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Topic: Pictorial Review: Transformation Decks (Part 3) - Modern Era
Message: Posted by: EndersGame (Oct 2, 2017 03:39PM)

A [i]transformation deck[/i] is a unique deck of playing cards where the pips have been incorporated into a larger artistic image. Decks where the pips aren't in the expected position/colours are sometimes referred to as [i]semi-transformation decks[/i]. Here's an example of some transformation playing cards from the Art for the Earth deck which was produced in 1990.


Transformation decks have a long history, and in this review series I'm covering some of the beautiful transformation decks of playing cards that have been created over the years, grouped according the three main phases that transformation playing cards have been prominent.
[b]1. 19th century:[/b] The first examples of transformation playing cards appeared in the early 1800s. An estimated 70 different decks of transformation playing cards were produced in this century, with some of the best ones appearing in the late 1800s.
[b]2. Late 20th century:[/b] Having enjoyed a wave of popularity in the 19th century, by the 1900s the trend in transformation cards largely vanished. Towards the end of the 20th century, however, transformation decks saw a brief resurgence with some notable examples including the Key to the Kingdom deck, the Art for the Earth deck, and the Under the Sea deck.
[b]3. Modern era: [/b] The custom playing card industry exploded in 2012 with the advent of Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms, and this made it easier for graphic designers to bring their creations to the marketplace. As a result a number of beautiful transformation decks have appeared over the last five years.

This article is by no means an exhaustive or complete list of all transformation decks that have appeared, but is intended to showcase some of the lovely playing cards of this type that have been created over the years.


[b]*** THE MODERN ERA *** [/b]

The custom playing card industry really took off in 2012 with the arrival of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, and today is a thriving marketplace that is flooded with a plethora of amazing designs.

While the market today is in many respects crowded and fiercely competitive, the last five years have seen some beautiful transformation decks come into print. Some of these have been produced by larger publishers like Art of Play (e.g. the Ultimate Deck). Others have been created by individual designers like Emmanuel Jose and Ben Jones, who have capitalized on the new marketplace to publish creative designs that otherwise might never have seen the light of day.

[b]Curator[/b] (2011) [i]by Emmanuel Jose[/i]

Beginning in 2011, Emmanuel Jose produced a series of several decks using his remarkable technique of paper cutting.


Setting himself a goal of creating one card a week, he began a very intensive project that required an enormous amount of work, but the results were stunning.



The Curator project was followed by several other decks using the same technique: Clipped Wings (2012), Sawdust (2013), and Delicious (2014), each of which was crowdfunded with Kickstarter.


[b]Clipped Wings[/b] (2012) [i]by Emmanuel Jose[/i]

Emmanuel Jose's next project, Clipped Wings (2012), was inspired by birds.


As with his previous deck, it employed a remarkable paper-cutting technique, and was created over the course of an entire year.


[b]Sawdust[/b] (2013) [i]by Emmanuel Jose[/i]

The next project from Emmanuel Jose was Sawdust (2013), and was inspired by the circus.


While not all of the pips in Emmanuel's designs are incorporated into the artwork, those that are included have been cleverly interwoven as part of a larger scene.


An extra feature of this deck is the court cards, which make up a triptych, and which shows a different picture when reversed.


[b]Delicious[/b] (2014) [i]by Emmanuel Jose[/i]

The final transformation deck from Emmanuel Jose is Delicious (2014) was inspired by food and cooking.


The artwork covers everything from the kitchen mixer to the kitchen stove, and even features popcorn!


Once again the court cards make up a panoramic picture.


[b]Ultimate deck[/b] (2012)

The Ultimate deck wasn't crowdfunded, but is from the same modern era. It was produced by Art of Play's Dan & Dave Buck in collaboration with award-winning design firm, Stranger & Stranger, and features different images by a range of artists.


Many of the cards take considerable liberties with the location and style of the pips, so strictly speaking this would be considered a semi-transformational deck.


The Dan & Dave team describe the concept as follows: "[i]Every single card in the Ultimate Deck is represented with a story, incorporating classical art, as well as works from todays leading illustrators.[/i]"


Some cards may look a little macabre or dark, but the majority of the artworks are simply gorgeous and attractive images.


