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EndersGame
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* * * MORE LEGENDARY PLAYING CARDS * * *

I've previously introduced Legends Playing Card Company (LPCC), a publisher of very high quality playing cards. Along with the United States Playing Card Company, they have to be considered as one of the industry leaders in producing custom playing cards, and the decks of playing cards they produce arguably even surpasses the quality of their more well-known and larger rival. The human legend behind these legendary playing cards is Lawrence Sullivan, an American magician based in Hong Kong, who after a successful career as a magician went on to establish the Legends Playing Card Company in 2013, which he created as his answer to the frustration experienced with many "premium" brands of playing cards, many of which were poorly cut and sub-par quality. He's committed to quality in design, details, paper, finish, and manufacturing, using a proven factory in Taiwan to bring his vision to reality. The playing cards available from the Legends website features decks that are nothing short of spectacular quality.

The four main finishes that prospective clients of LPCC can select from are Diamond finish, Classic finish, Elite finish, and Emerald finish. Legends also works closely with Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC). The two companies even share use of the same factory in Taiwan, with EPCC offering the same finishes as the first three just mentioned but under different names: Master finish (=Diamond), Classic finish (=Classic), and Damask finish (=Elite). In an earlier feature on Legends, I especially covered decks featuring the Diamond and Classic finishes, since these account for a large percentage of the decks they produce. But the other two options available, Elite and Emerald finish, are good alternatives that creators of custom playing cards can opt for as well. In this review series, I am covering decks using these different finishes, to see how they compare. And if you don't care about different finishes, no problem, this is a review for you as well, because I'll show you what several decks of cards look like, which may be of interest to you. So let's start cracking open some shrink-wrap and get busy opening some decks!

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* * * ELITE FINISH DECKS * * *


CULTURA

The Cultura deck was created by Mankin Chan, and was inspired by the different cultures of the world.

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This deck was printed using Elite Finish paper stock, and the tuck box has a linen feel that matches this. The design of the box has a pattern identical to the card backs.

What's unique about this deck is that it combines four different cultures into a single deck of playing cards. Each suit represents a different country, and it's obvious from the picture below, which features a windmill on the Nine of Hearts, that the Hearts represent the Netherlands!

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Here's the complete list:
- Spades = Italy
- Clubs = USA
- Hearts = Netherlands
- Diamonds = China

The Jacks all feature traditional men's clothing from that culture, the Queens traditional women's clothing, while the Kings depict an old ruler/king of that country. Here are the court cards for Italy (Spades), which all reflect an Italian style of dress, and the King bearing resemblance to Caesar:

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I was curious to find out the reasons for the choice of these particular countries. Apparently designer Mankin Chan did a lot of research before beginning the project, and in an interview had this to say: "I wanted to use countries from all over the world, and they should have a very distinctive culture. After choosing four countries I brainstormed a lot to find good categories to compare the cultures." So these countries worked well, because they all have unique elements that helps set them apart, and which can be captured in the different categories that the designer was including in the deck.

Here's some court cards for the USA (Clubs):

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Notice how the Ace has a US flag. All the Aces feature the flags of that suit/culture. In fact, every number card represents a cultural category as follows:
Ace = Flag
2 = Name
3 = Drinks
4 = Bread
5 = Meal
6 = Sport
7 = Transport
8 = House
9 = Landmark
10 = Animal

For example, the four cards below are all 10s, each showing an appropriate Animal for each of the four cultures.

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The cards below show show Drinks (3), Bread (4), and Meal (5) for the China (Diamonds) suit.

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In real life, every country has its own culture, e.g. their own drink, mascot or landmark. Evidently Italy, Netherlands, USA, and China worked well for this purpose, being very diverse cultures, with a good range of different items that Mankin Chan could use for the individual categories about each.

Mankin himself says "I really like these differences, it brings variety to the world and makes life on earth more interesting."

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The Jokers have a very personal touch. Together they make up a diptych of two jugglers throwing balls to each other, with the red joker being a tribute to Mankin's uncle who passed away, and about whom he has fond memories of playing cards with.

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Here's an uncut sheet showing the entire deck.

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The cards can be quite busy, so they aren't the most suited for some card games. However all the cards do have clear indices, so that still ensures good functionality.

Overall it is a very creative concept that has been beautifully executed, and it comes together as a very original and unique deck!

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LEONARDO

The ground-breaking Leonardo deck of playing cards proved to be one of the most successful projects on Kickstarter at the time it was released for funding in 2015, with almost 1600 backers raising an enormous sum of more than $81,000, way above the original target. This deck is named in honour of Leonardo da Vinci, and captures various aspects of his artwork.

