Bona Fide Playing Cards


In a previous review (link), I've introduced designer Karin Yan and the rest of her team from Bona Fide Playing Cards. Bona Fide is Latin for "in good faith", and refers to that which is genuine, real, and sincere. In Karin's own words, "that's exactly what this project intends to be: a genuine union between the genuine love for art in general, and beautiful and unique playing cards in particular, covering a wide range of themes and styles." That their playing cards are indeed the real thing, is very evident from the already published Nouveau Playing Cards series, which consists of several beautiful decks linked together with a similar look, and inspired by the roots of French playing cards and by French art.

In this review, I'll be covering some of Bona Fide's newest decks, which include the final installment of the Nouveau Series, namely another beautiful jewelry inspired deck called Nouveau Gemmes Playing Cards. In addition they have recently finished producing a two-deck set that is a tribute to two masterpieces of fiction by Alexandre Dumas, namely The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. Finally, there's is perhaps the item that will be of most interest to board game fans, namely a Kickstarter that is currently being funded for a stylish chess themed deck called King's Game Playing Cards.




KING'S GAME DECK

In the world of board games, few games have the same illustrious history as chess. Board games have been played for thousands of years, and of the classic games, chess is easily one of the most famous. In times past it was especially enjoyed by the nobility and royalty, hence its designation by some as "The Game of Kings". Even with a saturated marketplace filled with modern games, chess remains a top seller. International tournaments are held regularly, with world championship games followed closely by club players around the world. Thousands and thousands of chess games are being played online at any given moment. Not only is it a game of kings, but it is truly a king among games.

Karin Yan's latest project for Bona Fide Playing Cards is a tribute to this game of kings, with an elegant custom deck of playing cards inspired by chess: King's Game Playing Cards.



This set of two gorgeous decks is currently being funded on Kickstarter here.

Consisting of a White deck and Black deck, this project especially focuses on the figures represented by the chess pieces themselves, namely the King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook, and Pawn.



Black deck

The tuck boxes have a very luxurious look, befitting the kingly status of the game they are about, with the Black deck using gold and black foil.

Both the front and the back of the box depicts a King playing a game of chess, one with the white pieces and the other with the black pieces. Taken together, both sides of the tuck show a battle between two kings across a chess board, thereby reflecting the concept embodied in the name of this deck. First impressions are important, and with this deck one immediately is confronted with a look of luxury and sophistication.



The Black deck has cards with a white background on the faces and backs, and of the two decks this has the most traditional look. Karin Yan excels at creating highly detailed symmetrical designs that emphasize bold and simple shapes on her card backs, and the card backs in these decks are fine examples of her talent.

The Aces capture several chess-related images and themes (which we'll get back to later), and evoke a military feel that suits the nature of the game, and the artwork is drawn from the medieval setting that has inspired other elements of the overall design.



A great deal of thought has been put into incorporating the symbolism of chess into all aspects of the playing cards, including the fact that in an actual game of chess each player gets 16 chess pieces: one King, one Queen, two Bishops, two Knights, two Rooks, and eight Pawns. In this deck of cards, the traditionally black suits of Spades and Clubs represent the black player's pieces, and the traditionally red suits of Hearts and Diamonds represent the white player's pieces. The pieces are captured via the court cards as follows:

Black player
- SPADES: 1x King (King), 1x Queen (Queen), 2x Bishop (Jack)
- CLUBS: 2x Rook (King), 8x Pawn (Queen), 2x Knight (Jack)
White player
- HEARTS: 1x King (King), 1x Queen (Queen), 2x Bishop (Jack)
- DIAMONDS: 2x Rook (King), 8x Pawn (Queen), 2x Knight (Jack)

Here's the black player's King (K) and Bishops (J), which have a minimalist colour palette and a medieval look and feel that captures the classic feel of chess.



The number of chess pieces for each player has also been incorporated, with the court cards representing the King and Queen both using a one-way design, the cards representing the Rook, Bishop, and Knight using a two-way design, and the cards representing the Pawn using a two-way design to include eight figures in total.

Here's the white player's Pawns (Q) and Bishops (J).



The number cards all have customized pips, with the red suits customized in a way to highlight that these suits represent the White army. I like the fact that the pips and indices have a very straight-forward design, while still being stylish and original, and this means that they are well suited for practical use in card games, while offering a look of sophistication at the same time.



