I’m just sayin’.
Look, I have more than a few “novelty decks” in my collection: Elvis, Looney Tunes, Barbie Classic and Kicky Outfits (what the!?… how did that get in there?), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (yes, really; and don’t ask what’s on the Queen), more Elvis (there is no such thing as too much Elvis … except in playing card form), Iraqi fugitives, World War II plane spotters and the like.
They all have two things in common:
I keep them on a shelf in my library, like little trophies. When someone asks if they can use one for a game, I usually just say, “Oh no, that would ruin the resale value!”
The picture at the top of this post is what a Jack of Spades looks like. We’ll talk more about playing card aesthetics in time. (Yeah, I said “playing card aesthetics.” Anything that’s a) designed, b) produced, and c) has a 600 year history is going to have an aesthetic aspect.) For now, let’s just take it as read that this is what a Jack of Spades looks like, and what he should always look like. Each time someone lays out a Royal Flush, everyone shouldn’t have to pause to figure out that Elvis 68 Comeback Special in Black Leather is the King, while Cilla is the Queen, and Elvis doing “Clambake” is the Jack.
Look, 9-year-old-girls have enough trouble telling between a small blind and a big blind or when to peg a crib. Don’t make them have to learn that Hannah’s “come hither” look is a Queen of Hearts (“’cause she’s so cute she’s the Queen of all our hearts!”) , while Hannah singin’ & spunky is a King of Clubs. (I’m just angry that I have to type the word “spunky” at all. As Lou Grant said: I hate spunk.)
As for the novelty cards people give kids to get them “into” cards: just don’t. Give them their own deck of real cards and teach them what they should look like. They’ll like the fact that they’re playing with the same kind of deck Dad and his friends use on Friday night, while appreciating that they don’t stink of stale beer, cigar smoke, and desperation.
They’ll also learn how real cards should look and feel. Yes, many of the novelty decks are made by the US Playing Card Company (the finest manufacturer of playing cards in the world) to their usual high standards. Everyone else is making a buck from Hannah Montana swag, so they might as well get their piece. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy them. Walmart sells a two-deck pack of Bicycle Rider Backs (one red, one blue) for $1.97. For a pittance you can place an actual slice of the adult world–one that is instantly recognized the world over, and can be used in hundreds of different ways–in your child’s hands. Why pay a premium price for a card where most of the cost is for the product license? (As I mentioned in my entry on American-style games, a company will slap on a brand on anything they can.)
A deck of Rider Backs is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of pop art of our time: instantly recognizable and know the world over. A deck of Naruto-themed playing cards is an abomination.
PS: What the heck is on those Hannah Montana cards anyway? Pillows? Doilies? A two of spades on a DOILY? Are you KIDDING me?!