Silver edition

Three decks were produced: Gold, Silver, and a limited edition Platinum. Let's start by showing you the lovely Silver edition:

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The tuck box of the standard Gold/Silver editions had a number of notable features, including texture that simulated actual canvas. Yes, you can really feel this, and it fits beautifully with the overall theme! The art style of Leonardo's time period was further simulated by using matte hot-stamped foil topped with varnish, and egg whites. That's what I'm told, and I'm not sure I want to know specifics about how the egg whites were used, but I can say that the result looks beautiful.

What's more, as you can see, it even has interior printing, which is also in a silver foil style that looks very classy and eye-catching!

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The card backs feature the Vitruvian Man, a classic Leonardo image that most people will be familiar with. Other elements also included on the card-backs are an equine head, blossoming flowers, and two examples of geometrical polyhedra - all of course artwork courtesy of Leonardo.

There is also a very ornate and iconic Ace of Spades, which is derived from Leonardo's anatomical study of a human skull, the original which is presently in The Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace.

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The red suits have a different coloured background, which helps distinguish them from the black suits.

Each card has unique artwork. For example the Queen of Hearts was taken from "The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist" (ca. 1508), a piece which prsently hangs in The National Gallery in London.

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The number cards all include examples of Leonardo's secretive handwriting. The designer further explains: "Values and symbols on every card are scaled, distorted and distressed to respect both the tone and the weight of the overall design." This means that the background of every single number card is different; while they all have Leonardo's indecipherable script in the background, none is the same, and even the pips are individually unique.

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In other words, every single card in this deck has been totally created from scratch, from the numbers, to the pips, to the colours! And even the art has been compiled from multiple artworks, carefully placed together and crafted into a single image for each card.

That's incredible! Who would undertake such an ambitious project, and who has the skills to make it a reality? The answer is Dent-de-Lion du Midi. He explains his labour of love with the Illustrations and design as follows: "My interest in the art of Leonardo is lifelong. Realizing his work into modern playing card design has completely absorbed me this last year. Weaving elements of his paintings and drawings together and carefully integrating them has deepened my appreciation for Leonardo's sublime talent. I'm sure you can see in every detail my passionate dedication to my work. Please note the handwork on each suit and value - every card is unique, a real labor of love."

Gold edition

The artwork featured in the Gold edition of the Leonardo deck is the same, but the colours are different. Like the Silver edition, it looks spectacular from the moment you first see the tuck box.

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The Vitruvian man reappears on the card-backs of the Gold deck, but the colours have a more vintage look, reminiscent of old canvas and parchments.

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As mentioned already, every single card has different artwork as the background, including the Aces.

The overall design of the deck has given each suit an interpretation in line with Leonardo's philosophies, in Leonardo's own words:
♠ Spades = The Invention of War: "Every divided kingdom falls."
♥ Hearts = The Art of Love: "To enjoy - to love a thing for its own sake and for no other reason."
♣ Clubs = The Beauty of Nature: "Nature never breaks her own laws."
♦ Diamonds = The Power of Wealth: "He who wishes to be rich in a day will be hanged in a year."

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The Jack of Spades is based on "The Bust of a Warrior in Profile" which Leonardo did in silverpoint, a favorite medium of Renaissance artists. Dent-de-Lion du Midi explains the other details on this card as follows: "The large crossbow machines, an unrealized invention, are from a separate drawing of Leonardo's, from his sketchbook The Atlantic Codex (ca. 1488)." Turning two images (a bust plus crossbow elements) into a composite in this way is not an easy task, and gives some sense of the extraordinary level of work required to make this deck!

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The other card pictured above is the Queen of Clubs, which in some vintage decks is portrayed as The Flower Queen. To create this card, Dent-de-Lion du Midi took the drawing of an unknown woman's head from The Galleria Degli Uffizi, and combined this with some of Leonardo's original sketchbook renderings of nature, including a lovely 1473 pen and ink sketch of a small Italian riverside town. These separate drawings are shown below.

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The final result was subjected to a process that du Midi calls "age distressing".

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The Elite Finish paper-stock was chosen for this deck due to its more pronounced texture, which gives it a texture more like canvas.

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Overview

The uncut sheets from both text give a bit of an overview of the entire decks:

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It really is a stunning artistic deck all round, inside and out!

