wait a little longer to find out which deck will be the next winner.
Kardify is a long-running independent website devoted to news, previews, and reviews of playing cards. It was founded by Ivan Choe, and also features wonderful photography by Anthony Ingrassia. This site has been running an annual Top 12 for some time, but the year 2020 marked their inaugural Deck of the Year award. While this award doesn't carry as much weight as the other ones, since it's effectively just the choice of a single individual, it is still helpful in highlighting one of the best from the past year.
2020: Holographic Legal Tender (by Jackson Robinson)
The original Federal 52 deck from Jackson Robinson and Kings Wild Project took out the inaugural United Cardists Deck of the Year award for 2013. This banknote themed deck has already had several popular reincarnations over the years. But this newest holographic deck really took things to the next level, with a stunning holographic tuck box, and holographic cards, produced with the help of Expert Playing Card Company.
Other decks named in Kardify's top 5 collector decks for 2020 included Cartamundi's United, Lotrek's Crypt, Theory11's Star Wars, and Kevin Yu's Trident.
The above awards are the playing card equivalent of a musical collection of greatest hits, and are a terrific way to get an idea of what the world of collectors truly appreciates, and to identify some of the playing cards that are at the pinnacle of design beauty.
When looking through these awards and the larger list of nominees, it's immediately clear that some designers are dominating the industry, and with good reason. Creators like Lotrek, Alex Chin, and Stockholm17 are rightly regarded as among the very best that there is. Their output is not only prodigious, but also of a consistently high standard. Other names that can be mentioned alongside them include Giovanni Meroni (Thirdway Industries) and Jackson Robinson (Kings Wild Project). Designers like Jody Eklund (Black Ink Playing Cards) and Steve Minty are also worth keeping a close on and following, and have been nominated in previous years already.
If you want to be at the cutting edge of playing card design, check out the work of designers like these and follow their social media to get news about the latest and upcoming releases. Other top designers I can recommend include Lee McKenzie (Kings & Crooks) and Paul Carpenter (Encarded).
Cardists have a very different set of requirements from collectors, so their choices for Deck of the Year are tailored around meeting other criteria. Even so, the Cardistry Con choices for Deck of the Year give us a good sense about what is popular, and what the people in the world of card flourishing appreciate and are looking for.
Not many of these decks are going to be easy to find at a low cost today, due to how popular they are. You'll often have to rely on the secondary market to get your hands on them, and you can often expect to pay a pretty sum in return for adding one of these to your collection. At the same time these decks are likely to hold their value well. And of course, there's a good reason why they are so in demand, and that's because they are beautiful and appealing. I'm already looking forward to seeing what beauty and creativity the winners in years to come will bring us!
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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A New Factory and a New Benchmark from LPCC and EPCC
Times are changing, and that's also true for the playing card industry. The vast majority of custom playing cards in North America are sill produced by USPCC, and they remain the default choice for a lot of creators. But in recent years we've seen a lot of playing card designers switch to other printers like Cartamundi for production of their playing cards. But before Cartamundi arrived on the scene, some smaller players were already using a factory in Taiwan to provide creators with a viable alternative to USPCC. Leading the charge in producing high quality playing cards out of Taiwan were Legends Playing Card Company (LPCC) and its partner Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC).
But the winds of change continue to swirl, and in an exciting new development, LPCC and EPCC have announced that they are now partnering with a new facility based in China (PRC). It's important to realize that this is a different facility where they have previously produced decks with their JN finish, which didn't always receive the most favourable reviews about the longevity of their fanning qualities. Unlike the decks we've seen produced from most other Chinese printers, the decks coming out of this new PRC facility promise a quality that at least matches what LPCC and EPCC were producing in Taiwan. Several are already available, and we'll be seeing many decks produced in this new PRC facility in the future, so this is a good time to share some impressions about what to expect from them. I've test-driven several of these decks already, so I have some first-hand experience with them. But first let's share some more info about LPCC and EPCC as general background to this latest development.
The old: playing cards produced by EPCC and EPCC in Taiwan
LPCC and EPCC often collaborate, as a result of a good working relationship between the two men at the helm of each company: Lawrence Sullivan (LPCC) and Bill Kalush (EPCC). In this article I'll focus especially on LPCC, since the bulk of my own contact over several years has been with has been with its owner Lawence Sullivan. Besides exchanging many emails in my efforts to find out more details about this news, I also had the opportunity to discuss the new Chinese facility with Lawrence in a recent Zoom call.
Lawrence has a background as a professional magician, and spent many of his early years growing up in Asia. So he has a lot of experience in the magic industry, during which he developed a lot of personal contacts throughout Asia, especially in Hong Kong, which would later become his base. His language skills and product knowledge would come in very handy when he established Legends Playing Card Company in 2013. By drawing on his own experience and industry connections, and combining this with his own personal pursuit for perfection, he set himself the noble goal of producing the highest quality playing cards on the market. The first release was the "Legends #852" deck, a very successful collaboration with Bill Kalush from EPCC, and which had an initial print run of 11,000 decks that quickly sold out.
Since their arrival on the scene, LPCC and EPCC have provided creators of custom playing cards with a feasible alternative to USPCC, and many crowdfunded projects have had their playing cards printed at the Taiwan factory that took care of their production. Over the years these Taiwan printed playing cards have gained a solid reputation for quality. Creators and collectors alike began to consider "Made in Taiwan" on their playing cards as a guarantee of quality, especially in comparison to more inferior custom playing cards coming out of China (e.g. those printed by MakePlayingCards).
But eventually the secret would get out, and with the benefit of the knowledge they had developed with the help of LPCC and EPCC, the factory in Taiwan that was producing decks for them began to partner with other publishers who were looking for an alternative to USPCC. That's why in recent years we've seen several other publishers print in Taiwan, such as Hanson Chien Production Company (HCPC) and Taiwan Playing Card Company (TWPCC).
Even some big-name publishers of cardistry decks have jumped on the Taiwan bandwagon. Lotusinhand used the Taiwan factory to print their Echo Playing Cards (published by HCPC), which was named "Deck of the Year" at Cardistry-Con 2019. In 2020, Fontaines printed several of their releases in Taiwan, such as Fontaine Pineapple and Fontaine Aquaberry. They named Dex Playing Card Co as the publisher, but despite the different names, it all seems to be the same factory. The playing cards themselves have basically the same look, feel, and quality as the LPCC and EPCC decks from Taiwan, with only marginal differences.
While LPCC and EPCC have experimented with several different stocks and finishes over the years, the decks coming out of Taiwan fall mostly into one of two types:
● Diamond Finish: Called "Master Finish" by EPCC, the Diamond finish stock is longer lasting than a typical USPCC deck. It also feels more smooth, but is remarkably durable, and has a very stiff and snappy feel.
● Classic Finish - This is the most common stock used, because the embossing pattern comes the closest to a standard deck from USPCC. But it is slightly stiffer, resulting in a handling and feel closer to USPCC's thicker Premium stock (Bee Casino) than USPCC's Retail stock (Bicycle Standard).
One noticeable way these Taiwan-produced decks were consistently better than USPCC decks was their precise registration. Unlike the crooked printing often seen with a custom deck produced by USPCC, LPCC and EPCC decks printed in Taiwan were always spot on, even for decks with narrow borders. They also had a super smooth cut that made faro shuffles a dream. If the Taiwan-produced decks had a weakness, it was that they tended to `clump' more quickly over time. This admittedly made them well suited for packet cuts, but affected fanning and spreading, so not everyone was as enthusiastic about them on account of this. They certainly were very durable overall, however.
Besides the two most common stocks and finishes coming out of Taiwan, LPCC and EPCC used the recent reprinting of the Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards to explore another card stock, which they had printed by a different factory in China. Called their JN Finish, and used for the "Vintage Finish" Jerry's Nugget decks among others, it is much like the Diamond Finish, but the cards are 0.1mm thinner. But the quality of these Chinese-produced decks doesn't match that of the Taiwan-produced decks, with clumping occurring even more quickly. Many consumers began opting to buy only the LPCC and EPCC decks printed in Taiwan, and avoiding the ones produced in China, given their sub-par quality.
The new: playing cards produced by EPCC and EPCC in China
Playing cards produced in China typically haven't been able to come close to the quality of playing cards produced by USPCC, Cartamundi, or those produced in Taiwan by companies like LPCC and EPCC. Even the China-produced "JN Finish decks" and "Vintage finish decks" (e.g. Jerry's Nuggets) haven't lived up to expectations. That is, until now.
1. New facilities
For some time, LPCC's Lawrence Sullivan has been exploring other printing options in China, and looking for a reliable production source other than the factory that was producing the JN Finish decks that met with mediocre reviews. In a recent interview I had with Lawrence over Zoom, I learned that after a lot of investigation, he found a new factory in China that is Hong Kong based. This company had extensive experience in printing, but not with printing playing cards. He began developing a relationship with this factory, sharing what he'd learned in his many years of experience in producing playing cards, and his expertise in areas such as correct pigments, print steps and techniques, coating, cutting, and packaging. Together, they were able to forge a new partnership, which EPCC was also part of.
This was no small undertaking. From the ground up, LPCC built a boutique card manufacturing production line on one floor of this factory. This included purchasing some of the best equipment in the world, installing it in their partner's facility and teaching them the know-how for creating high quality playing cards, using LPCC's proprietary processes. This allows LPCC to have full control over every aspect of the playing card production, so that they can guarantee the quality of what they produce. As a result, the new facility has the ability to do in-house hot foiling, spot UV, packaging, along with many other special features used for playing cards and packaging. Besides lowering the cost by doing everything at the one location, this new arrangement also enables LPCC to ensure an extremely fast print turnaround, at around 28 days.
Lawrence has been very excited about the initial results for some time already. After a lot of fine-tuning, we're now starting to see the very first decks coming out of LPCC and EPCC's new facility in China. Having used some of these playing cards myself first-hand, I can see why Lawrence is excited about the new decks coming out of his new partner factory in PRC.
2. New card stock
To begin with, what we're seeing here are completely new card stocks and finishes than the ones used by the PRC factory that LPCC was previously working with for their JN Finish cards. These are also noticeably different from the card stocks and finishes of the playing cards coming out of Taiwan. There are two main paper stocks used for decks in the new China facility:
● Pre-Crushed Classic Finish
Out of the box, these feel as if they have the same snappiness and stiffness as USPCC's Premium stock (Bee Casino). But in fact, the cards are noticeably softer, which becomes evident once you've worn them in somewhat. In USPCC's range of most common stocks, a deck of their Premium stock is a couple of cards thicker than a deck of their Retail stock (Bicycle Standard), which in turn is a couple of cards thicker than a deck of their crushed stock. In terms of thickness, LPCC's crushed Classic finish stock from their new China facility has a similar thickness to a deck of USPCC's Premium stock (Bee Casino). But after some use, they quickly develop a pleasant softness that comes close to matching the feel a USPCC deck with their Retail stock (Bicycle Standard).
