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*** Bona Fide Playing Cards ***

In a previous feature (link), I introduced designer Karin Yan and the rest of her team from Bona Fide Playing Cards. Bona Fide is Latin for "in good faith", and refers to that which is genuine, real, and sincere. In Karin's own words, "that's exactly what this project intends to be: a genuine union between the genuine love for art in general, and beautiful and unique playing cards in particular, covering a wide range of themes and styles." In this review series, I'm covering Bona Fide's newest decks, which include Nouveau Gemmes (the final installment of the beautiful Nouveau Series), Alexandre Dumas Classics (a two-deck tribute to The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers), and the subject of this article, King's Game (a stylish chess themed deck currently being funded on Kickstarter).


In the world of board games, few games have the same illustrious history as chess. Board games have been played for thousands of years, and of the classic games, chess is easily one of the most famous. In times past it was especially enjoyed by the nobility and royalty, hence its designation by some as "The Game of Kings". Even with a saturated marketplace filled with modern games, chess remains a top seller. International tournaments are held regularly, with world championship games followed closely by club players around the world. Thousands and thousands of chess games are being played online at any given moment. Not only is it a game of kings, but it is truly a king among games.

Karin Yan's latest project for Bona Fide Playing Cards is a tribute to this game of kings, with an elegant custom deck of playing cards inspired by chess: King's Game Playing Cards.


This set of two gorgeous decks is currently being funded on Kickstarter here.

Consisting of a White deck and Black deck, this project especially focuses on the figures represented by the chess pieces themselves, namely the King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook, and Pawn.


Black deck

The tuck boxes have a very luxurious look, befitting the kingly status of the game they are about, with the Black deck using gold and black foil.

Both the front and the back of the box depicts a King playing a game of chess, one with the white pieces and the other with the black pieces. Taken together, both sides of the tuck show a battle between two kings across a chess board, thereby reflecting the concept embodied in the name of this deck. First impressions are important, and with this deck one immediately is confronted with a look of luxury and sophistication.


The Black deck has cards with a white background on the faces and backs, and of the two decks this has the most traditional look. Karin Yan excels at creating highly detailed symmetrical designs that emphasize bold and simple shapes on her card backs, and the card backs in these decks are fine examples of her talent.

The Aces capture several chess-related images and themes (which we'll get back to later), and evoke a military feel that suits the nature of the game, and the artwork is drawn from the medieval setting that has inspired other elements of the overall design.


A great deal of thought has been put into incorporating the symbolism of chess into all aspects of the playing cards, including the fact that in an actual game of chess each player gets 16 chess pieces: one King, one Queen, two Bishops, two Knights, two Rooks, and eight Pawns. In this deck of cards, the traditionally black suits of Spades and Clubs represent the black player's pieces, and the traditionally red suits of Hearts and Diamonds represent the white player's pieces. The pieces are captured via the court cards as follows:

Black player
- SPADES: 1x King (King), 1x Queen (Queen), 2x Bishop (Jack)
- CLUBS: 2x Rook (King), 8x Pawn (Queen), 2x Knight (Jack)
White player
- HEARTS: 1x King (King), 1x Queen (Queen), 2x Bishop (Jack)
- DIAMONDS: 2x Rook (King), 8x Pawn (Queen), 2x Knight (Jack)

Here's the black player's King (K) and Bishops (J), which have a minimalist colour palette and a medieval look and feel that captures the classic feel of chess.


The number of chess pieces for each player has also been incorporated, with the court cards representing the King and Queen both using a one-way design, the cards representing the Rook, Bishop, and Knight using a two-way design, and the cards representing the Pawn using a two-way design to include eight figures in total.

Here's the white player's Pawns (Q) and Bishops (J).


The number cards all have customized pips, with the red suits customized in a way to highlight that these suits represent the White army. I like the fact that the pips and indices have a very straight-forward design, while still being stylish and original, and this means that they are well suited for practical use in card games, while offering a look of sophistication at the same time.


The assignment of the pieces to the suits and values is also far from arbitrary. Karin has taken into consideration the fact that traditionally each suit had a specific meaning that designated a social class: nobility (Spades), clergy (Hearts), merchants (Diamonds), and peasantry (Clubs). In line with this she has cleverly opted to assign the Spades and Hearts to represent the royal and clerical figures of the King, Queen and Bishops, while assigning the Clubs and Diamonds to represent the military figures of the Rook, Knight, and Pawn, since the military were typically made up by the middle and lower classes.

