ART OF PLAY

Beautiful Playing Cards

Let me warn you in advance. You're going to read some gushing enthusiasm in this review. That's pretty normal for me, and here's why. To begin with, I'm a pretty upbeat person. But more importantly, I only review things that I'm very enthusiastic and positive about. So naturally, that enthusiasm will show up in how I write my reviews. Because of the time and effort that goes into making one of my pictorial reviews, I'm not usually going to waste my time with something that I'm lukewarm about, or that I think is merely mediocre. I am going to write about stuff that I'm excited about. And right now I'm really excited about The Art of Play.

Now anyone who has read my reviews will know that as much as I love board games, I also have a real fondness for traditional card games, and that another of my hobbies is doing magic with playing cards. So I love playing cards. I always have. But just lately I've come to love them more than ever. Because recently I've discovered that the beautiful world of playing cards is much bigger than I ever thought, and there are some amazingly talented designers and quality publishers who are producing some stunning looking cards. I have a bunch of them already. But now, thanks to Art of Play, I have a bunch more. This is an addictive and dangerous hobby! Let me introduce you to Art of Play, but enter at your own risk!



The Art of Play

As far as a source for creative playing cards goes, you won't really find a better place than Art of Play (artofplay.com). I've recently been scouring the internet to research some of the places you can get beautiful playing cards. There are lots of small publishers that have done a small handful of Kickstarters. There are also individual designers who have produced a quality deck or two or three. And there are larger companies like Ellusionist and Theory 11 that produce a bigger range of custom decks. But as beautiful as their decks are, the focus of publishers like Ellusionist and Theory tends to be on customers who do card magic or play traditional card games, and so their decks (e.g. the Monarchs) are intentionally designed not to look too different from a normal deck, but just add small touches to make it look more classy. Typically they put a lot of work into making a custom and attractive tuck box, unique card backs, an impressive looking and unique Ace of Spades and court cards, and a sophisticated joker. But aside from that the majority of the cards look fairly plain and ordinary. These are decks that look very professional, are typically of a high quality with good handling, but still look relatively normal. That's exactly why magicians and serious card/poker players tend to love decks like this, because the cards look classy, but won't distract too much from the game or the magic.

But then, there is Art of Play. When I first discovered the Art of Play website, I was blown away. Here I was on the hunt for beautiful custom decks, and after finding some gold here and there in isolated places, I felt I'd struck the mother lode! "Designer Playing Cards, Puzzles and Amusements", boasted the main page. I clicked the "Playing Cards" link, and found myself on a page that declared "A collection of the absolute finest playing cards in the world. Featuring hand-painted works of art, award-winning design and luxury packaging." Taunting me below this, was a full page of 30 stunning looking decks of creative playing cards! But wait a moment, not just one page. I clicked "Next". A second page of 30 more stunning looking decks appeared! "Next". A third page! You can see where this is going. Five pages! Around 130 different decks in total!

Now I'd seen some of these decks for sale separately in other places. But this was the one-stop-shop that seemed to have all these treasures in one place. Plus countless treasures I had never seen before, and never imagined in a deck of cards. Go check it out - you'll soon find yourself lost in the pages for the individual decks, where they have galleries that show you sample cards from each deck. There's some really beautiful stuff here! Just wow!



Dan and Dave Buck

So what is Art of Play? As it turns out, Art of Play is a subsidiary of Dan and Dave Industries. Dan and Dave?! Wait, I've heard of these guys before! They run the website dananddave.com, a lifestyle brand for magicians, where I'd previously come across a much smaller selection of these decks. But also, when researching for an article about cardistry, I had learned that these guys are actually twin brothers, Dan and Dave Buck. Age 32. Magicians (link). And cardists. That's to say, not only are they accomplished magicians, but they are also at the front lines of the fast-growing and rapidly-developing art of cardistry, which is the performance art of card flourishing, which you might describe as "juggling with playing cards".