Especially for people who found the Classic stock of a Taiwan-produced deck a little too firm compared to what they were used to with a USPCC deck, this difference will be quite noticeable. Even though these new cards are around the same thickness as the Taiwan Classic stock, they are far more pleasant for shuffles and springs. Due to the softness the cards don't seem to hold their shape as well as the "old" classic finish from Taiwan, but they are silky smooth to shuffle, and handle beautifully.
● Viper Finish
The Viper finish is the result of LPCC and EPCC's ongoing quest to find the very best stock for playing cards, and is the result of more than a year of development. They reached out to several premium paper manufacturers, and came up with what they describe as "an all-new ultra thin playing card stock with a medium flex level."
The embossing pattern especially stands out, because it forms tiny pillows, reminiscent of the snakeskin pattern that has inspired the name. It promises to be a soft, silky, and polished finish like no other. In LPCC's words: "Viper Finish blends the thinness and snap of Master / Diamond Finish, with the soft flex and feel of the popular but rare Stud Finish. All of these advantages without destroying the fibers of the paper by crushing the stock, which can make a deck feel great, but weaken the cards and makes them much less durable. If possible, it is better to "crush" the fibers at your own pace by breaking them in with regular use. Your decks will last longer and feel just how you want them to."
If the pre-crushed Classic Finish is similar in feel to a USPCC deck with Retail stock (Bicycle Standard), then the Viper Finish offers thinner cards that are similar in feel to USPCC's crushed stock, and will especially appeal to cardists who love thin and soft card stock. While they have a higher degree of shine and slipperiness, they are extremely long-lasting, and will feel like nothing else on the market. The first deck appearing with this new finish is the Copperhead deck, and this new stock and embossing pattern is set to make a real splash in the market as it becomes available to creators.
● Other finishes
Besides these two main finishes, LPCC also has a few other special finishes up their sleeve, some of which are in limited supply and will only be used for special decks. These include the pre-crushed Master stock used for the Legends Celtic deck, and the new Japanese Kaolin Finish used for the exclusive Legends Chinese Zodiac 2021 deck. If you want something super soft, there's the amazing Stud Finish of the Stone Garden deck.
All LPCC decks also add a custom formulated coating (which publishers like USPCC describe as a "finish"), to protect the cards and ensure optimum performance. Embossed card stock goes a long way to ensure smooth handling, but a good finish helps this further, as well as adding an extra layer of protection.
It's my understanding that LPCC and EPCC will still continue to use the Taiwan facility as well, so that remains an option for creators that prefer to have their playing cards printed there. But I can understand why the folks at LPCC and EPCC are very excited about their new card stocks, especially the new Viper finish, and I think they will be very well received by the playing card industry. These could even become a game-changer, and see a lot more creators using LPCC and EPCC for their projects.
3. New techniques
Besides the new card stock, LPCC and EPCC are using their new facility in China to experiment with new techniques.
● Hot foil
Techniques like UV spot printing and hot foil printing have been around for a few years already. But the technology and methods for producing playing cards that utilize foil on the card faces and backs are still being developed, and so we are witnessing some exciting new possibilities as a result. Even just in the last five years alone, printers have been experimenting with new printing techniques that make it possible to produce playing cards with qualities that have never been seen before.
LPCC has about 20 hot foiling machines in-house, and their equipment and expertise in this area means that they can do hot foiling more cheaply than cold foiling. This is the reverse of printers like Cartamundi, for whom hot foiling is a more expensive option than cold foiling. When hot foiling cards, things can easily go wrong if you don't have expert technicians on the job. Given what they can offer, LPCC considers itself as the best and most affordable option for customers wanting this kind of luxury with casino-level quality. They've even had brands like Estee Lauder choose them to produce their playing cards for exactly this reason, in light of the combination of quality and price, particularly for playing cards and tuck boxes that use glamorous hot foil.
● Cold foil
The stunning playing cards coming out of factories today make it obvious that we haven't yet reached the pinnacle of playing card production just yet, and advances have not yet plateaued. In a previous article, I showcased some of the exciting new techniques that Cartamundi is using, particularly in the area of cold foil. These cold foil techniques produce results that arguably exceed the level of beauty that can even be attained with hot foil.
Several of LPCC's new decks take advantage of cold foil technology, such as the Legends Chromatic and Sterling decks. The Legends Sterling Edition has a silver coloured cold foil on the card backs, which not only looks very attractive, but has proved very durable, and has held up very well despite heavy shuffling. The Legends Chromatic Edition adds several colours of foil to the card backs, to show that there are many possibilities here, and close observers will even notice that the foil accents on this deck includes a well-disguised marking system. Of the cold foil decks, the Specials deck is one of my favourites, because it features an attractive card back with red and blue stars that make good use of shiny cold foil.
Unlike some decks that use hot foil, there is no visible impression on the faces of any of these cards. And somewhat surprisingly, the handling isn't impacted as much as it would be with hot foil, which tends to make cards very slippery for shuffling. And perhaps best of all, it proves extremely durable. I've thrashed one of these decks to see how it will hold up, and actually the cold foil stands up better than the printing on the faces of the cards! Cartamundi's use of cold foil on the 2019 United Cardists deck from Montenzi deck impressed me even more than what I've seen so far in the cold foil decks from LPCC and EPCC, but we're probably only just getting started with the possibilities in this area. I look forward to seeing what can be done with this, and this should give creators plenty of reasons to be excited about the potential to create elements of beauty that were simply not technically possible until now. Cold foil can even be applied on both sides of each card, although naturally this adds to the cost.
● Holographic mylar
All this is taken to an altogether new level with the Stratosphere deck which features artwork by well-known designer Nick Vlow. Described as having mylar film and spot uv, these cards have a stunning iridescent look that has a visual effect similar to the back of a CD, and produces a remarkable rainbow of colours when held up in the light. It's a look that I've previously only seen previously in trading card games like Magic the Gathering, where it is occasionally used for rare cards.
The mylar film naturally does make the cards thicker, and the entire deck is about 6 cards thicker than a Classic stock deck without it. But despite this the cards still feel soft, and most importantly they look spectacular. The way the process works is that an ultra thin layer of mylar is laminated to the cards before they are printed, and inks are then printed onto the mylar. You can even opt to printing onto the mylar with white, in order to block the holographic effect in selected parts of the card, so creators can use this to emphasize the holographic shine on whatever parts of the card that they wish. These amazingly beautiful playing cards really need to be seen to be believed!
● Other techniques
Of course there is a host of other techniques that continue to be employed and improved with the help of the latest technology. Metallic inks have been used for a while already, but the metallic inks on the court cards of Jody Eklund's Stone Garden deck are particularly outstanding, and have a brilliance about them that I haven't seen on too many decks previously. UV spot printing is also used on the tuck box of this deck, to add extra gloss to selected areas of the artwork and design.
For even more luxury, the gilded edges of the Limited Edition Whiskey Barrel deck from Curious Cask not only bring to mind pouring the liquid gold of whisky, but demonstrate the kind of excellence that LPCC can help creators produce.
4. New packaging
Along with a new facility comes the opportunity to see innovation in the area of tuck boxes and packaging. Of the new decks from LPCC that I sampled, several of these had unique features we've seen before in LPCC decks, such as long tongue tuck-flaps, and attractive die-cut features on the back of the tuck box. While this is not the first time I've seen these features, I continue to admire due to the classy look this can create. But there are some new things you will immediately notice about the packaging of the playing cards produced in the new China facility:
● The cards are wrapped in plastic: This is a noticeable change with the packaging of decks. Like a lot of decks produced by Cartamundi, it's not just the tuck box that is wrapped in shrink-wrap. Once you take out the cards from the box, these are wrapped in shrink-wrap as well, for an additional level of protection. Personally, I welcome anything that will give my playing cards maximum protection before they get into my actual hands!
● The tuck box mentions the new facility: The bottom of the LPCC tuck boxes gives a clear visual indication that these decks are made in a new facility, with this text: "Printed in PRC with Pre-crushed Classic Finish. Cold Foil Tuck and Card Backs." Another of the decks (Specials) has this text: "Printed to exacting standards at our newest facility in PRC. 100% Pre-Crushed Classic Finish Card Stock With Cold Foil Card Backs". I'm glad to see this specifically mentioned, so there can be no confusion about where these playing cards are printed, and to distinguish clearly from the factory they've previously used in PRC for their JN Finish playing cards.
● Luxury packaging options are available: One area where LPCC really seems to be outdoing itself is in the area of luxury packaging. Some of their new decks come with uniquely designed tuck boxes that are inspired by Cigarillo packaging, with a tray that slides out and works in concert with a hinged lid that folds back. LPCC's engineering team has the capacity to produce custom tuck boxes with pop-up elements, or that incorporate embroidery into them. Other projects are presented in additional external packaging, such as a rigid box with classy magnetic closures, and which contains two or more decks. Some of these are then packaged with a further wax paper wrapping, and sheathed in a metallic sleeve with custom seal, for the ultimate look of luxury and protection. Needless to say, I am super impressed with some of this new packaging.
● All the packaging is produced in-house: The fact that LPCC can now do all their packaging in-house at their new facility is also a real bonus. They have a very wide range of paper products available, which will especially make them appealing for luxury brands, who will no longer need to outsource part of their project to multiple locations. It gives creators a wider range of options, while keeping production costs affordable and speedy.
More decks are in the pipeline, and in months to come we can expect to see a range of playing cards produced by the new facility in China. But here's some that are already available, and which I've had a chance to see and use myself, along with some of my impressions:
● Legends Chromatic and Sterling decks
The use of cold foil in these decks is a good place to start. Cold foil is not simply used on the backs of the cards, but also for the tuck boxes. This creates a visually beautiful effect, especially in the case of the Legends Sterling deck. Both these decks have the pre-crushed Classic finish, and are good worker decks. Some of these are also available as expanded stripper decks, with cards cut wider and longer by .5mm, making them a welcome addition as gaff cards for a magicians toolkit.
● Stratosphere deck
For something with bling, it's hard to look past the amazing holographic look of the lovely Stratosphere Playing Cards, which uses space age materials and has a space age theme. It's one thing to see this on the tuck box, but to see it return on the back of each and every single card makes it a truly visual treat. The use of metallic gold pantone inks and UV spot finishing on the card faces adds extra bling, and when combined with completely custom artwork, it results in a deck that feels and looks out of this world.
● Specials deck
In terms of creative tuck box design, my favourite is the easily the box that houses the Specials Playing Cards, which showcases real innovation. The top of the tuck box has thumb tabs which you use to pull an internal drawer, which then folds back in the style of a cigarette style case. I've never seen anything like this before in the world of playing cards, and I always appreciate it when creators are prepared to experiment with novelty like this. The cards are made with the pre-crushed Classic finish, and have customized artwork (including the number cards) on the faces, and a tiled design on the card backs that features blue and red stars with cold foil.
