Believed to be made first from wood block prints during the Tang Dynasty in China, playing cards existed in India, Korea, Persia and Egypt before making it to Europe around 1365, when the French popularized the suited deck style commonly found today. Whether it be a game of poker or dickhead, a magic trick or even divination, cards continue to entertain us centuries later. Here we have selected some of our favorite sophisticated and artistic designs, along with some favorite games, for you to play with friends or solo.
Play the Wind Playing Cards
Plastered with glorious characters and delightful details from Alex Prager’s 2019 short film Play The Wind, these playing cards ($25) are anything but traditional. With the images so beguiling, we suggest playing Canfield (aka Demon) which is a solo game, so players can admire the images at their own pace.
Travel Playing Cards
Swedish graphic designer Clara von Zweigbergk created these playing cards ($9) for HAY and the result is minimal but stunning. This design reformulates the traditional layout of familiar suits and replaces court cards with refreshing new graphic icons. Play a game of Palace (aka Castle) while you’re at home in yours.
John Derian Co’s Souvenir Playing Cards
Based on a deck of cards from 19th century England, John Derian’s playing cards ($12) have a fairytale element and feature rich illustrations. The ideal game for this deck is Old Maid—which is also from the Victorian era and is believed to have derived from a bluffing game where the loser has to buy drinks for the other players.
Windows 3.0 Solitaire Cards
Known for her designs with Apple and Microsoft, Susan Kare’s artwork for Windows 3.0 Solitaire appears in all its perfectly pixelated glory on these cards ($14) which Kare made in collaboration with Areaware. A full 52-card deck, Kare designed two jokers for the set—and it’s clear which game should be played with these.
Alicia Nauta’s Playing Cards
Toronto-based artist Alicia Nauta’s playing cards ($30) are adorned with her gorgeous illustrations and screen-prints that blend designs and concepts to create a kind of future-past world. With a tinge of mysticism imbued here, these cards are ideal for magic tricks to delight your friends and family.
Versailles Playing Card Set
While named for the 17th century royal residence, Jonathan Adler’s Versailles Playing Card Set ($35) proves a little Art Nouveau, using deconstructed elements of Versailles’ patterns. Housed in a stylish box (complete with ribbon and a magnetic closure), this deck pairs perfectly with Belote—which is derived from the French game Bezique.
Parks Project’s Wildlife Cards
With 100% of the proceeds going to the National Park Foundation, these Parks Project Wildlife Cards ($14) feature charming, retro-looking illustrations of various animals that live in the USA’s various parks. The Parks Project declares Go Fish the most apt game to play with these.
David Shrigley Playing Cards
The box of David Shrigley’s playing cards ($17 AUD) states “not for idiots,” which becomes evident as all the suits aren’t assigned colors; they’re all black. With this trickster spirit in mind, the perfect game for these cards is Bullshit (aka Cheat) which rewards charlatans. Some versions also insist on players taking a shot when they’re busted.
Images courtesy of respective brands, hero image courtesy of Susan Kare + Areaware