Oh, fan communities. Responsible for everything from concentrated letter-writing campaigns to translations of games never intended to leave their country of origin…and on the other hand, many things too horrific to describe on a simple card-playing blog like this. Suffice to say, though, fans are capable of great and powerful things. So much so that there are vendors like Fangamer to sell custom merchandise relating to popular video games, by the fans, for the fans. T-shirts, figurines, strategy guides, even 432-page breakdowns of the localization process for one specific game. Buttons, hats, plushies, even – of course! – decks of cards. Fangamer carries two deck designs following the French pattern (the Cards of Legend and the Blackjack Casino deck), and an Undertale tarot deck (I hope to eventually get into tarot decks some day, but I don’t own any yet and don’t know much about the things that can be done with them).
The Blackjack Casino deck was the first I obtained. These cards, laminated and textured, do a remarkable job of staying put on the table and not floating everywhere. They’re printed in a warm beige, with the rank-and-file cards bearing more stylish designs of the basic French suits, and the face cards showing the various playable characters from Final Fantasy VI. Each suit contains characters who have some relation to one another (potential spoilers if you read too deeply into that, though), with the Clubs containing the more offbeat Gau, Gogo, and Cyan. Kefka fittingly occupies the Joker cards, and there are two bonus cards bearing “VI” ranks containing a Chocobo and a haiku: “What have you to lose? / Just your life, and that was free! / Ante up, my friend.” (Haikus are something of a Fangamer tradition, I suppose; they even appear on your email receipt.)
I find that the Blackjack deck’s artwork is superb, as despite the stylized appearance, artist Laura Wilson has obviously gone to great lengths to ensure symmetry, which should please card players who can’t stand seeing their cards upside-down. The character designs play off Yoshitaka Amano’s concepts as keenly as possible.
And yet, somehow, the other deck seems like so much of a bigger deal.
Yes, the Cards of Legend, a Zelda-inspired deck that Fangamer sells in three different colors (including metallic gold, altering the faces as well as the backs). I obtained this deck from Fangamer’s physical store booth at Portland Retro Game Expo 2016. Such an unassuming deck from outward appearances, but I rarely see a deck go so far as altering the suits. Instead of the typical French suits, we now have Swords, Triforces, Rupees, and…um, hearts. It’s just such a neat aesthetic touch that I’m surprised more decks don’t do that. Even the Nintendo Mario deck didn’t do that, even though they could easily have made the suits into mushrooms, fire flowers, super stars, and coins. Though I suppose the trade-off is that they don’t mesh so well with other decks…but that certainly didn’t stop me from playing some double-deck games on the table by combining the Cards of Legend with the Blackjack Casino cards. Things get significantly more complicated when you effectively have eight suits, instead of four suits with two of each card.
Would I recommend these decks? Absolutely, yes. The construction of the cards, admittedly, isn’t quite as precise and smooth as the all-plastics that I’ve raved so much about in the past, but they are solid cards, with very little to complain about. If you’re ever having a poker night with your Nintendo-fan buddies, these decks ought to be the ones you go for. Because Nintendo’s all-plastic decks have superior construction, but the Fangamer decks have much, much more pleasing designs.