In the world of playing cards, there are some big names and recognizable entities like United States Playing Cards and their Bicycle brand of playing cards. Other leading figures in the industry include successful publishing companies like European-based Cartamundi. There are also several smaller Taiwan-based manufacturers that have been making an impact, such as Legends Playing Cards, Expert Playing Cards, and Hanson Chien Production Company.
But even the big names had to start small, and once in a while something small makes some explosive sounds to catch our attention. Today let’s take a look at Taiwan Playing Card Company (TWPCC), which is distributed by BombMagic, and first caught my eye with the colourful fireworks of their Casino Royale deck.
Taiwan Playing Card Company
When I first came across the beautiful looking Casino Royale deck, I started crawling down a rabbit hole which eventually led me to Hanson Bomb, founder of BombMagic. BombMagic started in 2007 as a small studio that focused on the study of performing magic, and the slogan they came up with for their tenth anniversary in 2017 gives an indication of their original focus: “Born for Magic, Beyond the Magic.” Since their inception they have slowly built up their brand, and have been focusing more on playing cards. They began releasing some playing card products, launched a website, and in 2016 released their Bomber Series Playing Cards as their own branded deck. Eventually they set up the Bomber Playing Card Company in order to focus on the design, manufacture, sale, and distribution of playing cards, which the following year became part of the new Taiwan Playing Card Company.
Today BombMagic is considered the official distributor of Taiwan Playing Card Company, and it includes a large online operation. But besides being a source for magic items in the Asian market and abroad, they also produce a range of custom playing cards, some of which they have created in-house and are featured below. Of special interest is the fact that their decks are printed in Taiwan, which is also where respected playing card manufacturers like Legends and Expert Playing Cards operate from in order to produce high quality playing cards. TWPCC has their own label and specifications, but uses the same factory, so there’s good reason to expect good things from this brand. So let’s take a look at some of their decks, and talk about what we can expect from this smaller playing card manufacturer.
Casino Royale Playing Cards
The name Casino Royale reflects the fact that this deck is created to be a practical casino style deck that represents the height of luxury. The title brings to mind James Bond’s visits to Europe’s most famous gambling houses. Similarly this deck is intended to capture something of a quality that is fitting for a classy secret agent and for royalty, while being suitable for an enthusiast playing a poker game at home as well.
BombMagic has produced several different Casino Royale decks, the two main ones being a Spring/Summer Bright edition and a companion Autumn/Winter Mystic Edition. I will focus on the Casino Royale deck: Mystic Edition since that is the one that is still available.
Both decks feature a straight-forward tuck box, which opts for simplicity because it showcases the back design of the deck by means of a well-placed cut-out window
The Mystic edition takes over the strong diamond theme from the Bright edition, and this theme is evident through all aspects of the deck.
The court cards are traditional in style, ensuring they remain recognizable at a quick glance. But when you look closely, the characters aren’t holding the usual weapons or flowers, but are holding diamond accessories.
The back design is made up of small diamonds in varying colours scattered everywhere, with some gaps to create a very interesting and pleasing look. The colour scheme is a soft and mellow palette that makes use of a purple, dull blue, and some grey. Attentive observers will also pick up a one-way design.
The card backs are bordered, so it allows each card or packet of cards to easily stand out from each other and be identified, while the vibrant colours ensure that eye-catching streaks of colour will be produced when using this deck for card flourishing.
Unlike the Bright deck, the card faces of the Mystic deck don’t use traditional black and red for the suits, but take over the purple and green-blue colour palette from the card backs.
The number cards are fairly standard, but aspects of the card back design are cleverly incorporated into the explosive diamond styled Aces, and also the court cards.
Two mischievous Jokers complete the deck, with signature bombs that reflect the BombMagic brand.
This is a practical deck that lends itself well to a few rounds of poker or your favourite card game, where it will offer polished and professional look. But it’s also well suited for card magic or even card flourishing given the patterned design of the card backs.
Also of interest will be the Casino Royale: Refined Plastic deck, which was released more recently in 2018. This continues the overall graphic design of the first two decks, with some adjustments to the colour scheme. But the biggest change is that it is made out of thin plastic cards geared to casino type settings. This shows that TWPCC is a versatile manufacturer willing to innovate and experiment, and is also capable of producing the kind of playing cards preferred for use in casinos.
My take: a meeting of casinos and royalty
The Casino Royale decks are definitely the most practical of the in-house decks from TWPCC that I’m covering here. The number cards are very functional and readable, and that makes this a deck of playing cards that can perform well for crossover purposes, including at the card table or in the hands of a traditional gamer. They work especially well for casino type games, while having a “royale” look that sets them apart from a typical deck of plain ordinary cards. The touch of royalty is already evident from the tuck box, with its window style die-cut design that gives a glimpse of the stylish card backs. The colourful diamond backed design of the card backs adds a sense of luxury and class, and so the Casino Royale decks will add elegance and style to any card game.
