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Introducing Ben Jones

Ben Jones is the man behind Elephant Playing Cards, which has produced numerous popular decks of playing cards, including the innovative Prism series and the creative Pipmen series. Currently Elephant Playing Cards is launching their new flagship deck on Kickstarter - which is appropriately called Elephant Playing Cards, and indeed features elephants as the central motif on the artwork throughout the deck.

But of all the decks created by Elephant Playing Cards, my favourites are his Pipmen decks. "Pipmen" is a term Ben Jones has coined for the stickmen-like characters that inhabit these playing cards. And of all the Pipmen decks, my favourites are the remarkable Pipmen World decks. In this series of reviews, I'm covering all of the decks from Elephant Playing Cards, so let's go check out some of the amazing decks that Ben has created, and see what they look like!




Now the Pipmen decks are already amazing in themselves. But it gets better yet! With the Pipmen World deck, Ben has taken this concept to a whole new level - a polyptych level!

I'll explain the word polyptych in just a moment, but first: here's what the tuck-box looks like.


Once again, as with the other 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. Very neat!


But now for the really fun part: let's start joining some of these cards together! In a truly remarkable way, Ben has designed the artwork so that all the individual cards can be put together to form a single giant panoramic image!

This is truly amazing, and has to be seen to be believed! When the cards are placed alongside one another to form a larger picture, it produces something very impressive indeed, as you can see it starting to take shape below.


This is what we call a polyptych - which is a picture that consists of several individual parts, that can be put together in order to make a larger single picture. I love the concept of polyptychs, and if you're a long time user here, you may have seen my GeekList on the subject, showcasing examples of polyptych images in games. There's some stunning examples of creative game artwork in that list, which you can find [geeklist=34803]here[/geeklist]. But the Pipmen World deck might have to be the best of them all.

Ben has been creating and developing this special deck of cards for almost three years, so he's poured an enormous amount of creativity and effort into this.


As with the other Pipmen decks, each individual card definitely looks great on its own - here we have some shots of the sky, with some Pipmen balloonists, and a romantic Pipmen couple enjoying the moonlight.


But it is when you put the cards together on the table to make a single larger image (polyptych), that they look even more stunning!


In my opinion, this is an incredible concept that has been brilliantly executed - it's functional and beautiful, all at the same time.

Here's some more examples of the concept, this time featuring an ocean scene, including details from both above and below the water:


Ben Jones, you're a genius, and this is truly something stunning and unique!

At the same time this doesn't come at the cost of functionality, because the indices of the cards still make it very clear what the suit/value of each card is, so it's totally usable in a card game. Yes, Ben has thought of everything!


To see an animated gif showing you how the entire polyptych image works, click here. Here's a poster showing the entire picture:



With the incredible success of the Pipmen World deck, there were requests to see another version of this beautiful deck, without white borders.

As a result, Ben produced a Pipmen World: Full Art Edition, which includes a gorgeous wrap-around tuck box:


This deck has the same artwork as the original, but to enhance the puzzle effect, it eliminates the distraction of borders. While the borders are essential for a deck to function best as playable deck, they do distract somewhat when piecing the cards together to make a single image. The absence of borders ensures a full art image that eliminates that issue, and heightens the polyptych effect.

The full art version is designed to be a beautiful work of art that enables people to have fun putting together the cards, and to see the overall picture in all its glory.


Here's how it looks when piecing the cards together - the panoramic effect is even stronger and more impressive!


Even independently, the full art cards look stunning.


Ben has put careful thought into this re-design, so even though these cards are primarily designed to optimize the visual beauty of the larger whole, they are still playable and functional too.


I'm a huge fan of the Pipmen World deck, and the Full Art version certainly is the way to enjoy this concept at its best.


Because of its unique character, this isn't a deck you'd expect to see normal or frequent usage in card games. To ensure quick production and delivery in a smaller volume, these were published by MPC with their 300 gsm smooth finish; and as a result the full art deck doesn't have the same durability as the standard Pipmen World deck. In my mind this doesn't matter too much - I think most of us realize that this beautiful deck is intended more as a collector's item anyway.



What do I think?

Innovative Prisms: Ben Jones isn't afraid to be on the cutting edge of technology, as is clearly the case with his Prism series, which were the first ever decks to employ a new UV gloss print to both sides of the cards, thereby adding a tactile and visual element that is simply not possible with standard printing. Combining this with a "prism" theme of rainbow colours, and an inspired graphic design that takes full advantage of this effect, and you end up with a very creative and beautiful looking custom deck, that has elements of beauty hitherto impossible. Of the people I've shown the above decks to, the Prism Night deck is a common favourite. Laymen are typically blown away by the impact of the gloss and colours of the cards, and many people who have looked at my Prism Night deck consider it the best custom deck they've ever seen, which is high praise indeed. I love it too, and it's just a pleasure to admire the cards and angle them in the light, watching the changing visuals produced by the gloss layer. I can't recommend these highly enough.

Unique Pipmen: As much as I appreciate the innovative looks of the Prism decks, as far as artwork goes I especially love the creativity behind the Pipmen concept. The detailed artwork on each card can be admired and enjoyed, and is sure to create some real talking points! I love how the stickmen/pipmen interact with everything, and even while playing card games the detail is fun to look at and appreciate during moments of down-time - the whole concept is very creative. Ben has done some very imaginative and brilliant work here, and I can't say enough about how amazing each card looks. This also gives these decks a very unique feel, making them stand apart from other custom playing cards. Certainly the world of custom playing cards has seen a lot of different ideas, but the idea of Pipmen is something that most people have never seen before.

