Hunting for Easter EggsI love Easter eggs. But I'm not talking about the chocolate eggs that the Easter Bunny might bring my way each year - although I do have a soft spot for chocolate (just don't tell my dentist). But the term "Easter eggs" also refers to hidden objects and secret features. It's most commonly a reference to messages or images cleverly hidden in video games and films.
Fortunately for playing card enthusiasts like us, this concept has also been applied to the world of playing cards. In fact, some of your favourite playing cards might just have some secret features or details that you don't even know about, or have never even noticed. One of the more common examples of this is when designers include themselves along with family, friends, or playing card industry people as alternative artwork for the court card characters. In this article, let's take a look at a few familiar examples from some well-known decks.
Derren Brown Playing CardsThe Derren Brown deck is one of my all time favourite decks from Theory11, one of the biggest names in custom playing cards.
This deck is of course a tribute to Derren Brown, the famous psychological illusionist whose unique brand of contemporary magic has entertained millions around the world.
Theory11 is a producer of premium playing cards that specializes in highly extravagant and luxurious tuck boxes, which usually come complete with intricate details, exquisite designs, and lots of bling.
The Derren Brown deck is one of the finest of its kind, and has cleverly been designed to look just like an antique book.
The man behind this deck is South African graphic designer Simon Frouws, who also was responsible for the delightful artwork of the Artisan Playing Cards, another popular Theory11 deck.
But with the Aces of the Derren Brown deck Frouws has included a special surprise for those who pay very close attention.
Cleverly hidden away in the design, are several references to the Theory11 playing card brand which has brought us this wonderful deck.
You'll probably only notice the TE and T11 when it is pointed out, because it is so subtle and clever!
Monarchs Playing CardsAn argument can be made that the Monarchs deck is the most popular Theory11 deck ever. This fine deck of playing cards has even been featured in the film "Now You See Me".
The beautiful tuck case is laced with foil, and has beautiful embossing touches that will catch the attention of anyone who sees it. It's a royal deck with a look of complete class and sophistication fit for a king, hence the name Monarchs. It comes in several different colours, and shown here is the purple version.
Rich gold metallic ink adorns the card faces, and particularly the court cards benefit from this luxurious look which strengthens the regal feel to the deck. But the classy back design is a real highlight, and features two swords on a dark background, with snakes entwined around them, and leafy branches.
But have you ever noticed the Latin text on the back of the cards?
And if you did see it, have you ever looked up what it means? Along the side it says "DE DUOBUS MALIS, MINUS EST SEMPER ELIGENDUM". Theory11 has even trademarked the text, and gives this translation of the larger phrase: "Of two evils, the lesser must always be chosen."
In addition, on one of the banners you'll find the word REGIS, which comes from the Latin word for king or monarch.
There's also some Latin on the tuck case, which reads Este perpetua. This can likely be best translated as "May you endure forever", possibly expressing a prayerful wish about the longevity of the monarch.
What we have here in every way is a fine deck fit for a king - as long as a course in Latin is part of his princely upbringing!
Orbit V7 Playing CardsThe Orbit series has become a real hit with collectors, and there are many playing card enthusiasts eagerly trying to get the entire set. Today the first few editions of this series are in high demand with collectors, often fetching high prices on the secondary market. Shown here is the Orbit V7 deck.
Created by magician Chris Brown, the faces of the very first edition of the Orbits were relatively standard, with vintage Arrco style court cards. But especially the circle design of the popular card backs, most of which depict some kind of space craft in orbit, became a real hit with cardists. Customization on the Ace of Spades and the Jokers hints at some additional playfulness.
But a special surprise is in store with this, the seventh edition of the Orbit decks. The signature shapes and patterns return on the card backs, but with some important differences.
The first of the changes is obvious. A bright pink colour indicates a deliberately retro look that wants to bring us back to the 1980s.
There's also a special tribute to the crew that were aboard the fateful Challenger space shuttle mission in 1986.
Their names are recorded inside the tuck box, and the rainbow on the bottom of the tuck box reflects NASA's own use of this image after the tragedy to represent that the legacy of their lives lives on.
But the biggest surprise is one you won't find mentioned in the promotional materials at all, and is something I first read about on Reddit (source). And that's this: the Orbit V7 is actually a marked deck.
If you look closely at the apparently random constellation of stars on the card backs, you'll notice an obvious mention of the suit and the value of each card. It's an ingenious system that is easy to read, and many people who own and use this deck regularly don't even realize it's a marked deck!
Knights Playing CardsThe Knights deck is an Ellusionist creation, with Daniel Madison and Chris Ramsay being the two big names you'll find in the credits. It pays tribute to the legendary chess piece, the knight.
The Chess theme returns in numerous aspects of the deck, such as with the Joker, which features a check-mated king with a raven.
This is a very practical deck that combines style with function, making this classy set of playing cards a very popular choice for magicians and collectors. After the success of the initial Gold edition, with its amazing tuck case, several other versions followed in other colours, and it continues to be a strong seller.
But just like the Orbit V7 deck, the artwork on the back of the cards hides some important but well disguised information. There's a college of small chess pieces decorating the artwork, and therein lies our clever secret: once again this is a marked deck. When the Knights deck was first released, it wasn't even advertised as a marked deck, and some buyers continue to be blissfully ignorant about it, since it will escape the notice of all but the very careful observer.
But eventually the word got out, largely with the help of an explanation video by Chris Ramsay, and now some buyers will opt for this deck precisely because of its cleverness as a marked deck.
