Pixels (Not the Adam Sandler Film)

Cards printed on transparent plastic have a design block that other types of cards don’t. When a deck is designed with transparency, its designer(s) should keep in mind that the design must be readable in stacks, not be visible from behind (or else what is the point of face-down cards, or fans for that matter), and must line up precisely with the design on the other side. Some decks get around this in interesting ways; the Coca-Cola bottle deck constrains the transparent parts to not overlap with the artwork, and the Hoyle transparents have a great big Spade-shaped cut-out and a decorative border, with everything else being transparent. It’s complex printing, to be sure, so I was left wondering if there were any limitations to how complex it could get.

Enter the Pixel Cards, a deck drafted by Pieter Woudt for Kikkerland Design, Inc., who have a surprisingly vast array of unusual decks for sale, one of which (the 3D Cats deck) I already owned and did not realize. Admittedly, a lot of Kikkerland’s products strike me as the kinds of things you’d see in the Wireless, Smarter Image, or Spencer’s catalogs…not that this is necessarily a bad thing. They’re things that are designed to stand out. Novelties, albeit ones designed to hold your attention for longer than most.

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Stonewall makes for a really nice deck demonstration game.

The Pixel Cards are, form-wise, a standard poker deck of 52 plus jokers. The plastic case they come in doesn’t like to stay shut (though, in their defense, I’m a fidgety type that likes to open and close the case repeatedly), but the cards themselves have the air cushion I’d expect of an all-plastic deck. And, perhaps this is owed to the unique face and back designs, there is a rather pleasant bumpy texture to these cards that makes them somewhat more comfortable to grip, without them getting stuck to each other.

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A Pixel card held up to eye level, exhibiting a chief flaw of the cards’ transparency in poor lighting conditions.

Of course, it is the design that I was most interested in, not the materials. How does transparency factor into the Pixels? Well, instead of the designs being blocky messes of “retraux” images, each pixel has a very slight border around it that is fully transparent. While this looks very cool against, say, a particularly nice-looking tablecloth, it lets through enough light that the cards may be difficult to read in the wrong sort of lighting conditions (see above photo). It does, however, produce a really cool-looking moire effect when they’re rotated just very slightly off-kilter with each other.

moire-effect
Oooooooh.
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I can barely tell what this is. (Though it being upside-down doesn’t help.)

To be honest, the transparency and plastic material of this deck are a lot more interesting to me than what’s on the front. The royals are pretty much just royals, while the aces are suit-shaped holes, through which we can see four different buildings. The actual designs are not the problem; they are actually fairly unique as opposed to just rehashes of the classic royal family, and and the suits are somewhat distinct in color (though the blue diamonds are difficult to distinguish from the spades in some cases)…but the actual images on the faces are anti-aliased, which does not look especially good when magnified to “pixels as big as hams.” It doesn’t so much look as if the designer specifically drew the images to work in the pixelated format, as took artwork that wasn’t meant to be at such a low resolution and scaled it down. So the shapes don’t get blockier, so much as blurrier and less distinct. As an enthusiast of classic video games, I feel like the Pixel Cards could have stood to take inspiration from the likes of Mega Man, Castlevania, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and really leverage the pixel format for those iconic low-color, low-resolution sprites and backdrops.

All that said, while this deck satisfies neither my ultra-picky design-oriented brain, nor my similarly picky tactile brain, I must agree that it is still a unique deck, and perhaps in a better-lit room, it’d serve just as well for a quick hand of Canfield at the office. It would not, however, work especially well in the cliché poker room with the hanging lamp, so if you were planning on doing that, you might as well give them a miss. At least the cards aren’t as big of a pixelated train wreck as the iOS “retro inspired” market tends to be…(shudder)

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