This deck is available from Art of Play [url=https://www.artofplay.com/products/ultimate-deck-stranger-and-stranger-playing-cards]here[/url], who also makes available an attractive [url=https://www.artofplay.com/products/ultimate-deck-uncut-sheet]uncut sheet[/url].


[b]Odd Bods[/b] (2012) [i]by Jonathan Burton[/i]

This Odd Bods deck is exactly that - odd, but artistic!


Each of the court cards is given a unique character, but more importantly for our purposes, a transformation style is evident throughout, especially in the oversized aces.


The number cards feature pips that have been turned into creatures or are interacting with unusual objects, showing a range of activities and movement..


The artist behind this deck is Jonathan Burton, who was commissioned to design these cards in 2012 by the Folio Society, and he has has given each character its own unique and quirky personality.


The Joker also shows that one never knows what to expect in this imaginative and most unusual world!


People quickly fell in love with this quirky deck when it first came out, and it's not hard to see why! This deck is available from Rare Playing Cards [url=https://rareplayingcards.com/products/odd-bods?rfsn=540019.2dd030]here[/url].

[b]EclecDeck[/b] (2013) [i]by Dave Ufford[/i]

The EclecDeck was created by Dave Ufford in 2013 with the help of Kickstarter supporters.


Dave's drawings do have a somewhat crude look, and appear to be hand-drawn with markers.


Nonetheless there are some great examples of creativity on display in this deck, with the two cards here being among my favourites.


Seen here are images that show some real ingenius use of the pips, in ways I haven't seen before.


While this deck might not match the polished artistic standards of some of the other decks of the modern era, it still shows a real willingness to innovate and imagine, which is what transformation decks are all about.


[b]Pipmen[/b] (2016) [i]by Ben Jones[/i]

"[i]Pipmen[/i]" is a term Ben Jones from Elephant Playing Cards has coined for the characters on his cards, which explains as a combination of Pips with Stickmen.


Typical of the decks he designs are "[i]little stickmen figures interacting with the pips to create a unique scene.[/i]"


Ben produced his Pipmen decks with the help of Kickstarter, and has since gone on to produce several different editions of these wonderfully creative decks.


It's a brilliant concept, and Ben has done some terrific work in creating these, as you can see from the examples below.


These cards are also very functional and playable, with very clear indices.


While most of the cards from the Pipmen deck feature black, red, and white, some incorporate a wider range of colours.


[b]Pipmen Shadow[/b] (2016) [i]by Ben Jones[/i]

In addition to the standard Pipmen decks, which all have white faced cards, a Pipmen Shadow edition was also produced.

This uses black cards, and while it retains the same artwork for the most part, it effectively reverses the colours for a completely different look.


One notable exception is that the colour red is retained for the traditionally red suits, while the use of white for the traditionally black pips ensures that there can be no confusion between the suits, to ensure that this deck remains very playable..


[b]Pipmen World[/b] (2017) [i]by Ben Jones[/i]

The Pipmen decks are already amazing in themselves, but get even better with the Pipmen World deck. As with the earlier Pipmen decks, every single card in this deck is a self-contained picture.

For example, notice the adventurous Pipmen climbing the snowy mountain on the left, and the hard-working Pipmen digging tunnels below the earth on the right.


Here we have some Pipmen divers, and a brave or foolish Pipmen flying a hang-glider in an electrical storm.


But now for the fun part: Ben has designed the artwork so that all the individual cards can be put together to form a single giant panoramic image! So when the cards are placed alongside each another, they produce a larger picture, which you can see starting to take shape below.


This is what we call a [i]polyptych[/i] - which is a picture that consists of several individual parts, that can be put together in order to make a larger single picture. Each individual card certainly looks great on its own - as shown here with some Pipmen balloonists, and a romantic Pipmen couple enjoying the moonlight.


But when you put the cards together on the table to make a single larger image ([i]polyptych[/i]), they look even more stunning.


Here more examples from this deck, this time featuring an ocean scene, and including details both above and below the water.


