So many of our major pop culture events nowadays are borrowing from the pop culture events of 20+ years ago. “There is no new thing under the sun,” one could argue, but I suppose the biggest difference is that new talent can interpret old phenomena in new ways. Castlevania, but Dracula winds up being you. Star Trek, but Spock is the captain. The Ninja Turtles, but Shredder was a pawn for a race of aliens. Ghostbusters, but they’re all women, and their receptionist is the Mighty Thor. I’ll let you be the judge of whether these were successes or not. Me, I haven’t actually seen (or played) any of them. But following on this trend, it didn’t surprise me at all when Lucasfilm finally managed to release Star Wars Episode VII to theaters, and it wound up being a resounding success. The Force Awakens, predictably, also awakened the media juggernaut of the Star Wars franchise: licensed toys. Lightsabers that make noise, Nerf blasters patterned after the blasters from the movie, and somehow, this deck of cards, contained in a miniature-sized plastic storm trooper helmet.
The box that this deck came in specifies that this is a “Villains” deck. There are many other decks, including ones from 6 years ago from when the previous two trilogies were being released to Blu-Ray discs, but this is so far the only one that comes inside a specially-shaped case. The “Kylo Ren” and “Resistance vs First Order” decks come in embossed tins, but those are just shaped like tins, not like a helmet. I almost missed this one on the shelves of my local Fred Meyer store, though, since it looked like…well, it just looked like a helmet to me at first. But I decided I’d rather walk out with this (and the Presidents) than the “Craft Beers” deck. (Because, of all the things, a deck themed after craft beers? And it’s not even Portland-specific? Missed opportunity…)
As this deck was released to commemorate Episode VII, the “villains” depicted in this deck do not include figures such as Darth Maul, Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku, or – shockingly – Darth Vader. Not even Vader’s melted helmet appears in this deck. The only villains appearing on the 55 cards (52 plus 3 jokers) are Kylo Ren, Kylo Ren, Kylo Ren, stormtroopers, Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma, and Kylo Ren. True to his marketing image, Kylo only appears wearing his mask. But there are nearly as many cards featuring him in various poses as there are of the various First Order troopers, which leads me to wonder – having not even seen the new film, but most certainly having had it spoiled for me by idiotic denizens of the Internet – whether Kylo is doing this to compensate for something. Though, I must give credit to the designer(s) of these cards: for as few actual characters are depicted in this deck, nearly all of the cards are unique, if not especially distinct.
If there’s much left to look at in regards to this deck, then, it’s how it plays. These cards are manufactured not by the US Playing Card Company like so many other big-box retail decks, but by Cartamundi USA, a company whose specialty is making specially-themed (and otherwise customized) decks for other publishers’ games. What’s particularly strange to me, then, is that these cards don’t feel nearly as nice as the Bicycle fare that I’m so used to using (or even the floaty Presidents). There’s a lot less air-cushion on these cards, yet it’s still somewhat difficult to keep the piles neat. As far as I can tell, these are made of paper card stock, and laminated in a fairly basic way with no noticeable texture. I don’t recall having any problems with them getting stuck to each other, but I do recall them being a little tricky to shuffle together.
Given the disappointing turnout my family has had with owning Star Wars collectibles in the past (we bought several of the Comm-Tech action figures from Episode I back in 1999, only to find them absolutely worthless ten years down the line), I feel as if these cards are not the kind that you should buy as a collector. If you don’t plan on playing with them, or in my case, showing them to people (“Why do you have a stormtrooper helmet on your card shelf? WHOA, THAT’S A DECK?”), I honestly wouldn’t recommend buying it. Design-wise, there’s nothing stopping it from being a perfectly readable and playable deck of cards, but it’s really not as nice as a basic deck, and those tend to be cheaper, anyway. The oversized, misshapen case makes it a little frustrating to store, so if you don’t expect to be playing or showing it on a fairly frequent basis, you might as well just give them a miss. Just like I gave the movie a miss.