Rare Playing Cards
My new favourite website
Boardgamers are often on a quest to find their "grail" game. Often it's something rare and out of print, and not readily available. In the world of playing cards, there are also "grail" decks, and some of them can cost enormous sums of money. I'm not exactly on a quest for playing cards that cost a fortune, but like many other gamers out there, I do love high quality game components, and so custom playing cards have a real appeal to me. Most of us have probably come across or own a standard Bicycle deck, or a cheap deck of cards from a local department store. But we can do better than that, surely! We live in an age where a Kickstarter fuelled market has injected all kinds of quality playing cards from creative and innovative designers into the industry, and spectacular new decks of playing cards are appearing all the time. But how do you find them, and from where do you get them?
Welcome to Rare Playing Cards. I think this has to be one of my new favourite web-sites! When I stumbled across it for the first time, I could hardly believe the enormous and amazing repository of playing cards available for purchase there! Their online catalogue lists more than 300 different decks of cards! All with image galleries so you can see exactly what you're getting. There are some stunning, stunning decks here! I was hooked.
So what's all this about? Rare Playing Cards is run by owner and founder Matthew Preuss, whose vision was to set up a business that would provide customers with a massive selection of all the best playing cards available today, and make them available for one-stop shopping. In his words, the site was formed "to help magicians, collectors, cardists, and poker players find and purchase some of the most sought after playing cards from one trusted place. All of our decks are stored in a climate-controlled warehouse to ensure that they remain in top condition." A climate-controlled warehouse for storing playing cards? This is serious business! For sure - orders are shipped worldwide within 24 hours of being placed, and tracking information is provided. Now that's professional!
But there's more. Rare Playing Cards doesn't just sell any old playing cards. They only want to sell the best. In other words: high quality designer decks, whether from well-known publishers and brands, or from obscure designers. You'll find them all here - hence the "Rare" in Rare Playing Cards! There are indeed some rare and otherwise hard to find playing cards available from them.
When I think of "Rare", I usually think of something not often found. And while the word can refer to old things, it is primarily about scarcity. Something rare is something that doesn't occur very often and is not found in large numbers. You'll find lots of cheap decks of cards, and even lots of standard Bicycle and Bee decks, but what about rarities that are far more special and stunning? These are the kinds of playing cards that will knock your socks off, and they are the kinds that Rare Playing Cards sells.
In this review, I want to take a journey with you, my readers, to check out the beauty of some of these playing cards. And in keeping with the "rare" theme, let's especially take a trip back to the past, and see if we can find some decks of playing cards that really epitomize the meaning of rare, by bringing us back to special moments and events in history, or otherwise represent something special and unique. I ordered a bunch of decks to check out, many of which I am giving away as gifts to family and friends, and maybe you'll want to do the same after seeing some stunning examples like the ones that follow below. Let me warn you - gushing enthusiasm is standard fare for my reviews, because I only review things that I'm enthusiastic about, and right now I'm brimming with enthusiasm about these playing cards, and this website!
Rare Playing Cards with Old Time Games
Let's start by examining some decks that have a connection with traditional games. There are many old time games that have a close connection with playing cards, and there are also some wonderful decks available that celebrate traditional use of playing cards, or classic board games like chess.
Glamor Nugget: Gold Edition
Playing cards themselves have a history going back to 12th century Imperial China, and first appeared in Southern Europe in the mid 14th century. The suits that we are familiar with today (diamonds, clubs, spades and hearts) are considered to be French suits, and originated with the Italian and Spanish suits of cups, clubs, swords, and coins, which are still used in some European decks today, while the German suits of acorns, leaves, hearts, and bells, are also favoured in some locations. There are many other interesting historical facts about playing cards, but it is no secret that gambling, and particularly poker, has played a big role in popularizing playing cards. Most cultures have a long history of card games that rely in varying amounts on skill or luck. But even today, many people still associate playing cards with casinos. And so, I introduce to you the casino inspired: Glamor Nugget: Gold Edition.
