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*** Unique Playing Cards from Noir Arts ***

The name Noir Arts already indicates that this publisher of playing cards appreciates art, which is confirmed by their tag line: "We are Arts! Unique playing card designs". Based in Ukraine, the people involved with Noir Arts have been producing beautiful playing cards for the local Ukrainian market under the label Noir Playing Card Company (NPCC) already since 2005. Noir Arts was officially formed in 2014, when they expanded to begin producing playing cards for the worldwide community. Under the leadership of Roman Kotiv, they began by designing their own decks, and soon began cooperating with talented independent artists and design studios from around the world. Noir is French for "black", and so quite a number of their decks are more dark in theme, but you will also find more playful decks in their portfolio as well. They have a diverse portfolio of custom playing cards with varied styles, but what they all have in common is that they are artistic.

In addition to creating an impressive range of playing cards under their own design, Noir Arts offers a printing and fulfilment service under their original name NPCC, to create and print custom decks of playing cards for other designers and creators. In this series of reviews, I am showcasing some of the custom playing cards Noir Arts has produced, to give an overview of their work and style, and a glimpse of the artistic talent that is evident from their portfolio. In the final installment of this series, I will also offer some lengthy concluding comments about their card quality and handling, plus a more detailed comparison with other publishers. But for now, let's show you some of their lovely decks!



Indictus Playing Cards (2015)

These decks were created by freelance artist Nicolai Aaroe, who hails from Denmark, and represent the first pair of a three volume set of dark art decks entitled "Light Versus Darkness". Dark art is a style of art in which the artist conveys his thoughts in a mysterious/bizarre style that at times draws on related genres like Gothic/surreal/horror, and can include attempting to depict somewhat morbid/disturbing/nightmarish subject matter in a fascinating and beautiful way; this style is evident in varying degrees in the Light Versus Darkness series.

The Indictus set consists of a matching pair of decks: Indictus Pristine and Indictus Antique.


Indictus means "unspeakable", and this set is the first of two that Nicolai designed to be deluxe dark art poker playing card decks. He describes the Indictus decks as "a sophisticated and highly thematic deck that take inspiration from the tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare, The Tudors and the history of human ethics."

In his words, "The deck illustrates the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek to gain power through activities related to the underworld and dark faith. Furthermore, Indictus is a visual depiction of deception, ethical treachery and shadowy immoral shortcuts." His parting words as you start exploring the deck are this exhortation: "Get off your moral high horse and start double-dealing."


Nicolai also describes this pair of decks as follows: "Indictus is a deluxe deck of shadowy philosophy, mysticism, sinister deeds, dark art and semi-occultism. With the use of matte finish, embossing detail, metallic ink and foil ornamentation Indictus will leave you breathless and humble to the unspeakable essence."

I'm personally not a huge fan of all the artwork here, especially the Kings, which like most of the Jacks as well, are pictured as skeletons - but to be fair, this is intended to be a dark art deck after all. On the positive side, gold metallic ink helps add a real touch of luxury and class. And besides the kings there's nothing too macabre as such, although this definitely has more of a darker feel in contrast to the Geistreiz and Carnaval De Muertos cards we looked at previously. But despite the darker overtones, there's still lots of class, as is evident from the Aces shown here.


The court cards, aces, and Jokers each also have a Latin phrase on them, some of which are used as legal maxims today:
Ab abusu ad usum non valet consequentia: A consequence from an abuse to a use is not valid
Amor et melle et felle est fecundissimus: Love is rich with both honey and venom
Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit vea: No one is in duty bound to accuse himself unless before God
Actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea: An act does not make one guilty unless there is a criminal intent

The number cards are also very stylish, especially with the use of elaborate pips, and gold metallic ink for the traditionally red suits.


And you have to appreciate the detailed artwork on the card-backs, which have white bordered cards for the Pristine deck (shown below), and a matching pattern but with black bordered cards for the Antique deck.


But best of all are the two tuck boxes, both of which are designed to look like ancient tombs that have been handed down from the Middle Ages, with dusty down brown covers, decorated with fine embossing and lovely gold borders, and have full interior printing as well. The Antique deck shown here is identical to the Pristine deck, but reflects what a book might look if it has become weathered, worn, and antique.


The same difference is the case with the cards inside the decks: the Pristine deck has white cards, whereas the Antique deck has off-white cards that like like weathered parchment.

The dark arts style might not suit everyone, but almost everyone will have to recognize the fine achievement that these decks represent, especially as a set showing the transition from the new to the old. The tuck boxes are as beautiful as you'll see, making the Invictus decks particularly suitable for collectors, and those who appreciate fine art.

Dominus Playing Cards (2016)

The Dominus Divinus and Dominus Obscura decks were also created by Nicolai Aaroe, and he sees this pair of decks as the artistic and spiritual successor to his Indictus project.


