Randy Butterfield & Midnight Cards
Randy Butterfield has designed over 40 different decks of playing cards, including several that are selling through large retailers. He also has his own website, Midnight Cards, where he sells some of his decks.
By day, Randy is a senior designer at Motive Marketing, and creates things for the wine and spirits industry, such as gift packs and displays. By night, he burns the midnight oil designing playing cards, hence the name of his company: Midnight Cards. With a background that includes a Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design, and practical experience in a print shop, he has all the qualities needed to design high quality playing cards. Midnight Cards began in 2012, and since then, he has produced some real gems.
In this series of reviews, I'm reviewing some of Randy Butterfield's creations, so you can decide if some of his decks of playing cards are for you.
THE IMPERIAL SERIES
Imperial Red & Black decks
Let's leave the traditional behind for a moment now, and join Randy as we head to imperial Russia, and to the fine jewelled creations enjoyed by Russian tsars.
In 2013, Randy launched a project for a series of Imperial decks that were inspired by Faberge Eggs and Imperial Russia. This was created as the first ever House of Playing Cards deck on Kickstarter. Even to this day, this series is one of Randy's own personal favourites, in part because he enjoys using the Lightwave modelling software required to make images like these.
The two main decks were the ones you see here, a Red Imperial deck and a Black Imperial deck. These tuck boxes had a luxurious gold foil interior.
From the 1800s to early 1900s, the House of Faberge famously created beautiful Imperial Eggs, which it produced mainly for the Russian Romanov Tsars. Less than a hundred of these exquisite jewelled eggs were ever produced, and so these artworks have become iconic and are highly sought after and valuable. While the original jewelled eggs are far out of reach of anyone besides billionaires who have enough money to prize them out of the hands of their current owners, you can bring some of these priceless treasures to your gaming table on these playing cards.
Randy's goal with the Imperial series was to create unique egg designs, with a different style for each suit. Randy enjoys 3D modelling, and that's how these were created, and then rendered, with each suit having the following style:
Diamonds - inspired by Nature/Fantasy/Elves
Clubs - inspired by Greek mosaics, colors and geometric shapes
Hearts - inspired by Ancient Rome, with the Russian Double-Headed Eagle central
Spades - inspired by a Baroque/Gothic look
A notable feature of the real life Imperial Eggs was that it featured a surprise inside. This is captured by the Aces all having a golden Surprise in the center, representing either important buildings or symbols from Imperial Russia. The example shown below is from the Red Imperial deck.
The card-back on the right features the Russian Double-Headed Eagle. In contrast the Black deck (not shown here) has card-backs that have a Baroque/Gothic look.
The different court cards also were given a theme, with Jacks being the "Warrior" Eggs, Queens being simple and elegant with light colours, and Kings like the King of Clubs shown here being the most decorative and ornate, each also with a Crown.
Notice how the pips have a 3D look, and appear to pop out from the surface of the card - they represent gold bordered enamel buttons.
A 20 page collector's art book was created as a companion for the Imperial deck. Even some 3D printed eggs were available as add-ons for Randy's Kickstarter project for this deck, alongside the usual options like uncut sheets.
Imperial Gold deck
More recently, an Imperial Gold deck was created, and is currently available from Randy's website. This was originally planned as a stretch goal that didn't get reached, but was subsequently self-funded by Randy, with only 1000 produced. The tuck box of this limited edition (with numbered stamps!) has its own unique design and looks stunning. Tiny eggs are depicted in a repeating gold foil pattern, and the box just oozes royalty and class! Everyone I've shown this deck to personally has been immediately impressed by the tuck box.
So what else has changed, aside from a more glamorous packaging? Well the indices and pips were given a small facelift to improve them from the originals, but for the most part this deck is simply a more luxurious version of the original Red and Black Imperial decks.
The patterns on the cards of this deck make it nice for cardistry, as you can see from this fan, although the touch of red is at the top rather than the sides of the cards, so the red isn't typically noticeable during a spread.
It's an unusual theme, but there's no doubt that these eggs evoke a sense of richness, wealth, and luxury, and the result is a deck of playing cards like none that have gone before it.
THE DRACONIAN SERIES
Draconian Spitfire & Lightning decks
From the sheer luxury of the Imperial Gold, and the Russian royal tsars, we now go to the world of fantasy: the Draconian decks, inspired by the dragons of old!
The Draconian Spitfire deck (orange) and Draconian Lightning deck (blue) were the two main decks here, while we'll get to the Brimstone deck later.
The touch of a dragon is immediately evident from the moment you hold one of the tuck boxes in your hand, which are embossed with scales, in a wrap-around design.
The dragon scales look incredible, but the embossed box design is just the beginning. The borderless card backs have a optical illusion formed from dragon scales, featuring a spiral fan with full bleed artwork. Even if you spin a single card, it looks absolutely incredible!
The colours and design of these cards looks absolutely amazing, and this is really a deck that needs to be seen to be believed!
But when spread or fan the cards...wow, what a powerful hypnotic effect! The spiral full-bleed artwork makes these cards ideal for cardistry, as this shot of the orange Draconian Spitfire shows well.
The black suits all feature a touch of the lightning blue colour, while the red suits all feature a touch of the spitfire orange colour, and of course some dragon scales make an appearance here and there as well.