For most card collectors, using the word "Nugget" and "Playing Cards" in the same sentence will immediately get their attention and spark their interest. Inevitably, they'll think of the Jerry's Nugget playing cards, one of the most iconic and valuable decks of cards you can get. These decks of playing cards were created for use at Jerry's Nugget Casino in the 1970s, but ended up being sold at the casino's gift store rather than used on the gaming tables. At the time, they were made from a top of the line USPCC cardstock that is not available today and is thinner than most playing cards, and were produced using a chemical finish that is no longer available today either, and using a process that can't be replicated due to printing methods used today. They are highly sought after and much loved by collectors and card flourishers alike due to their good handling qualities and increasing scarcity, and can fetch up to $500 for a deck on the secondary market. There are even online guides for how to spot illegal fakes created by sophisticated counterfeiters in 2008!
Not far behind the Jerry's Nugget Playing Cards, are the Golden Nugget ones. The Golden Nugget Casino was built in Las Vegas in 1946, and playing cards from the casino produced in the 1960s and 1970s have also become valuable collector's items. These decks typically command prices of up to $150 on eBay right now. The playing cards come in a range of colours, including black, brown, blue, red, orange, and a light green.
As a tribute to the famous and rare Golden Nugget playing cards, a series of playing cards was made called Glamor Nugget Playing Cards. They have a retro feel to them, and continue the legend of the Golden Nugget by taking over the style and design of the originals, and are available in a range of many colours (including Blue, Red, Black, Brown, Purple, Orange.)
But the most glamorous of the Glamor Nugget decks is the Gold Edition, and that's the one I'm featuring here. It evokes the feel of the original Golden Nugget deck, but stands apart from them in that it has gold foil.
The Ace of Spades is patterned after the original Ace of Spades from the Golden Nugget deck, while the card backs are black with gold foil lettering that reads "Glamor Nugget Gambling Hall".
They create the originals very closely, and are almost identical, the main difference being that GOLDEN has been changed to GLAMOR, as this comparison between the joker from each deck shows.
Most of the other cards in the deck are quite standard, but it's the glitz and glamor of the card backs, and its iconic retro feel that makes this a real item of class.
Where to find it: https://rareplayingcards.com/products/glamor-nugget-gold-edi...
The Knights deck draws on a tradition as old playing cards themselves: chess. While the thought of a serious and lengthy chess game might make the eyes of many modern gamers glaze over, and they might think it no more entertaining than watching paint dry, the reality is that this classic board game is steeped in tradition, and enjoys great popularity the world over. There are competitive tournaments worldwide, international competitions are held regularly, thousands of games being played online at any given moment, and some of the top young players enjoy a rock star status in the chess world and beyond.
The Knights deck plays tribute to this golden foundation stone of modern gaming, and takes its name from the piece with the unusual movement: The Knight. The tuck box has a matte finish, with an elegant and distinguished combination of white with gold foil, giving an immediately luxurious and classic appearance.
But the understated tuck box has some real surprises in store - not least this which is this beautiful gold and the iconic knight on the inside of the flap.
The back of the cards has a college of small chess pieces decorating the artwork.
The number cards and court cards feature a uniformity in style, but retain a limited colour palette within the confines of a somewhat traditional look, to enhance the look and feel of complete class.
I especially love the joker, which features a check-mated king and a raven.
This deck was created by Daniel Madison and Chris Ramsay, who will be very familiar names to many in the world of playing cards, due to their association with big name publishers like Ellusionist and Theory11, and creators of many stunning decks.
It's a minimalistic design that has an elegant look due to the shiny gold ink that is used, and the beautiful delicate artwork that was done by Oban Jones, who also created some of the stunning publicity photos.
Where to find it: https://rareplayingcards.com/products/knights?rfsn=540019.2d...
Rare Playing Cards with Old Time Movies
From old time games, we move to old time movies. It's time to bring out the popcorn, turn on the screen, and get the projector running - because in old times, there was no such thing as streaming media or digital movies! So let's turn on the nostalgia, and see whether these decks of playing cards can help us go back to the eras of old fashioned film.
Bicycle Cinema deck
The Bicycle Cinema Playing Cards brings the magic of old time movies to playing cards.
In the words of the creative team, "The look is inspired by the golden age of film, including retro film, reels, comfy red seats and projectors."
The card design looks just like a film strip, with the cards having a classic yellowed finish to give a nostalgic and old time look. Notice how the numbers and the pips are carefully positioned along the sides inside the film strip.
This is also the case with the number cards, which have a similar yellow tint.