Pipmen World: While the artwork on the individual cards of the Pipmen decks is already fantastic, what really takes this to the next level is how these individual cards combine to make a single larger picture in the Pipmen World decks. This is an outstanding idea, and it definitely has the feel of being a single whole, without feeling like being a cobbled-together collection of disconnected pieces. It's proven to be a fun exercise to assemble the cards to make that single image, especially if you've never seen the deck before and don't know what the overall image looks like. You can use the Pipmen World deck as a fun puzzle challenge: we've enjoyed giving it to friends, and watching them solve it. It's not as easy as it sounds, and typically takes around 20 minutes! Combining individual Pipmen cards with a complete puzzle is something that makes this deck an instant attention-getter, and you'll have people around you clamouring to see it.

Functional design: Even while Ben Jones' Prism and Pipmen decks are very creative works of art, it would be a shame to consign them to pure collector's items, especially since they are very usable. I've seen amazing artwork on decks of cards before, but it was purely cosmetic, and the decks themselves weren't functional because the artwork interfered with the clarity of the symbols. Fortunately, that's not the case with the decks from Elephant Playing Cards. The indices of each card clearly state what the card is, with the number and suit, so playability is always a factor in the design. As a result, the Prism decks and the Pipmen decks are actually decks you can use!

Medieval modernism: Besides the Prism and Pipmen decks, the Medieval deck seems like the odd child in the Elephant Playing Cards family. It lacks the innovative UV gloss of the colourful Prism decks, and it doesn't have the same inspired creativity of the Pipmen decks. To be fair, it's hard for any deck to match the level of creativity and innovation of the Prism and Pipmen decks. And the Medieval deck does have a different character also because it was not designed by Ben Jones himself, but by another artist. Even so, it does have many modern touches that make it special, starting with the stylish seal on the tuck box, the sturdy parchment-like looks and feel of the tuck box and cards, and a stylish pen-and-ink line drawing design with obvious influences from heraldry and legendary knights, which all adds up to a package that still makes it very unique and appealing.

Elephant ambassadors: My family has always loved elephants, and elephants are the all-time favourite animal for one of my children, who has been collecting elephant paraphernalia for years. So the Elephant Playing Cards brand was always going to be a hit for us. But that's especially going to be true of the new Elephant Playing Cards deck, that is currently getting funded on Kickstarter. If you're a fan of elephants, or if you like the looks of the EPC brand, this new deck is something you'll want to check out and consider supporting.

Quality printing: All of these decks are printed by Legends Playing Card Company, a proven market leader in playing card manufacturing. While they have a range of finishes, all of them are a quality product that is durable, as well as providing very smooth handling. I've previously done some detailed reviews of decks by Legends Playing Card Company here, and have covered comprehensively the different major finishes they offer in a follow-up review here, and I can only speak highly of their products. Even the tuck boxes are high quality, in most cases using casino-grade tuck paper with embossing and foil accents, and often featuring interior printing as well. Most of these decks use their Diamond quality finish, which features very precise printing, and a cardstock that is more sturdy and durable than normal, with an embossed finish that handles well for shuffling and spreads.

Ongoing projects: Ben Jones is a long way from hanging up his design boots, and has several more designs in the pipeline. He's also making a real effort to bring the designs of Elephant Playing Cards to an international audience that hasn't yet seen it. All this means that we can expect to continue seeing new designs from Ben, and I look forward to seeing the decks that he'll be producing from here on in. His current project for a signature Elephant Playing Cards deck looks terrific, although the style is quite different from what we're used to with Prisms and Pipmen! If his work interests you, then definitely consider staying in touch with his upcoming projects by following him on social media, to get the latest news and updates.

Amazon specials: Ben has just launched a couple of the Pipmen decks on Amazon, in order to expand the reach of his designs to a wider market. This is good news for buyers, because not only does it mean that these decks are readily available in an easy way from a big online retailer, but they are also currently at a very attractive price point as well. Currently you can get the Pipmen Standard deck for under $12 here, and the Pipmen World deck for under $14 here - which are remarkable deals that won't last!



So are the decks from Elephant Playing Cards for you? Clearly these projects are a labour of love for Ben Jones. He's a dedicated publisher, and in the friendly correspondence I've had with him, he's also proven to be a real gentleman. These decks are produced with high quality, and they feature unique, amusing, and creative artwork that has all the marks of creativity and innovation.

Every collector who enjoys playing cards should have at least one Pipmen deck in his collection, and they make gifts for others as well. And every gamer should own at least one set of playing cards, and if you are going to own only one deck, I'd make it a beautiful custom one like these!


Want to learn more?
Elephant Playing Cards:
Kickstarter Projects:

Follow Elephant Playing cards on social media for news of upcoming projects: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

Direct links for the decks featured in this review series:
- Prism Playing Cards: Prism Night, Prism Day, Prism Dusk, Prism Spectrum
- Pipmen Playing Cards: Red Edition, Black Edition, Shadow Edition, Collectors Edition
- Pipmen World Playing Cards: Pipmen World, Full Art Edition
- Medieval Playing Cards: Medieval Silver Edition
- Elephant Playing Cards: Kickstarter Project

Direct links for
- $11.97 Pipmen Standard deck: purchase on Amazon
- $13.97 Pipmen World deck: purchase on Amazon

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