● Stone Garden deck
As far as luxury looks go, they don't get much more classy than this deck created by Jody Eklund from Black Ink Playing Cards. This deck has a wonderful tuck case that is finished with gold hot foil stamping, glossy UV spot printing, and of course embossing, and the overall effect is absolutely exquisite. The cards use LPCC's Stud stock, which is even softer than the Pre-crushed Classic Stock. While this means it won't stand up as well to heavy handling, it feels amazing. The cards are printed with stunning metallic inks, and when combined with Jody Eklund's distinctive style, it's an ideal deck for the discerning collector.
● Curious Cask Whiskey deck
For a fine example of luxury packaging, it doesn't get much better than the current project for whiskey manufacturer Curious Cask. Whiskey makers know that the initial taste is critical to the success of a good drink, and so they understand the importance of making a good first impression with a tuck box. Curious Cask's custom deck has colours that draw on the classic gold colour of whiskey, while the red hues and glossy UV finish of the tuck box point to whiskey's heat, and embossing to whiskey's intricate layers of flavours. A well-designed and constructed tuck box like this is capable of evoking elegance, sophistication, and style, much like a good drop of whisky. Some of the pledge levels available add the option of a premium packaging that houses several decks and is finished with magnetic closures.
A changing industry
Over the last decade we've seen a huge increase in the production of custom playing cards. Factors that play a role in this development include the rapid growth of cardistry, improved technology for affordable printing, ready funding courtesy of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, and the increased influence of social media and online videos for marketing. Consumers have never had so much choice, so much information, and have never been able to purchase so easily than today's marketplace where you can "Add to Cart" with the click of a mouse. We're also seeing unprecedented levels of quality and luxury. I'm excited by the level of innovation that we're continuing to see from publishers. As the custom playing card market continues to explode, fuelled by increasing demands from cardists and collectors, we're witnessing unprecedented levels of creativity and quality.
But the winds of change have also impacted printers of playing cards, and the traditional pecking order among printers has been changing. For a long period of time, USPCC - makers of the the famous Bicycle brand - has enjoyed a position of dominance in the playing card industry, at least in the United States. The vast majority of custom playing cards in North America are still produced by USPCC, and they are the default choice for a lot of creators. But our modern era has seen the rise of some new kids on the block, which are proving to have an increased presence in the marketplace.
Cartamundi is one of these new players, and while they have been producing playing cards for a long time already, they are still a relatively new source for printing custom playing smaller projects. In late 2019 Cartamundi actually bought USPCC from its parent company Newell Brands, but they continue to produce playing cards under their own name and with their own card stock. Cartamundi has been making its presence increasingly felt alongside its sibling rival and traditional giant USPCC, and has made quite an impression on the playing card industry in the last couple of years. We've even seen a lot of creators switch from to Cartamundi for the production of their playing cards, big name publisher Ellusionist being a case in point. Many designers of individual projects have done the same.
But fortunately these two printers by no means have a monopoly on the playing card industry. It can only be healthy for the industry that there are smaller independent publishers like Legends Playing Card Company and its partner Expert Playing Card Company, that offer quality alternatives, and are pushing the envelope when it comes to quality and new printing techniques. In fact, before Cartamundi made a big splash on the crowdfunding scene, LPCC and EPCC were the printer of choice for many creators, and their Taiwan-produced playing cards have long been praised for their qualities. So LPCC and its partner EPCC have already played an important role in helping creators bring their decks to market for several years.
With their new facility in China, LPCC and EPCC are continuing a pursuit for perfection and innovation, and bringing us playing cards with features that we've just not seen before. They're able to accomplish virtually everything in-house, to ensure that the quality goes up, while the costs and turnaround time go down. While the cold foil decks from Cartamundi remain hard to beat, a case can be made that LPCC and EPCC are the leading printer to use for hot foil decks. Their new crushed Classic stock is set to be very well received, but I'm especially excited about their new Viper Finish. I look forward to what they will deliver in coming years, and what creators will do with these new possibilities!
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
- [+] Dice rolls
Interview with Collector, Creator & Consultant Max (Max Playing Cards)
What is Max Playing Cards?
The playing card community is a large one. Besides the consumers, like collectors, cardists, magicians, and card gamers, there are creators, artists, and retailers. And there are whole communities where people share their passion for playing cards, and talk about their favourite decks.
But how do we find out information about the latest and greatest decks to hit the market? You can follow all the newest projects on Kickstarter, or visit forums frequented by other collectors. But there are also dedicated writers that produce a stream of articles with reliable and helpful information about the newest playing card projects and releases, and following their blogs can be an excellent way to stay informed and in touch. Among the very best of these is Max from Max Playing Cards.
For years already, Max has been writing about upcoming and new deck releases, and his popular blog now has more than one thousand articles covering a large range of modern decks. If there's a new deck hitting the scene, and particularly if it's a creative custom deck from the US market, Max will almost certainly have given it his well-researched treatment with one of his wonderful articles on his excellent blog, where new articles appear every few days.
But Max isn't just a writer and collector, he's also a creator, having produced his excellent Bicycle Texture series of playing cards. I remember coming across his Metal deck and Wood deck when I was first exploring the world of custom playing cards. I was immediately smitten, because they stood out sharply from the typical custom deck, by providing a thoroughly traditional look, yet dressed in fresh new garments.
His latest initiative sees him entering new territory, as he offers his services as a consultant to others wanting to create their own deck of custom playing cards. It's obvious that as a collector, creator, and consultant Max has an enormous amount to offer the playing card community. I'm pleased that he was willing to agree to be interviewed about himself and his work. In this interview he generously shares many great insights about the world of collecting playing cards and writing about them, about his own experience in creating custom decks, and about what he can offer others as a consultant.
PART 1 - MAX'S BACKGROUND
For those who don't know anything about you, what can you tell us about yourself and your background?
First, thank you so much for your kindness in interviewing me. After having interviewed hundreds of companies, creators, and other people in the business, this is the very first time someone shows interest in me, so I feel very honored.
I am a Computer Science teacher at a university, and a husband and father, so my day is full of tasks and responsibilities. Playing cards is just my (not so) hidden passion, something I do in all my free time and in my long sleepless nights.
How did you begin having an interest in playing cards?
I began with magic many years ago. I was attending some magic courses and although I love it, I could not perform as I really wanted, and I felt a bit frustrated. Magic is one of the most difficult performing arts and requires thousands of practicing hours, so I ended giving up. Nevertheless, I discovered a hidden beauty in the Bicycle cards I was using and I began collecting.
What involvement and experience with playing cards did you have with playing cards before you started the Max Playing Cards website?
The interest for playing cards as a collector led me to buy many different decks around the globe. Nevertheless, I was in love with the Bicycle playing cards. At that time, crowdfunding projects popped up that were made by artists that gave a twist to the standard design and so I focused my interest on them. I wanted to be part of that new movement, and decided to begin this adventure.
Furthermore, I wanted to express myself also through my own deck of cards and, among other productions and collaborations, I was able to make three decks that became quite popular: The Bicycle Texture Series Playing Cards.
PART 2 - MAX'S WEBSITE
What motivated you to start your website, and how did you go about this?
I was already part of ASESCOIN, the Spanish Playing Cards Collector’s Association, but I discovered I was almost alone in my interests. Spain has deep roots with the production and collecting of playing cards, but the French (poker) cards do not receive general interest here. I felt I needed to make something to spread a voice about the new wave of playing cards designers and their work, so I tried to create a community around them. That’s the origin of Max Playing Cards.
What was the goal of Max Playing Cards when you started in 2012? Has your goal changed at all over time?
At the beginning, I wanted to talk about design and about playing cards. At that time many of today’s popular websites and forums didn’t exist, so I planned to write good quality articles in order to talk about the new playing cards and put them in the spotlight. I wanted to reach out to everyone wherever they were, although I am not English native speaker. Thus I wrote in English and Spanish, which was a challenge, but also something exciting and unique.
Max Playing Cards has changed as times have changed and as even I myself have changed. At the beginning, posts were much more immature and “shy”. Thanks to the personal contact with the artists, I was able to delve deeper and better into the inspiration behind decks, and talk about what goes far beyond a simple list of technical features. My goal has always been for my readers to "feel" the deck before knowing about the stock or the design. Also, the different inspiration sources allowed me to learn many new things about art, history and culture. So whenever I write a new article I like to read about the background and talk a bit about it to share that knowledge.
Along the years, my articles have been the visible part of my work in Max Playing Cards. But those articles were just the tip of the iceberg, as there was a hidden but hectic activity trying to help others to make their decks real. I have spent endless sleepless nights and almost all my free time to build a small community around the playing card business, made up of artists, designers, printers, shops, wholesalers, fulfillment warehouses, and more. In this way, whenever someone contacted me for help, I provided all those contacts and know-how to help them achieve their goals. Sometimes I have also worked as a designer and consultant to improve a deck, or a campaign. All those experiences have given me good expertise and skills (without any income, by the way).
I needed to make this work more visible, so finally the biggest change on the website arrived.
How would you describe your website today, and what can we expect to find on it?
Till a few months ago, and mainly due to the lack of resources, I was not able to make changes to the website, so the site was basically just the blog. All the different versions that the website has passed though along the years have created tons of technical gaps and bugs, so each time I planned to make any change I had to give up. This frustration got worse with a hard personal situation. I had to decide to completely quit, or to try to overcome these hurdles, and give myself an opportunity to progress with the Max Playing Cards project. I tried once more, and began learning what I needed to make it real. After a few months of working really hard, the new website is ready and live.
The site has a new aspect and it now includes on the front page the new offer from Max Playing Cards. It states in a clearer way what I can do for all those that dream about making their own deck of cards. I am giving people the opportunity to contact me to ask for my help, knowing in advance what I can do. I plan to add some extra content, in order to make everything clearer and richer.
Of course, I will be offering the same quality articles in two languages, and spreading this on social media as I have always done.
What groups of people would you say your website is geared towards, and who would find Max Playing Cards helpful?
Of course, whoever is interested in playing cards (e.g. magicians, cardists, collectors, and innovative players) is invited to visit Max Playing Cards. People are increasingly seeking immediate information, but I am an advocate of quality writing. I try to combine agile reading with detailed information. But above all, I want to show the soul of the deck, its spirit, and the inspiration of the human being who created it. The regular reader of Max Playing Cards already knows how to read the articles, depending on the interest the topic has for them, or how busy they are in their everyday life.
Furthermore, after the latest updates, there is now a special place on Max Playing Cards for those who want to make their own deck of cards. I will help them to focus on the most relevant aspects of the production, and will guide them till the end of the process.
How many articles about playing cards have you produced altogether now?
At this moment I have published more than 1,000. Bearing in mind that I write in two languages, I could say I have written more than 2000 articles since I began in 2012.
How long does it typically take to put together a single article, and what work is involved in this?