One of the really unique things about this deck is the animation feature - you can flip through the cards to do a 3-2-1 count-down, just like in the old movies.
The film strip sides also appear to move vertically during this animation, which looks really cool. Even though this feature does take away something from the functionality of the deck (since all the card backs are unique and could be memorized), it has been well implemented, and it gives added appeal for collectors.
Here's our Joker friend, waiting with his popcorn for the film to get started.
The cards were created by Collectable Playing Cards and printed by USPCC, so they are top quality, with the usual air cushion finish and everything else you expect from a Bicycle deck.
Where to find it: https://rareplayingcards.com/products/bicycle-cinema?rfsn=54...
Since we're watching old time movies, let's dust off the old electronics sitting in our garage, and pull out the old VHS player to watch some rare home video footage of family gatherings, or yard sale movies! Introducing the deck of VHS Playing Cards.
This stunning retro deck really does look like a VHS tape, starting from the tuck box itself, which looks just like an old VHS cover. Even the cards slide out of the side of the tuck box. As for the card-backs, these are designed to look just like a VHS tape. Brilliant isn't it?!
The court cards are sketched onto a black grid, with retro fitted colors.
The numbered cards are also illustrated by hand to make it look like scribble, and are also composed on a black grid that shows the numbers and pips.
Even the Joker gets in on the fun.
This deck definitely has a strong retro feel, and creates a nostalgic vibe, while being attractive and amusing all at the same time!
Where to find it: https://rareplayingcards.com/products/vhs-deck?rfsn=540019.2...
Rare Playing Cards with Old Time Art
So we've covered old time games and old time film, now it's time to look back in the past at another cultural highlight: the world of art! Can these rare playing cards help us step back in time, and enjoy some old time art from years gone by?
Uusi Classic deck
Let's head back to the Renaissance era for some inspiration, and take a visit to the headquarters of Uusi, a Chicago design studio, which features established artists Peter Dunham and Linnea Gits, who work in the design field. They've had their work featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times, and their art has been used in award winning advertising campaigns.
With credentials like that, it's no surprise that when they turned their hand to creative custom playing cards, they were a big success. They've designed several artful takes on playing cards, including the popular Bohemia Playing Cards deck, the playful Hot Cakes, the modernist BRuT, and the deck featured next, Uusi Classic, which comes in either a red or a blue version, both with embossed tuck boxes.
This beautiful deck features stunning hand-painted artwork that was inspired by era of the Renaissance. The word "Renaissance" literally translates from French to English as "rebirth", and Peter and Linnea wanted to celebrate the rebirth of the humble playing card with their own interpretation of a classic style deck.
In 2012 the Uusi team began a series of decks for which they made a deliberate decision to only use traditional art methods rather than computer generated imagery, being of the conviction that these traditional methods create an emotion or feeling that digital artwork cannot replicate or capture. This deck was the sixth and last of that series.
The spectacular artwork begins with the delicate hand-painted patterns on the card backs, and a very elaborate design for the Ace of Spades.
The court cards feature characters that are intricately detailed and carefully painted, with a strong historical connection that makes you feel as if you just stepped back into time into Europe during the Renaissance.
They are also entirely original, rather than just being a variation of standard court cards.
The number cards also look very stylish, and it's not often that I've seen a deck that stays true to the classic look of the pips, and yet has a very distinct style of its own as this clearly does.
The deck is rounded out with two beautiful Jokers.
The Uusi Classic Playing Cards are indeed a real and rare treasure, and definitely worthy of their place in a "Rare Playing Cards" collection.
Where to find it: https://rareplayingcards.com/products/uusi-classic?rfsn=5400...
Russian Folk Art deck
Our historical journey to the world of art isn't over yet, because now we head to Russia, to explore some traditional folk art designs, that have roots in a long tradition.
Natalia Silva is the designer of the Russian Folk Art Playing Cards, which was printed by USPCC. She has created a number of other artistic decks, but the Russian Folk Art deck is one of her most artistic, most popular, and best, and she's produced several versions of it.
For this deck, which features strong colours of red and green often associated today with Christmas, Natalia took her inspiration from her Russian heritage and culture. In her own words "Traditional folk art has always played an intrinsic part of domestic culture across Russia and represents the rooted artistic perceptions, traditions and practices of the citizens." In making these cards, she created 54 original designs. That's right: every single card in the deck has a different design, including the number cards!