The assignment of the pieces to the suits and values is also far from arbitrary. Karin has taken into consideration the fact that traditionally each suit had a specific meaning that designated a social class: nobility (Spades), clergy (Hearts), merchants (Diamonds), and peasantry (Clubs). In line with this she has cleverly opted to assign the Spades and Hearts to represent the royal and clerical figures of the King, Queen and Bishops, while assigning the Clubs and Diamonds to represent the military figures of the Rook, Knight, and Pawn, since the military were typically made up by the middle and lower classes.

The artwork for each of these figures has also been deliberately crafted to capture elements of that character's role in a chess game and in medieval society. In Karin's own words:
King: As the backbone of his kingdom, the cautious and wise King silently keeps watch over his people, giving them courage and a cause to fight for and achieve victory.
Queen: Loyal to her King and his cause, the fearless Queen doesn't hesitate to exert her power and influence to achieve her goals, always ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.
Rook: The watchful rook, strong and steady, stands tall like an impenetrable wall to protect its King and people, never failing to sharpen its arms in the pursuit of conquest.
Bishop: Close adviser to the king, the bishop makes sure to always be in the right place at the right time in order to work his influence and help the cause by toppling his unsuspecting adversaries.
Knight: Knowing no bounds, the brave knight leaps through all adversities, striving to ensure victory by covering the unprotected grounds while leading the charge along with its fearless soldiers.
Pawn: Moving one step at a time, slowly but surely, the pawn fearlessly sacrifices itself for the greater good by protecting and helping its betters, all the while straining to climb the ladder by reaching the end of its dangerous road.



White deck

Like its companion deck, the White deck features a rich look with foil accents on the tuck box, in this case silver and copper.



The White deck is the limited edition version, with only 500 to be produced, and has cards with black background on the faces and backs. Unique to this deck is the fact that silver foil is used on the card backs for an extra touch of sophistication, along with a numbered seal on the tuck box.

The artwork of these cards matches that of the Black deck, but with a different colour scheme to reflect the fact that the cards have black backgrounds instead of white.



Mention hasn't been made yet of the significance of the Aces, which represent the two divisions among each player's pieces as mentioned previously, i.e. Spades and Hearts represent the royal and clerical figures (King, Queen and Bishops), while Clubs and Diamonds represent the military figures (Rook, Knight, and Pawn). Thus the Ace of Spades (for the black player) and of Hearts (for the white player) have elements in the design that symbolize the King (helmet and crown), and the Queen (scepter), and the Bishop (crosier). Similarly the Ace of Clubs (for the black player) and of Diamonds (for the white player) have elements in the design that symbolize the Knight (helmet and pole), Pawn (pike) and Rook (crown).

The coat of arms on the Aces for the Spades and Clubs have similar traits since they represent the royal and military of the same player (black), while the same is true for the coat of arms on the Aces for the Hearts and Diamonds since they represent the royal and military of the other player (white).

But my favourite cards are easily the courts, which have spectacular artwork. Here are the cards representing the black player's Queen (Queen of Spades) and the white player's Knights (Jack of Diamonds):



The number cards have the same graphic design as the Black deck, but because of the black background, the colours for the pips are gold and red instead of black and red, which is internally consistent with the colour scheme of the rest of the deck.



Once again the suits and court cards have been assigned to two houses representing the White player and Black player, in the same way as with the companion deck:



Karin's creativity and artwork have combined well to really capture the symbolism of Chess in so many respects. Here's her design for a Rook:



Karin's plan for the Jokers is to make a diptych that includes all the chess pieces/figures, which will be a beautiful finishing touch to round out the entire deck.

From the tuck box to the cards themselves, this is truly a spectacular deck that provides a thoughtful tribute to the game of kings! To get on board as a supporter of this project, head to Kickstarter here before funding closes on Monday February 19.




ALEXANDRE DUMAS CLASSICS DECKS

Alexandre Dumas is a French fiction writer, a literary giant who has the distinction of being one of the most widely read authors, with his works translated into almost 100 languages. He's known for his historical novels of high adventure, with the two books that are arguably the most famous of his works being The Count of Monte Cristo (1845) and The Three Musketeers (1844). He wrote a very large body of fiction, but these two works stand out as the two most recognized titles, and were the inspiration behind these next two decks.



