More Rare Playing Cards - Animal Feature!

Rare Playing Cards

Rare. adjective. Not found in large numbers, and so of interest or value. Not occurring very often. Unusually good or remarkable.
Synonyms: unusual, uncommon, unfamiliar, out of the ordinary, atypical, singular, remarkable, special, precious, exceptional.

The primary hallmark of something rare is not its age, but its scarcity. And when it comes to playing cards, what's not rare are the "ordinary" decks of playing cards most of us see and perhaps use all the time. You can find these in abundance at your local department store, supermarket, and corner-store. Some of these are lousy quality, and while some branded decks like Bee and Bicycle are quality products, they are also somewhat plain, are mass produced, and can easily be obtained all the way around the globe.

But what about an artistic deck of custom playing cards that is truly beautiful and artistic? What about a unique deck of playing cards that is only produced in small quantities, of perhaps hundreds or low thousands? These are the kind of rare items that you'll find being sold by online retailer Rare Playing Cards. As I wrote in an earlier review, it's one of my new favourite websites, because they sell hundreds of stunning decks, ones that are not easily found or purchased elsewhere; ones that are typically of high quality card stock, with unique and beautiful designs, and many of these will make enough of a first impression to knock my socks off.

Rare Animals

But high quality playing cards aren't the only thing that can be rare. The same is true of animals. And it is particularly true in our modern world, where urban development at time threatens the habitat and homes of various animal species, some of which are facing very real threats for survival, and becoming increasingly rare.

There are also animals which are not under threat as such, but nonetheless are rarely seen. When is the last time you saw a walrus, a water buffalo, or a crocodile? Exactly. For most of us, that's rare.

In this review, I want to take a journey with you, my readers, to check out the beauty of some rare playing cards. And in keeping with the "rare" theme, let's especially take a trip to the animal world, to see if we can find some decks of playing cards that give us the opportunity to enjoy some of the beautiful animals that we might rarely see in normal life.

Now let me warn you in advance - and my regular readers might see this coming already, because I only review things that I am enthusiastic about - expect some gushing enthusiasm. I love decks of playing cards like these, and I love the fact that I can get them at a one-stop-shop online. They've made great gifts for family and friends, both gamers and non-gamers alike, and they also make great prices for tournaments. So let's get our tour started, hop into our online safari bus, and get started!

Rare Playing Cards with Wild Animals

GAIA deck

Let's start by checking out a brand new deck, and one that is possibly my favourite on this list. Rare Playing Cards is producing the GAIA deck under their Forge Arts label, which previously produced Märchen Playing Cards, a deck based on old Germanic folktales and legends. Now they are teaming up with the remarkably talented Ben Sinclair, who has come up with the delightful hand-drawn artwork for their new GAIA Playing Cards, which is currently up for funding on Kickstarter. This deck is about showcasing animals and their ecological habitats or biological communities of plants and animals.

It's already obvious from the tuck box that this deck is something special. If you look carefully, you'll see that it has wrap-around artwork that forms a single panoramic image. In this case we have the front depicting a magnificent stag perched on a rock, while the back of the box shows an expansive African landscape, complete with elephants and birds of prey.

Young artist Ben Sinclair has done an outstanding job in all the artwork for this deck. He's only 17 years old, but to give some indication of his ability, the oil painting below of an elephant won him a scholarship with the Royal Society of British Artists! Wow! When I was 17 my list of accomplishments weren't much more than riding my bike to school and completing Grade 12 exams!

The concept of the Gaia deck was inspired by the Gaia Hypothesis, which was posited by independent scientist and environmentalist James Lovelock along with microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s. It postulates that the Earth functions as a self-regulating system, or to put it in more technical terms, "that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet." Named after the Greek goddess of the Earth, Gaia Philosophy holds that living organisms will affect the nature of their environment to make it more suitable for life. While these theories have attracted a lot of criticism, and many scientists today consider it unsupported by scientific evidence, it remains influential, and the theory did have a big impact on later research, as you can see from a selection of articles on the subject from New Scientist here.

But even if Gaia theory that animals shape their environment and vice-versa isn't entirely tenable, the fact is that plants and animals do inter-relate, and there are important connections between plants and animals in different environments. This deck of playing cards celebrates those connections. In the words of the creator: "GAIA is a detailed and unique playing card project that took over a year to bring to perfection. Our aim was to appeal to the playing card community of collectors and enthusiasts while also offering a deck that celebrates nature and wildlife."

The way this is accomplished is by arranging the suits according to "biomes", which refers to a biological community of plants and animals, which may exist in different places in the world, but have a shared physical climate. Different biomes have been proposed, and the ones chosen for this deck are the following four: rainforest (clubs), savanna (hearts), tundra (diamonds), and alpine (spades). As the project puts it beautifully: "Slip through the thick growth of the rainforest, sleep beneath the stars of the savanna, or shiver in the tundra as you watch a snow leopard… This is your world, the world of GAIA."

