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Deal me in

Tacoma Playing Cards "blue deck" card back design by Chandler O'Leary

My brain is chock full of useless information—I could sing you about 35,000 ad jingles on key, or recite Jurassic Park or Trading Places or a hundred other movies line-for-line. But don’t challenge me to a game of Poker, because I have a terrible head for card games. I love playing them, and am always up for learning when friends come over a suggest a rubber of something or other. The trouble is, I forget the rules right away—so whenever I sit down to a rematch, it’s like starting at square one.

As an example, I used to do summer stock theatre, and we techies had a tradition of playing Hearts backstage during the sound check. So I played Hearts every night for two months straight, three summers in a row, and I still can’t remember the rules now. (Something about being saddled with the Queen of Spades, and lots of half-joking shouted epithets surrounding that card, but that’s about it.)

Over the years I have learned and forgotten dozens of card games—including Snap, President, Pitch, Five Card Draw, Seven Card Stud, Crazy Eights, Kings Corners, Egyptian Ratscrew, Spades, Slapjack, Pig, Cheat, Five Hundred, Hand & Foot, Whist—and probably plenty of others that I’ve even forgotten the name for.

About the only games I can ever keep in my head are the embarrassingly simple ones like War, Go Fish, Old Maid and Blackjack. Oh, and I can play Cribbage like a fiend, because my dad and his Scottish friend Alex taught me when I was nine or ten. We used to have hilariously cutthroat wee-lass-vs.-grown-man Cribbage tournaments on a regular basis, so how could I ever forget that?

Tacoma Playing Cards "blue deck" concept sketches by Chandler O'Leary

Being lousy at remembering any card games, however, hasn’t stopped me from wanting to design a card game. Or collecting interesting or unusual decks (the Tailor and I have a good dozen in regular rotation). So when my friends Maija and Amy asked me to be the designer on the poker deck they were dreaming up, I think must have freaked them out by shouting, “YES!” before they’d even finished their sentence.

(And as an added bonus, I got first dibs on my favorite Tacoma haunts.)

Stadium High School illustration (for the Tacoma Playing Cards) by Chandler O'Leary

These gals weren’t looking for any old run-of-the-mill card deck, either. They wanted to show off Tacoma in all her architectural splendor. And since we’re blessed with a veritable boatload of fabulously talented artists in this town, they decided to divvy up the deck by ranks—with fourteen artists, each tackling a list of locations in four-of-a-kind fashion. I loved being the first to see the collection of incredible artwork come down the pike from these folks. Everybody involved in the project has gone above and beyond our wildest imagination—I can’t wait to see the finished deck.

Pt. Defiance Pagoda illustration and Tacoma Playing Cards design by Chandler O'Leary

Beyond just creating something beautiful and fun, Amy and Maija have their eyes on a bigger prize. They want to create a real, no-kidding Tacoma souvenir. We get a lot of visitors and tourists around here, what with the Sound and the Mountain and the Universities and what-have-you—but you’d be hard-pressed to find Tacoma-specific tchotchkes (or even postcards!) that aren’t sarcastic. And I know I’m not the only one around here who’s a little tired of folks knockin’ T-town, based solely on a stereotype and a thirty-year-old reputation. So we’re upping the ante a little, and offering a bit of hard evidence that Tacoma is pretty dern great.

Tacoma Playing Cards "blue deck" box design by Chandler O'Leary

You know my schtick by now, so you can guess that all the lettering and pattern doo-dads are hand-drawn. I had the pleasure of designing the suits, rank typography, card face template, card backs and box.

Tacoma Makes logo and concept illustrations by Chandler O'Leary

I even got to design the logo for Maija and Amy’s company, Tacoma Makes. Basically, it was the kind of project I’m always on the lookout for, but which rarely lands in my lap. So I spent about half of the time grinning my fool head off, and the other half pinching myself in disbelief.

Tacoma Playing Cards "blue deck" box design sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I also got to flex my file-production muscles. I love to geek out over the technical side of design, but since I started my business, much of my production work has centered around letterpress printing. So playing with dielines and spot color swatches again was a nice little challenge.

Tacoma Playing Cards "blue deck" box design by Chandler O'Leary

We’re taking all these extra steps because this is a real, bona fide, professional-grade poker deck. The kind folks at the U.S. Playing Card Company are manufacturing the cards for us—they’re the people behind the Bicycle, Bee, Hoyle and other card brands. So you won’t have to hedge your bets that this deck will be extra tasty.

Tacoma Playing Cards successful Kickstarter campaign

To raise funds for the card printing, and even pay for modest artist contracts, we set up a Kickstarter project (much like the Apocalypse Calendar that you all so graciously funded last year). Now normally this would be where I explain that Kickstarter projects are only funded if they reach their entire monetary goal by the deadline—but I don’t have to! I left town for a few days, just after the project launch, with the intention of spreading the word when I got home. So imagine how floored I was to come back and discover that we’d met our goal in just six days!

Tacoma Playing Cards mentioned on Twitter

The response to this has been staggering. And it’s not only the lovely legions of fellow Tacomans who have supported us—we’re seeing pledges come in from all over the country. And as a nerdy fan-girl aside, I just have to squeal and tell you that Neko Freaking Case (a hometown Tacoma gal) has been retweeting my designs in the Twitterverse. Dorky internet hero fantasy: fulfilled, folks.

Old City Hall illustration (for the Tacoma Playing Cards) by Chandler O'Leary

The Kickstarter project will run through July 19, so you can still contribute if you want to get in on rewards and goodies that are only available to backers. Otherwise, the cards will be in hand and dealt out this November—along with an exhibition of all the original artwork.

There’s even a rumor of an artist game night in the works, so cut the cards! I’m up for any game you’re willing to teach me—as long as you don’t mind that I’ll probably forget the rules before the night is through.

In the meantime, thank you so much for all your support for our crazy card deck! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—Tacomans (and honorary Tacomans!) are the best folks on earth.

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Edited to add (fall 2013): The blue deck has been so popular that we have done a red deck as a sequel! The new deck features all new artwork and artists—you can read more about it here.

Bob's Java Jive illustration (for the Tacoma Playing Cards) by Chandler O'Leary

3 thoughts on “Deal me in

  1. Christina Rodriguez

    This is giving me shivers… I’ve been writing a bunch of card deck proposals and one of them was a Providence-themed one that I wanted to do with you!

    So yeah, do a Providence one next!!!

  2. Karensu

    Wow, Chandler–THIS IS SO COOL! I love both the artwork and the fact that it’s coming together so nicely. :D :D :D

    I don’t do much with cards, but I’d love to own this deck as an talisman of GLORIOUS COLLABORATION AND DREAM FULFILLMENT! (And to go along with the card deck of photos of Ireland inherited from my Irish grandmother!) Also, I can think of a friend who might like a deck…

    OK. Here I go to contribute.

    YAY, YOU! And everyone involved!

    Karensu from Rally!

  3. Michelle S

    This is beautiful!! Unfortunately I stumbled on it a few hours too late to donate to the kickstarter campaign. Where may I purchase the card deck if I live out of state?


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