Fujin & Raijin Playing Cards
The Fujin & Rajin decks are a complementary pair of decks named after two Japanese gods. These are Fujin, the god of the wind, and Raijin, the god of thunder. Blue and red being the two colours of focus for this pair of decks. UK illustrator Fionn Jordan did the artwork, drawing on his experiences in living in Japan and Taiwan, and his experience as a comic artist.
For the pips, the Hearts and Diamonds use the standard red, while the Spades and Clubs are blue. The design of these is heavily customized, and incorporates lightning and wind patterns to match the theme.
The indices are smaller than usual, but are still very crisp and clear.
The strong use of red and blue is also evident throughout the deck, including the card backs. The different forces of nature have found their way here, and these depict lightning and wind as the main inspiration for the design.
They both also rely on a monochromatic look that uses two different shades of the same colour. Meanwhile the bordered backs ensure clarity in cuts, as well as attractive fans.
The theme also comes out in the Jokers, which function as diptychs, combining to illustrate the god that each deck is named after.
But for me it’s really the court cards that are the highlights of this deck. These all feature unique art pieces in a hand-drawn Japanese style, offering a distinctly oriental flavour.
Additionally, each court card features a bold red or blue circle in the background, which adds more colour to to the black and white drawing, and also helps identify the suit.
My take: a meeting of west and east
The Fujin & Raijin deck pair has a very different visual feel from the Casino Royale decks. While it has a clearly Eastern theme and style, it has been produced by a Westerner who was born in the UK. The Japanese theme will particularly appeal to those who have an interest in Oriental culture and ideas, but the fact that it has been created by a European shows that this theme can have a universal appeal. Most custom decks from the modern era are indebted to Western influences and artwork, so it is refreshing to see some playing cards with a unique flavour. The combination of a garish blue and red that dominates these decks also gives them a very different feel from traditional playing cards.
Cardistry Calligraphy Playing Cards
The Cardistry Calligraphy decks were first released at the 2017 Cardistry Con. The series consists of three decks, a red and blue pair with silver foil lettering on the tuck box, and a more luxurious limited edition gold foil deck with gold accents on the tuck box and on the card backs.
In each case the graphic design of the boxes emphasizes the calligraphic lettering which gives the deck its name. These decks were created as part of a collaboration with the world’s first international calligraphy school, Ink Academy. This is a school that aims to bring calligraphy masters and students together, and offers courses and programs to help learn this historically rich art-form.
The card backs have lovely consistent narrow borders in white, which stand out beautifully against the solid red and blue that fills the majority of the landscape of the cards. The word “Cardistry” appears in a stylish calligraphic font in the very center of the cards, which means that the cards have one-way backs. In keeping with the elegant lettering, ornate decorations with a floral design surround the border.
In the case of the limited edition, the card backs are a simple white with all the artwork and lettering with gold foil, for a truly glamorous look.
The card faces on all three decks are identical, with very recognizable and yet fresh-feeling over-sized pips. The small indices are clear, and ideal for large spreads and fans of cards.
But the standout feature of the card faces is the customized Aces, court cards, and Jokers. The court cards just have a single large letter – K, Q or J – done with elaborate calligraphy.
The Jokers are arguably the nicest of the lot, with the card faces beautifully decorated with calligraphic swirls and lines, along with the word Joker. One of them add a vibrant red to the more austere black to create a more distinctive look.
Meanwhile all four Aces have a large decorative image in the center, which is in the shape of the pip corresponding to its suit, and made up of calligraphic curves and shapes. If you look closely, they appear to incorporate letters from the name of each separate suit.
My take: a meeting of cardistry and calligraphy
The graphic design of the striking Cardistry Calligraphy decks favours card flourishing, with a bold colour on the card backs that emphasizes colour and shape. The use of ornate calligraphic letters for the court cards is somewhat unusual, but suits the concept of the deck well, especially when used for cardistry. It means that the card faces have a more consistent look, and don’t have images that could distract when the cards are in motion. The graphic design of the court cards and Aces does make these less functional than a typical deck, but that’s also what makes it ideal for cardistry. The concept of calligraphy – with its flowing lines and curves – also works very well as a thematic concept that suits card flourishing well.
Hidden King Playing Cards
The Hidden King Playing Cards are one of TWPCC’s more recent releases, and the two basic decks that were part of this series were intended to be low-cost decks inspired by the Siberian Tiger. The tuck boxes both feature the same graphic design, with a mono-coloured drawing of a Siberian tiger on the white and yellow fronts.
Especially noteworthy is the artwork on the tiger’s forehead, which has often been compared with the Chinese symbol for King (Wang), a clever connection with the deck’s theme. The creator’s intent is to reflect the fact that having the deck in your hands makes you the King of the cards. As the Hidden King, you release the tiger from captivity when taking the cards out of the box.