You can read more about cardistry here, and you can see Dan and Dave featured in two stunning cardistry videos right here and here. They put together a series of instructional videos called "The Dan and Dave System" (2004) and later "The Trilogy" (2007), which has had a huge impact in growing the art of cardistry, and arguably no single teaching tool has had more impact on cardistry than this video series. Dan and Dave also appeared in the film "Now You See It" (2013), where their most notable card flourishes were performed by them, and then edited to switch in the main character and magician. They were also the co-organizers of the world's first cardistry conventions, which have been held annually since 2014; it's the Dan & Dave brand that also manages the Cardistry Convention's official website cardistry-con.org. So they have been and continue to be a massive influence in the world of cardistry.



So these are the guys who run the website Art of Play. These guys love playing cards, and they know about playing, and they know about art. Over at dananddave.com they describe themselves as follows:
"Masters of sleight of hand and pioneers of cardistry, Dan and Dave manifests their lifestyle of wonder, prestige, and fashion. From a curated collection to bespoke offerings, our brand focuses on a timeless aesthetic for the young at heart and wealthy in mind."

But at their website Art of Play they have even bigger ambitions beyond their own brand. I'll quote from the mission statement there, because it's best said in their own words:
"We travel the world in search of objects designed to dazzle the eyes and fascinate the mind. From luxurious playing cards to ingenious puzzles and stimulating amusements— each beautiful item in our collection holds a whisper of mystery, brimming with potential for surprise and delight. Founded in 2013 as a subsidiary of Dan and Dave Industries, Inc., Art of Play has developed into one of the world's leading sources for designer playing cards and accessories. In addition to curating curiosities from around the globe, we collaborate with award-winning designers and brands to create original products."

Welcome to Paradise. Welcome to Art of Play. This is where you'll find original products of their own creation, as well as what they consider to be some of the very best playing cards and other curiosities from around the world. I was hooked. So what I'm going to do in this review, is show you a selection of some of the decks they carry. Obviously I'm not going to run through all 130+ playing cards in their online catalogue. But I'll just show you some of the decks that I now own myself, and which I have first-hand experience with, and give you an overview/review of a sample of them. In part I'll make use of some of their own great photos, which do a great job of showing how stunning these cards and decks are. But what you see here is what you get, and perhaps showing you some visuals will whet your appetite to acquire a beautiful custom deck of playing cards for yourself. I should warn you: just like buying games, collecting playing cards can be addictive!



ARTISTIC DECKS

Memento Mori deck

You can tell that the Memento Mori deck is a cool and unusual set of playing cards the moment you first set your eyes on the box ... and it sets its eyes on you!



Yep, this deck is really something else. Not to be confused with the Memento Mori deck by Chris Ramsay, Art of Play's Memento Mori deck was designed by Michael Mateyko of KOMBOH CREATIVE.

Instead of using traditional suits, there are stars, swords, flies, and feathers, each representing order, aspiration, chaos, and scavenging. Like our fly friend right here below on the left.



The cards are a very bold and vibrant red, and feature imagery that is unusual and strong.



This is a powerful deck that leaves a strong impression the moment you see just one of the cards, never mind the entire deck!



Ultimate deck

The Ultimate deck is truly a work of art - literally!



All 54 cards in this deck are unique works of art, and feature different images by a range of artists. Given all the surprises inside, little wonder one side of the tuck box says "Relish the Experience of the Bewildered", and the other: "The Marvel of the Odd Minded Await". The tuck box is embossed, with silver foil, and a custom stamp seal - so it's a very stylish look right from the moment you first get this in your hands.

The Dan & Dave team describe the concept this way here: "Every single card in the Ultimate Deck is represented with a story, incorporating classical art, as well as works from todays leading illustrators."



The deck was the result of a collaboration with award-winning design firm, Stranger & Stranger, whose name you'll also find incorporated on the intricate back design.



Some cards may look a little macabre or dark, but the majority of the artworks are simply gorgeous and attractive images.



