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Reviewer EndersGame
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Jody Eklund is an illustrator who creates playing cards. Now the market for custom playing cards often feels saturated, so to be successful you have to have something that sets you apart - but Jody Eklund has that special "something". Under the banner of his Black Ink Playing Cards and his website The Art of Jody Eklund (, you'll find that he has created not just one deck, but a series of playing card projects that now numbers around half a dozen. And what makes his work unique are two things:
1. History: Jody shares some kind of historical story or historical personages via the illustrations and information in each deck of playing cards. In fact, for many of his projects, he even creates a companion booklet that tells a small story about each of the people featured as characters in the deck!
2. Style: Jody combines this with a unique style that reflects a real eye for clean artistic design, and an attractive look. Even though he primarily does everything digitally, his work looks like it was done with pen and ink - hence the name "Black Ink Playing Cards" which he uses as his deck publishing brand.
It's this combination of historical interest and stylish graphic design that has created a real demand for Jody's decks of playing cards, and contributed to the ongoing success of his projects.


In this review, I'd like to take a look at Jody's work, and give an overview of some of the decks he's created so far. But first let me tell you a little more about the man himself, and how he got started on this venture. The spark began shortly after he returned to his home town of Aurora, Colorado, in 2013. At the suggestion of a friend who was experienced with Kickstarter, his decided to give it a whirl himself. He launched his Kickstarter project for "The Golden Spike" in July 2014 and with over 750 backers, it proved to be a big success. This was followed by further projects in the years that followed: Innovation, Devastation, Inception, Titans, and his current project, Iron Horse. This might sound like a catalogue of movie titles, but in fact it reflects a real historical interest, because in these different projects Jody has captured some of the most important men and women in history, especially inventors and creators.

How did he get inspired to do this? Here's how Jody himself described the genesis of this series in early 2015, when he came up with the concept for the first two decks of his Inventors series:

"A few months ago I watched a documentary on the History channel called, "The Men Who Built America". In that documentary the stories of John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan were told. I was glued to the TV ... I was hooked. Their stories were inspiring and I was struck by the spirit and ingenuity they showed. I decided that I should do a series of playing cards that celebrated the spirit that these kind of men demonstrated. The Inventors series was born.
Now, not everyone will be an inventor. I decided to do my first two decks in the series about Innovators and Devastators. Men and Women who were either innovators that changed the world on a global scale or those that changed the battlefields of war.
So, I hope you will allow me to tell you the stories about these men and women through pictures as well as words. I will be Illustrating two decks along with a booklet. These will be the first two decks in the inventors series. I hope their stories will be an inspiration to you as well.

Since watching that program, Jody has demonstrated his own ingenuity by making this a reality. It's one thing to dream, it's another thing to put in the hard work and make it happen. But make it happen he has, and today he's not just made a deck about Innovators and Devastators, but has followed this up with a number of other successful similarly themed and styled projects as well. In fact, right now with his day job slowing down, he's spending even more time on what was originally just a side-hobby. Let's take a look!


The Golden Spike project was a very successful one for Jody, and represents the beginning of his success in the custom playing card industry. This train themed deck celebrates the First Transcontinental Railroad. After this, Jody went on to make a series of decks themed around inventors and industrialists, but in his most recent project, Iron Horse, he has returned to the train theme, so I have grouped these two decks together in this article.


Jody's first project was the the Golden Spike deck, which he produced in a Bicycle Edition and a Gold Edition. As proof of its success, it almost tripled his original funding goal!


This deck started with his children's love for trains, and his wife's memory of history, and this got Jody to begin thinking about steam engines and their history. The deck is inspired by the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad on May 10th, 1869, which was the first rail line to connect the east to the west, thus revolutionizing transportation and commerce in a post Civil War United States. As many readers will know, the completion of the railroad was celebrated with the creation of a commemorative Golden Spike, which was driven into the ground where the Union Pacific met the Central Pacific Railroad at Promontory Point, Utah. This key moment marked the beginning of a new era of industry and expansion in the United States.

