Albino Dragon: Creator of licensed playing cards
It's not easy to get a license to produce games or cards that use names and property of popular products or intellectual properites. Usually it is going to involve some serious paperwork and money. For most of us, this is territory completely beyond the scope of our experience, and wading through the red tape required involves a path that we won't be very confident of success with. And so we don't even bother starting with it. We know in advance that it's likely going to be expensive and difficult.
Erik Dahlman from Albino Dragon, on the other hand, is an expert at this. In fact, this is his speciality. Under the label Albino Dragon, he creates licensed playing cards from TV Shows, Movies, Video Games, and Books. And we're not talking about small fry here. Try these names for size: The Goonies. The Princess Bride. Ghostbusters. Gremlins. Call of Cthulu. The Wizard of Oz. Alice in Wonderland. That's an impressive list! And that's just some of his successes - the actual list is much longer.
And does having one of your favourite intellectual properties on a product really make a difference? You betcha, because you immediately have a large target market that is going to interested in what you've made.
I've got a large number of decks of playing cards, and most of the time my children aren't that interested in them. But when they saw my new Princess Bride deck, that all changed. "A Princess Bride deck? For real?" (add sounds of oohing and aahing as they admire the cards with familiar artwork and memorable lines from the film.) "Can I have it? Can we play with it?" You get the idea!
Of course, paying for the right to make your own deck of playing cards using the intellectual property of a popular show or book is just the start of the process. From there you need to come up with some great illustrations and graphic design that will do justice to the material that you've just sold your left kidney for. Fortunately, Albino Dragon doesn't just know how to license popular works, but they also know how to make great decks of playing cards.
Take a look at some of the range they have here:
In this review, I'll cover a small selection of the playing cards they have available, to give you some idea of the fantastic material that they are putting out, and introduce you to what they can do.
The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride (1987) is one of my all-time favourite films. It's a delightful spoof on the fantasy adventure genre, with lots of laughs, loveable characters, and memorable lines.
The Princess Bride As You Wish deck is a tribute to this classic comedy. The tuck box artwork will be instantly familiar to anyone who has seen the movie cover.
The response to this project gives some idea of the enormous popularity of this film, and the drawing power of a licensed product: this deck was funded by over 2,500 backers as part of a Kickstarter that raised over $136,000, completely blowing away the target of $10,000! That's staggering! Three different decks were produced, and the one featured here was the first of these.
The card backs feature an ornate and lush design with gold and maroon, completed by some fencing swords, and the familiar black mask of our hero The Dread Pirate Roberts, aka farm-boy Westley.
All the Aces have over-sized and elaborate artwork, like the Ace of Spades shown here.
The court cards all feature characters from the film, and naturally the Hearts suit makes an excellent choice for our hero Westley and our heroine Princess Buttercup.
The Diamonds feature more beloved characters, including Vizzini and the giant Fezzik.
Especially noteworthy is how key phrases and lines from the film accompany these characters, like Vizzini's oft-repeated "Inconceivable!". This adds instant charm and appeal for fans of the film.
Perhaps two of my favourite cards are Miracle Max ("He's only mostly dead") and his wife ("I'm not a witch, I'm your wife!").
And who can forget the loveable Inigo Montoya, who makes an appearance as the King of Clubs, including his famous line "Prepare to Die!" Or that moment of marital union, commencing with that unforgettable word: "Mawage"?!
The number cards are also absolutely exquisite. They have clear indices, and yet feature elaborate custom designs for the pips. They are further ornamented with various fencing swords along the length of the card, which adds to the visual appeal of fans and spreads.
This is truly a stunning deck, which shows wonderful attention to detail, and captures some of the magic of the film, while also providing charming customization on all the cards, to give the entire deck a very unique and unified feel.
Fans of the film will likely understand and appreciate the fact that my reaction to this beautiful deck of playing cards can be summed up as follows: "Wuv, twuuu wuv!"
The Wizard of Oz
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, Albino Dragon was able to secure the licensing necessary to put out two decks, including the Wizard of Oz Kansas deck featured here.
The card backs in this deck are composed of a collage of iconic images from the film.
Appropriately, Dorothy makes an appearance on the Queen of Hearts, while two unique versions of Toto are featured as the Jokers.
Of course her companions are also present, including the Tinman and Scarecrow.
Also joining them is the Cowardly Lion, and villains like the Wicked Witch of the West.
Others from the cast join them, including the Good Witch Glinda, a Winged Monkey, three Winkie Guards, and The Wizard of Oz.
I'm a big fan of the beautiful number cards, which feature detailed wood panelling, ornate lines, and stylish pips, including a special icon that is used to represent each suit.
A large version of these appears on the over-sized and custom Aces, with "Courage" being the badge for the Spades (needed by the Cowardly Lion), a well-timed "Heart" for the Hearts (needed by the Scarecrow), a scholarly "Brain" for the Diamonds (needed by the Tinman), while the Emerald City itself is the badge for the Spades (since the King of Spades features the Wizard of Oz himself).
Alice in Wonderland
The White Rabbit deck was inspired by the well-known Lewis Carroll works, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
This deck was made after the success of the Call of Cthulu playing cards project, which was a collaboration between Albino Dragon's Erik with artist Shane Tyree. When Shane was 7, he bought a collection of Lewis Carroll's works, which included the classic John Tenniel woodcut illustrations. This made him fall in love with the traditional line art that heavily features cross hatching and stippling. Tenniel's illustrations are now in the public domain, and have influenced the imagery of most versions of Alice in Wonderland ever since. The White Rabbit deck is an Alice in Wonderland themed homage to that artwork.
The gorgeous and colourful tuck box features the famous white rabbit under the banner "We're all mad here".
For the most part this deck features black and white line style drawings, which includes the card-backs, where the white rabbit is a central figure. He also makes an appearance on the Ace of Spades.
The central character Alice is represented by the Queen of Spades, while the companion King of Spades is The Mad Hatter.
Of course, Wonderland is not complete without meeting the King and Queen of Hearts!
One notable feature of the court cards that is very evident here is the unusual location of the pips, and how the cards are mirrored in a non-conventional way.
Here's two other charming figures, the March Hare (Jack of Spades) and the Dodo (King of Diamonds).
The artist has also incorporated an enormous amount of small detail besides the illustrations of the characters themselves, as you can see from this close-up from parts of the Queen of Spades. It's only a pity that this detail can be somewhat hard to appreciate on the printed cards, given the smaller size of a single playing card.
Other characters on the court cards include the Gryphon, Duchess, Mock Turtle, Lory, Frog Footman, and Knave of Hearts.
The pips on the number cards are also very charming, because of how they are customized to incorporate elements from the story, with the Spades featuring the white rabbit and the Diamonds featuring the dodo.
The pips for the Clubs feature the Mad Hatter's hat, while the Hearts feature the King and Queen of Hearts' crown. The number cards also have delightful borders and small illustrations add touches of thematic flavour.
The custom Jokers include the contradictory Caterpillar and the grinning Cheshire Cat.
Two extra cards are included in the deck: a double-backer gaff card, and a title card listing all the names of the characters featured on the court cards.
The amount of detail and the black and white means that this deck isn't the most practical for actual use, since distinguishing the card identity isn't as easy as it could be, but they are very pretty to look at, and do work fine to use if you want to.
The Gorilla Deck
Anyone with a mild sense of humour who is familiar with the classic Bicycle Riderback design, and enjoys the idea of a spoof, will love the Gorilla deck.
Harambe is a famous Western lowland gorilla whose home was in the Cincinnati Zoo, until he needed to be put down at the age of 17 to protect a the life of a toddler who climbed into his enclosure. With clever and humorous artwork by David Edgerly, the Gorilla deck is in part a homage to Harambe, and also adds a tongue-in-cheek splash of fun to the classic Bicycle rider-back deck.
The fun starts with the card-backs, where winged angelic beings on bicycles have been replaced by an overweight gorilla on a tricycle.
The Ace of Spades also makes a clear statement of humorous intent, with an amusing gorilla face, and the requisite accompaniment of bananas.
The court cards show gorillas in a variety of states of agitation and aggression, and even confusion and bewilderment!
The gorillas for each suit are also unified by a similar colour scheme, i.e. all the club court cards have blue gorillas, while the diamonds have pink gorillas.
As for the number cards, these are given character by a water-mark style background image featuring our gorilla friends with a variety of facial expressions.
Even the Joker gets in on the action by hopping on a tricycle.
This uncut sheet gives an overview of the entire deck.
The one-way nature of the number cards and the very prominent watermark can get somewhat in the way of functionality, depending on what game you're playing. But we just loved this deck for its humor value, and it's one of the best spoofs of a classic Bicycle deck I've ever seen.
It's definitely a great spoof, and a wonderful item that will make people smile.
Kingdoms of a New World
The Kingdoms of a New World deck is an original work, self-described as giving opportunity to "bring you into a rich fantasy landscape ruled by four distinct kingdoms. Take in the captivating scenery of their lands and the beauty and power of their monarchs on court cards that will inspire and captivate the minds of many."
The deck was created by Nathanael Mortensen, who designed the game Dragon's Hoard, working with illustrator Jonas Akerlund. After the success of that project, Nathanael came up with the idea of having Jonas illustrate a unique deck of playing cards. When Jonas sent Nathanael a handful of his favorite sketches, he was quickly convinced that the idea was an amazing one. Three beautiful decks were created, and what you see here is the Red version of the unlimited deck.
Each of the four suits of the deck correspond to a different theme:
- Spades: Spirit
- Clubs: Nature
- Diamonds: Technology
- Hearts: Sky
Here's some of the characters embodying the Spirit theme of the Spades.
I'm especially fond of the Nature theme evident in the Clubs court cards.
The Technology theme is self-evident in the characters for Diamonds.
As you'd expect, lots of wings are featured in the images used for the Hearts, which represent Sky.
The borders of the court cards are especially ornate and detailed, but the number cards also have beautiful customization. Each card has a watermark styled background in the center of the card canvas, beautiful stylized borders, and custom pips.
The elaborate and colourful Aces particularly do a good job of conveying both the suit and the theme.
The Dragon Tome deck was originally created as part of a crowd-funding project for something called "Dragon Crate", which included a dragon miniature, a collectible coin, and custom dragon dice that accompanied a deck of Dragon Tome playing cards.
To match the theme, the deck has tuck-box packaging that is designed to look like a book, with the sides having artwork that looks like the spines and pages of a book - an ingenious and stylish design that immediately grabs your attention from the moment you first have the box in your hands!
The concept for the deck was originally described as "a collection of spells from some of the mightiest wizards the world has ever known. Within the deck you will find the undead, dragons, faeries, and much more." The original idea was to have each suit correspond to a different type of magic, but with the input of supporters, it became evident that there was more interested in the dragons themselves. Thus as the crowd-funding campaign progressed, the input and engagement of the community led the deck to have more of a dragon focus. An artist who was involved in an earlier Dragon Whisperer project was brought into the project to assist with this.
The card backs went through multiple revisions, and once again good input from the Kickstarter community helped lead to an improved design.
The court cards are absolutely stunning, with vibrant colours and full art. For example, the Volcanic Dragon (Jack of Clubs) is detailed and fiery in its ferocity!
Other dragons, like the ones on the Hearts court cards shown here, are far more delicate - if a dragon can ever be delicate!
Each of the dragons is completely unique, and while the full-art means they are a one-way design that requires correct orienting when used, they sure are beautiful.
Here's a couple more of my favourite dragons.
The number cards are also exquisitely detailed and customized, with beautiful borders, pips, and background artwork.
The Aces are especially an absolute pleasure to look at and study.
If you love fantasy in general, and dragons in particular, this is a deck for you - even the Jokers have dragons!
The decks featured in this article are by no means a complete list of the entire Albino Dragon inventory - the half a dozen titles I've covered only reflects the decks I own personally. You can see their full range here, which includes some of the decks pictured below.
What do I think?
Wide range: Over the last number of years, Albino Dragon has put together a very respectable range of products, which reflects material from films like The Princess Bride, The Wizard of Oz, The Goonies, Ghostbusters, and Gremlins; TV shows like Breaking Bad; literature like The Name of the Wind, Alice in Wonderland, and Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu; plus other fantasy concepts, like Kingdoms of a New World, Dragon Tome; and parody and fun like the Gorilla deck. That's a very impressive and diverse list!
Licensed products: Does having a licensed product like some of the above really make a difference? If my own experience with the Princess Bride deck is anything to go by, I think it really does. Since my family loves the film, and has watched it several times, playing a card game reached a new level of enjoyment when using the Princess Bride themed playing cards. Inevitably, using the cards brought to mind many of the fun one-liners and characters from the film. As a result, it added an extra layer of enjoyment to the game we were playing. Books, films, and TV shows often have ardent fans, who enjoy immersing themselves in every aspect of their favourite thing, and for such enthusiasts this really can make a deck of playing card something special.
Quality style: Despite the diversity of subject material, I've really come to appreciate the consistent quality that is clearly evident in all the Albino Dragon playing cards. The White Rabbit deck felt somewhat anaemic given its heavy focus on black and white (which admittedly, was a deliberate choice), but aside from that, all the decks feature vibrant colours, and very beautiful images that really do justice to their source material or theme. When you go to the trouble of getting a license to reproduce an intellectual property, you really want to make sure that you produce something of a high standard that does justice to it, and that's certainly what Albino Dragon has been doing. I especially love the style that is evident in all the number cards, which typically have beautiful borders and backgrounds, plus custom pips - evidently this is a distinguishing feature that they strive for with all their decks, and it really does look beautiful.
Completely custom: It's quite common for a deck of playing cards to have custom court cards, along with the Aces and Jokers, but when the number cards are still standard, the entire deck won't have a fresh look. I love the approach that Albino Dragon takes to all their decks, because in virtually every case, the entire deck is completely custom. That's especially evident with the number cards, which feature beautiful custom pips that reflect the theme or story, and additionally have beautiful and lavish backgrounds and ornate borders with intricate details. Every card is a unique work of art, and the entire deck feels like a loving production, no matter which cards are in your hand - not just the court cards.
Albino Dragon name: I was curious to learn more about the meaning or origin of the Albino Dragon name. It turns out that apparently the name doesn't really hold special significance for CEO Erik, but it simply met a lot of the criteria he was looking for in a company name. But it certainly is something memorable, comes with a very recognizable logo, and makes a good connection with the kind of literary and fantastic materials that feature in a lot of the decks and other products.
Card quality: United States Playing Card Company has established themselves in the playing card industry as an industry leader that provides consistent quality. All the Albino Dragon decks are produced by USPCC, and match the exacting standards of a typical Bicycle deck. That means that they have an air cushion style embossed finished, that makes shuffling and handling these cards very smooth. It also means that they are long lasting and durable. While they use the standard cardstock rather than the thicker Bee casino stock, it is hard to fault this choice, and the card quality is excellent.
Ideal gifts: Know someone who is a real fan of one of the books, films, or TV shows that an Albino Dragon deck plays tribute to? It makes an ideal gift, because you already know they'll love it - after all, they already love the material featured in that particular deck of playing cards! And who can't use an extra deck of playing cards, especially one that pays homage to something you already love?!
Future projects: Given the large body of work they have already produced, it will come as no real surprise that their current range is no means the end of innovation for Albino Dragon. They are working on new game titles, revamping some existing decks, and also launching new titles. With their expertise and experience, the future is bright, and I look forward to seeing what decks of playing cards they produce in years to come!
Licensing: Maybe you've thought about making an awesome product based on one of your favourite properties, but the complexities of licensing has scared you off. It's not easy, but it can be rewarding to have something that reflects your favourite show or book. It's almost certain to be familiar, and can be a wonderful hook for people to get interested. Not only does Albino Dragon do a good job of arranging this for themselves, but they also offer their services to help game designers and others do the same. In their words: "We can help you get licenses. We know people. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about potential deals we can help broker for you." This may be welcome news to many a designer or publisher. Start by checking their fantastic article Licensing 101 - Getting a license for your game, which has a lot of fantastic tips, and gives a good and informed introduction to this subject area.
There's a lot of custom decks of playing cards on the market, and so the field is often crowded and competitive. But there's always going to room for playing cards that feature licensed intellectual properties that are popular from TV and film, because these have an instant appeal, and there's already an established market for them. Typically, this target audience is even going to be much larger than the niche that usually is interested in a deck of custom playing cards, so it wouldn't surprise me if the broad appeal of Albino Dragon decks translates to healthy sales figures. Certainly the massive number of backers who supported the Princess Bride deck would be a strong indication that these are the kinds of playing cards that many will appreciate.
Almost everyone is going to like something that pays tribute to their favourite film or TV show. With new and beautiful playing cards like these constantly emerging from Albino Dragon headquarters, this is a dragon's hoard worth discovering, sharing, and keeping an eye on!
Want to learn more? Albino Dragon: www.albinodragon.com
Direct links for the decks featured in this review:
- Princess Bride
- Wizard of Oz
- White Rabbit
- Gorilla Deck
- Kingdoms of a New World
- Dragon Tome
For more of my reviews on custom playing cards, subscribe to this list: Pictorial Reviews of Playing Cards by EndersGame
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- Last edited Tue Jul 18, 2017 9:33 am (Total Number of Edits: 4)
- Posted Mon Jul 17, 2017 9:44 am
I found a Kingdom Of The New World deck at a thrift store, and it is a really well-done deck. Nice art, custom pips...