The canvas of the playing cards themselves is a beautiful and clean white, which makes the pips and indices really pop. While having a tiger motif on the card backs, the main goal of this deck was to serve as a traditional casino-style deck, and this is why the card faces are mostly standard and instantly recognizable.
The pips are pleasantly oversized and somewhat inflated for a fresh look. The indices are clear and functional, and utilize a smaller font that makes makes them superb for fans.
The thematic concept of the deck is emphasized by the design of the card backs, which are also featured on the back of the tuck box. Two tiger heads are linked together together to create a mirrored two-way design with bold features not unlike traditional Bicycle rider-backs.
A thick hand-drawn border on the card backs evokes elegance and suggests something of the tiger’s raw power.
A special Rainbow Edition of this deck has the same design on the card backs, but each of the 54 cards has a different coloured back.
As for the card faces, these are quite standard, the exception being the Ace of Spades, which includes mention of “Taiwan Playing Card Company”.
There are also two lovely custom Jokers, one which pictures an adult tiger, and the other which pictures two playful tiger cubs.
My take: a meeting of tigers and tradition
The goal of the Hidden King deck was to be a budget style traditional deck, with some style and life added courtesy of the artwork on the card backs, and some small elements of customization. Given how nice and clean and practical the cards look, I’d like to think that this mission was accomplished with style. Super soft cards ensure a very pleasant and satisfying performance to go along with the crisp artwork.
What’s going to be of real interest to us as card enthusiasts is the quality of the cards from these TWPCC decks, and how they handle. Card collectors and card flourishers are notoriously fussy about where their playing cards are produced, because it can make a big difference in quality.
The good news is that these playing cards are produced in the same factory that is used by Legends and Expert Playing Card Company. It is located in Taiwan, and reports about playing cards printed there are consistently positive, unlike the mixed reports about decks produced in China. The printing quality of the TWPCC decks seems to be very similar to that of LPCC/EPCC decks. It’s very good, with sharp and accurate registration, and clean colours.
Like other Taiwan produced decks, the cut of all these decks is extremely clean, so the edges of the cards don’t feel as rough as a standard Bicycle deck; they also faro perfectly and easily. The cards of all these decks are very durable, but don’t expect fanning and spreading to remain as consistent over time as what you’d typically experience with a USPCC produced deck.
The performance does also depend on the combination of stock and finish they use, and this can vary. TWPCC uses their own terminology for paper stocks and finishes, so it doesn’t compare exactly with the terminology of finishes used by other publishers. The main stock options they appear to make available at present include their Casino stock and their Luxury stock, although they have also used Artist stock for at least one project, which like the Artist stock used by HCPC, is a stiff stock matching the Diamond/Master finish used by LPCC/EPCC.
Casino stock is used for the Casino Royale decks and the pair of Japanese inspired Fujin and Raijin decks. It has a wide embossing pattern that approximates quite closely the Elite/Damask finish used by LPCC/EPCC. The cards have a slightly stiff feel that ensures a high level of durability, and it is firmer and pleasantly snappier than a typical USPCC deck. The overall handling and feel is much like the Classic or Elite finishes from Taiwanese manufacturer LPCC/EPCC.
Luxury stock is used for the Hidden King decks, and handles and feels very differently. Besides the crisp white colour used for the card stock of these decks, it is instantly evident that this is a thinner than normal card stock, which cardists will love, and which corresponds quite closely to the performance and feel of USPCC’s crushed stock. I find that it’s almost too soft for some card sleights, because accidental folding can result if you’re overly aggressive with your moves. But the soft feel means the deck doesn’t require any breaking in, and it handles superbly straight from the box. If you like decks with crushed stock from USPCC, then you’ll love these cards also. They also have a more traditional air-cushion style embossing pattern that handles smoothly and evenly.
The different stocks primarily refer to the thickness of the cards and the embossing pattern used. There are also different options for the coating that is added afterwards, which impacts the performance as well. The options for this include Magic Finish, Royal Finish, or Legendary Finish, which is similar to the range that Hanson Chien Production Company (HCPC) also uses when printing cards at the same factory.
Of course these are not the only TWPCC produced decks out there. There are plenty more, and cardists will especially want to check out some of the decks with the super soft Luxury stock, such as the Vigor Blue deck and the Flow deck. Meanwhile the Kete Moon Special Edition deck uses the Classic stock. Magicians might be interested in the Elemental Master Red deck and the Elemental Master Green deck, both of which are marked decks, and also incorporate unique elements like astrological signs and ESP symbols. The red and blue Cosmos decks were created to commemorate Horret Wu becoming FISM World Champion of Magic in 2015, and use the Casino stock.