What I especially like about the marking system is that it doesn't use the clock-style markings commonly used for coded systems in marked decks, but an entirely different system that uses the point value of chess pieces.
Ellusionist has also produced other decks with hidden secrets, and arguably their release that contains the most Easter eggs is Team Ellusionist Deck. This was an exclusive deck originally only available to staff and team members. It's loaded with inside references to the company and to other decks they have produced.
You'll get a taste of what's inside the Team Ellusionist Deck with this video overview by The Gentleman Wake.
Neil Patrick Harris Playing CardsIf you like looking for secrets, it's hard to think of a better choice of playing cards than the Neil Patrick Harris (NPH) deck.
This deck has an amazing tuck box, with gold foil and embossing, which is exactly what we've come to expect by now from the creator Theory11. And unlike some of the other decks in Theory11's lineup, the card backs don't have a monochromatic look.
But my favourite thing about the NPH deck is the built-in puzzle. It's hardly a secret that these playing cards are loaded with secrets, because the deck even comes with a card that specifically spells out the puzzle-like challenge that awaits:
"This is going to be a challenge. Just as a spider spins its web, I've taken a page out of Cardano's book and created a puzzle. Look upon photos and images inside this deck. You can do this - just look closely at the cards. Good luck! - NPH."
It's very challenging and takes a lot of work to solve, and you'll have to follow a trail of clues, and use some online resources.
Initially Theory11 even rewarded successful puzzlers who completed the challenge by mailing them a certificate and a small badge.
While the reward has been discontinued, it's a reward in and of itself to solve the riddles and puzzles, that will require you to look very closely at small details hidden within the deck.
If you enjoy this kind of thing, also check out the Product Red deck, and the Salt & Bone deck, which also come with a built-in challenge or puzzle to solve.
Fox Targets Playing CardsThe matt forest green tuck box of the Fox Targets deck immediately suggests the theme that this deck captures: these playing cards are about the outdoors and adventure.
This mellow deck was produced by Murphy's Magic, and the artwork was illustrated by artist Lance Miller, who is known for various playing card designs.
Lance's artwork in this deck was inspired by a love for nature, and the rugged beauty of the great outdoors. As a result, much of the art and design is camping oriented, with images of things like a campfire, arrows, ax, and tent. Even the diamond pips have acquired an unusual flame-like shape to suit the theme.
The deck's name hints at the golden hour that it depicts. This is the time when the sun sets, which is the rare moment when foxes can become visible hunting targets.
But there's a deeper meaning behind all the images depicted in this deck. Designer Lance Miller has explained that the fire represents the fire needed in one's heart, and the tent represents the need for us to build a structure and home.
Is there more? Absolutely. In an interview, Lance revealed the following: "There are clues buried throughout all of the artwork and the entire deck itself is the puzzle. I almost hope no one ever solves it and that it brings many years of adventure to those endeavor to work on it."
He gave a couple of other clues in a video where he discussed this deck, saying something to this effect: "Every single card has a story. Every story makes a greater story. I want to challenge you to see if anyone catches it. I gave so many clues, and it's not about me or any individual in particular. But it's about the deck, and the entire deck is a family - I will give you that!"
Can you solve it? Lance doesn't mind if you don't: "I won’t be upset if people don’t figure it out right away or ever for that matter. I wanted to create something that would last throughout time; that people might pick up 25 years from now and still be trying to solve." Even if you don't solve it, there's plenty of undiscovered details here for you to enjoy.
Standards Playing CardsThe Standards deck is a wonderful new deck from Art of Play.
It was inspired by 19th century British opulence, and the lavish gold on the tuck boxes gives an immediate sense of the luxury and style it intends to evoke.
The extravagant use of gold throughout this deck gives this deck an immediately regal feel, and the cards have lots of intricate detail and metallic ink that produces a real sense of sophistication.
Contrary to what the name suggests, these playing cards are anything but standard. So what are they all about then?
Part of the secret lies in the name, which turns out to be short for "gold standard". It's a reference to an era in typography, and is also the subject of an art book by the deck's designer Kevin Cantrell, entitled The Gold Standard of Lettering and Branding: The Case for Confidence.
But the name also doubles as a reference to the "Gold Standard" monetary system, where an economy relies on gold as a fixed standard to back its currency. Britain adopted the Gold Standard as the national backing for its economy in 1819, and despite its promised security, it did eventually collapse. The Standards deck cleverly takes a satirical look back at the 19th century British monarchy when its currency was backed by gold.
To hint at the imminent demise of the Standard, all the Kings and Jacks are depicted as "suicide" characters with a sword behind their heads, something that is usually just reserved for the King of Hearts, the classic "suicide king". The collapse of the Gold Standard also explains why in the fine print on the cards you'll see the words "God save the gold."
David Ricardo, the man who influenced the British to return to the Gold Standard, is featured as the Joker. Names of other key players from the time can be found on the court cards. The closer you look, the more secrets you will discover!
Are there more?
What I love about Easter eggs like these is that they force us to look more closely at our playing cards, and to appreciate something special about the design or artwork. They are often a testament to the cleverness, creativity, and ingenuity of the designer.
Are there more examples of well-known decks with Easter eggs? Undoubtedly there are. Please share any more that you know about in the comments! Hopefully this whets your appetite to enjoy and appreciate some of your favourite playing cards with new eyes, and to observe and appreciate carefully-placed details that you've never noticed before!
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and 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.