After the incredible success of the Pipmen World deck, Ben Jones also produced a Full Art edition of Pipmen World, which has the same artwork as the original, but eliminates the distraction of any borders, to heighten the polyptych effect, and make the panoramic effect even more impressive!


[b]*** CONCLUSIONS *** [/b]

[b]What do I think?[/b]

[b]Creative[/b]: The beauty of transformation decks lies in the creativity and ingenuity required to make them. The requirement to incorporate pips into a larger design is a huge restraint that artists have to work with. Being able to do this in a way that is imaginative and original is a real challenge. As is evident from the many examples, there are some wonderful works of art that have emerged as a result.

[b]Collectable[/b]: Obviously many of the older transformation decks are not readily available. Many of these are collector's items, and fetch high prices. Even the beautiful decks from the late 20th century are not readily available anymore, and many of these are also prized items for those fortunate enough to own them.

[b]Playable[/b]: While the prime appeal of these decks lies in their artistic merit, there are also some that have been produced, particularly in the modern era, that are just as functional as they are beautiful. This is particularly true of the decks created by Emmanuel Jose and Ben Jones. These designers have very deliberately tried to create decks that can still be played at the card table, and even though their decks show great creativity and imagination, they are very readily usable for playing a traditional card game.

[b]Creatable[/b]: Are you an artist or designer that has some good ideas for transformation playing cards? As the last five years have made clear, the custom playing card market is alive and well. In the modern era of crowdfunding, anyone with a truly good idea and talent has the potential to be successful, if they're willing to put in the work to do the design, marketing, and fulfilment, or to partner with an existing publisher that can help with this. While competition in this marketplace remains tight, successes like the transformation decks created by Emmanuel Jose and Ben Jones show that creative and beautiful transformation decks will almost certainly find buyers and the support needed to make them become a reality.


[b]Where do you get them?[/b]

While the vast majority of these decks are not readily available, the good news is that if you would like to add some transformation decks to your collection, there are certainly some places where you can get some of these, although your choices are mostly limited to those of the modern era, with the Murphy's Varnish deck being a notable (and beautiful) exception. Some crowdfunded decks were only available via the Kickstarters that produced them, but fortunately there are some that have made it to retailers or can be purchased directly from the publishers, and can also be found on sites like Amazon and eBay.
- [b]Murphy Varnish deck[/b] (1883): available from Home Run Games in a beautiful restored edition ([url=http://homerungames.com/store/playing-cards.html]link[/url]). [i]Cost: $13-$21 [/i]
- [b]Ultimate deck [/b](2012): available from publisher Art of Play ([url=https://www.artofplay.com/products/ultimate-deck-stranger-and-stranger-playing-cards]link[/url]). [i]Cost: $25[/i]
- [b]Odd Bods deck [/b](2012): available from Rare Playing Cards ([url=https://rareplayingcards.com/products/odd-bods?rfsn=540019.2dd030]link[/url]). [i]Cost: $15[/i]
- [b]Pipmen deck [/b](2016): available from publisher Elephant Cards ([url=http://elephantplayingcards.com/product-category/pipmencards/]link[/url]) and Amazon ([url=http://amazon.com/dp/B06Y5Y15SP/?tag=ender-bgg-20]link[/url]). [i]Cost: $12[/i]
- [b]Pipmen World deck [/b](2017): available from publisher Elephant Cards ([url=http://elephantplayingcards.com/product-category/pipmencards/]link[/url]) and Amazon ([url=http://amazon.com/dp/B074LCFZ31/?tag=ender-bgg-20]link[/url]). [i]Cost: $14[/i]

[b]Recommendation[/b]: While I enjoy all kinds of custom playing cards, I especially have a soft spot for transformation cards. The examples above show something of the creativity and ingenuity this genre requires. With the new possibilities for publishing playing cards that crowdfunding has opened up in the last half a dozen years, here's hoping that we'll see many more beautiful designs emerge in years to come.


[b][i]Credits[/i][/b]: I have benefited from many sources in the making of this article, but I'd particularly like to acknowledge [url=http://www.wopc.co.uk/transformation]World of Playing Cards[/url] and BoardGameGeek user [url=http://www.boardgamegeek.com/user/moxtaveto]Geni Palladin[/url].