The circular floral design on the card-backs immediately creates an artistic impression of a careful design within the context of strict patterns and structures. A similar style emerges with the over-sized Aces, which have ornate decorations inside and around them, like the Ace of Hearts here.
Every other number in the deck features a single image with variations according to each suit. For example, the 10s all feature the Russian Orthodox Church, while the 2s seen below all feature the Kremlin, which is the heart of Russian political life, and the centre of its culture and history.
The 9s all picture a Russian Samovar, a device traditionally used to heat and boil water for tea, and in Russian tradition considered to have a soul.
Russian folk art often features nature themes, like the 3s, which have different design elements symbolic of protection against evil and sources of good things. The 5s feature the famous Russian Nesting Doll (Matryoshka), invented over 100 years ago, and today widely recognized as a symbol of Russian culture.
Traditionally, the style of Russian folk art involved many decorative elements, like ornaments and floral designs (e.g. flowers, leaves, buds). Wild flowers and berries are common motifs. The bird is often used as a symbol of the promise of harvest and wealth, and embodying love, marriage, and motherhood.
This uncut sheet gives a good overview of the entire deck, and a sense of the intricate details and artistic variety.
Given their obvious resemblance, it will come as no surprise that the court cards are all inspired by the Russian Nesting Doll. Notice again the strong emphasis on nature and floral motifs.
Where to find it: https://rareplayingcards.com/products/russian-folk-art?rfsn=...
Rare Playing Cards with Old Time Style
Some decks are intended to be collector's decks, and these are typically decks like some of the ones above, which feature ornate artwork on every card. While this is beautiful, it's less ideal for playing card games or performing magic, because the exquisite artwork on the cards can distract from the magic or game-play. For this reason, the serious player or magician will look for a deck that has number and court cards that look more standard, while still looking stylish and elegant. And that's where the rare decks below come in. They are very playable, because they don't feature unusual or out-of-the-ordinary court cards or number cards. But they still create an immediate impression with a luxurious and classy look.
Victorian Room deck
The Victorian Room Playing Cards are extremely unique and classy, and they typify style because they have quite the story to tell. This deck was created by the Blue Crown, which is a company that creates products designed for magicians.
The deck is designed by Rudy Faber, with artwork by Edo Huang. It is inspired by the Victorian-era, with custom aces, card-backs and jokers, and printing by Expert Playing Card Co. The deck itself creates an immediate impression as a result of the unusual card-back design.
The tuck-box has a die-cut circle, so that the center of the card-backs are visible when the deck is inside the box. This creates a stunning effect, and is immediately striking and beautiful! Just wow!
Let's take a closer look at the beautiful artwork on the deck backs, along with the Joker.
Notice the name on the Joker? "Ace Victoria". Who is that? Well, there is a fascinating story that goes along with this deck, and here it is, as the publisher tells it:
"Our story begins 100 years ago - the year is 1916. A mysterious man travels the world teaching people his sleight of hand. He was the best of his day but not many knew how he looked like except the ones fortunate enough to meet him.
They called him Ace Victoria. Arthur “Ace” Victoria was born in Birmingham, England. He later moved to the U.S. at the start of the century where it was said he taught Erdnase himself a thing or two. His travels took him all over the world. Although very little is known of him, the majority of information was revealed in his journal, which was found years later in India. His custom card design was found sketched in the journal along with many secret techniques and sleights devised by Ace.
The Blue Crown has taken upon the task of restoring the artwork found in the old journal and reprinting this amazing deck of cards. Enter the Victorian Room."
True story or legend? I have no idea, but what I do know is that these Aces are just stunning!
The remaining cards in the deck are fairly standard, although the court cards do feature a colour palette that makes them look very elegant.
This is just a delightful and classy deck all round, that will be ideal for the magician, poker player, or for just playing cards with family and friends.
Where to find it: https://rareplayingcards.com/products/victorian-room?rfsn=54...
Rarebit Gold Edition deck
But when it comes to class and style, few things get better than the Rarebit Gold Edition. Right from the moment you see the tuck-box, you can tell that this is a deck with style. Featuring a matt black, it has embossed gold foil, with a signature style title, that just oozes elegance.