Draconian Brimstone deck
In addition to the Spitfire and Lightning decks, a special Draconian Brimstone deck (black) was also made, which used spot UV varnish over white ink to create a ghostly effect.
Doesn't that look sweet!
As much as I'm drawn to other decks from Randy for various reasons, right now the Draconian has to be my favourite. Just spreading out the cards slowly, or creating a visual fan, generates an immediate "wow" from almost everyone seeing them for the first time.
I gave one of these decks as a gift to someone who enjoys cardistry, and he is absolutely smitten by it. It completely deviates from the symmetrical and geometric designs used by most other decks of playing cards, and yet it looks absolutely stunning, and creates a hypnotic and startling effect, which is amplified further by the borderless card-backs. It's creative, colourful, and brilliant!
Versatility: One thing is for sure: Randy Butterfield is a very versatile designer! He has designed classy looking luxury decks, fantasy decks inspired by dragons, playful decks inspired by bowling, lush decks inspired by Russian jewels and Ancient Rome, baroque styled decks with intricate detail - it's just mind boggling how varied some of these decks are! And yet they're all from the same guy! I don't know what his wife feeds him, but whatever it is, it sure is working! Often a designer has a very distinct style that is evident in all his decks, but with Randy that's not immediately obvious, because he is able to produce a range of impressive and unique styles, almost like a Jekyll and Hyde thing. But maybe that's what happens after midnight?
Diversity: This is related to the previous point, and it reflects something of the breadth of his designs so far. With his versatile talents, Randy has used his abilities to create diverse decks, and over time has crafted an incredible range of different decks. He has an established and proven record in the playing card industry, with a large number of different designs to prove it. So accompanying his versatile skills, is an impressive range of completed projects. My favourite is probably the Draconian deck, simply because of the stunning borderless card backs.
Thematic: Randy has tackled a wide range of different themes in his projects: Dragons. Ten Pin Bowling. Ancient Rome. Russian jewels. This certainly doesn't reflect someone beating the same drum over and over, but shows a willingness to take on subject material with a wide range of themes. What I especially appreciate is how thematic these different projects are. In each case Randy has clearly done a lot of thinking to figure out ways to make every aspect of the deck fit his theme, which is evident from the designs of the tuck box, card-backs, and of course the faces of the cards themselves.
Success: It's one thing to come up with a good design, and have good quality cards, but it's altogether another thing to actually find people who are going to serve as willing partners to help make these become a reality, and to find buyers for your ideas. Randy isn't just someone who has good ideas, but he's found ways to turn them into products, and he has developed the skills and experience to market what he makes. Randy shared with me the print quantities of all the decks he's made so far, and I did the math and added them up: by my count, it is around 93,000 decks of cards! By the end of the year that number should easily have reached over 100,000 decks, which is a tenth of a million! Staggering!
Quality: Randy has chosen to publish many of his own decks with Legends Playing Card Company, with their Classic finish. Legends is based out of Hong Kong, and along with Expert Playing Cards (which uses the same factory) is the main competition to the US Playing Card Company that produces Bicycle decks. Personally, I've found that the quality of the Legends decks is even higher than those of the Bicycle decks, especially the incredibly clean cut of the cards. For more details about the quality of their decks, see my review here. Randy has opted for their Classic finish rather than their Diamond finish, simply because it feels less plastic-like, and my own experience with the Legends decks also favours this finish as the best. So the card quality of these decks rivals that of any Bicycle deck, and arguably even exceeds it.
Night owl: The man from Midnight Cards often does his best work shortly before and after midnight. I'm not going to be the one to start suggesting that he turns into a werewolf, but clearly he has found a way to make his creative juices really work well at this time of the day, and turn it into a productive and also relaxing endeavour. It's a great name for a playing card company, and it really says something about Randy's creative process, and about the way he's managed to incorporate his hobby into a lifestyle that includes a day job and a family.
Where do you get them? I'm very pleased to come across Randy's work. If you're interested in picking up some of his playing cards for yourself, the first place you should look is his Midnight Cards webshop, which is probably the best way to support his efforts directly. Right now he has some terrific deals available, including the Grinders decks for around $10 each, the Rome Antony & Caesar decks for around $11 each, the Imperial Gold deck for around $15, and perhaps the best deal of all, all three Bowl-a-rama decks (including the Cosmic Lanes edition!) for only $14.95 as a set of three, which is cheaper than what the Cosmic Lanes edition alone costs at many other places. For some of his other decks, another place you can look is over at Rare Playing Cards, and the publisher Legends.
I'm very impressed with the versatile designs produced by a man who has found a way to burn the midnight oil as an ideal way to unwind from his normal work, while unleashing his creativity at the same time, and simultaneously producing something beautiful for fans of playing cards to enjoy. Randy's designs are very diverse, and there's bound to be something you'll like among his decks of playing cards. I'm very pleased with the decks that I own, and find that they really make a game of Cribbage or other traditional card game just that much more special. Randy was also very courteous in answering all the questions I posed to him when making this review, and he's been a real pleasure to communicate with, and seems like a terrific guy to deal with. I can only recommend his designs highly!
Want to learn more? Midnight Cards: http://midnight-cards.myshopify.com.