It's no secret that I love playing cards. I love using them for card games first of all, but there are also other purposes that I enjoy: card magic, card flourishing, and card collecting.

We are living in a golden era of playing cards, and a large number of wonderful and creative decks continues to be produced. One of those producers is Will Roya from PlayingCardDecks, and in this article I'll feature some of his latest creations.

Circus Nostalgic Playing Cards

What better deck to begin with than the Circus Nostalgic Playing Cards.

The news about the circus coming to town has always excited children around the world. This deck aims to rekindle some of that childlike enthusiasm and excitement, by bringing back childhood memories, and being a nostalgic tribute to the world of circus entertainment from yesteryear.

Artist Joe Ruiz was inspired by distant memories of his own visit to the circus when he was just seven years of age. For him, the lasting memory of that trip was the lion tamer Gunther Gable Williams. Joe reminisces about it as follows: "The way he fearlessly entered the cage with all those big cats left an indelible image on my young mind. The tuck box cover is an homage to that time and experience."

The graphic design of the tuck box does a good job of capturing the feel that Joe was looking for, with retro style fonts, and small touches like a custom seal that says "Admit One". The seal is individually numbered, since this is a limited edition deck.

The Ace of Spade welcomes back our lion performer from the tuck box, and in fact all the Aces have an oversized lavish design that matches this style. I also love how the faces of the cards have vintage borders, and how the big top design from the card backs returns in a more subtle way on all the faces.

The card backs have a "big top" circus tent pattern that is instantly recognizable and memorable, with a borderless design that has red and white stripes branching to the very edges of the cards, for an eye-catching look. The stripes give extra colour and style that card flourishers can make good use of.

In making this deck, Joe researched vintage circuses, and his goal was "to convey the exuberant energy of these old circus performers", and he's done a good job of doing that on the court cards. These feature classic circus performers, like a strong man, escape artist, trapeze artist, juggler, and more, with the ringmaster featured on the King of Hearts. The artwork is colourful and vibrant.

Due to the engaging graphic style, even the number cards look colourful and vibrant, with a customized design that includes indices so that the deck is still playable in card games if you wish.

Two circus clowns (one sad, one happy) provide Jokers, while two humorous cards are provided as gaffs, a "Tent of Spades", and a "Freak of Spades".

It all adds up to a very lively and whimsical deck that I love shuffling and looking through, and has amused and pleased everyone I've shown it to.

Ladybug Playing Cards

Next up are the two decks of Ladybug Playing Cards.

These are available as a two deck set, or individually as a black deck or red deck. The two tuck boxes look quite similar, with the same overall design, but feature a slightly different colour scheme.

The tuck boxes match the two different styles of card backs, both of which have white borders, but one has black edges as part of the ornate design on the inside panel.

The card back artwork is a mirrored two-way design that revolves around two lady bugs. I especially love the small touches, such as the miniature ladybugs on each corner of the design. These also appear on several places on the tuck box as well.

Aside from the different card backs, the red and black decks are identical. The red and black theme continues on the faces of the cards, with no other colours used besides these two. Will Roya is himself passionate about ladybugs, and even has a ladybug tattoo, while his daughter's nursery was all ladybug themed. So he knows a thing or two about having them crawling all over the place, including his body and his house. In this case, the friendly ladybugs have come to inhabit our playing cards.

The artwork was done by Polish artist Artur Rajch, and some will recognize his distinct style from the Guard decks. Artur has made full use of the card canvas, and this is especially evident on the lovely court cards. Although they build on traditional features expected in court cards, like the King of Hearts suicide king, the artwork is otherwise far from traditional, and has a very lavish and stylish feel about it.

The spotted design is applied to all the pips throughout the deck, including the indices. The indices use a somewhat unusual font, and are further decorated by a miniature ladybug for added fun. All this means that the number cards also look heavily customized.

All the Aces have oversized pips decorated with a black and red spotted design, and are touched with a leafy floral pattern.

There are two customized Jokers, with a style reminiscent of what we've seen previously in the Guard decks. Both decks also come with two gaff cards, a double-backer, and either a blank face card (black deck) or double-backer (red deck).

These are certainly attractive novelty decks, that will appeal especially to collectors, and of course lovers of ladybugs. Some added extras are available for these decks as well, including uncut sheets, ladybug decals, and even a luxurious gilded version with either red or rainbow gilding.

Cybertech Playing Cards

Originally called the Cyberpunk deck, the Cybertech Playing Cards are the handiwork of artist Jamie Meza.

This deck was inspired by the Cyberpunk literary genre. The creator describes the world of these playing cards as follows: "a dystopian society where humans are mixed with machines and also physically plugin to something that today we call the internet. In this chaotic world full of conspirators and oppression many gangs are rising, trying to survive for the crumbs left by the mega corporations. This deck shows you four of those gangs and we will leave the rest of the story to your imagination."

Produced in a limited run of 2500, finished with individually numbered seals, this deck has a fully custom tuck box with artwork that matches the cardbacks on the reverse side, and an intriguing image corresponding to the Ace of Spades on the front.

Everything about the faces of the cards is fully custom, with a muted grey background and border, a stylish dirty white panel, plus fully custom fonts and pip arrangements. Everything that can be customized has been, and the direction of the artwork has all been steered by the dystopian theme. Jamie has been a long time fan of the sci-fi fiction genre, as he describes, "especially cyberpunk that blends between man and machine, the matrix concept and a crashed society."