These two famous novels are the subject of a wonderful tribute from Bona Fide Playing Cards in the form of a lovely set of two companion decks, which will not only please card collectors, but will especially be loved and appreciated by those who enjoy literature. The two decks have a matching style, but a different colour scheme, and naturally they each reflect the two different works of fiction, with the characters, setting and theme of each reflected in the Monte Cristo and the Three Musketeers decks respectively.



The Count of Monte Cristo deck

The Count of Monte Cristo Playing Cards honours Dumas' book of the same title, a massive work of classic fiction with many literary themes that include romance, loyalty and betrayal, justice and mercy, revenge and forgiveness. It is set against the historical backdrop of the historical events of 1815–1839 in Western Europe, particularly France and Italy. The main plot concerns the young man Edmond Dantes, who is wrongly imprisoned, but after escaping from jail becomes very wealthy, and undertakes revenge on those responsible for his imprisonment, with far-reaching consequences.

All of these elements have influenced the deck's design, starting with the lush symbolism on the extravagant tuck box.



The historical and geographical setting is reflected not only in the tuck box and card backs, but also in the court cards and Jokers, which all include elements drawn from descriptions included in the book.

Once again I am especially smitten by the card backs, which feature exquisite ornamentation and detail, and yet focus on simple shapes. Each of the Aces is also worthy of close scrutiny, with oversized pips and details drawn from the novel's themes and concepts.



The main characters of the novel all make an appearance on the detailed court cards, including the main character Edmond Dantès (King of Spades) and another character, Mercédès Mondego (Queen of Diamonds).



Characters featured from the novel are the following: (in order of King, Queen, and Jack)
Spades: Edmond Dantès (The Count of Monte Cristo), Haydée, Abbé Faria
Hearts: Fernand Mondego (Count de Morcerf), Mercédès Mondego, Albert de Morcerf
Clubs: Gérard de Villefort, Héloïse de Villefort, Edward de Villefort
Diamonds: Baron Danglars, Madame Danglars, Benedetto (Prince Cavalcanti)

There's some wonderful information about the book's setting, plot, and each of the characters on the Bona Fide website here.



The background artwork on each of the court cards has small details that captures the symbolic elements of each character's traits, and this is also done with the Aces. Here's a closer look at the main character, Edmond Dantes:



The number cards have an elegant and court-like look, with the stylish pips and minimalist design inspired by actual playing cards from the 19th century. This gives them a sense of historical authenticity, and also makes them very practical for use in playing card games.



The Jokers feature these characters: Bertuccio & Abbé Busoni; and Sinbad the Sailor & Luigi Vampa



The Three Musketeers deck

The Three Musketeers Playing Cards honours the well-known book of the same name by Alexandre Dumas. In this historical adventure, the young man d'Artagnan heads for Paris to join the Musketeers of the Guards, and gets involved in the affairs of state and court after becoming friends with the three musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. This novel is set in 17th century France and England, and has literary themes that include courage and honour, ambition and treason.

Just as with the Monte Cristo deck, evidence of these themes already finds its way onto the tuck box artwork.



The historical and geographical setting of The Three Musketeers is reflected not only in the tuck box and card backs, but also in the court cards and Jokers, all of which include elements drawn from descriptions in the novel.

The card backs have a different design than the Monte Cristo deck, and also a different colour scheme, with the red and yellow combination giving a very plush and elegant look.



The main characters of the book again make an appearance on the detailed court cards. Featured here are D’Artagnan (King of Spades) and one of the three musketeers, Athos (King of Hearts).



In this case the featured characters are: (in order of King, Queen, and Jack)
Spades: D’Artagnan, Constance Bonacieux, Count de Rochefort (The man from Meung)
Hearts: Athos (Count de la Fère), Milady de Winter, Cardinal Richelieu
Clubs: Aramis, Queen Anne of Austria, Duke of Buckingham
Diamonds: Porthos, The Lover, The executioner of Lille

Once again, some excellent information about the book's setting, plot, and each of the characters featured on the cards can be found on the Bona Fide website here.



The background artwork on each of the court cards has small details that captures the symbolic elements of each character's traits, and this is also done with the Aces. Here's a closer look at the main character, D'Artagnan:



The number cards have an elegant and court-like look, with the stylish pips and minimalist design inspired by actual playing cards from the 17th century - again to match the book. This gives them a sense of historical authenticity, and also makes them very practical for use in playing card games.



