Round and Round She Goes

Many years ago – would have had to be 2000 or earlier – there was a small arcade game center in Beaverton called Wunderland. Part of a chain, actually; Wunderlands appeared in a handful of places throughout Oregon (and possibly elsewhere, I don’t know). The draw of Wunderland was that it was an arcade where games cost only a nickel to play; in practice, most of the games were set to “4 coins / 1 credit,” so you were really spending 20 cents instead of 25. But even still, in this economy, that was a much welcomed savings. To offset the lack of machine-borne profits, Wunderland centers charged a modest admission fee, usually $2.50 a person.

Wunderland was not just about video games, though. Many games at your average Wunderland establishment were of the ticket-redemption variety. Games like Skee-Ball and Capcom Bowling were present, to dispense modest sums of inherently valueless tickets that could be redeemed for trinkets and prizes. Usually this was stuff like Rubik’s Cubes and barrels of monkeys. On ultra-rare occasions, there’d be a brand new video game console on the shelf, that you could win with a mere 150,000 tickets. But most relevant (beginning to be my first-paragraph catch phrase): there would occasionally be a deck of cards in the mix. One time, the deck was only about a square inch in size. On another occasion, there was a curious deck of “Space Cards,” which my older brother claimed as his prize. No mere poker-sized deck of cards, the Space Cards were circular in shape, bearing an image of the planet Jupiter on their backs. They were presumably lost, years and years ago. I’ve searched for a similar deck ever since.

I’ve covered cards in weird sizes before, but cards in unusual shapes are surprisingly harder to find. It doesn’t help that a search on Amazon or Google is more likely to get you single-purpose card games like Five Crowns Mini Round or completely unrelated stuff like card holders or Yu-Gi-Oh! sets (all of which go beyond the scope of this blog). I ultimately had to go scour eBay to find this particular deck.

Behold: the most-1970s deck of playing cards I’ve ever owned.

This particular deck was produced by Knight Brand Cards in a year which I’m unable to determine (judging from the typefaces and the design of the…air conditioner…on the back, I’d have to guess late 1970s or early 1980s). They’re not that different in size from a typical poker deck, but the roundness presents interesting design challenges. For starters, shuffling is quite difficult, since one can’t just run a thumb up the corner, so it often boils down to cutting the pile and mashing it together lengthwise. I believe that move has been done many times to this deck in the past, as it is a little frayed around the edges. (“Then again, so am I, and I’ve got fewer suits,” as once said by a certain travel-agent-of-the-dead.)

Actually playing a game of solitaire with these cards – the most practical thing to do with them, as holding them in a fan proves a bit tricky – is surprisingly more intuitive than with most other decks. As the cards are perfectly circular, it does not matter what their orientation is. They can be angled in any direction whatsoever and still be readable, since the suit and rank are printed no fewer than six times around the outer edge. And because of the way the suit and rank are rotated, the cards need not be spaced as far apart to still be readable, making games with large piles much more compact.

Canfield in progress, demonstrating how much smaller a game of solitaire can be with these cards.

For being the only deck I’ve come to own with such an unusual shape (I’m still confused as to why these aren’t more common), I’ve found the Knight Brand Rounds to be quite enjoyable despite the apparent durability issues. I haven’t managed to split a card yet, but I feel it’s only a matter of time if they get played too often. So, even though I own such a deck, I must take it upon myself to find another that I’ll feel less bad about potentially wrecking. Sadly, most places that sell unusually shaped cards only sell them in bulk, and I have no idea what I’d do with 100 decks of circular cards shaped like basketballs.

As much as I’d love to buy a deck off these guys, I don’t think I have the budget – or the storage space – to accommodate 500 of them.

I suppose I’ll just have to keep looking around. There’s got to be somebody, after all. That said, if anybody knows a vendor who’s willing to sell a good quality deck in one of these unusual shapes, please let me know through the usual channels (i.e. the comments, most likely). I’m most interested in the house-shaped ones. Those seem just absurd enough to be worth owning. And, well, “absurd” seems like just the right reason to buy a deck, anymore.



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