The artwork for each of these figures has also been deliberately crafted to capture elements of that character's role in a chess game and in medieval society. In Karin's own words:
King: As the backbone of his kingdom, the cautious and wise King silently keeps watch over his people, giving them courage and a cause to fight for and achieve victory.
Queen: Loyal to her King and his cause, the fearless Queen doesn't hesitate to exert her power and influence to achieve her goals, always ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.
Rook: The watchful rook, strong and steady, stands tall like an impenetrable wall to protect its King and people, never failing to sharpen its arms in the pursuit of conquest.
Bishop: Close adviser to the king, the bishop makes sure to always be in the right place at the right time in order to work his influence and help the cause by toppling his unsuspecting adversaries.
Knight: Knowing no bounds, the brave knight leaps through all adversities, striving to ensure victory by covering the unprotected grounds while leading the charge along with its fearless soldiers.
Pawn: Moving one step at a time, slowly but surely, the pawn fearlessly sacrifices itself for the greater good by protecting and helping its betters, all the while straining to climb the ladder by reaching the end of its dangerous road.


White deck

Like its companion deck, the White deck features a rich look with foil accents on the tuck box, in this case silver and copper.


The White deck is the limited edition version, with only 500 to be produced, and has cards with black background on the faces and backs. Unique to this deck is the fact that silver foil is used on the card backs for an extra touch of sophistication, along with a numbered seal on the tuck box.

The artwork of these cards matches that of the Black deck, but with a different colour scheme to reflect the fact that the cards have black backgrounds instead of white.


Mention hasn't been made yet of the significance of the Aces, which represent the two divisions among each player's pieces as mentioned previously, i.e. Spades and Hearts represent the royal and clerical figures (King, Queen and Bishops), while Clubs and Diamonds represent the military figures (Rook, Knight, and Pawn). Thus the Ace of Spades (for the black player) and of Hearts (for the white player) have elements in the design that symbolize the King (helmet and crown), and the Queen (scepter), and the Bishop (crosier). Similarly the Ace of Clubs (for the black player) and of Diamonds (for the white player) have elements in the design that symbolize the Knight (helmet and pole), Pawn (pike) and Rook (crown).

The coat of arms on the Aces for the Spades and Clubs have similar traits since they represent the royal and military of the same player (black), while the same is true for the coat of arms on the Aces for the Hearts and Diamonds since they represent the royal and military of the other player (white).

But my favourite cards are easily the courts, which have spectacular artwork. Here are the cards representing the black player's Queen (Queen of Spades) and the white player's Knights (Jack of Diamonds):


The number cards have the same graphic design as the Black deck, but because of the black background, the colours for the pips are gold and red instead of black and red, which is internally consistent with the colour scheme of the rest of the deck.


Once again the suits and court cards have been assigned to two houses representing the White player and Black player, in the same way as with the companion deck:


Karin's creativity and artwork have combined well to really capture the symbolism of Chess in so many respects. Here's her design for a Rook:


Karin's plan for the Jokers is to make a diptych that includes all the chess pieces/figures, which will be a beautiful finishing touch to round out the entire deck.

From the tuck box to the cards themselves, this is truly a spectacular deck that provides a thoughtful tribute to the game of kings! To get on board as a supporter of this project, head to Kickstarter here before funding closes on Monday February 19.




So are the decks from Bona Fide Playing Cards for you?

I've really enjoyed the Nouveau series of playing cards, and the new Nouveau Gemmes would seem to be the best yet. The Alexandre Dumas decks are totally different again, going in a literary direction, and incorporate many elements from the books. The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers decks show that designer Karen Yan not only has ability to make ornate designs, but also incorporate thoughtful symbolism and content based on characters and themes drawn from classic novels.

That same creativity, depth of thought, and artistic design is also present in the new King's Game decks from Bona Fide Playing Cards, which are a wonderful tribute to the classic game of chess. These decks are sophisticated and classy in every way, and yet are also very practical and playable. They will especially be appreciated by anyone who loves the classic board game, and would make a terrific gift for gamers, or even for yourself if you love card games - as I do!

It's also worth mentioning that the quality of Karin's artwork and design is matched by the quality of printing and card stock, since Bona Fide Playing Cards only uses industry leaders like Expert Playing Cards to produce their decks of cards. I own many decks by EPCC, and they are all fantastic. My respect and admiration for Bona Fide Playing Cards only continues to grow, and with the current King's Choice project, I think we are perhaps going to see their best yet!


Want to learn more? Visit Bona Fide Playing Cards:
Official website:
Social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr

Direct links for where the decks featured in this review series can be found:
- King's Game (Kickstarter)
- The Count of Monte Cristo
- The Three Musketeers
- Nouveau Gemmes

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