*** Unique Playing Cards from Noir Arts ***
The name Noir Arts already indicates that this publisher of playing cards appreciates art, which is confirmed by their tag line: "We are Arts! Unique playing card designs". Based in Ukraine, the people involved with Noir Arts have been producing beautiful playing cards for the local Ukrainian market under the label Noir Playing Card Company (NPCC) already since 2005. Noir Arts was officially formed in 2014, when they expanded to begin producing playing cards for the worldwide community. Under the leadership of Roman Kotiv, they began by designing their own decks, and soon began cooperating with talented independent artists and design studios from around the world. Noir is French for "black", and so quite a number of their decks are more dark in theme, but you will also find more playful decks in their portfolio as well. They have a diverse portfolio of custom playing cards with varied styles, but what they all have in common is that they are artistic.
In addition to creating an impressive range of playing cards under their own design, Noir Arts offers a printing and fulfilment service under their original name NPCC, to create and print custom decks of playing cards for other designers and creators. In this series of reviews, I am showcasing some of the custom playing cards Noir Arts has produced, to give an overview of their work and style, and a glimpse of the artistic talent that is evident from their portfolio. In the final installment of this series, I will also offer some lengthy concluding comments about their card quality and handling, plus a more detailed comparison with other publishers. But for now, let's show you some of their lovely decks!
*** DESIGN IMPERATOR DECKS ***
Chivalry Playing Cards (2015)
The Chivalry Silver and Chivalry Gold decks were made by a group of independent Scandinavian developers who call themselves "Design Imperator".
They previously produced a custom deck entitled Noble Playing Cards, and later also created the Norse themed decks that I'll cover next. The Design Imperator decks have all involved contributions from freelance artist Nicolai Aaroe, who also created the Indictus and Dominus decks above.
What is chivalry? The designers explain that in their view, chivalry as it was understood in the late Middle Ages is "a moral system which combined a warrior ethos, knightly piety, and courtly manners, all conspiring to establish a notion of honor and nobility." An extra card that quotes this definition is included with each deck, while another extra card gives the mottoes Fortes fortuna juvat (Fortune favors the brave) and In actis esto volucris (Be swift in action).
Very medieval in flavour, this deck is considered to be a tribute to the chivalry of that time period, and to medieval ornamentation and knightly piety.
The court cards illustrate loyal knights, who are depicted with their helmets prominently featured.
The artwork for each suit's coat of arms is displayed prominently on the Aces. This reflects things like knightly piety, bravery and ceremonial jousting, and is reprised on the court cards, the frequency of its occurence also giving some suggestion about the relative ranks of the Jacks, Queens, and Kings.
The card backs are particularly beautiful, with a well-placed triangle at the middle of each of the four edges, making them very ideal for cardistry as well.
As mentioned already, the Aces feature the coat of arms for each suit, which is considered to be its own knightly order, as follows:
Spades = Order of The Black Ibex
Diamonds = Order of the Red Stallion
Clubs = Order of The Black Bear
Hearts = Order of the Red Lion.
But as good as the cards are, it's the tuck box again that is a real star - it turned out far better than I ever expected. Noir Arts has pulled out all stops, and the Gold Edition is a knock-out combination of gold foil on burgundy red, while the Silver Edition has silver foil on charcoal black/grey for a similar effect. Interior printing only adds to the feel of luxury.
Both the Gold and Silver editions of the Chivalry deck are beautiful inside and out; cardists will especially take a real liking to the beautiful card backs, while collectors will love the gorgeous tuck boxes. These luxurious looking decks are very impressive, and will look great on the shelf or on the table.
Midgard Playing Cards (2017)
Coming from the same Design Imperator team is the Midgard Playing Cards series, which consists of two decks: Midgard Daneveld and Midgard Yggdrasil. This is another recent project which had support of more than 1000 backers - which reflects remarkable consistency in the level of strong support for Noir Arts projects.
It's a Norse themed deck that was designed in Denmark, Scandinavia, and created by the makers of the Chivalry deck featured above, with the lead artist being Nicolai Aaroe, who also did the Indictus and Dominus decks. Like the Chivalry decks, the Midgard set features a matching pair of decks.
The tuck cases of these two decks look absolutely stunning, with a simple colour scheme that accentuates the gold/silver foil and embossing. The artwork features an intricate design which includes images that fit the theme well, and create an immediate impression of sophistication. They also have beautiful interior printing that confirms this high quality, not least because the interior printing is with gold and silver foil respectively.
The Daneveld deck pictured above refers to a tax that Viking raiders received to avoid lands being ravaged, while the Yggdrasil deck is named after Norse mythology's famous ash tree.
The card backs owe their inspiration to the classic Bicycle design, but images of Viking ships and warriors along with woven borders create a very stylized look, and Odin’s two wolves Geri and Freki also make an appearance. The number cards feature large and intricate pips which are very recognizable, and yet feel very customized, and in keeping with the rest of the deck.
The courts (which are identical in both decks) picture legendary Viking leaders and mythological Norse deities, and were illustrated by Patrick Leis with Nicolai Aarøe. For example, pictured here as the Jacks we see Ragnar Lodbrok, Harald Bluetooth, Erik The Red, and Gorm The Old.
The Aces all have their own individual artwork, which is unique to each of the two decks, to ensure some variation between them.
As well as two Jokers picturing Odin’s two ravens Huginn and Muninn, each deck also comes with two bonus cards: Loki (pictured below), and a card with a runic alphabet.
A follow-up to the Midgard project is currently on Kickstarter, entitled Ragnarok Playing Cards.
The Midgard decks are one of the most sophisticated and elegant decks I've seen from Noir Arts. Despite the brawling reputation of the Viking characters that feature in this deck, the tuck box looks very polished and refined, while the card backs have a very strong and memorable design. These are very usable and functional decks that will add a touch of luxury and class to a game of cards or poker, and will easily find a welcome place in the home of gamers and collectors alike.
So is Noir Arts (NPCC) for you? I came across Noir Arts and NPCC quite by accident, when exploring aspects the world of playing cards, but I'm very pleased that I did. They have produced some stunning decks of their own, using the artistic talents of creators internationally. In addition they provide what seems to be a good printing service for their many customers around their world. Knowing that this is a source that can be used to produce playing cards and fulfil crowd-funded projects will mean that many designers of custom cards will want to take note of this option they might otherwise not know about. As for the overall quality and handling of the cards, their quality is improving, although it doesn't match the best in the business like USPCC and LPCC/EPCC just yet, but is on par with second-tier publishers like MPC. Look for more extensive comments on the card quality and handling, plus a more detailed comparison with other publishers, in the final article of this series. The Noir Arts tuck boxes, however, are typically much more exquisite and impressive than MPC, and are first-rate.
While not geared towards producing playing cards that will satisfy the highest quality and exacting standards demanded by cardistry or card magic, Noir Arts is certainly focused on creating decks with a more artistic look, which they present in very impressive and high quality tuck boxes. Their playing cards cards have an air-cushion style finish and are of a quality that works well for playing card games or for collectors who admire an artistic style of deck. If that's what you're looking for, then do check them, their range, and their services out!
Want to learn more? Noir Arts: www.noir-arts.com