I was pretty sure, back when I first wrote about cards with funny shapes, that I had only barely begun to scratch the surface of them. I mean, I hadn’t even managed to own one such deck yet, but I certainly looked forward to trying to shuffle a deck of cards with so many bizarre protrusions and shapes that are difficult to grip. The small challenges, you know. I never quite expected them to be as challenging as this deck turned out to be. I spent quite a while delving through Amazon’s playing cards category, finding many things unrelated (many results that weren’t playing cards at all), and ultimately found this humble little collectors’ deck from the United Kingdom in the shape of a Volkswagen Campervan.
There are few things so distinctive as the front end of a 1960s VW bus. The owl-like face with that classic VW insignia plopped right on its forehead, so indicative of the sort of culture that’d all pile in at a moment’s notice and hightail it down to the beach, or to Woodstock, or just to cruise down Route 66. The VW bus is emblematic of the culture that was unwilling to put down roots, that wanted to go where the open road would take them. And it had room for all that and more…even a table on which to play a game of cards, as ill-advised as that might be while the vehicle is in motion.
This deck is an authentic piece of Volkswagen merchandise. I have no idea where specifically it would have been sold, outside of perhaps at the dealership as a little bonus, but it does have a seal of authenticity on the back in the form of a holographic VW logo. Sadly, that is the only part of the deck that seems to have received much care and precision.
As nice as the design and shape of the cards are, with the simple-but-effective shape of the VW van itself making up the cards’ backside, the fronts of the cards are actually quite boring. The ranks are printed in the typical VW typeface, and the basic rank-and-file have the usual arrangement of pips on them, but the face cards simply print a single large rank letter in the center of the card. The King of Spades is quite a lot less special when it’s just a big black letter K. The Jokers are the only cards that dare distinguish themselves, with a simple shape of a jester’s headdress adorning their center. Why not follow that theme and make the faces an assortment of crowns? Or even an assortment of silhouettes of famous VW vehicles, like the classic Beetle, Rabbit, or the Campervan itself?
Another chief complaint I have is that the cards themselves have perhaps the poorest construction I’ve ever seen. Considering these cards are up against the likes of ones printed on cardboard, that’s difficult to outdo, but the VW cards somehow manage to be more uncomfortable to play with by virtue of uneven cutting and some horrible protrusions from the edges. Even in a perfect stack, the edges show a lack of precision, and some cards’ edges even bear some perforation. If any deck of cards felt as if it’d give me a paper cut at a moment’s notice, this would be it.
I should note this deck was effectively brand new, shrinkwrapped. I mean, I only paid $8 USD for it, which is – even considering the shipping from the UK – somewhat cheaper than the nicer Bicycle decks I’ve reviewed in the past. But even Bicycle’s cheapest decks, the $4 kind you’d find at your local grocery store on an eye-catch in the middle of the frozen foods aisle, have nicer construction than the camper van cards. The only thing I can figure is that this deck was manufactured not as a deck, but as a souvenir. It’s the sort of thing you’d never open, just show to people to prove that you’d been to…wherever these were sold. And even then, the only truly interesting part of the deck – and the reason I bought mine – is the unusual shape. And honestly, perhaps I shouldn’t have bought it.