Created by Theory11, which is known for its range of elegant decks that are popular with magicians, this is one of the top of their range.
The original Rarebit decks produced by Theory11 in 2013 were inspired by a restaurant called "The Rarebit" in Charleston, South Carolina. The decks quickly sold out, and soon were commanding remarkable prices in the secondary market, and now can cost up to $200, since they are highly sought after. After the original Rarebit, in 2015 Theory11 released Rarebit Copper, a follow-up which featured the same design, but with copper foil. Both of these were beautiful, but are still easily topped by the deck we see here, Rarebit Gold, which was released at the start of 2017.
The Jay Fletcher design of the card-backs is the same with all the Rarebit decks, but the real appeal of the Rarebit Gold decks is the gold foil. They really look stunning, and seeing a hand of gold foil backs being fanned or spread looks mighty impressive! It really does have the appearance and sparkle of gold, and evokes an overwhelming sense of luxury and class.
The Ace of Spades is also intricately detailed, bursting with life, and contains a drinking glass which reflects the cafe that is behind the Rarebit name.
As for the court cards, they feature another unique element of this deck: they all have rabbits as the characters. This is of course in keeping with the name of the deck, since "rarebit" is how you'd pronounce the word "rabbit" with a drawl. This title actually has its origin in a cafe of that name, and that's why the careful observer will notice some drink related references in the artwork.
What I like about the court cards, aside from the unique rabbits, is the minimalist style. Besides the bold red and black of the pips, the only colours used for the art are a beige colour, which ensures that the pips and usability of the cards remains the focus, so that this deck can actually be used, rather than just be relegated to becoming a collector's item. Yet it's not an ordinary beige, since a gold metallic ink has been used for this, which adds to the sense of class. They are really beautiful, while remaining very playable at the same time, and that is their real strength. So despite the the striking sense of wealth and luxury, the cards are still very functional.
The face cards don't look too unusual, although they do have a very stylized font and somewhat chunky shape, that helps make them look classy and elegant, without giving the impression that it's attempting to be an artsy deck. The Joker, of course, continues the rabbit ("rarebit") theme.
Despite some of the bling on the card backs, the cards still handle beautifully. They aren't too stiff, and have a finish that enables smooth shuffling and card manipulation.
This is just an all round beautiful deck; little wonder that earlier versions quickly sold out and became collector's items, and it's not hard to see this one ending up doing something similar.
Where to find it: https://rareplayingcards.com/products/rarebit-gold-edition?r...
What do I think?
I trust that it's not difficult to see why Rare Playing Cards has become one of my new favourite websites.
Beauty: I'll start with the beauty. There are so many decks to choose from, but almost everyone is going to find one deck here that will make them say "Wow! I want that!" Some of these playing cards are just stunning and breath-taking. It's hard not to be moved and enchanted by decks like Uusi Classic, or the Russian Folk Art Playing Cards.
Class: While some decks can be considered beautiful, others are best described as elegant and classy, and will prove to be a better choice for magicians and card players, due to the absence of distracting designs or artwork. Whether you're a collector, or a magician or player that needs to put cards to work, there is something suitable for everyone. I'm especially a big fan of the Knights deck, and the Rarebit Gold deck!
Creativity: Some of the decks featured here are just incredibly creative. While I love the retro look of the VHS cards, which instantly grabbed my attention, I've come to really appreciate the Bicycle Cinema deck, which has a unique animation feature. This kind of creativity stretches boundaries and adds new points of interest to admire in a deck of playing cards.
Quality: The quality of these decks is consistently wonderful. These are not cheap playing cards as in: cheap quality. They are produced by proven printing companies that are reputable and established names in the business, like US Playing Card Company, Legends Playing Card Company, and Expert Playing Cards. It's good card-stock and good finishing, that handles well and is durable.
Diversity: Because Rare Playing Cards features decks of cards from a variety of publishing houses, they have opportunity to stock the best of the best from a range of different creators and designers. They do have a number of items listed as out of stock, which some might find frustrating or disappointing, but the fact that they remain in their online catalogue means you can still access information and images about these decks, which I consider useful, especially if it's a deck you've bought previously.