I never really understood the sense of an uncut sheet until now, but decks like this have convinced me otherwise, and now I can appreciate their value and artistic merit.



PLAYFUL DECKS

Odd Bods deck

This Odd Bods deck is exactly that - odd, but artistic!



The artist is Jonathan Burton, who was commissioned to design these cards in 2012 by the Folio Society.



The deck was later re-released by Art of Play with a new back design, and that's the version you see here.



It's definitely one of my favourite decks, because Jonathan Burton has given each character its own unique and quirky personality.



The number cards feature pips that show a range of activity and movement. The Joker also clearly shows that one never knows what to expect in this imaginative world!



People quickly fell in love with this quirky deck when it first came out, and it's not hard to see why!



Flourish deck

The Flourish deck is a brand new deck that was the result of a collaboration with Column Five, and is Art of Play's first 2017 release.



This baby looks sweet from the moment that you open the box!

The tuck box says "Maker of Delicious Donut and Pie Charts", and is embossed with gold foil and shiny red foil that looks even far more glamorous than how it appears in the photo above!



The sweetness of this deck comes because it has a bakery theme, and the cards immediately charm you with this theme, which is conveyed with cute colours and novel artwork.



The number cards are fairly standard, albeit with some customization of the font and pips, but the Joker is again in keeping with the bakery theme.



The court cards have unique illustrations, and all the face cards also feature a custom look.



AFRICAN DECKS

Jungle deck

The Jungle deck is also somewhat of a playful deck.



It contains "vibrant colors and raw animal magnetism which was inspired by the jungles of Africa."

It's not surprising that it is bursting with African jungle flavours, given that it was designed in South Africa by creator Muti.



All of the cards are custom illustrated and feature elements from the Zulu wilderness.



Even the number cards have exaggerated pips and a unique style of text that is in keeping with the feel of rest of the deck.



The Jungle deck just has this wild jungle-like vibe about it, and looks colourful, creative, and energetic - I love it!



Lost Wax deck

With the Lost Wax deck we head away from the jungle, and travel back in time to Africa in the 15th century.



This deck immediately gets your attention with an embossed tuck box and gold foil on the outside, but there's also gold to be found on the inside.



Artist Olutade Abidoye brings us back in time to the Benin Empire, which flourished in an area of Africa that we call Nigeria today.

The court cards seek to recaptures something of the royal figures, with the face cards carrying markings of four distinguished Benin Kings, four Queen Mothers, and four respective Jacks (court servants).



Meanwhile the pips on the number cards are stretched and slender, adding a slimming feel to the traditional markings.



In a very colourful way, this is a deck that pays homage to this prosperous bygone era, and has potential to fire the imagination of card lovers around the world, not just Nigerians.



ELEGANT DECKS

At this stage you might be wondering whether these guys have any normal decks? Well, yes. In addition to the above, Art of Play also carries cheaper decks; you will find the usual range of standard Bicycle cards, Aviator, Bee, Tally Ho, and others for around $3 or $4 each. And certainly they also have more traditionally styled decks that won't seem as radical a departure from a standard deck as some of the decks pictured above; but even these more traditionally styled decks have elements of class and style, as the elegant examples in this next section show.

MAKERS deck

The MAKERS deck is hard to describe. Words that come to mind are elegance, class, and luxury.

The tuck box is extremely stylish, with intricate detail that is highlighted with embossed gold foil. Phrases like "Special Reserve", "Revered Quality for All Beholders", "Made True", "Crafted for the Order of the Makers by the Buck Brothers & Company", and "Tribute to the Many Worldly Doers" are carefully arranged in small print. It's hard to imagine a tuck box that looks more classy or impressive from the outside.



Designed by the studio of Chad Michael and produced in-house by Dan and Dave Industries after two years of design, this is a deck they consider to be the most intricate and luxurious in the Dan & Dave catalogue.

