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 ANCIENT ROME SERIES
Rome: Antony & Caesar decks
We now leave the glitz and glamour of a modern day casino far behind, and head back in time, all the way to Ancient Rome. Sure, why not? If Randy can do fantasy dragons, cosmic bowling, and casino grinders, there's no reason he can't do classical ancient history is there? Let's find out!
The tuck boxes
The Rome: Antony & Caesar decks is a pair of ancient Rome themed decks that are still relatively new. In over five years of designing cards, Randy has wanted to tackle the theme of Ancient Rome for some time, and this is the result after nearly a year of hard work. These decks are actually his personal favourites of all the decks he's ever created, and the amount of love he's poured into them really shows in the amazing attention to detail and quality in every respect!
The tuck boxes are red (Caesar deck) and blue (Antony deck), and have gold foil accents, Caesar's deck featuring an imperial Eagle, and Antony's featuring a majestic Lion. The reverse side has a laurel wreath and the SPQR designation. According to Randy, the print quantities were 3000 for the Caesar deck, and 2000 for the Antony deck.
I was just blown away when I first saw and opened the tuck box - the gold foil and designs look incredible, and there's even printing of a map inside the tuck box. It really looks incredibly stunning and classy all round - far more than this photo can do justice to!
Both tuck boxes have Latin text on the very top. Caesar's says "ALEA IACTA EST and VENI VIDI VICI" ("The die is cast" and "I came, I saw, I conquered"), while Antony's says "TARUM ET CLAMA DIMIT CANIBUS QUATIT" ("Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war".) I love it when designers add small details like this!
As an added luxurious touch, some of the decks were provided with limited edition "toga sleeves". The tuck boxes alone look amazing, but if you have one with a gold-foil printed "toga sleeve", that makes it look even more impressive!
These two decks focus on a very specific part of Rome's history, namely the First and Second Triumvirates. The First Triumvirate ended when Julius Caesar defeated Pompey the Great and became Dictator, before being assassinated by members of the Senate. The Second Triumvirate ended when Octavian defeated Mark Antony & Cleopatra, and eventually became the first Emperor of Rome under the new title Augustus.
The card backs have artwork that depicts the death of Julius Caesar and the death of Marc Antony respectively. The diagonal stripe on the card-backs means that the cards look amazing when they are fanned, and will give the deck a whole different look depending on which way you fan the cards.
A bold diagonal design like this isn't something you see often, but let me tell you, this looks amazing when you spread the cards or fan them! Someone I know who enjoys card flourishing was just blown away by how these looked, especially because it has a different effect depending on which way you fan them. The colours are very striking, and it really looks beautiful!
The rich and vibrant colours are a deliberate choice, because they are the kinds of colours associated with ancient Rome.
Meanwhile the court cards depict 12 of the most influential men and women from the end of the Roman republic, including Cicero, Cleopatra, Mark Antony, Marcus Brutus, Servilia Caepionis, Julius Caesar, Cassius, Octavia Minor, Pompey the Great, Marcus Agrippa, Livia Drusilla and Augustus. But the attention to historical detail doesn't end there: they even have a facial likeness referenced from actual ancient statues! Now isn't that impressive? The character's name is also to be found in tiny print on the card - I'm very appreciative of that, because it's one thing to include historical characters, but I enjoy being able to easily see who is who.
The orientation of the pips on the number cards is designed to be a set-up reminiscent of opposing soldiers. The diagonal stripe is decorated like an ornate Roman shield, and because there is also something similar on the backs of the cards, it makes the deck look terrific when fanned or spread, whether face-up or face-down. As a result, it's an ideal deck for cardistry as well, and the design of the cards makes normal cardistry moves look so much better.
Each card's Roman numeral equivalent is subtly added in tiny print somewhere on the map, as is the text of the number and suit in tiny print, on the left just above the shield-like stripe.
The Aces each contain the suit pip wrapped in a laurel wreath, with the added glamour of a royal gold touch. LEG XIII refers to Julius Caesar's 13th Twin Legion, which was one of his key legions in the Gaul and Civil Wars, and with which he famously crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC.
