Special Content by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame
Everyone needs to own at least one good deck of cards. After all, there will be a moment in everyone's life where friends or family request to play a card game, right? And if you are going to own a deck of cards, you might as well get something pretty! There are some amazing decks out there that are perfectly functional to play with, while being stunning to look at the same time. They give you something to admire during moments of down-time when playing a card game, and for many people this aesthetic beauty will enhance their overall playing experience.
For quite some time already the advances of technology have empowered some very gifted graphic designers with the ability to create stunning digital artwork on their own PCs. Now they can make their dreams a reality by partnering with online publishing companies, and with the help of crowdfunding they can tap into the marketing engine of the internet. Some decks of playing cards have been created as the result of Kickstarters bringing in staggering amounts of money, with more than $150,000 in funding!
Let's take a look at three of the talented individuals who are exploring this new territory with their creativity, and learn something about their work.
Steve Minty (USA): Beautiful Decks Inspired by Ancient Cultures
Steve Minty is a traditionally educated illustrator and designer, who previously did branding and design for major sport stars and celebrities. He has now given his creativity free reign by doing his own projects, amongst them designing playing cards. Of all the decks I have looked at personally, Steve Minty's playing cards easily stand out as being among the most beautiful and stylish.
He has produced several artistic decks of playing cards already, including the popular Muertos series (inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead), the Olympia series (inspired by Greek mythology), and the Anubis and Osiris decks (inspired by ancient Egypt). His most recently produced designs were the HANA Luxury decks (inspired by ancient Japan), while his current project is entitled Thorns and Roses, and consists of a beautiful set of Shakespearean themed playing cards.
I love how Steve has worked with different cultures and ideas, and even done some research in the process. He has found ways to reflect these insights and observations in the themes, design and artwork of his playing cards. As a result, each deck has its own very distinct flavour, in reflecting either classical Japan, ancient Egypt, mythological Greece, or traditional Mexico. Going back to ancient times also gives you a sense that these playing cards are steeped in a long and rich tradition, and makes you feel a connection with the past.
At the same time, everything about these cards is a truly stunning expression of sheer beauty, from the back designs to the individual artwork on each card. They really do look amazing, especially the Anubis and Osiris decks, which are arguably among the most attractive of all the playing cards that I own. Steve Minty knows what it takes to make beautiful playing cards, and with a Steve Minty deck, you are guaranteed to see all the aesthetics come together in a wonderful package.
Giovanni Meroni (Italy): Thoughtful Decks Filled with Symbology
Giovanni Meroni is a freelance designer in Italy, who created the product brand Thirdway Industries. He has done work for big name companies like Vodafone, Nestle, Schwarzkopf, Gucci, Coca Cola, and Red Bull. But as a freelance designer and art director, he also likes to design decks of playing cards, and that is where he gets my attention and interest!
His success began in 2015, with the creation of his classic and crazy Delirium deck, an intricate and modern deck that has the distinction of being chosen as the official 2015 deck of the United Cardists forum. Subsequently he began creating a number of projects that each consisted of a series of three decks comprising a thematic unit, beginning with the Omnia: The First series and its sequel Omnia: The Golden Age series. Both of these are inspired by several ancient cultures, and are set in the Omnia Universe that Giovanni has imagined. Next up was his Dedalo series, which is inspired by Greek mythology, and tells the story of the Labyrinth of Crete, Theseus and The Minotaur, including the Labyrinth's builder Dedalo. His SINS playing cards was a series of three decks inspired by the literature and art that explores the Seven Deadly Sins (Greed, Envy, Pride, Lust, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth), a rich tradition that Giovanni draws on very cleverly and thoughtfully. This was followed up by his Eva decks, which had a similar style, and featured all female courts, as a homage to the first women. His most recent designs have been the colorful and fun Lunatica decks, which use neon inks, and his latest project has been a return to the colourful world of Delirium with new colours.
When I first stumbled across some of Giovanni's work online, I was just blown away by the classy and elegant appearance of the decks he created, as well as the way he has drawn on mythology, literature, and art in the creation of his playing cards. I love the style of his artwork, which stands out sharply from the usual fare that is produced by American or even Eurogame artists, and while has both a classic and Mediterranean feel, while remaining very playable and usable.
But perhaps what I admire most are the thematic stories behind the artwork in some of his decks. The classic Greek mythology in the Dedalo series of decks strikes an immediate chord with anyone who has an interest in or appreciation of ancient history, and it is very clever how Giovanni has woven the ancient Greek myth into the artwork. But Giovanni has really taken things to the next level by working with the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins in the SINS decks. Each of these deadly sins corresponds to a different suit, with the artwork reflective of the concept. The decks create a thematic and artistic unity which is based on a long literary and artistic tradition, and there is a lot of rich symbolism that has been cleverly drawn on, both theologically and artistically. With beautiful and unique artwork that ties in well with a rich theme, steeped in literature and art, Giovanni's decks are definitely more than just a pretty face, but have real personality and character.
Ben Jones (Australia): Innovative Decks Crawling with Pipmen
Ben Jones lives in Sydney Australia, and runs a small outfit called Elephant Playing Cards. He is no one-trick pony, having run several successful Kickstarters for his Pipmen decks of playing cards, as well as several other decks. "Pipmen" is a term Ben has coined for the characters on his cards, which he explains like this: Pips + Stickmen = Pipmen. Typical of the decks he designs are "little stickmen figures interacting with the pips to create a unique scene."
Ben has produced a number of different decks, and besides his creative and amusing Pipmen decks, his most notable decks are the colourful Prism series (Day, Dusk, and Night), which features some innovative UV spot printing, and has proven to be a big hit. But in my opinion his magnus opus has to be his Pipmen World deck. Not only is every individual card in the Pipmen World deck a beautiful and clever self-contained picture, but in a truly remarkable way, Ben has designed the artwork so that all the individual cards can be put together to form a larger panoramic image, known as a polyptych. This is truly amazing, and has to be seen to be believed! When the cards are placed alongside one another to form a larger picture, it is very impressive. This turns each deck into a single stunning work of art, that still functions as a regular deck of cards as well.
The artwork on the individual cards of all the Pipmen decks can be admired and enjoyed, and is sure to create some real talking points. I enjoy studying and appreciating the creative and imaginative artwork on each card, and I love how the stickmen interact with the details. But what really takes this to the next level is how these individual cards combine to make a single larger picture in the Pipmen World deck. It definitely has the feel of being a single whole, without ever feeling like a cobbled-together collection of disconnected pieces. The result of three years of design, and a true labour of love, Ben has given everything about this deck careful thought, so that this deck is not just going to be resigned into becoming a collector's piece that will gather dust, but can actually be used. It is a fine example of the innovation and creativity that is typical of all the decks he creates - and the number is constantly growing!
Where to Get Them?
Some of the decks created by the above designers are already out of print, due to high demand. But PlayingCardDecks.com usually stocks decks from all three creators. So go ahead and check out some of these talented designers, take a look at some of their decks that are available, and consider picking some up for yourself - while you can!
- Steve Minty: [Sold out] ● Giovanni Meroni: Delirium, Omnia, Dedalo, Lunatica ● Ben Jones: Prism, Pipmen
Please take a moment to comment below and make sure to let us know what card deck designer you would like us to feature next.
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and highly respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.