I am happy about this question, because most people are not aware about what this job really means in terms of effort.
The time I need to finish an article depends on several important aspects. On the one hand, I like to research a bit about the inspiration behind the deck. If there is any reference to history, art, architecture, or science, I like to read a bit about that, in order to make something more coherent and solid (and to enjoy learning something new too).
Regarding the writing itself, I have always wanted to make my own original text, so I avoid any copying-and-pasting, just to offer my own style. I like to give the articles something that makes artists and creators feel special and unique. I also like to describe the main features of the decks, but try to blend this with high-quality writing to guide the reader along the whole text.
Writing in English and Spanish is also a challenge because I am not a native English speaker. I work alone so I need to trust myself about the result. Sometimes I begin writing in Spanish and then translate it into English. But for some weird reason, other times I begin writing in English, which makes it more difficult for me - but afterwards translating this into Spanish is quite easy. ☺
I usually need a couple days (some hours in my break time) to finish articles in both languages, and images, including also the social media promotion in the main platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).
Since you started, you have posted more than 1000 articles about playing cards. Are there any that you're especially pleased with or proud of, that we could take a look at?
I somewhat miss the interview series. I had the chance in the past to interview the more relevant and emerging artists in the playing cards scene, like Lotrek, Jackson Robinson (Kings Wild), Alex Chin (Seasons), and Linnea Gits (Uusi), when they began working on playing cards. I have to admit some of them have become more unreachable due to their success and their busier lives (although I always try to maintain contact). But others still keep in touch and, along with the new creators that I have the opportunity to know, they remain an inspiration for me. That interview style is not easy, because it requires a lot of work (I have worked on answering questions for this interview for several weeks myself!). But I like to go beyond the artist and try to know the human-being.
I think my longest article was dedicated to the darker side of Kickstarter, where I interviewed Milan Colovic, a creator that was scammed, like most of the backers of the project. I tried to tell the truth about crowdfunding and about heartless creators that take the money and run. Unfortunately, I have been scammed many times too, so I wanted to talk about it, as I felt that pain.
I do love being in touch with creators and the way they approach me to ask for help. I am pleased to do all I can to make their dreams true and feel, in some way, part of their success. That’s why the creative part of the articles means so much for me, and I enjoy writing them all.
I have also written interesting articles about global releases of companies like Art Of Play, Matsui, Gemini decks, and some others. I like collectors to check out what they have. I am preparing a cool article about Butterfly decks. I also like to talk about Bicycle decks made for promotional purposes and specially related to non-profit organizations, like the latest K-9 project one.
In the end, I do love writing about playing cards and knowing more and more people. That is what I really enjoy.
How often do you get the published deck itself?
I like to get the decks I talk about once they are real. I have backed hundreds of projects in the past when I was financially able to. Sometimes I get some decks for my promotion, but it is just a verbal agreement that it is not always fulfilled. Unfortunately, I have had to stop collecting a few months ago. I simply cannot follow the explosion of new releases and the huge (and sometimes stupid) amount of decks variations. Good times have gone, and I simply have no budget for that anymore. But I have been able to know cool collectors I can trade my duplicates with. It is a time-consuming task, but it is fun too.
How do you stay current with the latest developments in the playing card industry?
I try to read as much as I can. I don’t have too much time to be active in forums as I did in the past but try to read them and I have good friends among all those crazy members in United Cardists or Reina de Oros (in Spain) that share my passion for playing cards. I also visit social media although I am not as active as I would like, for the same reason.
Kickstarter is now the main source of new creations, so I try to check new releases there quite often too.
What has it been like to correspond with creators, designers, artists, and producers of playing cards, and how many contacts do you have in the industry?
That’s the best part of my work. As a playing card designer myself, I have also tried to be in touch with all parts of the playing card industry trying to make my name known. When you don’t generate thousands of dollars per month it is not easy to have permanent contacts everywhere, but I am proud of having been able to make good friends also in the industry. I have contacts with the main printers in the USA and Europe, wholesalers, dealers and online shops, fulfillment centers and, of course, dozens of artists and creators. I have helped them get in contact with each other, to help create fantastic synergies, and make many awesome decks real.
I am trying now to reactivate everything in a more solid way to offer my own consultant service, to make everything easier for the creator.
How much feedback do you get from readers, and what does this involve for you to keep up with this?
I usually receive good feedback from my readers and from the creators, and they contact me to express their compliments. I must admit I am not as good as I should be in the area of social media, and the community around Max Playing Cards needs to be more solid, but I am working on that. Nevertheless, I believe in my work, as I am passionate. I will go on working while my readers go on reading, and while creators go on asking me for help as the “biggest bilingual living encyclopedia of contemporary playing cards”.
What do people seem to appreciate the most about your articles?
The way I talk about the deck. They enjoy knowing the story behind it. Sometimes the artwork is not the most important part. I have talked about really nice cards that have no soul, while there are other cards with less graphic qualities but are charming and deep.
Does your website or social media generate any revenue for you at all, or is this purely a hobby project?
Not at all. That’s in part the origin of my new focus. I have never charged anything for promoting playing cards in Max Playing Cards. As I said before, I try to have a verbal agreement to get some decks in return from creators, just to complete my own collection and to share with a small community here. Creators are usually grateful and fulfill their promises but sometimes they forget about me once they succeed.
Although originally planned as a hobby, Max Playing Cards has not been a hobby for years. I have poured myself into it body and soul, trying to give the most professional service to all those that believed in me. I remember finishing an article last year while I was being prepared for a surgery in the hospital. I didn’t want to disappoint those who trusted in me. I demand a lot of myself.
For that reason, I am trying to do things in a different way. In past years I have put creators and artists in contact with companies, printers and wholesalers without being part of that process. I thought that now was the right moment to “change the angle” (you will understand this statement later).
What is it that you especially enjoy most about running your website? Given how much content and work this involves, what motivates you to keep this up?
People are the gasoline of my engine. Having the chance to know people and to make something relevant for them makes me feel happy and proud. In recent years, especially the last two, when I have been very ill and when my personal, professional, and financial situation have dropped to hell, I have been tempted to throw in the towel and to forget about playing cards. Nevertheless, keeping in touch with artists, collectors, and playing cards friends made me keep this up.
What can we expect from you in the future? Do you have any goals to expand or do anything different than what you are currently doing?
I want to go on helping others, but I would like to make my help more professional. I think I can get involved in specific projects as a consultant and as an agent, to allow designers to focus on designing.
Although I have made my own successful designs like the Bicycle Texture Series and have also made decks for others, this is the first time I am offering comprehensive advice for the whole playing card creation process. The Victorian deck, recently funded on Kickstarter, is one of the latest of these projects that I acted as an agent for. I have worked in every step of this process. That experience ended up being awesome. And there are some more in progress...
Are there any other writers or video reviewers of playing cards online that you follow or admire, which we should also check out?
Sure. I have a good and old relationship with Alex (Kardify). We even collaborated in the past although our editorial and strategic styles are quite different. I like his work in the playing cards arena, as he has built a huge community around it. I need to learn a lot about his social media strategies although I still need more time for that.
I miss “Collector”, a great guy that posted in the Playing Cards + Art blog. He stopped posting in 2015 but we had a fantastic relationship, and I hope he comes back some day to continue his brilliant style. I hope he is reading this interview…
I also love the style of EndersGame (perhaps you know him ☺ ). Reading your articles is a pleasure, as you have one of the deepest documented styles when talking about playing cards and I learn a lot from every article.
PART 3 - MAX AS COLLECTOR
When did you start collecting playing cards, and what got you started?
I started two decades ago, buying many different decks without any specific criteria. I wanted to explore everything, but I especially felt an attraction for Bicycle decks (due to my frustrated love for magic), so I focused mainly on USA decks. My best help was eBay, as not only was I able to buy decks from around the globe, but I could also get to know many nice people (and not so nice too ☺ ).
I am basically a contemporary (modern) playing cards collector. I like fresh new decks, and collecting vintage or antique decks is something I don’t feel attracted towards (and something I cannot afford in general).
I also collect sealed decks. That is something not all the collectors share (nor understand). In fact, sometimes even I do not understand it myself, but I think it is part of some mental disorder, since for me opening a deck feels like a sacrilege! ☺
I used to be obsessed to get all the different variations of a deck. That’s really difficult with Bicycle playing cards, as there are tons of different print runs along the years, and quite difficult to collect them without opening the deck.
What are some of the things you especially enjoy about collecting playing cards?
Collecting is, for me, an interesting personal experience in connecting something material with special feelings, emotions, and experiences. A collector belongs to a particular species where all the individuals are completely different, and at the same time they share common interests and thoughts.
There are as many collectors as collecting styles, and discovering them all is as exciting as collecting itself. In fact, the best part of collecting came more recently when after many years I have had the chance to connect with other collectors, in order to trade decks and share different points of view.
How many decks would you estimate that you currently have in your collection?
It is not easy to know, because cataloguing is something I began too late and there is a lot of work to do yet. As an estimate, with the information I now have, I calculate around 15,000 (including duplicates), with around 5000 different decks.
How do you organize and display your collection of playing cards?
I have all the decks in my office. The room is not too big, but it is suitable to store many decks. Unfortunately, there is not enough space for having it as organized as I would like.
They are organized in two sections: the display shelves and the duplicates storage. The idea is to have some place to display all the decks in an organized system, and also to have storage room to manage the duplicates in order to share them with others.
I also have a collection of uncut sheets I bought in the early stages. I stopped buying them several years ago because I don’t have any place to display them and it is a pity to have them in tubes.
By the way, if anyone reading this interview is interested in buying the full collection of duplicates (around 8000-9000 decks) or the uncut sheets, please, contact me. I have been trying to sell these for months, but it is a difficult quest. ☺
Do you have any special categories of decks that you focus on collecting, and what are your favorite types of decks to collect?
My first idea was collecting Bicycle decks. After that, I collected almost everything during the first one or two years. Later I focused on contemporary decks made mainly in the USA.
I try to have collections inside my collection grouped by artist or company. There are some I like because of the artwork or the tuck case, and others are just “assortments”. Unfortunately, the crazy strategies developed by many creators in producing a lot of different editions/colors without a deep reason beyond their greedy way to make money, have discouraged me to go on collecting them, which is really sad. I simply cannot follow that rhythm.
Anyway, Bicycle decks are still my favorite collectibles.
How do you go about adding new decks to your collection?
It is tricky because when I buy a deck from an artist, it is usually because I like the artwork, or the inspiration or the soul behind the deck or the creator. After that, I try to get everything made by the same artist following the collecting instinct. That can become an issue depending on the artist’s development and their strategy. It was easy to control in the past but not anymore.
Now, I am basically trying to complete through trades those sets and the artist categories that I stopped buying myself.
What do you do with extra decks you receive that you no longer wish to keep?
For many years, I have been sharing my duplicates with collectors that, that for various reasons were disadvantaged and weren’t otherwise able to get them. Bear in mind there has been no culture here in Spain of collecting USA decks. Most of the Spanish collectors are interested only in Spanish decks, so creating a community around US produced playing cards was my personal project and challenge.
I also like to trade decks with other collectors. That allows me to get new releases and to share interesting “older” decks that are more difficult to find.
What thoughts do you have on the explosion of custom playing cards that we are seeing today?
I love variety and I think the market has a place for everyone. I love to see new creators trying to engrave their names in the playing cards hall of fame. Nevertheless, thinking about some of the strategies carried out by big companies (and some individual and popular creators) and their greedy minds makes me feel sad. When I began, you could collect almost all the new releases because there were not so many color variations, gilded decks, exclusive editions, deluxe sets and private reserve items. It is obviously impossible to collect all the decks released now. But what is more and more sad, is that it is difficult to collect even all the decks from a few good designers because their production approach has made it impossible for an average budget.
Of course, this is just supply-and-demand, so I just ask for fairness, and good, original and thorough designs.
What impact do you think crowdfunding like Kickstarter has had on playing cards and on collecting?
Kickstarter has completely changed the playing cards scene and business. I do love the original idea of supporting a project before making it real. Part of that spirit has been lost due to the way campaigns are handled today. I understand that creators are there to make money, but the common protocol sometimes does not take care of the backers that are the ones that are really making a project possible. I hate seeing decks in online shops before the backers receive their rewards, or even when they are cheaper than during the campaign. A backer deserves to receive the deck the first and the cheapest.
Which deck (or decks) in your collection is your favorite, and why?
Well, this is not arrogance, but my favorite decks are the Bicycle Texture series decks. It is just for an emotional reason. I had to deal with a lot of issues in order to be able to make my dream a reality: creating a Bicycle deck with my name on it. Having a series of them is simply amazing, and that makes me feel happy and confident.
What would the most valuable deck in your collection be, and what accounts for its value?
Honestly, I could not say. I have many valuable decks in my collection, and most of them are valuable more for sentimental reasons than for the price itself. In my case, it is more linked to the way I got that deck and who sold or traded it with me.
One of the items I appreciate more from the ones I acquired recently is the set given to those who were lucky to be at the recent event in New York to celebrate the union of Cartamundi and USPCC. It would have been impossible for me to get it unless someone attending the event was so kind to share it with me. The person who sent it means a lot to me, and I appreciate his friendship and kindness.
What do your family and friends think of your collection, and of your interest in collecting and reviewing playing cards?
I have to say this is something I don’t share with family and close friends too much. They have always been supportive with all I have done but, in general, they are not very interested in playing cards, and to them I seem like a freak regarding that. That’s why I mainly share this with other collectors and fans of playing cards who appreciate it much more.
My daughter is perhaps the exception. Although she is not crazy about cards, she loves helping me in whatever she can, and she is now learning some strategies to enrich my social media and make it more attractive. It is awesome to have her on board because she is quite creative and sensitive, and that’s essential for my focus.
Do you belong to any playing card organizations, or connect with other collectors, either online or in any other way?
Yes. I belong to Asescoin, the Spanish society for collectors of playing cards. Most members of this cool society are only interested in Spanish decks, so for years I have been trying to infect them with my passion for modern US decks, which is not easy. I also get inspiration from them as expert researchers of the history of playing cards, and to stay connected to the roots of Spanish playing cards. They make a fantastic publication every year, La Sota, which is an awesome knowledge source. They also publish an annual deck. Both are sent to the members as part of the annual membership, what is a great deal.
I was also a member of 52 Plus Joker for a couple of years. Unfortunately, being so far from the USA made this membership too expensive for me. I would have loved to be there and take part in the annual meetings and many other activities. Anyway, during my membership I had the possibility to know (from afar) Lee Asher and other cool members of the association, and that experience was fantastic.
If you would start collecting all over again today, would you do anything different?
I’m not sure. The way you handle your collecting is very important for the future. Collecting is addictive and if you decide to collect deck variations, or many different brands/creators as I did, you will need to change the focus and cut it out at some point. At the same time, the wider your collection is, the more you learn, so you get increasingly inspired and experience more. It is true I had to stop collecting in the way I used, because of the speed the market grew.
What advice would you give someone just starting to collect playing cards today?
I have given some speeches about collecting cards, and the advice I give changes depending on the audience. Nevertheless, I always suggest looking inside you, and to find the reason you want to collect playing cards. When a collector becomes just a deck picker, the original passion slowly dies, and things can lose sense.
I also suggest having a good source of information, and fellow collectors to share the passion with. That helps a lot to feel involved and to feed the passion.
PART 4 - MAX AS CREATOR
You created the popular Bicycle Rider-back Texture Series. Which decks were part of this series?
The first deck was the Metal deck. It was a truly fascinating experience. I couldn’t imagine it would do so well, especially after being rejected by some companies.
After that, I released the Wood deck, which was in fact my very first design. It did really well.
Due to the success of the Metal deck and bearing in mind that we promised not to make a reprint, the Blue Metal deck was released and it also did quite well.
The latest deck I designed was the Marble deck. It was launched at a bad time, and when USPCC changed their policy that disallowed customizing the Rider-back design, so I had to move to Maiden-back in a relaunch. Although it collected a lot of money, it was not enough to cover all the production as the producer Collectable Playing Cards (CPC) wanted, so I decided not to relaunch. I also decided not to go on working with CPC, although the experience had been fantastic.
I want to try something different and the designs are waiting for a better opportunity. I do love those designs, and made two different editions (black and white marble). I really hope these are printed someday.
Where can we buy these decks?
I think you still can find the Blue Metal and the Wood deck is some stores with reduced stock. The original Metal deck has become quite sought after, and I have seen it only in the secondary market for a good amount of money.
When did you create the Metal deck, which was the first in the series, and how did this project come about?
The Metal deck was made in 2012. Originally the deck was a Steel deck. I really wanted to make my own Bicycle deck and I was quite happy with the idea, because it perfectly fitted my design skills. I spent many months making it and then contacted several people in the business to offer it for production. Those who answered told me I was off to a good start, but after more than a year, I gave up and put the designs and the prototypes in a drawer.
But I couldn’t forget about it, and each time I talked to a new creator or company I shared the designs. When I contacted Mike from Collectable Playing Cards (CPC), he showed a passionate interest in it, which made me very happy. In the meanwhile, the Steel deck by Cardicians was released, so I decided to change the name
I didn’t even expect to be funded, but I worked like crazy to make it become a reality. More than 1000 backers loved the deck, and we needed to do a print run of 5000, which was sold out in the next few months. I even had to design a coin and a metal card, which was a fantastic experience.
What was involved in making this design from an artwork perspective?
I wanted to explore my graphic skills, so I decided to experiment with shapes and textures, while respecting the traditional design. I wanted something mature, well done, and full of details and hidden elements. I also wanted something as luxurious as possible, without making real metal, so that anyone could feel the spirit of the deck when having the tuck case in their hands. Each time I checked a card, I made a change to make it nicer or better, and I am really happy with the result.
How did you go about producing and promoting the deck?
Being able to count on Mike at CPC was the key. He took charge of the production in a very professional way. I was involved in everything regarding the printing process. I was in touch with USPCC for every single technical detail until the final deck was printed. I also did the promotion with Max Playing Cards.
How successful was it, and what factors were instrumental in this success?
I think the idea was fresh. There were other similar approaches, but done completely differently. I wanted to keep the essence of a traditional playing cards deck, but with a completely new aspect, being a completely custom deck. I wanted to imagine how a Bicycle deck would look if a magician would convert it into metal (or any other material).
The campaign was awesome and the backers very active. A good community around the campaign is also decisive.
Which decks did you design subsequently, and was there anything different about the process in making, producing, and promoting these?
The next decks were easier to produce because in the first one I was ignorant about making cards. So I had to deal with all the “obstacles” that a huge company like USPCC puts in your way (technical aspects and constraints, production and legal issues). Making a Bicycle deck is even more complicated because each time you find new policy aspects to deal with. All that makes you learn a lot.
What advice would you give to a creator of a custom deck, in light of your own experience in designing and producing your own decks?
If you have a dream, you must try until you make it happen. Perhaps due to my age and my education, I have never been very brave or risky as an entrepreneur, and that has slowed down my progress without realizing it.
There is a lot of information available for new creators about how to do things correctly, and the community is big enough to give advice about new ideas and designs. There are also many options to choose from for printing, producing and fulfilling. So if you have a good idea and design, you just need to work hard and learn from the success and failures of others. Of course, teaming up with someone with experience (like Max Playing Cards) will make the journey easier and more comfortable.
What advice would you give to a creator of a custom deck about promotion? How important is this in order to successfully publish a deck?
Promotion always helps. Of course, if you are already followed by millions, you have the ability to influence them. But in general, playing cards is a small world with many decks on the stage and you need people to know about your new ideas.
When I am contacted by a new creator or I email someone about a new campaign, I always say my promotion cannot be a guarantee of anything. Some people think you can directly measure the impact of that promotion in numbers and statistics but I completely disagree. I have tested those statistics in real projects and they don’t work at all. The Kickstarter statistics report, for example, doesn’t give real information about where the backers come from at all.
When you make a new project, you are immediately contacted by “companies” that promise you a direct result for their promotion. Most of them are scammers and so far I have not found anyone among them trustworthy, unless you spend thousands of dollars on a regular basis (something only available for big creators). That’s why I never ask for money to promote a deck. I prefer to offer my honest work and try to improve the results. Most of the time it has worked, sometimes it has done quite well. The more you are featured anywhere, the more chance you have to succeed.
Would you do anything differently with future projects?
Yes. Although producing the deck with another company has been an interesting experience, I really want to take control over my own projects, so in future I will try to launch a project by myself. I am not sure if I will be able to do so, due to many different obstacles I have to deal with. But if I really cannot, I will be sure to put the designs in the appropriate hands to make the best in future editions.
Have you designed any other decks besides the Texture series?
I have designed some more decks, and the Texture series is in my mind all the time as I would like to explore new textures in the future. Nevertheless, I need the right conditions in my life to be able to concentrate on that. I am working all day with so many things that it is difficult to find the peace I need to focus on a new deck design. I also have plenty of ideas, so sometimes I am able to share them with others, who can eventually make them become real decks.
Do you have any plans for future designs or projects?
Yes! Working with others has always delayed my own designs and projects but I have one that I have been working on for more than a year, the Angle deck. The Texture series was more oriented to magicians and collectors, but the Angle deck was designed with cardistry in mind.
Although I have never been too involved in cardistry, I wanted to explore that universe with a simple but bold design, and I am really happy with the result. Unfortunately, I have not found the best way to produce it yet; I have some offers to make it a reality, so I am still studying the options.
PART 5 - MAX AS CONSULTANT
Creating a deck of playing cards is a complex process that also requires a lot of connections in the industry. What services do you offer to help people with this?
As you say, making a custom deck of cards involves one million things to have in mind. Concept, design, funding, printing, fulfilment. Creators must decide how to deal with all this and how they want their projects to be developed. After working with dozens of creators and artists over the years, I have learned many things you should do - and what is better: many things you should avoid.
I adapt my services to the type of creator and project that reaches to me. I first begin with an elaborated interview trying to capture everything about it (idea, concept, design, printing, special features to be developed). All this information is essential to know the type of help they need. Sometimes they need me to help in almost everything, from the concept and design to the printing and fulfilment, so I end up contacting printers to get the best quotes or making spreadsheets to properly calculate the pledge levels in a Kickstarter project. In other instances they only need some advice, some contacts, or promotion, because the rest is completely clear.
I have been also invited to give some lectures here in Spain to different audiences (mostly magicians) about “how to create your own deck of cards,” and that also gives me more feedback about what they really need.
Aside from promoting the work of others, you have been a consultant to help improve the designs of other creators. What does this involve, and what opportunities have you had to do this?
Although I am not a fine artist myself, my experience with my own decks has allowed me to learn about the most relevant things to make a smooth production process. Sometimes, artists know a lot about creating designs but have no idea about creating cards or selling them. Printers have strict rules that guarantee proper quality, and following them is mandatory. Nice artwork doesn’t always fit in the playing card structure and essence.
Furthermore, I have a restless and creative mind, so I have also collaborated with good artists just trying to improve their designs and make them more interesting for the audience. That creative brainstorming is amazing and rejuvenates me. ☺
What decks have you been involved with as a consultant, and been produced with your assistance or advice?
It is difficult to count them because I have been doing this for years, and mostly in a completely casual way. I have regularly worked with artists and magicians. One of the most relevant works I have done in Spain is with famous magician and youtuber, Borja Monton. He released his Domina la Magia deck, and after that the ARTE Playing Cards set. With both decks I was involved for the whole process from design to fulfillment.
I should mention one of the latest projects I worked in. It has been a collaboration in Victorian Playing Cards, a cool card project by Maciej Frolow in KS. Maciej is an experienced and talented designer, and he contacted me looking for help because he knew nothing about playing cards. I helped him to arrange everything (the Kickstarter project, printing, wholesaling, fulfilment). What was originally planned as a €3,000 campaign with a 500 decks production has become a successful campaign with over 2,000 decks, two different editions, hundreds of backers, and almost €20,000 collected. I feel very proud of this and I hope this collaboration will continue in future and bigger projects. But the best part is not the success of the project but the solid relationship I have reached with Maciej... that’s the best reward for me.
I had also the opportunity to work in my first tarot deck, Sortilegium. I was contacted by a charming designer, Natalia Vélez, based here in Spain. She needed some help to convert her nice color pencil drawings in a real deck of cards. We have been working for several months and the project was recently funded so it will be printed and distributed soon.
I am working now in several projects to be released this year. They will be launched in KS soon and they include the cool Professor Tate’s decks, produced by David Bolt and the Luxury Keys Bicycle deck, made by a passionate Spanish magician called Magic Almendros.
I am also working with a Spanish designer on a very special deck that I am sure will be awesome. Things are moving slowly but I hope we can talk about it really soon. It will be one of the coolest decks published this year.
What can you tell us about your new website that you are setting up to help creators of playing cards make their own decks?
Making the new website with its new aspect was a challenge for me, but I am proud and happy with it. The new website gives me a much more powerful tool to add more content, keeping my simple but effective style. I don’t want to have a messy place where people get confused about where to find what they are looking for, so I will keep trying to maintain the structure as flat as possible with a low number of depth levels.
Whoever wants to make a deck of cards and needs my help can contact me through the I want to make my own deck option in the menu, and by filling in a form where I ask for several relevant aspects of the project. This way I can help better and more quickly.
Max wears a lot of different hats, but all of them are about playing cards: commentator/writer, collector, creator, and consultant. It's obvious that he has an enormous amount to offer the playing card community, and he's poured an enormous amount of time and energy into his passion. What I especially appreciate about his many articles is that he goes the extra mile to do some research on the wider background of the theme being covered by a custom deck. He doesn't just give us the cold facts of what we can expect from a new deck and what it looks like, but he really does share something about its "soul" - something that is very important to him.
Besides all these other things - commentator, collector, creator, and consultant - there's one other important thing about Max which should be mentioned: he's kind, warm-hearted, and compassionate. I've corresponded with Max for a couple of years now, and it's very evident that he's not in this just for himself, but that he loves reaching out to others and helping. He's a caring individual that treats his contacts with respect, and goes the extra mile to be friendly and stay in touch. The fact that he put so much effort into writing lengthy answers to my questions just confirms the kind of person he is, and highlights his dedication and commitment in his effort to be thorough and helpful.
Max Playing Cards has always been about helping creators get the word out about their projects, and about helping consumers find out about the latest projects. And now with his new initiative as a consultant, Max can take his expertise to the next level, and continue to help others, while at the same time getting some reward for his efforts. With the benefit of his own experience as a collector and creator, and perhaps more importantly with the benefit of his many connections in the industry, he is very well placed to be successful in helping others achieve their dreams of creating and marketing their own custom deck. I for one am cheering for him!
Where to learn more?
- Max Playing Cards: Official site, Blog, Portfolio, Consultancy Services
- Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Bicycle Rider-back Texture series: Metal, Wood, Blue Metal, Marble
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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10 More Popular Builder Solitaire Card Games
Most solitaire card games with a standard deck of playing cards classify as "builder" games. It's a popular archetype, and means that in these games players are trying to arrange all the cards in ascending order from Ace through to King, for each of the four separate suits. The three most popular solitaire games in the world - Klondike, Spider, and FreeCell - and the many games closely related to them, all belong in this category. Besides these three, there are a number of other popular builder games, each of which represents its own family of games: Baker's Dozen, Canfield, La Belle Lucie (Fan games), Beleaguered Castle (Castle games), Sir Tommy, Yukon, and the popular two-deck game Forty Thieves, which has inspired many variants.
While these ten games represent the most popular families of builder games, there are some other very popular builder games in the world of solitaire that you really should know about as well. Some of these do fit loosely in one of the above categories, but deserve special mention. Others don't really fit in any of the above-mentioned families. Either way, these are unquestionably all popular classics in their own right, and can be highly recommended.
In the case of some solitaire types like Beleaguered Castle or Sir Tommy, the main game is somewhat mediocre, and it's really some of the variations that shine. But in the case of the games covered below, they are all worth trying as excellent games of their own. Especially with the games that use two decks, these are games that are thoughtful and satisfying, and can require real skill, rather than being mere exercises in luck and frustration, as can be the case with some of the more simpler solitaire games.
== Games With One Deck ==
Overview: Bisley is a classic but more difficult game in the Baker's Dozen family. Like the other games in that family, all the cards are face-up at the outset, so there's no hidden information. You use a tableau of thirteen columns of four cards each to build upwards on the four Aces (which are removed from the tableau as four starting foundations), and simultaneously build downwards on the Kings as four more foundations whenever they become available. You can only move the top card of each column in the tableau, with building in the tableau happening by suit, both up or down.
Thoughts: This game feels somewhat like a simpler Forty Thieves style of game that uses a single deck, so there is real room for decision making. Winning can still depend to some extent on the luck of the initial draw, and you can get key cards trapped. Building the foundations from both sides - down from Kings and up from Aces - can increase your chances of completing the game. Unlike Baker's Dozen, you must build by suit in the tableau, but the fact that you can build both up and down gives extra flexibility.
Calculation (Broken Intervals)
Overview: Calculation is a classic derived from Sir Tommy that puts a real spin on the usual solitaire mechanics, because some of the usual rules for building are thrown out of the window. Unlike Sir Tommy, the four foundations begin with any Ace, Two, Three, and Four respectively. The first foundation is built up by 1s (i.e. A,2,3,4 etc), the second by 2s (i.e. 2,4,6,8 etc), the third by 3s (i.e. 3,6,9, etc), the fourth by 4s (i.e. 4,8,Q,3 etc). You win if you manage to get 12 cards onto each foundation in a single deal.
Thoughts: This game requires a lot of skill, and new players will find it very difficult to make much progress at all. Experienced players will point out that much of the skill is about how you place cards onto the tableau, and that you can win more often than not. The real trick lies in trying to set these up for future placement on the foundations, by effectively building these in reverse (i.e. from King backwards), initially playing onto the foundations only when necessary. Having the four sequences necessary written down as a guide to consult while playing can really help. Reserving a single waste-pile for Kings is also recommended, since they are the final card placed on each foundation, and can otherwise block other cards. Betsy Ross is a variant that makes the game much easier, albeit more dependent on luck; you have the same goal, but deal three times onto a single discard pile. Other closely related games include One234, Appreciate, and Devil's Grip.
Overview: Cruel immediately stands out as an unusual game due to the way re-deals work. With the four Aces beginning as starting foundations, the game begins with a tableau consisting of 12 face-up piles of cards, with only the top cards visible. You can move single cards down by suit within the tableau, but the truly interesting part happens in that whenever you wish you can gather all the cards and re-deal them (a process carefully prescribed by the rules) to create a new tableau; if you've played any cards previously this will alter which cards are now available in the tableau. You can redeal as often as you like, and you lose only when there's no more moves possible from the tableau immediately after a re-deal.
Thoughts: This game's popularity began with its inclusion in one of the Microsoft Windows Entertainment Packs in the 1990s, and so it continues to be in demand today. It's a fine example of a game that would be cumbersome to play with real cards, but being able to instantly gather and restack the tableau piles with the click of a button makes it well-suited to a digital version. Despite its idiosyncrasies, Cruel also feels familiar in light of is close connection to other popular solitaires: the tableau is like Baker's Dozen, the game-play feels somewhat like Fortune's Favor (without the stock), and the re-dealing is reminiscent of some fan games; some sites even use a starting layout that displays the tableau in a fan-style with completely open information. Managing the redealing and restacking is key to successful play, and while the game can feel somewhat random initially, experienced players can do very well. Choosing the right cards to play and the right moments to redeal is essential. Cruel is easy to learn, and yet you can get good at it, making it relaxing and fun to play. Other variations of Cruel worth trying include Lucky Thirteen, Perseverance A, Perseverance B, and Ripple Fan.
Flower Garden (Bouquet)
Overview: In this single-deck game you start with a tableau consisting of six columns of six cards each (your "flower-beds" or "garden"), hence the appropriate name Flower Garden. The remaining 16 cards are a face-up reserve (your "seeds"), with all the cards available for use. The idea is to build cards up in suit onto four foundations (your "bouquets") - although some describe the reserve as the "bouquet". Only single cards can be moved in the tableau (flower-beds), building down irrespective of suit.