Very deliberately Jody has used a cross hatch technique of illustration, to reflect something of the style of engraving and lithographs that was common to the time period he is depicting, as you can see from the card-backs.


All the court cards and Aces feature unique illustrations that capture the leading figures of the time.


Each individual card was carefully researched and meticulously illustrated, to ensure accuracy and historical depth.


Notice the small details that have been incorporated, like the hearts on the diagonal belt and lapel.


Here's a card that lists the names of all the characters on the court cards and Aces, as well as a commemorative card that represents the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.


The detail in the artwork here is very beautiful, and captures well the spirit and flavour of the historical era it depicts.


The standard edition features the Central Pacific train "Jupiter" on the tuck box, while the Gold Edition features the Union Pacific train "119". The tuck box of the Gold edition also features embossing with gold foil, and its cards use a more luxurious looking red and gold metallic inks for the pips and indices.


But the Black Ink limited edition of this deck (which is the one I have) is perhaps my favourite of the lot, with the incredible combination of gold and black accents.


And check out this beautiful and individually numbered custom seal printed with gold metallic ink on black.


But what I especially love about Jody's decks is his love of the history behind the topics he is covering. With the Golden Spike deck, he made available a companion book, and he's done this with more of his decks as well.



Jody's current project is called Iron Horse Playing Cards, and is currently on Kickstarter for funding. It was inspired by a short story written by Jody's friend Ricky Cassford. In this deck he returns to the train theme, and a historical setting that reflects the era after the completion of the transcontinental railroad that was celebrated in his original Golden Spike deck. Although in this case it's a fictional story that forms the basis of the story-line and characters reflected on the cards, the charm and setting of the Golden Spike deck is also found here.

The standard edition of this game comes in a lovely Black Ink Edition tuck box, with a similar look to the one issued for the beautiful Black Ink limited edition of the Golden Spike deck. I have this edition of the Golden Spike deck, and find it very elegant and classy! There is diptych art for the front and back of the Iron Horse tuck box, with silver and black foil completing a very classy look.


The story is called "The Attempt on the Iron Horse". This opening introduction introduces some of the main characters as follows:

"By 1885, Frank Hokey, and his band of miscreants, were poised to be remembered with the likes of Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and the Dalton Brothers. In fact, it was likely that they would have surpassed those well-known names with their strategic style, and infamous flair for larceny, if it hadn’t been for lawman Cletus McCoy on that fateful day, in July, on the San Juan Extension of The Denver Rio Grande Railway. Sheriff McCoy had enlisted the help of a bounty hunter, called Baron Jim Templeton, to assist he and the deputy of Conejos County Colorado, who now went by the name “Traitor Face” Steve Houston, having previously ridden with The Frank Hokey Gang and embracing their attempt at condescension. The Baron’s task was to follow Frank, because he had been known, of late, to cross out of Conejos County jurisdiction, into New Mexico. Little did either man know, that on the train that left Chama, New Mexico that morning was the Sheriff’s fiancé, and the bounty hunter’s god-daughter..."

The entire story is available as a PDF download via the Kickstarter project, and this will also include Character Bios.


Pictured here is the Ace of Spades, along with gang leader Frank Hokey.


The good guys are pictured on some of the red-suited cards, including Sheriff Cletus McCoy as the King of Diamonds, and Bounty Hunter Baron Templeton as the King of Hearts.


The Jokers also feature a diptych image, highlighting a train robbery in progress, depicted with Jody's signature black and white ink styled drawings.


Other characters, cards, and rewards for different support levels can all be seen at the Kickstarter here.


What do I think?