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The Leonardo deck will truly appeal to those who enjoy Renaissance style artwork, or those who are fans of Leonardo da Vinci. The designer has a life-long interest in the great artist, and has spent hours painstakingly weaving elements of his drawings and paintings together. The fact that it's jam-packed with Leonardo's artwork makes it a real gem. But Dent-de-Lion du Midi has done much more than just reproduce the artworks, but has stylishly combined numerous artworks into original composites - an artistic achievement in itself. Add in the vintage style design, and of course quality cards, and the outcome is a great and original deck of playing cards!

The original intent was to get the deck produced by USPCC, but the designer in the end opted to go with Legends Playing Card Company, and the outstanding results have justified this choice. This deck really is a work of art, and a quality printing from Legends has made this worthy creation a thing of beauty.


LUXX PALME

The LUXX Palme deck is the second in the LUXX series, which are premium luxury decks. It comes in a red and a blue version.

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The luxury and class is evident already from looking at the tuck-box, which has gorgeous wrap-around artwork, and an embossed logo accented with beautiful gold foil.

The LUXX Palme is considered to be a deck inspired by the renowned Paisley pattern. Don't know what that is? It's an English term (derived from a Scottish town) for designs using the "buta" or "boteh", which is a motif shaped like a droplet or fig, and originates in Persia, but was especially popular in the West in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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The Paisley shape is already evident on the tuck box, but continues on the card backs, which are borderless, accentuating the flowing design.

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The court cards have a classy and traditional style, but are customized to give the deck its own unique look.

Particularly noteworthy are the pips, which are highly stylized by being composed of separate pieces, a feature found throughout the entire deck.

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As to be expected, there's an ornate custom Ace of Spades and Joker, the Ace showing evidence of the same feature just mentioned.

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But it's especially the Paisley card-back design which is the highlight here, and which looks spectacular when the cards are fanned or spread.

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Lawrence Sullivan, the founder of Legends, gives it high praise by describing it as "very subtle and one of the most elegant decks we have ever printed", while the Kardify blog named it as one of the Top 12 decks of 2015.

Credit here goes to Rick Davidson for the overall design. He worked closely with JP Playing Cards (the folks behind the luxurious and beautiful LUXX series) create the deck.

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I'll leave you with one more image of a beautiful fan. One person gushes about this: "The borderless Paisley design results in some of the best looking fans in the history of playing cards!"

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* * * CONCLUSIONS * * *

All four finishes have their own advantages and benefits. They are all excellent quality, but they do handle and feel differently. To begin with, I should mention that the word "finish" doesn't technically refer to the coating applied to a card at the end of the printing process (which is usually the same coating for all the different Legends finishes), but to the texture of the card's surface, and the style and depth of embossing. Both the Classic and Elite finishes have a thicker paper stock, while the Diamond and Emerald finishes have a thinner and stiffer paper-stock, that has more of a snap when springing the cards. The Classic finish feels most similar to a USPCC produced Bicycle deck, and while the Elite finish is quite similar, it has a different and deeper embossing pattern and a more papery feel. The Diamond and Emerald finishes can take some getting used to if you're familiar only with Bicycle decks, but they will grow on you over time, and are far more durable than an average USPCC deck.

Legends Playing Card Company is an industry leader, and in my opinion the crisp cut of their cards is clearly superior to and cleaner than the cut of a USPCC produced deck. The cards are consistently printed accurately and crisply. Furthermore, Legends is also renowned for the amazing tuck boxes they produce, which typically feature innovative design, and luxurious and classy enhancements like embossing and foil accents. Other features like gold foil stamping on the back of cards and UV spot printing are also evident in what they make, so there's a diverse range of options that creators of playing cards can capitalize on.

I wouldn't hesitate in recommending Legends Playing Card Company as a printer of choice for creating a project for a custom deck of playing cards, and also for purchasing a range of quality decks. They produce very high quality cards, and the playing cards available on their website include a diverse selection to choose from. Lawrence Sullivan is a man absolutely committed to the very highest quality possible, and the results speak for themselves. Legendary playing cards indeed!

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Want to learn more?
Legends Playing Card Company: www.legendsplayingcards.com
Playing Card Online Store: www.legendsplayingcards.com/collections/playing-cards

Direct links for the decks featured in this review series:
Classic Finish: Knowledge Playing Cards, LUXX Greille Playing Cards
Elite Finish: LUXX Palme Playing Cards, Leonardo Playing Cards, Cultura Playing Cards
Emerald Finish: Hong Kong Playing Cards, Porcelain Playing Cards

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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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