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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Deck the Halls » » Pictorial Review: Randy Butterfield - The ORNATE series (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

EndersGame
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RANDY BUTTERFIELD & MIDNIGHT CARDS

Randy Butterfield is perhaps a name that those who are familiar with cusdtom playing cards have heard before, because he has designed over 40 different decks of playing cards, including several that are selling through large retailers. He also has his own website, Midnight Cards, where he sells some of his decks.

By day, Randy is a senior designer at Motive Marketing, and creates things for the wine and spirits industry, such as gift packs and displays. But at night, Randy turns into a werewolf. Actually, he doesn't, but he does burn the midnight oil doing something else: designing playing cards. Hence the name of his company: Midnight Cards. His wife actually came up with the name, and it describes perfectly Randy's need to pursue creative projects late at night when the rest of the family is asleep. Under this label, Randy spends his free time during evenings making beautiful decks of playing cards. He's discovered that this Night Owl kind of lifestyle is a great way for him to unwind and have fun exploring a different aspect of unique and personal creativity. And the market has discovered that he is a one of the best modern designers of playing cards.

Randy's post-secondary education began with a degree in Fine Arts in Graphic Design, and he subsequently worked in the pre-press department of a print shop, where he was more engaged in technical work than creative work, but nonetheless could do some freelance designing on the side. Already then, it seems he was burning the midnight oil, exploring the world of design for himself. Even today he credits this as a formative phase of his personal development, and he advises young designers to begin with a solid education and experience working in the design industry. But a new phase of life began for Randy after he found a new job designing packaging for high profile clients at Motive Marketing. He later moved to Indianapolis in 2007 to begin his family, and where he could continue working for Motive from home. It was here that began refining the formula from which his decks of cards would emerge: by day working for Motive, and at night after his wife and children were asleep working on personal projects and of course playing card designs.

He was first drawn to the idea of making a custom deck of playing cards as a result of his involvement in promoting a board game for a cousin. It was in connection with this that he found himself going to GenCon 2011, and there he heard about the impact that crowdfunding via Kickstarter was having on the game industry. Kickstarter? What's that? He and his cousin looked up Kickstarter on their phones, and the first project they saw was a creative deck of custom playing cards. They subsequently migrated to Kickstarter themselves to attempt to fund their game project, and this experience would prove useful later when Randy would later run his own projects. Being a night owl, all this inspired Randy to try his hand at designing his own deck of playing cards, which for him was the perfect night project. And so Midnight Cards began in 2012, when Randy launched his first deck, the Ornate series, for the House of Playing Cards. Since then, Randy has produced some real gems.

In this series of reviews, I'd like to take a look at a selection of Randy Butterfield's creations, and give you an overview of some of his work, so you can decide if some of his decks of playing cards are the kind of thing you'd like to buy and add to your own gaming shelf. Meanwhile here's Randy and his lovely family - this time while it's not midnight when he's the only one awake!

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THE ORIGINAL ORNATE DECKS

Our introduction to Randy's work begins with a classic style design - except that Randy isn't afraid to depart from the traditional even when designing a more "traditional" style deck!

The ORNATE deck was Randy's first published deck, which he produced for the House of Playing Cards. It went on to become a very popular deck that he later refined, and produced several different versions of, mostly in different colours, including Sapphire, Scarlet, Amethyst, and Emerald. Many consider it to be one of the best decks released in 2012, which was still the early stages of the crowd-funding revolution that helped fuel the custom playing card industry to new heights.

Picture here are two of the original decks, the Ornate Amethyst and Ornate Emerald deck. When first released, these two original decks sold out in less than a week!

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Randy describes his Ornate deck as "playing cards fit for royalty", because they exude elegance and class, and are meticulously designed with an elaborate baroque theme and style. While watching an episode of The Tudors, he was struck by the elaborate and over-the-top details on all the furniture and other settings, and that inspired him to make something with elaborate and ornate detail, in areas such as the back design, borders, and background patterns.

The face cards of Amethyst deck feature gray/black background for the black suits and a purple background for the red suits, while the Emerald deck features a green/gold for the black suits and a silver/red for the red suits.