The back design features carefully chosen earthy colours that were deliberately chosen to contrast with the bright colours of the face cards, as well as featuring a design with a pattern that represents life.

Each suit features animals and plants corresponding to its biome. In the case of the Hearts, the Savanna landscape is pictured, populated with a powerful lion King, an elephant Queen, and a water buffalo Jack.

The Clubs represent the Rainforest; the King features a roaring gorilla, and the Queen a cunning panther, but my favourite court card here is the vibrant and colourful toucan Jack.

The Diamonds suit represents the frozen Tundra, which is confirmed by the massive polar bear King. A snow leopard was chosen for the Queen, and a walrus for the Jack.

For our final habitat, the Spades, we head to the Alpine heights, where amongst other things we find a stunning stag King, an owl Queen, and a wolf Jack.

Notice also how the artwork of the court cards does not form an exact mirror image, with the reverse side showing another look at the featured animal.

In each suit there is matching customized art for the Ace, as can be seen with the Alpine and Rainforest depicted here on the Ace of Spades and Ace of Clubs.

The number cards are also customized, and have thematically related patterns for the pips: savanna, rainforest, tundra, and alpine. By assigning each suit its own habitat, which is reflected on all the cards of that suit, there is a unity of style and content.

And how can we forget the hilarious Jokers - two playful chimpanzees.

The deck is going to be USPCC produced, with their embossed air-condition finish, and a quality comparable to the classic Bicycle decks, but in a limited run of 2500.

A companion Moonlight Edition is also being released, which has card-backs re-coloured with shades of blue, and some other small changes including the tuck box. Collectors will also be pleased to learn that as part of this, there is a limited printing of 500 individually numbered Moonlight decks available.

To help support this project, head here.

Animal Kingdom deck

So how are we going to protect all these animals, especially the rare ones, and what can we do to ensure their ongoing survival?

That's where the Animal Kingdom deck comes in.

Both the Ace of Spades and the card-backs reflect this deck's connection with the World Wildlife Fund. The pattern of the global symbol on the card-backs is also a key feature of the interior printing of the tuck box as well.

The real attraction of this deck are the delightful court cards, which feature charming hand-illustrated artwork of various animals, like our Walrus and Racoon friends shown here.

While the Spades/Clubs rely on a blue and green scheme, the colour palette for the Hearts/Diamonds is primarily red and purple, as shown with our Lion King and Parrot Jack.

The number cards feature pips in a custom style that is consistent with those of the court cards.

This deck of playing cards was a special collaboration with World Wildlife Fund, and part of the money generated by each deck purchased goes towards the World Wildlife Fund to help assist their work in global conservation. WWF is the world's largest conservation organization, and works hard to preserve and protect the beautiful species that inhabit our planet.

Two charming jokers round out the deck.

The gorgeous illustrations for this deck were created by Hatch Design, while the deck was produced by Theory11, well known for producing quality playing cards.

Appropriately, the cards are printed on FSC-certified paper derived from sustainable forests, using starch-based laminates and vegetable-based inks.

Rare Playing Cards with Unique Animals

Mantecore deck

So what about if you do manage to become friends with some of the magnificent wildlife we've already seen?

Let's find out the answer by checking out the Mantecore deck.

The mention of "Save the Tigers" on the tuck box alludes to the dwindling number of tigers as a result of poaching. Part of the profits from the making of this deck went in support of Panthera's "Save the Tiger Fund".

Mantecore, on the other hand, is the name of a something rare indeed - a famous white tiger. Animals have always had a close connection with magic, but it takes a brave magician to include the big cats like lions and tigers as part of their routine. This deck is a tribute to the famous Las Vegas magician duo Siegfried and Roy, whose iconic white tiger named Mantecore was one of the big drawcards in their popular act, until the time he nearly killed Roy in a live performance in 2003.

The card-backs of this deck feature Mantecore's face against the background of his stripes, and the overall design shape is inspired somewhat by the classical Bicycle rider-back.

But of course instead of bicycles, these cards feature the beloved tiger Mantecore, who is also prowling around the Ace of Spades.

In fact Mantecore has a position of honour and prominence on all the Aces!

And of course the Joker is another opportunity to showcase the hero of this deck! The second Joker has a card reveal that magicians will be able to use.

Meanwhile the court cards have been simplified and enlarged from the classic set, and the result is a younger look, and colour scheme that matches the rest of the deck.

The pips in this deck are also custom, although they don't differ drastically from a traditional deck.

The quality of the cards themselves are terrific, because this deck was produced by Legends Playing Card Company (see my review here), in both their Diamond and their Emerald finishes, which are extremely durable, even more so than USPCC produced decks.