Clearly an amazing amount of thought has gone into the design of every aspect of these decks! It's hard to imagine more that could be done to make a deck look absolutely perfect in every way!
In addition to the decks featured above, Randy has been involved in the creation of a number of other decks that deserve mention, and I'll cover these more briefly.
The Blue Crown Luxury Deck
Shortly after the release of his original Ornate series, Blue Crown contacted Randy to ask if he'd be interested in working on their planned project for a Luxury version of their Crown Deck. That soon became the second major design credit in his growing list of achievements.
These were made in Blue, Red, and Ivory, with 2500 printed of each.
These are gorgeous luxury versions of the original Crown Deck. For example, the Ivory version here has a tuck box made entirely with gold and silver foil with multiple embossing, a back design with metallic gold ink, and of course custom Ace of Spades and Jokers.
The 2013 United Cardists Deck
Randy also designed a deck for United Cardists forum, the 2013 United Cardists deck, which was created to promote and support their forum.
One noteworthy thing about this deck is the strong use of the colour green - to match the forum colours.
This deck would later become an annual release featuring different designers, but Randy's deck has the honour of being the original deck in this United Cardists Annual Deck series. It was also noteworthy for being the very first deck to use colored foil inside the tuck.
The Brazil 2014 Commemorative deck
To commemorate the 2014 Rio Olympics, Randy Butterfield created a special deck for The Blue Crown: the Brazil 2014 Commemorative deck.
This deck had a heavy focus on Yellow and Green, which are of course the major colors of Brazil's flag and their coat of arms. Both the tuck box and the overall design have obvious allusions to Brazil's favourite sport: football (aka soccer).
As a special bonus, red and yellow flag cards were even included!
The LUXX decks
Randy also had opportunity to be work with the luxury brand LUXX, which is a series of top tier premium playing cards that are intended to be of the highest calibre.
The first of these projects were the original LUXX Brown deck and LUXX Blue deck, which were Victorian/Deco inspired designs. This gave Randy the opportunity to work together with Paul Middleton, as part of a project for JP Playing Cards in 2014.
After this successful release, Randy created a second beautiful series of decks for LUXX, the LUXX Shadow Edition, with two versions, Gold and Silver.
These have a darker feel with metallic inks, and again feature packaging that is amongst the most glamorous imaginable. The court and pip cards were the same as the original deck, but using metallic gold and red ink for the suits. This time the card backs used grey and black tones with shading, along with silver and metallic inks.
The third design from Randy in the LUXX luxury range is the LUXX Elliptica deck, which reflects a love for borderless decks.
This was produced in four different colours: Red, Blue, Green, and Purple.
Never Forgotten deck
In combination with Robert Wright, Randy produced a special release for the 52 Plus Joker Convention, entitled the Never Forgotten deck.
As is evident from the ribbon adorning the tuck box, this deck is a special tribute to victims of different cancers, and was made in memory of Robert's mother.
The Honeybee deck is a design Randy produced to be the first deck that was ever produced by Penguin Magic.
This pays tribute to the traditional Bee style deck, but instead of a diamond pattern, it features a borderless honeycomb pattern complete with two realistic honeybees walking on the back. As the ad copy says, "You can almost taste the honey as you gaze at the golden yellow backs!" The faces are same as the usual face cards of a Bee deck, but there is a Beehive Ace of Spades and a Beekeeper Jokers, plus a new background pattern on the court cards.
Pictured here is version 2 of this deck, which has borders, and is currently in the process of being produced.
So with all that under is belt, is Randy now done? Not at all! Here are just some of the decks he's got in progress this year, all at varying levels of completion: Honeybee decks (Yellow, Black, and Metalluxe), Lux Reduxe decks (Red and Blue), Snake Oil Elixir deck, Draconian Wildfire deck, Rage Knight and Fury Knight deck, and more.
Personally I love the look of the Honeybee decks that are in the works, and especially the Metalluxe one shown below (which is being handled by Penguin Magic) sounds amazing!
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