This is especially true of the limited edition Collectors Box Set (which I don't have!), which comes with classy oak case that can be locked with a vintage key and has a green leather interior lining - check out some stunning pictures here.



The cards themselves have a intricate back design, while the number cards have a style that matches the rest of the deck.



The court cards have custom illustrations intended to represent the foundational "makers" civilization has been built on - hence the name of the deck.



Sons of Liberty deck

The Sons of Liberty deck is another in-house production from Dan & Dave, and it's definitely a very American deck, evident already from all the stars on the tuck box flap, and the proud "Made in America" on the box cover.

In the words of Dan & Dave: "The tuck box is among the most exquisite we’ve ever produced, featuring sculptural embossing in both bronze and pewter foil." It is almost the equal of the MAKERS tuck box, and I can see that some people would even rate it higher. There are embossed images and text in silver foil, which say things like "Obedience to God" and "Rebellion to Tyrants".



This deck commemorates the patriots who were active as revolutionaries during the time of British rule, who as the Sons of Liberty "operated in the shadows, leaving secret signals, passing hidden messages, and meeting in the dead of night."



The cards feature images and themes related to this material - there are references to the masons on the card backs, and the Ace of Spades is a Liberty Tree.



The court cards feature some of the patriots, and use an 18th century style etching. Like another deck featured below, this was designed by Jeff Trish.

The Sons of Liberty deck is definitely one that will appeal to history fans, American patriots, or anyone who enjoys an exquisitely made deck where every last detail has been meticulously thought out and made as best as it can possibly be. Check out more stunning images of this deck over at Dan & Dave.



Vintage Plaids deck

The Vintage Plaids deck (Arizona Red) is a popular choice among the Dan & Dave produced line-up, and is one of their more readily affordable decks.

But that doesn't mean it skimps on quality or style. The side of the tuck box already gives us an indication of the quality, where it says "Fine Playing Cards for Gentlemen".



It's a deck that pays homage to the great outdoors, and Dan & Dave were inspired by their childhood camping trips in making it. This original Vintage Plaids sold out due to demand, and this deck features a new updated design.



The changes include a new Ace of Spades and a new type-face. But it's especially the strong plaid on the card-backs that is this deck's distinctive feature.



I especially love the look of the court cards you see here. The use of a forest green instead of black really gives this deck a more "outdoorsy" feel.



Intended to be a "rugged deck", yet remaining elegant and classy, that's exactly the sense that I have of this deck! See more pictures of this deck here.



DELUXE DECKS

All the Dan & Dave decks are arguably deluxe. But not all kinds of deluxe are created equal, and some forms of deluxe are even more luxurious than others! Below are some fine examples:

Dan and Dave Private Reserve

If you really want luxury, it doesn't get better than the top of the line Dan and Dave Private Reserve deck of playing cards.



This baby is ridiculously beautiful and over the top. I was blown away when I first held this deck in my hands. An actual wax seal on the tuck box? That's crazy! Crazy good, of course.



Playing cards don't get more luxurious than this. The box has a matt finish with gold foil that just looks elegant and super classy.

The number cards are fairly standard, although you'll get a sense of luxury just by looking at the card backs, which have a classy black design inlaid with gold foil.



The court cards, on the other hand, feature a deep burgundy, with gold/yellow highlights. This gives them a very elegant look, and makes the court cards in a standard deck look garish and amateurish in comparison!



Each deck is individually signed and numbered!



Naturally in making these, Dan and Dave Buck ensured that they used a premium card-stock and finish, and had US Playing Card Company produce these to their very highest standards, to ensure outstanding quality all round.



This exclusive deck was designed by Jeff Trish. I especially love the small print on the bottom flap of the tuck box, which reads: "For all that is true, we are makers of magical things, pervayors of gentleman goods. Find us at dananddave.com."