The design is by graphic designer Edo Huang from Indonesia, who also produced the Nautical deck, and Benjamin Loo from Singapore also contributed to the production.

Chameleons deck

Not all wildlife is dangerous, and there are certainly some animals that are most unusual and fascinating. And perhaps one of the best examples of that is the Chameleon. Introducing: the Chameleons Luxury Green Metallic deck.

Like their animal counterpart, the Chameleons can change colours. In this case, they were produced in three versions: Metallic Red, Metallic Blue, and Luxury Metallic Green. It's the Green deck that I'm reviewing here, which has iridescent foil on the cards.

One of the special attributes of the Chameleon tuck box is that it is made out of an exclusive synthetic paper, which is designed to be waterproof, and much more durable than an ordinary tuck box. The Green deck also has a die cut hole that displays the hot stamped foil on the card-backs.

The card-backs have an ornate mono-coloured design with Chameleons lurking in the corners - you'll need to look carefully to see them, because they're the same colour as the rest of the pattern on the back of the card, and they're easy to miss!

The ornate and over-sized Ace of Spades features an AW monogram, which represents the creator Asi Wind, a New York based corporate magician and mentalist.

As the Ace also indicates, this deck was produced by Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC), using their popular Classic finish, which has all the usual qualities we've come to expect from EPCC and LPCC, including a traditional cut that is better for faro shuffles and has cleaner edges than a typical USPCC Bicycle type deck, a consistent printing registration, and durable finish with excellent handling.

For the rest all the cards are quite standard, including the court cards and number cards, but there is one exception: the Joker. This features the star of the deck, our friend the Chameleon.

In this Green deck, the fact that the designer's initials are hot-stamped on the card-backs with iridescent foil creates a very classy look!

In many respects this deck is one that has been created by a magician for magicians. It is designed to be very classy and elegant, without drawing too much attention to distracting elements, and that's why it has a traditional look for the most part. Yet when it comes to things like the design of the Ace of Spades, Jokers, card-backs, and especially the tuck-box, that's where all stops have been pulled out to ensure luxury and detail.

Another special feature of this deck geared to magicians is the unusual order in which the deck is packaged. It comes in Mnemonica order, with Ace of Spades on the bottom, so magicians familiar with this system can give the deck a single cut straight from the box, and start performing card miracles!

Rare Playing Cards with Flying Animals

Bumble Bee deck

From lions and tigers we go to another animal at risk, and it's perhaps one you wouldn't expect: Bees.

The Bumble Bee deck from Ellusionist pays tribute to the humble bumble bee. As they point out: "Bees are more necessary to growing food than tractors are. We are dependent on their ability to pollinate the food we need to eat. We should be bowing down to thank the honey bee every day we find ourselves alive. Instead, we load their little bodies with a witches brew of pesticides which have caused "CCD"...Colony Collapse Disorder. Whole hives are wiped out almost instantly. "

Our package gets us buzzing immediately, courtesy of a sweet looking tuck box. But how big is the problem? According to the creators of this deck, 10 million hives have been wiped out in the past 6 years, in what they call a "Beemageddon". Clearly these little insects need all the help they can get!

But all is not lost - the Bumble Bee deck has been designed to help the plight of the bumble bee. 10% of all profit generated by the Bumble Bee decks is donated to support honey bees via the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Since 2015, Ellusionist has raised over $16,000 in funding towards the sustaining of bees.

The card-backs feature a very intricate design on a faded and antique style background, one that bees would certainly feel at home in - in fact two of them have a home right in the middle of the card.

And if you want to join the rest of the swarm, then just head over to the Ace of Spades, where there's a hive ready to go.

I love the simple colour choices - completely bee friendly of course - and the somewhat vintage 1800s look is completely in keeping with the environmental theme of the deck.

I especially appreciate the way that the pips have been done on the corners of the cards, with the spades in yellow highlighted against bumblebee black.

The court cards also have a very earthy and unpolished look, that celebrates our connection to nature.

But it's the indices that really makes fanning the card look beautiful. The red suits have indices with white pips against a red background, to distinguish them clearly from the black suits, ensuring good functionality.

Both Jokers offer educational reminders about the vital role of bees as pollinators.

Others have described the handling better than I could: they are smooth and sweet like honey, with card-stock that will make you buzz with excitement, stinging the mind, and handling like butter!

Inside and out, this is a beautiful deck, and it's a great cause too.

Killer Bee deck

But not every bee is entirely innocuous, even if bees do need protection!

The Killer Bees deck pays homage to a hybrid breed that is a mutant mixture between the friendly European honeybee and their less friendly cousins in Africa.

This stylish deck begins making an immediate impression with its matt black tuck box, with gold foil accents. But lurking beneath the humble black and yellow exterior is some killer material inside! A glimpse of the potent and sleek design of the card-backs should give some indication of what is in store.