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The design of the court cards is particularly note-worthy, because they are fresh and original, and aren't just yet another variation on the traditional court cards. They emphasize the faces, and use a style that is entirely different from any other custom deck that I can think of! Also a nice touch is the inclusion of the suits on the ribbons of colour that run in all four directions from the ornate circle that marks the card centre.

Altogether about 10,000 of the original ORNATE decks were produced, which in the world of playing cards is quite a large amount for a custom playing cards project. These original decks are no longer readily available, but fear not, you're about to hear about some revised versions!


THE WHITE ORNATE DECKS

Rather than go into too much detail about the original and hard-to-get decks, since they were later revised and updated, I'll focus on the White ORNATE decks instead. Randy made a final project for the Ornate decks under the House of Playing Cards banner, wanting to go out in style, with a definitive and improved version. The project was for a White edition of the Ornate decks, and four decks were released simultaneously: Amethyst (purple), Emerald (green), Sapphire (blue), and Scarlet (red). Effectively these are the Ornate series Mark II, or version 2.0.

These decks also came together as a complete set of four, and with tuck boxes that now had continuous artwork when placed side-by-side. Now that's the kind of attention to detail that I like, especially when it includes panoramic/polyptych artwork!

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Overall these decks were still like the original ones, but they had the benefit of a face-lift. In addition to the tuck boxes revisions, there were some minor changes, such as a new pip layout for the number cards, and some adjustments to the card backs which you see here.

I love the elaborate artwork on the card backs of these decks, which is accentuated by the fact that a simple colour scheme is used, and it's completely in keeping with the ornate baroque style that Randy was targeting.

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Perhaps the biggest change in this revised series was to the colours, with the purple, green, blue and red "popping" more as a result of the carefully designed and intricate white/grey background patterns. When you see these in person, you're immediately struck by a sense of luxury and class.

All the White Ornate decks were made available in both an unbranded version and a Limited Bicycle version, as seen here with the green Emerald deck.

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To give some idea of what this revised version looks like, here's the new-look red Scarlet deck:

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One thing to notice is how the pips now feature two-tone colours. For the Sapphire/Scarlet decks, the black suits feature blue/gold and the red suits feature red/silver, as shown in the example below with the diamonds and hearts.

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For the Amethyst/Emerald decks, different two-tone colours are used: the black suits feature green/gold and the red suits feature purple/silver. These two-toned colours really add to the impression of elegance, ornamentation, and the use of gold and silver adds an appropriate royal touch.

Pictured here is a box cover and card back from the new-look purple Amethyst deck.

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I'm especially a fan of the Emerald deck that I have, but the nice thing about this series is that since colours are often a matter of personal preference, a variety of colours is available.


THE OBSIDIAN ORNATE DECK

As part of this White ORNATE project, a special limited edition black Obsidian Ornate deck was also released. In case you're like me and aren't sure what the word "obsidian" means, I looked it up and naturally occurring volcanic glass that has a beautiful deep black or blackish green colour. It captures well the unusual colours of this deck, and is a fitting name to describe a deck that immediately stands out as a result of the colour palette used.

The Obsidian deck was intended to be the high point of the series, which is obvious already just by looking at the tuck box, which features black with gold foil - inside and out!

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The cards of this edition all have a glamorous looking dark hue which reflects the obsidian title, and is well complemented by the other colours in the palette used.

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While the red suits of the Obsidian deck are accented with silver, the black suits are accented with luxurious looking gold. If the Ornate decks are intended to have a royal touch, then this is the most royal of them all!

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Including the Obsidian decks, altogether more than 25,000 of the White ORNATE decks were produced, which is a huge number! Given the popularity and longevity of the ORNATE series, and the important role it had in launching Randy's career in designing playing cards, he continues to have a soft spot for them, and they remain on his list of personal favourites.



CONCLUSIONS

Versatility: One thing is for sure: Randy Butterfield is a very versatile designer! He has designed classy looking luxury decks, fantasy decks inspired by dragons, playful decks inspired by bowling, lush decks inspired by Russian jewels and Ancient Rome, baroque styled decks with intricate detail - it's just mind boggling how varied some of these decks are! And yet they're all from the same guy! I don't know what his wife feeds him, but whatever it is, it sure is working! Often a designer has a very distinct style that is evident in all his decks, but with Randy that's not immediately obvious, because he is able to produce a range of impressive and unique styles, almost like a Jekyll and Hyde thing. But maybe that's what happens after midnight?