DKNG Gaming Set

The DKNG Gaming Set brings luxury in a different direction, with the addition of a beautiful wooden case that is laser engraved, and has a strong magnetic seal. This gaming set was the result of a collaboration with DKNG, a Californian creative studio.

The engraving on the outside lid is just beautiful, and you can run your fingers over it to feel the grooves, while the inside of the lid says in neat laser printed letters "Made in the USA" and "DKNG + Art of Play".



Included inside are two decks of DKNG playing cards, a Red Wheel deck and a Blue Wheel deck, plus five custom dice (with skull stamped snake eyes).

The Red Wheel deck features gold accents that are a result of gold metallic ink.



The face cards offer a modern take on the classic court cards. Notice how the colour scheme on all the cards is red/blue instead of the usual red/black, while all the pips are divided in half, to emphasize the gold ink.



The decks are a reinterpretation of the classic Bicycle Rider Backs, with the bicycle influence clearly evident on the wooden case, the tuck boxes, the card backs, and the gorgeous Ace of Spades.



The playing cards are also available as a separate item, as DKNG Playing Cards, in both the "Blue Wheel" or "Red Wheel" colours.



The difference between these two decks is more than just the card backs. In the Red Wheel deck a gold metallic ink is used, while in the Blue Wheel deck a silver metallic ink is used, giving the front of the cards and the pips quite a different look.



OTHER ITEMS

Art of Play also carries several other items that will be of interest to fans of playing cards, but I'll just mention a couple.

Card Clip

The Card Clip is designed to extend the life of a deck of cards, by fitting snugly around your deck, thus protecting the card case from wear and tear. It's basically like a money clip for playing cards, and is popular with magicians and cardists.



It comes in black or silver and is one of those utility items that will make the most sense for the serious playing card collector or traditional gamer. A more pricey carbon clip is also available, but even the standard card clips are of a high quality and should last a long time.



It doesn't really show up on the image here, but if you look closely at the actual product itself, you'll notice that the metallic finish features a fine zig-zag design on the outside of the clip, which adds to the class.

Pins

These metal and enamel collector pins feature a Spade or a King. They are 3/4 inch in size, and are designed to be suitable for lapels, hats or bags



In addition to the above accessories for card players, Art of Play also carries a small range of puzzles and other novel amusements - I'll let you check those out for yourself.

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

I don't really need to say a whole lot at this point, because the pictures speak for themselves, and you can come to your own conclusions about what you see! But here are a few thoughts:

Variety: Art of Play has an amazing variety of decks of cards - around 130 by my count. They carry a range of the usual suspects like Bicycle decks, as well as the more classy and popular decks by Theory 11, and their own home-grown Art of Play range and Dan & Dave range. There's definitely something here for everyone - you just need to look!

Creativity: Some of the decks here are just amazing in the creativity they exhibit. The Odd Bods deck and the Memento Mori decks are good examples, at least of the decks that I personally own. But there are countless others here, just waiting to be discovered.

Luxury: Even the more "ordinary" decks listed in the Art of Play catalogue are luxurious. I've used words like elegance and classy many times in this review - that's because these decks really fit that description, and are indeed well suited for gentry. Clearly Dan and Dave don't settle for second best, but only want to carry the most outstanding and high quality decks. Obviously this comes as a cost, because if you are going to get luxury, it won't be at dollar store prices. But the "discerning buyer" is almost certain to find something to his liking here.

Quality: The craftsmanship of these higher end decks is outstanding. I never thought I'd rave about the high quality of a deck of playing cards, but some of the ones I've shown above in this review are truly remarkable.

Exclusivity: While many lines of playing cards are carried in their stock-list, they also carry a number of exclusives, particularly their own range of decks, that you can't easily find elsewhere.



Recommendation

So is Art of Play (artofplay.com) something you need to check out? That depends on whether or not you're on the lookout for a deck of playing cards. If you are, and if you're in the market for something creative, unique, unusual, memorable, and hard to find or duplicate, it's hard to think of a better place to look. Whether you're looking for that one-of-a-kind high end deck for your own enjoyment, or a gift for another gamer, Art of Play has something that will suit.

