Published on March 21st, 2014 | by Luke Turpeinen1
When is a Card Game a Board Game?
Officially Licensed Bicycle Cards on Kickstarter
There are some odd divisions in our board gaming hobby. Previously I’ve discussed the artificial and gradually disappearing divide between Eurogamers and Amerigamers, and how divisions such as those are ultimately damaging to the hobby.
Recently our gaming group has been discussing the trend of licensed Bicycle playing card projects making their way to Kickstarter. These projects are whole decks of normal, four suit playing cards with innovative designs made by graphic designers. The designs that make it to Kickstarter are always eye-catching and very different from what you’d see at a casino or on the shelf at a drugstore.
Most of these decks seem to be projects that are fairly close to the heart of the creator, and it shows. Typical upgrades and add-ons include laser-etched wooden boxes, poster prints of specific cards, custom metal coins and uncut sheets of the card stock.
Despite the fact that playing cards are tabletop games, there is reluctance in our community to accept these Kickstarter projects to the same degree that we do other games. On one level, I understand the reluctance: a game designed and built from the ground up seems more worthy of your money and emotional investment than someone who put new art on an older idea.
On the other hand, many of the Bicycle playing card decks that you see on Kickstarter are very highly detailed and come with terrific art that has obviously had a lot of work put into it, often with a theme that crosses over with other nerdy interests. On top of that, many traditional card games are just as fiddly and intricate or require as efficient use of resources as any worker placement game.
Part of the problem seems to be that the board game subculture and the traditional games subculture seem really similar on the surface, but they don’t intersect as much as some people think. The amount of people who play games like backgammon, poker, bridge and chess are HUGE… but they aren’t typically the same people who play farming sims, deck builders or dungeon crawlers.
At some point our hobby spurned the games of the past and focused more on new ideas and new themes. This is most likely due to the origins of the hobby in the war gaming community, which gave us a focus on area-control war themed games and evolved to include the fantasy games that spawned after D&D became popular.
That said, it’s really common to see not only high concept graphic art as Bicycle playing cards but also heavily themed decks are also out there. For example, the Plugged Nickel set seems like a great addition to a Deadlands game. Or maybe the Mythos: Necronomicon deck would go well with your Lovecraftian horror or urban fantasy RPG?
There is an even more fundamental question though: why don’t board gamers play more with traditional playing cards? A deck of standard playing cards costs under $5 at the grocery or roughly $10 for a deluxe Kickstarter version. There are literally hundreds of games you can play with a single deck of standard playing cards and the rules are all typically free and easy to find. Why is there an aversion to playing cards?
I think for many gamers it’s the idea that playing cards are overly simplistic in design, too mainstream and too heavily associated with places like casinos and frat houses. Obviously the design element is a misnomer, as you can see from all the lovely art that is currently gracing this article. That also applies to gameplay, as games like Bridge are certainly not simplistic either and can be just as, if not more challenging than many board games on the market.
What do you think? Why do many gamers reject playing cards and other traditional tabletop games? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet at us here.