Thoughts: This classic is based on an old Japanese game, and is found in several books and in numerous solitaire programs. It's not an easy game, but with a good draw and careful play a skilled player can win up to a third of their games. You'll have to use the reserve judiciously, and try to get an empty column in the tableau to make manipulation of the cards easier. The game is slightly easier with playing with a variant that has an initial tableau of seven columns with just five cards each. Other variations include Brigade and Stonewall.
Overview: Raglan is a Klondike style game with open information, so all the cards are dealt from the outset. The four Aces start as the foundations, which must be built up to Kings, while the remaining cards form a tableau with nine columns varying in size from one card to seven cards, plus there's a seven card reserve. Building within the tableau happens like Klondike, in alternating colour downwards, but only the top card may be moved.
Thoughts: The fact that sequences can't be moved is a significant restriction that makes this so much harder than Klondike, but having all the cards face-up means you can plan your game carefully. Raglan is derived from King Albert, a game named after Albert I of Belgium. King Albert is identical to Raglan except that the Aces start in the tableau, making it incredibly difficult, hence its apt alternative name: Idiot's Delight. In contrast to the almost impossible King Albert, you can win as many as half of your games of Raglan with skillful play. Also in the same family of games are Somerset, Morehead, Muse, and Queen Victoria.
Overview: Scorpion is categorized by some as part of the Yukon family, and by others as part of the Spider family. But it is a very popular game that has long been a staple in published books about Patience, and deserves separate mention. The rules for moving unarranged stacks in Yukon may even originate in Scorpion, which has the same game-play in that regard. However Scorpion uses Spider's requirement that stacks from Ace to King of the same suit must be assembled within the tableau before they are discarded.
Thoughts: Numerous Scorpion variants exist, including favourites like Wasp and Three Blind Mice. Chinese Solitaire is a Scorpion variant with a Klondike style set-up that also feels very much like Yukon in how it plays, because cards are played to foundations rather than retained in the tableau. All of these are very satisfying games that will reward the player who enjoys a good blend of luck and strategy, and where decisions do matter.
== Games With Two Decks ==
Overview: As you might expect, games with two decks give room for additional strategy and decision-making, because there's a larger pool of cards to work with, and greater options are available for arranging tableaus and other aspects of a solitaire's layout. Busy Aces is a common and relatively straight-forward game with two decks that is arguably a descendent of the popular game Forty Thieves. Along with its close sibling Courtyard, first reference to it appeared already in 1939. The goal is to build eight foundations from Ace through King, with the help of 12 tableau piles. Only the top card can be moved within or played from the tableau, which builds down by suit. The stock is dealt one card at a time, and there are no redeals.
Thoughts: Busy Aces is an excellent place to begin exploring one of the simpler two-deck solitaire games. Courtyard plays the same as Busy Aces but is slightly harder because spaces in the tableau are filled automatically from the stock's wastepile. There are several other variants which make the game harder by changing the number of piles in the tableau to ten or eight, such as with Deuces. Some variations allow a redeal. Thomas Warfield has created several other variants, including Three's Company, Fours Up, Penta Solitaire, Eights Down, Cast Out Nines, Dimes, and Jacks in the Box. Stages makes Busy Aces easier by allowing sequences to be moved. There is also the well-known Fortune's Favor, which is a commonly recommended game for beginners, as a simple single-deck variant derived from Busy Aces.
Overview: I've opted to go with Colorado, but there are a few closely related games that are equally worthy contenders for this list. There are eight foundations, four which build upwards from Ace through King, and four which build down from King through Ace. The tableau consists of twenty face-up cards in two rows of ten. The stock is dealt one card at a time, with cards being placed onto any of the twenty face-up tableau cards, regardless of suit or value.
Thoughts: This game owes its origins to the simple single-deck game Sir Tommy, which is arguably the oldest solitaire game from which many developed, and in its original form is quite boring. I personally find Colorado and its closest siblings to be the most fun of all Sir Tommy variants, and they're also very achievable to win more often than not. Being able to place cards anywhere makes it feel different from many other builder solitaire games, and one of the main things to keep in mind as you play is to avoid blocking key cards. Colorado's closest relative is Twenty (often called Sly Fox), which is very similar, but requires cards to be dealt from the stock 20 at a time before continuing play rather than just one at a time. Other excellent games that are closely related include Grandmother's Patience (Grandmamma's Game), and Grandfather's Patience.
Overview: Miss Milligan is a classic English solitaire game found in most patience books. It has elements of Klondike and Spider, but stands somewhat on its own. Like Forty Thieves it uses two decks and requires building eight foundations, but it has a tableau of eight columns. Building happens down by alternating colour and sequences can be moved. Only a single row of eight cards is dealt initially, and each time you want to draw more cards an entire row of eight cards is dealt Spider-style from the stock.
Thoughts: One of the most interesting aspects of Miss Milligan happens when the stock is depleted: you get a single reserve cell which can be used for a card or sequence to manipulate the tableau. Games typically take around 20 minutes to play, and you can win as many as a third of your games with sharp play and a good draw, and there's nearly always some juicy decision-making along the way. Closely related variants include Imperial Guards and Giant. I can also recommend two original games created by Rick Holzgrafe that are closely related to Miss Milligan, namely Tabby Cat and its more challenging variant Manx.
Queen of Italy (Terrace)
Overview: Also known as Terrace, or Signora, the classic patience game Queen of Italy is is a thoughtful and meaty two-deck game, and will appeal to people who enjoy Forty Thieves and its variations. The chief feature that makes the game is a face-up line of 11 overlapping cards, called the "terrace". It's a reserve, with a special twist that cards from here can only be played directly to the foundations, and not to the tableau. You deal four cards and choose one to be the foundation; building happens around-the-corner, so you'll especially have to check carefully to see what is in the `terrace' to decide what value card makes a good choice for the foundations. After your choice, you'll deal more cards to make an initial tableau of nine columns with one card each. Building on the foundations happens upwards by alternate colour regardless of suit, and on the tableau downwards by alternate colour regardless of suit, but only one card at a time can be moved on the tableau, and not sequences.
Thoughts: This is a marvellous game that requires real thought and planning, and can be completed successfully as often as half of the time. The art of playing well requires you to carefully figure out where your terrace cards will go, and focus all your tableau building efforts to accomplish that aim. A single deal means that the waste pile will grow as you play, but typically you can work your way through that in the latter stages. The fact that both foundations and tableau involve building in alternate colours means that you can quickly place lots of cards from the tableau when the opportunity arises. Several variants exist that alter the initial deal or how empty spaces in the tableau are filled, such as Blondes and Brunettes, Redheads, and Falling Star, while General's Patience makes the game harder by building up the foundations by suit.
The above games show how rich the world of solitaire really is. The main families of builder solitaire card games are quite well known: at their head being Klondike, Spider, and FreeCell, and following closely behind are Baker's Dozen, Beleaguered Castle, Canfield, La Belle Lucie (Fan games), Sir Tommy, Yukon, and Forty Thieves. But each of these families offers a lot of variations that have developed over time. It's worth finding a type of solitaire game that you enjoy, and exploring from there.
Of course there are also builder games that don't really fit in any of the above categories, and can be recommended for the rewarding play that they offer in their own right. The ten games in this list are all fine examples of some of the most enjoyable solitaire games, and are all quite accessible. A separate list can easily be made of more meaty two-player games for true strategists - but I'll save that for a separate article, and first give you a chance to get your feet wet with some of these popular gems.
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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Special Features for Your Best Ever Experience with Digital Solitaire
Playing card games on your personal computer, phone, or mobile device is never going to be the same as playing with a physical deck of playing cards. Few things can compare with the pleasure of riffling through a new deck of cards, shuffling and dealing fresh card-stock, and admiring the artwork of a custom deck. The interaction with other people is another essential element that usually makes card games fun, whether it's the personal challenge of pitting your brain-power against others, or just the social banter around the table.
But when it comes to playing solitaire card games, there are real advantages to playing with software as opposed to playing with an actual deck. Software programs have the technical ability to include features that you won't be able to have available when playing a game with physical cards, and this is a big part of their appeal. Games can suddenly be played much more easily and quickly, because your computer does all the legwork for you, including shuffling, dealing, and manipulating large stacks of cards. They also manage all the rules, making new games easier to learn than ever before. And there's no real requirements for space or time, because all you need is your computer or your favourite handheld device.
As a result, you can instantly get immersed in a game of solitaire, and proceed through your favourite solitaire game at record pace. And if you wish, you can even choose from multiple variations, keep track of statistics, or work to complete special challenges. There is good reason why the introduction of Solitaire to Microsoft Windows in 1990 was a real game-changer, and its impact on modern culture can't be over-estimated. Unofficial reports suggest that it is the most used software in the Microsoft family, even ahead of big name programs like Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.
Certainly everyone can enjoy playing solitaire, and you can enjoy it as a fun and light time-killer, or as a more serious and satisfying mental challenge. But not every experience with digital solitaire is equal, because not every program is created equal. Specifically, the features included in the program you're using will make a big difference to what your overall game-play experience is like. So what are some of the features that you should look for, and what are some of the possibilities out there? In this article we'll take a look at the "special features" you should be aware of when selecting a way of playing digital solitaire that's right for you.
Special Features to Look For
1. Tap to move: Moving cards on a screen is already a cinch compared to manipulating stacks of physical cards on a table. All you need to do is drag-and-drop on your touch screen or with your mouse. But many programs take this a step further by simply allowing you to tap or double-tap a card, thereby moving it automatically to an available position. Purists might consider this one short-cut too many, because you can play lazily and just tap cards without thinking about where they actually go. But this feature can usually be turned off for those who prefer to play without it, and there's no doubt that it can speed up game play enormously. Once you get used to it, you're not likely to want to play without it.
2. Auto-complete: At times you have a completely won position, having sorted all the cards into their suits, but they still need to be moved onto their foundations. It can be tedious to do this individually card-by-card, so an option to move them automatically to the foundation is very useful. Usually at this point you know that you've already won the game anyway, and you don't want the hassle of going through the laborious process of clicking on 52 cards to move them from stacks to foundations. If you're anything like me, you'd rather spend that time being busy with a new game instead. Auto-complete is a great feature that will help you get to that new game all the more quickly.
3. Undo: In my view an "undo" button is an essential for any modern solitaire program. Undo gives you the opportunity to retrace your steps, and try another pathway, often extending your enjoyment of a game, and opening ways to win a game that would normally prove impossible. There are times this can be abused, and so there are indeed instances where you might want to turn this feature off. But it is really painful if you've invested 15 minutes into a game, only to accidentally touch a wrong card; or to see a better move a milli-second after you've selected a move, only to discover that you can't retract that move and do it over. There's really no excuse for developers not to make "undo" an option at a bare minimum, and its absence is already reason enough for me to avoid a particular app or solitaire program.