This deck is all about killer bees. The Africanized honey bee was introduced to Brazil in the 1950s to build up the production of honey, but 26 swarms escaped quarantine in 1957, and the dangerous species has since spread throughout North and South America. They've killed around 1000 humans, with the amount of stings they give their victims being tenfold what their European counterparts impart. They've also killed horses and other animals.

Sounds nasty! And so is this deck. As the creators of this deck put it: "We wanted to capture the darker bodies of these cold-face killers in our deck. Creating a harsh black back with toxic-waste yellow honeycomb spilt on the back."

The card-backs have a striking geometric honeycomb design.

The court cards emphasize the simple black and gold colour scheme (with white for the opposite coloured suits) with sharp lines and lots of empty space.

The number cards employ a similar formula of minimalism, while yet ensuring that the suits are sufficiently distinguished, and that the red and black suits won't quickly become confused. The creators describe it as a "sinister simplicity - like something you'd expect to see on a discarded barrel of methylamine".

The result is a very dark looking deck, where the cards work together to create a powerful impression together, which may even sting you with surprise.

The Aces are superb examples of the greatest minimalism possible, but even they can swarm together to impress.

The Jokers get in on this act with some killer moves of their own, in a homage to the vital role that bees play in pollination, while recognising both the well and woe that they can bring to humanity.

And all this elegance is brought together in a smooth looking package with a wrap-around honeycomb design.

The Killer Bees deck is a great choice for cardistry, with its sleek look and minimalist colour choice, or anything that requires something flashy and stunning. People just love the geometric shapes and bee theme. And reviews on the design and handling have been consistently positive.

But what else would we expect from an Ellusionist deck? As our friends at Ellusionist would have us believe: "Killer Bees are the result of an unsanctioned lab experiment when toxic-waste spilled into a delicate hive of Honey Bees. Get them before they get you."

Rare Playing Cards with Underwater Animals

Little Atlantis deck

Finally, on the lighter side of things, let's head under the sea, and check out some of the creatures that can be found there, in the Little Atlantis deck.

You even get a choice: do you want to visit by Day or by Night? Let's first see what underwater creatures we can find in a day-time visit.

This deck has its setting a peaceful and prosperous kingdom under the sea, which is ruled by four families.

Each family has its own qualities, with Spades representing Wisdom and Clubs representing Power.

Hearts represents Love, and Diamonds represents Justice.

The number cards have schools of fish corresponding to the number of pips.

As for the Night deck, it is populated by the same creatures, but with a different colour scheme that reflects a nocturnal setting.

While the artwork is unchanged, the black background and different colours result in a whole different look.

This deck was designed by Devina of Yellow Dice Studio, and produced by Gamblers Warehouse.

As day turns to night, and darkness ends our tour of the animal world, it's fitting that we've ended on a very charming and positive note!


So are these animal themed decks from Rare Playing Cards something for you?

If you're looking for an unusual or high quality deck of playing cards, the selection you'll find at Rare Playing Cards is so vast, that it even includes some of the exotic and rarely seen beasts like the ones pictured above. Some of them are breath-takingly beautiful, and I am especially excited about the artwork of the 17 year old prodigy in the new GAIA deck. But I'm glad that this artistic and creative talent is combined with elegance in design, with decks like the Chameleon deck and Killer Bees deck breathing luxury inside and out. Others, like the Animal Kingdom deck and Little Atlantis deck, have more of a whimsical feel.

At the same time, all these decks are excellent quality in terms of card-stock and handling. Rare Playing Cards only stocks playing cards with a high standard of quality that matches the creativity and style of the artwork and design, such as those printed by US Playing Card Company or Legends Playing Card Company; printers which have an established reputation for the best quality in playing cards.

Like most people, I love nature and animals, and so it's beautiful to discover decks of playing cards that showcase the magnificence of these precious creatures, and in some cases even give financial support to sustaining them in years to come. Such rarities deserve to be preserved for future generations, and these rare playing cards help us honour these wonders of the natural world. I'm very pleased to to recommend the decks I've featured in this review!

What to learn more? Check out Rare Playing Cards

Direct links for the decks featured in this review:
- Wild Animals: GAIA Playing Cards and Animal Kingdom Playing Cards
- Unique Animals: Mantecore Playing Cards and Chameleon Playing Cards
- Flying Animals: Bumble Bee Playing Cards and Killer Bee Playing Cards
- Underwater Animals: Little Atlantis Playing Cards

BoardGameGeek reviewer

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Jeff Clarke
United States
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Enjoy Your Life!!
Game On!
I am backing the Gaia deck on Kickstarter. I also own the Animal Kingdom and Little Atlantis (Day) decks. Mantecore and Killer Bees are on my wishlist.

Great review as always, Ender.
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