There's a lot to like about Jody Eklund's decks of playing cards, and here are some notable elements:

History: Firstly, it is clear that Jody enjoys history. He's found a way to keep his own nose in the pages of history, as part of the research that goes into the creation of each project. But with his playing cards, we also get the opportunity to take a look at the movers and shakers that have helped make today's world what it is. His accompanying booklets that are available are a good way to learn more about these things. Certainly I found it rewarding to study the historical figures that he has featured on his decks, and it motivated me to find out more about their lives and achievements.

Inventors: Not all aspects of history are equally interesting, but I do share Jody's fascination with innovation and invention - in fact it's probably true for most of us. As a result, the Innovation and Devastation decks are of special interest, in how they document some of the men and women who changed the way people lived, or who changed the way people died.

Trains: There are a lot of people who have a real interest in railroads and trains. In the game industry, there "train" theme is a very common one, and "train games" make up a much larger component of games than what would otherwise be representative for a single theme. This interest should mean that the Golden Spike deck and the Iron Horse deck will have a broad appeal to a lot of people. The Iron Horse deck also has somewhat of a Western setting, which is another common theme in the game industry, and will also be a point of attraction for many.

Style: After looking at some of Jody's decks, it's very clear that he has a style of his own, especially with his black ink type images. It's this style that many appreciate about his work, accompanied with his attention to historical detail. At the same time it is evident that his style has evolved over time, and I especially love the look of his later decks.

Experience: While Jody has quite a bit of experience under his belt, with several successful campaigns so far, it's clear that he wants to keep challenging himself with new territory to explore, and also to continue to refine his style. With the current Iron Horse project, this is evident in the fact that the theme is tied to a fiction story which is made available as part of the project. Coming up with an idea that people are going to support is never easy, but he's managed to find somewhat of a formula that has attracted a solid support base, while at the same time he's prepared to make changes and adapt where necessary. His experience is only going to hold him in good stead going forward.

Refinement: Not only does Jody's style become more refined over time, but he's also exploring new ideas, as is evident for example in the Inception series, where he chose to make a trilogy of decks that differed only in the Ace and King of Spades as well as the card backs. He's also explored a range of different and unique add ons that many backers might enjoy. Even though I've not had opportunity to read the story that accompanies the Iron Horse project, I appreciate the fact that this does bring something new and interesting to the table, and offers an additional element that takes this project beyond the ordinary.

Quality Cards: From the cards and decks I've seen, the quality of the cards is great. Jody only uses reputable big name companies, so we are guaranteed of a good product. The decks I have are all produced by Legends Playing Card Company, which I have previously reviewed here. The Classic Finish that Jody has opted for is a high quality product that consider to be at least the equal of USPCC produced decks, and in some respects even surpasses it.

Signature Series: I especially like the Signature series of decks, which come in their own special stylish case.



I'm pleased to have discovered Jody's decks, and come across his website. If you're interested in picking up some of his playing cards for yourself, the first place to look is his webshop here or the Iron Horse Kickstarter here. Supporting his efforts directly via his website is the best thing, but the selection there is somewhat limited, so another place you can look is over at Rare Playing Cards.

There's a wealth of historical background that goes into the creation of these decks, and I can see them having educational benefits for families with children. This is particular the case for decks that are accompanied with the historical booklet that Jody often creates for his decks. But besides that, they also look very attractive; I'm especially partial to the limited Black Ink versions, which look particularly stunning and classy. But the reality is with all these decks you get Jody's signature `black ink' style, which is his distinctive and unique contribution to the world of custom playing cards.

Jody has acquired somewhat of a loyal following as a result of his dedication and contributions to the world of custom playing cards, and the decks shown above are all excellent examples of his work. They should appeal to anyone who enjoys playing cards, but also to anyone who has an interest in history or in science, and they could also make an excellent gift for the historian or scientist in your life. I enjoy using his decks when playing Cribbage and other traditional games with my family - beautiful decks like these can add to the enjoyment of a great game!

Want to learn more?
The Art of Jody Eklund:
Iron Horse Playing Cards:

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