Diversity: This is related to the previous point, and it reflects something of the breadth of his designs so far. With his versatile talents, Randy has used his abilities to create diverse decks, and over time has crafted an incredible range of different decks. He has an established and proven record in the playing card industry, with a large number of different designs to prove it. So accompanying his versatile skills, is an impressive range of completed projects. My favourite is probably the Draconian deck, simply because of the stunning borderless card backs.

Thematic: Randy has tackled a wide range of different themes in his projects: Dragons. Ten Pin Bowling. Ancient Rome. Russian jewels. This certainly doesn't reflect someone beating the same drum over and over, but shows a willingness to take on subject material with a wide range of themes. What I especially appreciate is how thematic these different projects are. In each case Randy has clearly done a lot of thinking to figure out ways to make every aspect of the deck fit his theme, which is evident from the designs of the tuck box, card-backs, and of course the faces of the cards themselves.

Success: It's one thing to come up with a good design, and have good quality cards, but it's altogether another thing to actually find people who are going to serve as willing partners to help make these become a reality, and to find buyers for your ideas. Randy isn't just someone who has good ideas, but he's found ways to turn them into products, and he has developed the skills and experience to market what he makes. Randy shared with me the print quantities of all the decks he's made so far, and I did the math and added them up: by my count, it is around 93,000 decks of cards! By the end of the year that number should easily have reached over 100,000 decks, which is a tenth of a million! Staggering!

Quality: Randy has chosen to publish many of his own decks with Legends Playing Card Company, with their Classic finish. Legends is based out of Hong Kong, and along with Expert Playing Cards (which uses the same factory) is the main competition to the US Playing Card Company that produces Bicycle decks. Personally, I've found that the quality of the Legends decks is even higher than those of the Bicycle decks, especially the incredibly clean cut of the cards. For more details about the quality of their decks, see my review here. Randy has opted for their Classic finish rather than their Diamond finish, simply because it feels less plastic-like, and my own experience with the Legends decks also favours this finish as the best. So the card quality of these decks rivals that of any Bicycle deck, and arguably even exceeds it.

Night owl: The man from Midnight Cards often does his best work shortly before and after midnight. I'm not going to be the one to start suggesting that he turns into a werewolf, but clearly he has found a way to make his creative juices really work well at this time of the day, and turn it into a productive and also relaxing endeavour. It's a great name for a playing card company, and it really says something about Randy's creative process, and about the way he's managed to incorporate his hobby into a lifestyle that includes a day job and a family.

Where do you get them? I'm very pleased to come across Randy's work. If you're interested in picking up some of his playing cards for yourself, the first place you should look is his Midnight Cards webshop, which is probably the best way to support his efforts directly. Right now he has some terrific deals available, including the Grinders decks for around $10 each, the Rome Antony & Caesar decks for around $11 each, the Imperial Gold deck for around $15, and perhaps the best deal of all, all three Bowl-a-rama decks (including the Cosmic Lanes edition!) for only $14.95 as a set of three, which is cheaper than what the Cosmic Lanes edition alone costs at many other places. For some of his other decks, another place you can look is over at Rare Playing Cards, and the publisher Legends.

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Recommendation

I'm very impressed with the versatile designs produced by a man who has found a way to burn the midnight oil as an ideal way to unwind from his normal work, while unleashing his creativity at the same time, and simultaneously producing something beautiful for fans of playing cards to enjoy. Randy's designs are very diverse, and there's bound to be something you'll like among his decks of playing cards. I'm very pleased with the decks that I own, and find that they really make a game of Cribbage or other traditional card game just that much more special. Randy was also very courteous in answering all the questions I posed to him when making this review, and he's been a real pleasure to communicate with, and seems like a terrific guy to deal with. I can only recommend his designs highly!

Want to learn more? Midnight Cards: http://midnight-cards.myshopify.com


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