Clearly Jamie has put a lot of thought into the background story that he's captured in these cards. "In the process I wrote a short story of each gang and character, also I wrote shorts text about the society of that world with many common topics in this story; like mega-corporation, mars, technocracy and dystopia."

The card-backs are far from ordinary, so there's no mistaking the fact that we are entering an unusual and apocalyptic type world, with a machine like face staring back at us from the cards. The borderless design actually works surprisingly well given the lined patterns on the sides of the cards, which produce attractive fans and spreads.

In line with the dystopian narrative and setting, each of the four suits corresponds to one of the four gangs depicted by the deck, as follows:

Clubs: The Brotherhood - "Vestiges of the Rastafarian culture these guys are crazy!! They have created a cult that worships the ganya goddess who they have found in a far section of the matrix and according to them she controls the whole cyberspace."

Hearts: Pirates - "The first human colonies in Mars did not take long to declare independence, triggering a ruthless civil war, the earth government, as part of plan to retake the Mars, canceled the oxygen supplies to the planet, now the pirates traffic with the precious element that they sell to poor communities and although they seem to be like Robin Hood, they aren't."

Spades: Good Boys - "Do you need a cyber implant? Pirate access points to the matrix? Analog or digital drugs? Or maybe weapons? These guys are your best ally if you have a way to pay them or your worst enemies if somebody else already paid them."

Diamonds: Yaxuka - "To keep power, the corporations need their detractors to suffer "unfortunate accidents" and what better way to cause this than a bloody and silent elite unit, nobody has seen them, they are an urban myth, if you do see one, it will be the last thing you see."

Meanwhile the Jokers feature some more light-hearted characters in masks.

There's also some real creativity evident in the two bonus gaff cards, one which looks like a spinning Queen of Hearts, and the other which offers a unique "your card" reveal.

Faro Edition Bicycle Playing Cards

Finally, we take a look at the Faro Edition Bicycle Playing Cards, which are available with the traditional red look or blue.

This deck is a throw-back to the vintage decks from the 1800s, when it was common practice to print playing cards without any indices. In fact, that's how playing cards looked for an incredible 500 years, right from the time when they first arrived in Europe in the late 1300s.

Decks with corner indices were first called "squeezers", since they simplified viewing your cards while only fanning them slightly. This innovation went on to revolutionize the playing card industry in America after they first appeared in the published deck known as Hart's Saladee's Patent (1864), and today it is hard to imagine playing cards without them. But that's exactly what we have with this Faro Edition deck.

Today decks without indices are often called a Faro deck. This is a name that originates in a casino gambling game called Faro, which was played in France in the late 17th century. It is very likely that the name was first Pharaon, a reference to the Pharaoh picture on some French playing cards, which then became Pharo, and eventually Faro.

The Faro gambling game also enjoyed much popularity in America with the legalization of gambling, and was at one time even considered "the national card game", until it was overtaken by Poker. Since Faro was the game of choice for 19th century gamblers, during the time when decks didn't have indices, this style of deck is still often called a "faro deck" today.

Many reproduction decks are intended to look like the cards from the Wild West era in which the game of Faro was popularized, but here we have an innovation that combines old and new. Everything appears to look standard with this deck at first glance, including the famous rider-back design, and familiar tuck box - aside from the words "Faro Edition" on the cover.

And indeed, the card backs are entirely standard. But the unique element of this deck becomes obvious when we look at the faces for the first time. As we'd expect from a Faro deck, there are no indices. Of course there is still some slight customization besides our disappearing indices, and the signature Ace of Spades also has a whole new look.

Besides that, everything about the cards looks normal, but the absence of the common indices is immediately striking. It gives the cards a quality of authenticity, simplicity, and purity that you won't get from a regular deck. And if you're familiar with a standard deck, you'll have no trouble identifying the cards - just don't expect to fan a hand of cards and be able to identify all the cards at a quick glance!

And there are two Jokers which have artwork that offers a fresh and fun take on the Bicycle theme while retaining a vintage feel.

Due to the overall familiar look, you could certainly still use these decks for card games if you wish. But these playing cards may especially be of interest to magicians looking for a deck with a retro feel, or for doing popular magic tricks with red and black cards such as Oil and Water, or Out of This World. In such effects, the value of the cards isn't important, but only the colour, and a deck like this would be perfect to accentuate that.

Magicians will also get some mileage out of the card reveal on the tuck box flaps, and the two gaff cards that come with each deck. You'll have a complete set of four gaff cards is you pick up both the red and blue decks, giving you two double backers, a blank card, and a double backer.


Some might think that there is a glut of custom playing cards on the market, but I'm personally appreciative of the large diversity that is available. There's a variety of tastes, and the growing number of decks meets this need. Card gamers who love cyberpunk fiction will appreciate the Cybertech deck, while collectors who are fans of ladybugs will snap up this insect-themed deck. Almost everyone will appreciate the novelty of the whimsical Circus deck. And while the Faro deck may suit a smaller niche of magicians, even some card gamers will appreciate the fresh and "pure" feel that these cards give.

It's also worth mentioning that all of these decks have been produced by the United States Playing Card Company. That means that they all have an embossed air cushion finish, will handle smoothly and consistently, and have been printed to last. Props to PlayingcardDecks for continue to deliver the goods with some great new decks of playing cards, that fans of card games and collectors around the world can enjoy!

Want to learn more? You can find these decks on here:
- Circus Nostalgic Playing Cards
- Ladybug Playing Cards
- Cybertech Playing Cards
- Faro Edition Bicycle Playing Cards

BoardGameGeek reviewer

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