The Jokers feature these character pairs: Planchet & Grimaud; Bazin & Mousqueton.



Taken together, this two deck set is a superb and fitting tribute to a wonderful writer, and two wonderful books!


NOUVEAU DECKS

The original Nouveau deck was created as the 2016 Annual Deck for the UnitedCardists forum. It had as its companions a Nouveau Bougogne deck (burgundy), a Nouveau Bijoux deck (jewelry), and a Nouveau Perle (pearl) deck, all of which turned out fantastic.

These exquisite decks received high praise for their classy tuck boxes, French style artwork, elegant detail, and quality card stock and handling. They were truly beautiful in every respect, and as a very satisfied owner of all four decks, I'm happy to say that they are a delight to use and enjoy.



Nouveau Gemmes deck

But now comes Nouveau Gemmes Playing Cards, as the final installment in this lovely series. It is the third deck inspired by Art Nouveau jewelry (along with Bijoux and Perle), and was produced in a very limited edition of only 500.

While the previous tuck boxes already gave evidence of the luxurious gem theme, this tuck box is perhaps the ultimate crown jewel of the series, with a very lavish and highly ornate design. The front of the tuck box reprises the gorgeous artwork of the exquisite Ace of Spades, while the back of the box gives us our first glimpse of the lovely patterns that we'll see on the card backs.



All four Aces feature highly detailed artwork, with influences from nature in the form of plants, flowers and birds clearly evident. The artwork on the card back is absolutely exquisite, with lots of detail to reward the attentive observer, and yet a straight-forward and immediately recognizable overall shape and design.



Like its predecessors, the court cards feature the classical heroes and heroines commonly pictured on French decks from when playing cards first commonly appeared in sixteen century Western Europe.



While the large pips on the cards feature a very intricate jewel-inspired design, much like that of the previous versions of this deck, what I really appreciate about this new version of the deck is that the indices have much clearer pips, which greatly assists in making this deck more playable and functional.



The artwork is inspired by 19th century French style Art Nouveau, often described as being dominated by intricate linear designs and flowing curves based on natural forms.



Here are the Jokers, which will be reminiscent of what we've seen in the previous decks, but with a striking colour scheme that evokes rubies and other precious gemstones.



All the five members of the Nouveau series are excellent, but the exquisite artwork and colours of this deck, from the tuck box to the cards themselves, plus the use of more easily recognizable indices to make this deck more usable, arguably makes the Nouveau Gemmes the best of the lot!

Bravo Karin Yan and Bona Fide Playing Cards, for adding another fine jewel to this wonderful collection of Nouveau decks!




CONCLUSION

Recommendation

So are the decks from Bona Fide Playing Cards for you? I've really enjoyed the Nouveau series of playing cards, and the new Nouveau Gemmes would seem to be the best yet. The Alexandre Dumas decks are totally different again, going in a literary direction, and incorporate many elements from the books. The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers decks show that designer Karen Yan not only has ability to make ornate designs, but also incorporate thoughtful symbolism and content based on characters and themes drawn from classic novels.

That same creativity, depth of thought, and artistic design is also present in the new King's Game decks from Bona Fide Playing Cards, which are a wonderful tribute to the classic game of chess. These decks are sophisticated and classy in every way, and yet are also very practical and playable. They will especially be appreciated by anyone who loves the classic board game, and would make a terrific gift for gamers, or even for yourself if you love card games - as I do!

It's also worth mentioning that the quality of Karin's artwork and design is matched by the quality of printing and card stock, since Bona Fide Playing Cards only uses industry leaders like Expert Playing Cards to produce their decks of cards. I own many decks by EPCC, and they are all fantastic. My respect and admiration for Bona Fide Playing Cards only continues to grow, and with the current King's Choice project, I think we are perhaps going to see their best yet!



Want to learn more? Visit Bona Fide Playing Cards:
Official website: bonafideplayingcards.com
Social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr

Direct links for where some the decks featured in this review can be found:
- King's Game (Kickstarter)
- The Count of Monte Cristo
- The Three Musketeers
- Nouveau Gemmes




BoardGameGeek reviewer

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

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King's Game White Deck & Nouveau for me.
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