Visual: One thing that really made Rare Playing Cards stand out above many other online retailers of playing cards that I've checked out over the last couple of months are their amazing image galleries. For each deck they sell, they have beautiful images of the tuck boxes, card backs, and some sample cards, which are well photographed and of good quality. So there are no surprises, and you don't have to imagine what might be inside the box. You can see exactly what you are getting in advance, and pick out something you like.
Service: My contacts with Matthew were smooth, and once I'd picked out the decks I wanted, the order was soon on its way, shipped within a day, and arrived speedily. I also find the website very professional and user-friendly.
So is Rare Playing Cards something for you? Given that the word "rare" means "scarce, not found in large quantities", it has been a delight to discover this enormous repository of beautiful playing cards, like the eight decks I've reviewed here. There's more than enough inferior and ordinary decks of cards to be found in your local department store. But while high quality custom playing cards with stunning designs can sometimes prove hard to find, Rare Playing Cards makes it easy. Playing cards like these are great for people like me who enjoy using a beautiful deck when playing traditional card games, and they also make great gifts for gamers, or prizes for your next Cribbage contest or euchre tournament.
So if you're looking for an unusual or high quality deck of playing cards, the selection you'll find here can't be beat, and you'll be able to browse and find exactly the deck that you want. I'm very pleased to have discovered this rarity, and am happy to recommend the decks I've featured in this review, and this website!
What to learn more? Check out RarePlayingCards.com
Direct links for the decks featured in this review:
- Old Time Games: Glamor Nugget: Gold Edition and Knights deck
- Old Time Movies: Bicycle Cinema Playing Cards and VHS Playing Cards
- Old Time Art: Uusi Classic and Russian Folk Art Playing Cards
- Old Time Style: Victorian Room Playing Cards and Rarebit Gold Edition
For more of my reviews on custom playing cards, subscribe to this list: Pictorial Reviews of Playing Cards by EndersGame
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- [+] Dice rolls
- Kristof Bodric(vidra)Serbia
Novi SadAnd the ranger's aim was deadly with the big iron on his hip...
- Some of these look stunning. I particularly like the Uusi deck.
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- Moose DetectiveUnited States
New YorkIs it a moose that became a detective ? Or a detective who searches for moose?
Those Cinema cards are really sweet but...the backs aren't identical so its basically a marked deck and not functional? That's sad.
Either way, that was a cool list and way more fun than yet another Top Ten Farming Games Without Cows From March2014-July2016.
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- Russ Williams(russ)Poland
stevelabny wrote:Those Cinema cards are really sweet but...the backs aren't identical so its basically a marked deck and not functional?I wondered about that too! Or it several decks that could be combined or something?
Or maybe if several backs are very randomly assigned, it would be functional for most people, except those who are very attentive with good memories? I dunno...
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russ wrote:Yes, you are right, and I've made an edit to make that more explicit.stevelabny wrote:Those Cinema cards are really sweet but...the backs aren't identical so its basically a marked deck and not functional?I wondered about that too! Or it several decks that could be combined or something? Or maybe if several backs are very randomly assigned, it would be functional for most people, except those who are very attentive with good memories?
With the Bicycle Cinema deck the card backs are indeed all unique due to the cool animation feature built in. So it wouldn't be ideal to use for an actual game, although it would depend on what you were playing and how. You could use always card sleeves if you really wanted to use it.
That particular deck is probably more geared towards collectors and admirers, whereas all the others reviewed here are perfectly functional.
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- Amy (Other Amy)United States
- Love the Knights deck.
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- Michael K.(Loodlood)NetherlandsHoe, hoe, hee, hee!!? Zo werkt dat niet!!
Nice looking decks but I am a bit surprised to see this message was accepted by the moderators of BGG. Although the OP gives us his opinion about these cards, it is also a, rather shameless, plug for the company that produces these cards (complete with name and web address).
Is this accepted on BGG?
- [+] Dice rolls
Loodlood wrote:Nice looking decks but I am a bit surprised to see this message was accepted by the moderators of BGG. Although the OP gives us his opinion about these cards, it is also a, rather shameless, plug for the company that produces these cards (complete with name and web address).I don't normally include links to where you can buy games/decks in my reviews, but I have had some requests for it lately.
Since custom decks of playing cards like the ones I've reviewed here can be hard to find online if you don't know where to look, and several other users here have been asking me where they can get them and how much they typically cost, in this case I thought it was justified.
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