But even if you're not a prospective buyer, you'll enjoy just browsing through the galleries, exploring some of the amazing decks available, and checking out some of the cards. What I've shown you in this review is only scratching the surface of what they have available at Art of Play, and only reflects the collection of playing cards that I own myself or have first-hand experience with. Congratulations to Dan & Dave Buck with their growing success, as they continue to add new notches in their belt of achievements, which already includes magic and cardistry, and now with Art of Play adds creativity and entrepreneurship. I'm already looking forward to see what they come up with next!


BoardGameGeek reviewer

For more of my reviews on custom playing cards, subscribe to this list: Pictorial Reviews of Playing Cards by EndersGame



------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

Subscribe to this list to be notified when new reviews are posted.

If you made it to the end of this review and found it helpful, please consider giving a thumbs up at the very top of the article, to let me know you were here, and to give others a better chance of seeing it.
15 
 Thumb up
0.25
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Martin Law
United Kingdom
Cambridge
Cambridgeshire
flag msg tools
mb
Amazing -- really amazing. Great post.

For me, it's interesting to note that I never get excited by the prospect of playing card games, but seeing these makes me want to try again, to remind myself of the games I used to play growing up. Thank you so much.

I'll have a look for a geeklist on favourite card games -- I'm sure there will be plenty, though I'd be happy to take suggestions.

1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Craig Duncan
United States
Ithaca
New York
flag msg tools
designer
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
Some suggestions:

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/1095987/favorite-most-p...

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/828109/games-skill

https://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/817651/favorite-card-ga...
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
mart0n wrote:
For me, it's interesting to note that I never get excited by the prospect of playing card games, but seeing these makes me want to try again, to remind myself of the games I used to play growing up. Thank you so much.

I'll have a look for a geeklist on favourite card games -- I'm sure there will be plenty, though I'd be happy to take suggestions.
Thanks for the feedback Martin. As for a list on favourite card games - I have just the thing, because I made a list exactly like that myself some time ago!

Favorite Games with Standard Playing Cards
2 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Mat Thomsen
United States
Medway
Massachusetts
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
I don't have any money!!

I want ALL of them!

I'm glad I could share this fascination with you.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
United States
flag msg tools
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmbmb
For years I collected unique decks of playing cards. Mostly fairly ordinary stuff at tourist traps and whatnot, but I just couldn't resist a deck I'd never seen before. Man, I'm glad I stopped before you got on this kick you're currently on, Ender, or you would have cost me a fortune.
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Here are two short video clips that feature Dan & Dave Buck, and show some fantastic examples of cardistry.

The first video is called "Avant Card” and was produced by DTS. The soundtrack will best be appreciated with headphones/earbuds, because this video was mixed/delivered in fully-immersive DTS Headphone:X technology.



The second video is called "The Art of Cardistry", and is a feature produced by Cool Hunting Video.



They're great to watch, and will give you a good idea of Dan and Dave's skills, and how impressive and entertaining cardistry can be. Enjoy!
3 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Martin Law
United Kingdom
Cambridge
Cambridgeshire
flag msg tools
mb
cdunc123 wrote:

Thank you!
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Martin Law
United Kingdom
Cambridge
Cambridgeshire
flag msg tools
mb
EndersGame wrote:
mart0n wrote:
For me, it's interesting to note that I never get excited by the prospect of playing card games, but seeing these makes me want to try again, to remind myself of the games I used to play growing up. Thank you so much.

I'll have a look for a geeklist on favourite card games -- I'm sure there will be plenty, though I'd be happy to take suggestions.
Thanks for the feedback Martin. As for a list on favourite card games - I have just the thing, because I made a list exactly like that myself some time ago!

Favorite Games with Standard Playing Cards

Thanks -- I ended up coming across this independently. Great write-up again!

 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls