Your chance to view the main events from 52 Plus Joker’s annual convention (Part 5)
by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame
If you’re serious about collecting playing cards, chances are you already know about the world’s biggest club for playing card collectors, 52 Plus Joker.
Each year they organize an international playing card convention, which gives the opportunity to listen to presentations on playing card related topics from leading figures in the industry, as well as a host of other playing card events. Sadly, the current global pandemic has forced the club’s executive to cancel the two most recent conventions that would normally have been held in October 2020 and October 2021.
But the folks over at 52 Plus Joker aren’t short on creativity. Instead of simply cancelling these annual events completely, they undertook a brand new initiative: a virtual convention. It involved running numerous planned events via Zoom, and was open to collectors around the world, including non-members. Genius!
Fortunately for us, these events were recorded, and this article continues my coverage of the convention events. As well as being an opportunity to be educated on a whole host of playing card subjects, the convention also showcases some new deck releases and announces awards for the best decks from the past year. So without further ado, let’s recap some of the highlights from the club’s Deck Release event, and the Diamond Awards.
2020 New Deck Releases
One of the highlights of each convention is the launch of several brand new decks, which are released to coincide with the event. The need to have the convention virtually was no reason to miss this special event, and several great decks were announced and released. Hosted by Bill Kalush, each release featured a presentation from the person involved with putting them out.
Screams at Midnight: Kevin Reylek introduced Penguin Magic’s new Screams at Midnight deck. This is a marked deck created for Halloween, and has one of the best video trailers you’ll ever see for a deck of cards. The marking system is an innovative one based on the occlusion principle, and the deck even comes with special red/blue glasses.
Jerry’s Nugget box set: Bill Kalush introduced a special double deck box set of Jerry’s Nuggets. What makes this set unique is that the cards are printed with double foil. This means that the card backs have no ink whatsoever, and consist entirely of two hot foils, as a result of a new process developed and fine-tuned in EPCC’s new factory in China.
2020 NPCCD decks: Alex Chin introduced the 2020 National Playing Card Collection Day decks. With the theme of “Hindsight is 2020”, this set of gorgeous designs was conceived as a response to a difficult year, and functions as allegory for our world, with each deck represented by a spirit from Pandora’s Box. Alex Chin is a real innovator in packaging design, and one of the highlights of these decks is how the tuck box opens in a unique way, revealing a golden frieze. The artwork on the cards is by artist Kristina Carroll, and features imagery you could imagine discovering in a lost temple, with characters from Ancient Greek mythology.
Watch the video here: 2020 New Deck Launch
2020 Club Deck Release (Uusi)
The crowning item of the release event was the launch of the 2020 52 Plus Joker Club Deck. A top playing card designer is invited to produce this deck each year, and the 2020 club deck was created by design team Uusi, a partnership between studio artists Peter Dunham and Linnea Gits. The biggest section of their video presentation consisted of an extensive slide-show from Peter, giving an overview of Uusi and their work. They began in 2010 as a design studio, mainly making art objects and functional objects for the home, building off previous work they had each done individually.
Their Kickstarter-funded Blue Blood deck was their first playing cards release, and they were shocked by the incredible response this received, because they didn’t realize how big the playing card community was. This was followed by five further releases, to complete a planned six deck set: Bohemia, Royal Optik, Blue Blood Redux, Pagan, Hotcakes, and Uusi Classic.
Following these successes, Uusi has branched out into a new market, by creating several Tarot decks: Brut Tarot, Pagan Tarot, Eros Tarot (much like Hotcakes). Then came several Oracle type decks, which are typically less formulaic than tarot, and come with guide books: Supra, and Materia Prima. The latter is especially interesting in how it applies the concept of Tarot/Oracle to the periodic table. Many of their playing card fans followed them into this new territory.
Although they have been expanding their range, Uusi hasn’t abandoned the playing card genre entirely. Along the way they have also produced a new version of their Pagan deck published by EPCC, and a number of client decks, such as a custom deck for Hyde Park Mouldings, and their Junkanoo deck for Baha Mar Casino.
What is unique about Uusi’s decks of playing cards is that all the artwork is created by hand using traditional methods. So it is very labour intensive, and their recent projects typically each take up to 12-18 months to complete. Along with each project they often feature unique art pieces and accessories that take advantage of their varied design skills, such as amazing custom wooden cases. Given the amount of work involved for these huge projects, today Uusi is spending all their time on creating playing cards and on the associated publications (e.g. guide books) that go with their decks. Despite their creative and original art style, which is classically inspired, it is important to Uusi to ensure that all their decks remain very functional and playable.
After this rundown of their history, finally the lovely 2020 Club Deck was unveiled, and we got to see what its tuck box and cards looked like. The artwork was hand-inked, and is inspired by earth tones. It features gorgeous mono-coloured faces with a woodcut look in red or black, and a Guilloche style back design. In 2021 Uusi would later release their Republic deck, which is based on Finnish/Nordic folk art and design, and takes over much of the style and artwork of the Club Deck.
Watch the video here: 2020 Club Deck Launch
2021 Club Deck Release (Stockholm17)
After the cancellation of the 2020 convention, hopes were running high that the 2021 convention planned for Niagara Falls would be possible. Alas, it was not to be. So instead, the usual deck release event hosted by the convention was instead held online on October 21, 2021. Michael Feldman, Kevin Reylek, and Bill Kalush all had the opportunity to present some new decks that were launching that day. But the feature that everyone was looking forward to was the presentation for the release of the 2021 Club Deck, which was created by rock star designer Lorenzo Gaggiotti. Better known as Stockholm17, Lorenzo is one of today’s most sought after playing card designers. His presentation represented a marvellous opportunity to learn more about him, and to see the 2021 Club deck for the very first time.
Lorenzo first gave an overview of his own experience as a designer, which began after a move from Italy to Sweden in 2009. His first venture in playing card design was a custom deck in 2013, which was created with and for the company he was working for at the time as a graphic designer. He then set out on his own to create his first completely independent designs, Heretic and Requiem.
The goal of the 2021 Club Deck was to celebrate the classic deck of playing cards, hence a somewhat standard look and classic feel. But first there’s a unique tuck box to admire, which has several cut-out features that showcase parts of the playing cards themselves. The card backs feature foils for a very shiny look, with the club logo incorporated as part of a two-way design. The court cards are spectacular, and have a classic look but were completely redesigned by Lorenzo from the ground up. These also feature foils, and all the pips (including on the number cards) have been touched with gold foil as well. A classic looking Ace of Spades and two Jokers with the club logo round out the deck.
Your appreciation for the tuck box will be enhanced as you get the chance to see Lorenzo’s original sketches, which he created while developing ideas for the unique design of the two-part sleeve. From these initial concepts he then created mock-ups from card-stock, which he used to test the resulting ideas further. It was fascinating to see some examples of his early mock-ups.
Lorenzo also demonstrated how he designed the court cards. Getting an inside glimpse into the mechanics of the design process was particularly fascinating. He started with a semi-transparent version of classic courts as his base template, sketching over the top of this and making various changes along the way. The work required to edit individual aspects of the design is considerable. Lorenzo begins with his black and white image, after which he experiments by adding in different colours. He uses both Illustrator and Photoshop for this process. Each court card takes him a full day to create a vectored design in black, and then another full day to do the colourizing, while the back design is something he does off and on over the course of a week. The number cards are much easier, so in total this deck took him about a month to design.
This deck was limited to 999 numbered editions, which sold out very quickly. Like Stockholm17’s other decks, these were quickly fetching high prices on the secondary market. The demand was much higher than anticipated, so the club has undertaken a special initiative to release an additional set of 500 unnumbered decks, with club members getting the first chance to get these. Like Lorenzo himself, these playing cards are all class, and it was no surprise to anyone that the 2021 club deck recently took out Portfolio52’s 2021 “Deck of the Year” award, and also Kardify’s 2021 “Deck of the Year” award.
Watch the video here: 2021 Club Deck Launch – from the 2021 Deck Release Event
2020 Diamond Awards
Each year 52 Plus Joker unveils the winners of their Diamonds Awards, which have been running since 2017, and which are the club’s way of recognizing excellence in playing cards. This portion of the convention was hosted by club vice-president Don Boyer, who is the chair of the Diamond Awards Committee.
Dawson Award: Steve Bowling. The Dawson Award is named after two of the club’s legends: Tom and Judy Dawson. It is a lifetime achievement award bestowed upon someone who has made a dramatic and positive award to the club and to the hobby of playing cards and collecting. The winner is hand-picked by Judy herself, and the 2020 recipient was Steve Bowling, who has fulfilled many roles throughout his involvement with 52 Plus Joker.
The two most prestigious awards for playing cards are “Deck of the Year” and “Artist of the Year”. Out of the hundreds of decks released annually, only a small percentage get to be nominated for the “Deck of the Year” award, which goes to the best deck produced in the past year. While winning Deck of the Year is a real honour, the Artist of the Year is arguably an even more prestigious honour, because it recognizes the top playing card designers in the industry, based on their entire output that year. Both awards covered decks created and released in the period 1 July 2019 through 30 June 2020, with artists considered based on their entire output in this period. The Diamond Awards Committee nominated a short list of around six nominees for each category, from which the winner was chosen through a voting process involving 52 Plus Joker members.
Deck of the Year: 2019 NPCCD deck (Alex Chin). The Deck of the Year was presented by committee member PipChick, and represents the pinnacle of the previous year’s releases. The 2020 Diamond Award for Deck of the Year went to Alexander Chin’s 2019 National Playing Card Collection Day deck. From the hundreds of eligible decks, the other decks nominated by the committee were Ascension (by Steve Minty), Iron Spades (by Roxley Games), Luminosity (by Black Ink Playing Cards), United Cardists 2019 No 7 (by Montenzi), and Vivaldi (by Passione Playing Cards).
Artist of the Year: Jackson Robinson (Kings Wild Project). The Artist of the Year was presented by Don Boyer’s wife, and the 2020 Diamond Award for this category went to Jackson Robinson (Kings Wild Project). Jackson has been nominated for four years straight, and finally came out with a win. It wasn’t altogether surprising, given his prodigious output in the twelve month period, which consisted of 19 releases (23 decks), including several Kings Wild Shorts, and table players subscription decks. The other nominees for the award were Charles Adi (Blackout Brother), Alexander Chin (Seasons Playing Cards), Jody Eklund (Black Ink Playing Cards), Giovanni Meroni (Thirdway Industries), and Steve Minty.
Appropriately, all of the recipients got the opportunity to say some fitting words in receiving their awards. It added up to a lovely half hour show, and a wonderful way to bring the 2020 convention to a close.
Watch the video here: 2020 Diamond Awards
2021 Diamond Award Nominees
The nominees for the 2021 Diamond Awards were announced at the 2021 Virtual Day, which was held in lieu of the convention originally planned for Niagara Falls that year. Here is a quick overview of the candidates nominated.
Deck of the Year
● Bird Deck (by Hilary Pfeifer)
● Charmers (by Lotrek & Kellar O’Neil)
● Circus Playing Cards (by Marianne Larsen)
● Holographic Legal Tender Version II (by Jackson Robinson)
● Onda (by Alessandra Gagliano & Anthony Holt)
● Umbra (by Jody Eklund)
Artist of the Year
● Stephen Brandt
● Alexander Chin
● Elettra Deganello
● Alessandra Gagliano & Anthony Holt
● Marianne Larsen
● Giovanni Meroni
The video clip gives a quick run-down of all the nominees in both categories. Sadly the 2021 Convention had to be cancelled in the month leading up to it. So the votes are in and the winners have already been decided. But the Awards Ceremony has been postponed until April, when the winners will be announced as part of a larger 2022 April Virtual Weekend event on April 23 and 24. In addition to the presentation of the Diamond Awards, there will be some lectures, a playing card game show, a “Desert Island Edition” show and tell, and an auction.
In the meantime we’ll have to wait to see who the winners are, although that’s not to stop you from speculating about who they might be, based on the nominations! I’m particularly pleased to see some new names on the list of Artist of the Year. Stephen Brandt’s flip-book animation decks are very novel. And the high class work of the talented Elettra Deganello is especially impressive. I look forward to finding out who the winners will be in April!
Watch the video here: 2021 Diamond Award Nominees – from the 2021 Virtual Day
Where to learn more? Official website for the 52 Plus Joker American Playing Card Collectors Club
Want to be part of the next event? 2022 April Virtual Weekend (April 23-24)
Previous articles in this series:
● Part 1: Let’s Visit an International Playing Card Convention: Featured Speakers
● Part 2: Let’s Visit an International Playing Card Convention: Featured Speakers (Part 2)
● Part 3: A Personal Tour with Some Playing Card Creators and Collectors
● Part 4: The Collectors and Cards at a Playing Card Convention
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and highly respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.