This two-deck series represents Light and Darkness, and this time all the court cards telling a story of fate, destiny, choice and consequence. In Nicolai's own words, he intends to tell "a story of the shadowy union between the deceptive underworld and the european monarchy of the late middle ages. Betrayal, deceit, double-dealing. A deck of moral value, wealth and virtue that carries a message for subjective interpretation."


As you'd expect, the Divinus deck that represents Light features white cards, while the Obscura deck that represents Darkness features black cards. Once again, gold metallic ink has been used for both decks. Thematically, the Dominus set is a visual depiction of "moral balance, the power of monarchs, and endless battle between the light and the darkness" (especially the white deck), but it is also a visual depiction of "deception, ethical treachery, and shadowy immoral shortcuts" (especially the black deck).

The court cards feature rulers of European monarchies, which in the white Divinus deck are walking on their moral right paths. As an explanation card included with the deck explains: "Divinus illustrates the path of the noble and righteous ruler. The power of good." There's also this encouragement: "A single tiny light creates a space where darkness cannot exist."


In contrast, in the black Obscura deck, the very same rulers are pictured in their darker versions. As the explanation card in this deck explains: "Obscura illustrates the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek to gain power through activities related to occultism and dark magic." There's also this warning: "If you flirt with the underworld it might swallow you whole."


Here's a direct comparison, showing the Jack of Diamonds from each deck.


Both decks also repeat the four Latin maxims we saw in the Indictus deck, with these appearing on the court cards, Aces, and Jokers.

All the artwork here was done in combination with Eugen Poe, and a lot of thought has gone into everything. The black faces of the Obscura cards have a scratched and dirty look which may fool you when you first see the cards in person - but it's not a quality control issue, but is by deliberate design. Meanwhile the number cards of the Obscura deck are frameless, to illustrate the unrestricted morals of their darkened minds. In contrast the white faces of the Divinus number cards have a delicate frame to represent the limits of self-control.


The card backs are decorated with all kinds of symbolism, representing the rule of monarchs, and so an entirely different design is used for each. The noble and honorable ruler of the Divinus deck stays on a path of light, while in contrast the relentless ruler of the Obscura deck may be lured by the underworld into ambitious blindness.


As clever and beautiful as the cards are, my favourite part about this set has to be the incredible tuck boxes. Both feature banners with mottoes corresponding to each theme: the white Divinus deck says "Justice is Prosperous" and "Fight Shadow With Flame", while the Obscura deck says "Reach Beyond the Light" and "Embrace the Darkness". While one side of the box (shown in the first image above) has a very lavish and detailed design that is gushing with gold foil, the other side (shown below) has a more subdued but far more elegant look. In the case of the Obscura deck in particular the gold foil is offset beautifully against the background of a matte charcoal black that is very soft in feel and looks absolutely gorgeous.


Like the Indictus decks that preceded it, the Dominus decks make a wonderful set and continue Nicolai Aaroe's contribution to the custom playing card industry with decks that have a dark arts theme, and work well together. They will appeal to people who enjoyed the Indictus decks, and it is hard to make a call as to which of the two sets is the better.

A third and final set of decks in Nicolai's dark art Light and Darkness series, entitled Culminus, features a similar style of design. This is currently in the process of production, and should be available early next year.

*** Recommendation***

So is Noir Arts (NPCC) for you? I came across Noir Arts and NPCC quite by accident, when exploring aspects the world of playing cards, but I'm very pleased that I did. They have produced some stunning decks of their own, using the artistic talents of creators internationally. In addition they provide what seems to be a good printing service for their many customers around their world. Knowing that this is a source that can be used to produce playing cards and fulfil crowd-funded projects will mean that many designers of custom cards will want to take note of this option they might otherwise not know about. As for the overall quality and handling of the cards, their quality is improving, although it doesn't match the best in the business like USPCC and LPCC/EPCC just yet, but is on par with second-tier publishers like MPC. Look for more extensive comments on the card quality and handling, plus a more detailed comparison with other publishers, in the final article of this series. The Noir Arts tuck boxes, however, are typically much more exquisite and impressive than MPC, and are first-rate.

While not geared towards producing playing cards that will satisfy the highest quality and exacting standards demanded by cardistry or card magic, Noir Arts is certainly focused on creating decks with a more artistic look, which they present in very impressive and high quality tuck boxes. Their playing cards cards have an air-cushion style finish and are of a quality that works well for playing card games or for collectors who admire an artistic style of deck. If that's what you're looking for, then do check them, their range, and their services out!


Want to learn more? Noir Arts:



BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame - click here to see all my pictorial reviews: => Magic Reviews <==> Playing Card Reviews <==> Board Game Reviews <==
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