4. Stuck notification: Do you enjoy hunting to see if there are any remaining legal moves? If you're like me, you probably prefer to spend this time starting a new game rather than being on a fruitless search, only to eventually and hesitantly conclude that no further moves are left. That's why it is very helpful that when you reach this point the software immediately indicates that no moves are left, so you can begin a new game. Most programs have this as an option.
5. Available moves: A big part of playing solitaire is close observation, and scanning the tableau and stock to see what legal moves are available to you. But what about if you could have someone highlight the moves available to you? That's readily done with software, and many programs implement this as an option you can switch on or off. For many people the need to be attentive is part of the appeal of solitaire, but there are others who will enjoy having this task taken care of for them. It will definitely simplify your game-play, enabling you to rely less on observing and focus more on decision making, and allowing you to play a game more quickly. It can also be a very helpful tool to use when you're learning how a new game works, by instantly seeing what the legal possibilities are.
6. Hints: Closely related to the feature that highlights legal moves, is the common feature that suggests a move. In other words, rather than having available moves turned on throughout the game, whenever you get stuck or think that you've run out of moves, you can press a `Hint' button, to quickly determine if there is a legal move in your current position. This is a handy feature that can especially prove useful in cases where you think you've come to the end of a game, and think that no moves remain. You can use the Hint button to quickly check if this is indeed the case, or to discover a move that allows you to keep playing.
7. Peek: Some programs will let you pick up a card to take a sneak peek at what is underneath it. For example, when picking up the top card of the stock, you might get a glimpse of the next card. Of course you can already use `undo' to reverse course if a particular move proves to be a bad decision once a new card is revealed. But having more ready access to this kind of information can affect your decision making in some instances. It is a small feature that some will appreciate, while others will definitely want to avoid it.
8. Card count: Many programs will indicate how many cards you have left in the stock or reserve, or how many have been played to foundations. In a game with a physical deck, you can judge this by the approximate size of the pile. It can be handy instead to have an exact number displayed for you, especially since there's no easy way to gauge this visually on screen. Typically programs will also give you some visible indication of how many deals are remaining, and similar details which can prove helpful to keep track of during game-play.
9. Saving: In real life, if you've got the cards spread out on a table midway a lengthy game, you can find yourself in an awkward position if it is dinner time and you need to clean up in order to make the table free for the family meal. Some programs enable you to `save' a position in a particular game, and come back to it by `loading' in on another occasion. This feature can also prove very helpful for particularly difficult solitiare games, so you can resume from a save point and try an alternate pathway.
10. Winnable deals: For many solitaire games a computer will have the ability to check if a particular deal is solvable, and if it can be won from the starting position. A number of programs offer you a choice between a hand that can be theoretically solved from the outset, or a truly random hand that might not be solvable at all. While this feature won't be for everyone, and purists may even hate it, this is a great option for people who enjoy successfully completing most of their games, and who find it frustrating to run stuck quickly as a result of luck of the draw. In the case of some popular games, like FreeCell, each individual starting hand is even assigned a specific number, and this enables players across the world to attempt the same deal as each other.
11. Statistics: Most programs will keep track of your win/loss record, and can instantly give you a percentage figure that indicates how often you are successful for each different type of solitaire game. This is interesting to keep track of, and can be a helpful indication about how challenging a particular solitaire game is. It also gives you long-term objectives to aim for, and information that can enhance your overall experience with an individual game. Statistics will often include times as well, enabling you to keep track of your personal bests, or even compare with other players. Having charts with high scores gives you an extra reason to enjoy solitaire and to return to it, in order to beat your personal best or the best efforts of your friends and other players around the world.
12. Scoring: Many software programs implement scoring systems for selected solitaire games. Some of these systems have been standardized to some extent, such as the common system used in Klondike which rewards you with 10 points for each card moved to the foundations. This scoring typically also awards points for cards moved to the tableau, and deducts points for time used, for each deal through the deck, or for moving cards. In the world of solitaire you'll also see reference to "Vegas Scoring". As applied to Klondike this means that you ante up $52 to begin a game, and get a return of $5 for each card moved to the foundations. A similar principle is applied to many other solitaire games as well. Individual programs will often use their own scoring systems, all of which give you additional objectives to keep track of and to surpass.
13. Leaderboards: The very definition of the word "solitaire" indicates that these are games primarily intended to be played on your own. But some people appreciate the additional challenge that comes from trying to compete with others. With the help of online or global leaderboards, it becomes possible to keep track of how many wins you've had in comparison to other players, or your fastest times, or your highest scores. Having a leaderboard pop up at the end of a completed game, which shows how you rank compared to other players who tried exactly the same hand or solitaire variation, can give an extra element of gratification to playing.
14. Achievements: Some programs incorporate achievements, and give you the incentive to return by rewarding your gameplay with points, digital currencies, or unlocking further features like additional solitaire games or new graphic card sets. This isn't for everyone, and it can lead to a sense of a `bloated' product that quickly becomes much more than just playing solitaire. But there are people who appreciate and enjoy these additional elements, and it helps them keep returning to the game, giving them additional things to aim for.
15. Challenges: Similar to achievements, daily challenges can give you additional goals to strive for. Some programs will give you a fixed deal or game, or specific requirements that you must fulfil, such as by solving a particular deal, or completing it within a certain amount of time. It can be fun to strive to accomplish goals that enable you to unlock other elements of the game, or give you access to bonus features. The idea of a "game of the day" is especially popular, where you compete against the best efforts of other players with an identical starting hand/deal. Completing challenges can also be used as a way of levelling up, or to earn in-game currency.
16. Rule variations: Many people have their own preferred way of playing their favourite solitaire game, and the rules you use can make a big difference for how a game plays. For example, with Klondike you can draw three cards at a time from the stock, or only one card. You can allow unlimited redeals of the stock, or limit the amount to just three times or even once. You can limit empty spaces in the tableau to be filled with Kings only, or remove this restriction. Changing even one of these rules can drastically alter your chances of success, but also gives the game a very different feel. The best solitaire programs will give you the option to customize these rules to your preferred rule-set, thus allowing more ways to play.
17. Sorting: Many programs will incorporate ways that let you sort the games included in their collection, such as by the solitaire family or type. Especially if the program has a very large collection of solitaire games that exceeds a hundred, this kind of feature is almost essential. I personally enjoy exploring solitaire games that are somewhat similar, so being able to group titles that similar is incredibly helpful. Other typical methods of sorting include listing games according to the amount of luck/skill, the degree of difficulty in completing them, or the length of time they take. Almost every program will have to employ some system of organizing all the games it has available, whether alphabetically, or by using one or more of the above methods.
18. Tutorials: As a minimum, most programs will incorporate a screen that shows written rules for how to play a particular solitaire game. While this can be helpful, some software takes this a step further by providing an actual tutorial which enables you to walk through an actual game step by step, to learn how it works. Sometimes a complete instructional video is even included. It is already much easier to learn a solitaire game with software, and tutorials make the process of learning even easier still.
19. Strategy tips: Virtually all software will have some option that pulls up the written rules for the particular solitaire game you are playing. But in some cases this will include strategy tips about how to best approach that game, which can be very helpful if you're frustrated by your inability to improve at a game and need some assistance. In some cases some historical background or context about the game in question is included as well, which I personally really appreciate.
20. Alternate graphics: This is a huge factor for me personally. I like the cards to look nice, because poor graphics can really detract from my game experience, while a deck that is visually functional as well as attractive can really enhance things. I especially love programs that give me a variety of different card faces to choose from, so that I can pick something that suits me, or even make a temporary change just to give things a different look. Some programs do an outstanding job of this. Often this is closely connected to in-game currency earned by successfully winning games, and you can use points or coins that you've won to "buy" additional graphics. Besides changing the card faces, there are usually options to change the card backs, and a range of wallpaper backgrounds to choose from.
21. Alternate layouts: Besides being able to select alternate card faces, card backs, and backgrounds, many programs also give you the option of selecting different screen layouts. This can help them to cater to people who are left handed or right handed, as well as provide alternative layouts for those who prefer to see the cards arranged in a different way on the screen. It means that you're not limited to a single layout, and gives an additional point of customization to make things look and function in a way that works best for you.
22. Animations: Animations aren't for everyone, but there are people who love things that sparkle or move. The animation that accompanied a successful game of Solitaire in the original Windows implementation has become a classic, and even some modern programs will pay homage to this. To this day there are people who appreciate having a colourful or attractive animation to reward a win, and it can help make your success that extra bit sweeter. Other in-game animations can also enhance game-play, such as when you tap a card, or when a card or stack of cards is moved.
23. Sound: Some people find that adding the sound of a deck being shuffled or dealt gives an additional sense of realism, and that it enhances their game-playing experience for them. For me personally, playing solitaire is all about the visuals, and I'm happy to play with no sound at all. But digitized sounds are part of what computers bring to the table, and some people will be interested to know what a particular program offers in this regard. I have to concede that it can make a game of solitaire feel more realistic, and helps take away the sense that you're just playing with pixels.
24. Add-ons: Especially in the world of digital apps, in-app purchases are often an add-on that you can pay for, in order to receive additional benefits or features. Especially in the case of free apps, the majority of which are supported by advertising, an in-app purchase will give you access to a premium version of the program that removes the ads. But in-app purchases will occasionally also give you access to extra games, in-game currency, or other special features that aren't available with the base version of the app. In most cases this is a way of monetizing a free program, in a way that benefits both the developer and the user.
Clearly there's a wide range of special features to look for, some of which simply change how the game looks and feels, while others change the rules. Other features are all about improving your user experience and help you play more quickly or more smartly. Some of these features can turn a game that would be a nightmare to play in real life into a potentially positive experience. Take a solitaire game that would require a limited number of suits from multiple decks, for example, such as one suit or two suit Spider - even just setting up the game would require some real effort. But when played digitally, this is accomplished with just a simple click.
Similarly the `undo' button can redeem games that would otherwise be frustrating luck-fests. A game like Kings in the Corner would normally be an exercise in frustration courtesy of the luck of the draw. But judicious and wise use of the "undo" feature suddenly turns it into a realistic and fun challenge that is both achievable and enjoyable. Being able to "undo" a series of moves means that you can explore possibilities that wouldn't be available to you if playing with an actual deck. I would even go so far as to say that "undo" is essential in some games, and without it those particular games just wouldn't be any fun.
All this means that digital software opens doors to forms of solitaire that would otherwise not be playable, or at least, not enjoyable. So what are you waiting for? There's never been a better time to explore the fun of playing solitaire, with the help of some of the great software that is readily available today, often at minimal or no cost. And playing cards on your digital device might just make you love playing cards all the more, and encourage you to grab an actual deck from the shelf for a favourite game with family or friends!
Where to begin? If you're looking for the best apps, programs, and websites for playing digital solitaire, see my top recommendations in these two articles:
● The Best iPad & iPhone Apps for Playing Solitaire
● The Best Digital Resources For Playing Solitaire
Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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