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Paper or Plastic? Creating Custom Card Games.

Paper or plastic? For us, the answer to that question is most often ‘paper’.

When we first started thinking about producing card games, we just assumed we’d be looking at plastic-coated paper decks. It wasn’t until we started talking with the extremely friendly and knowledgable sales reps from Quality Playing Cards & Games, Inc. that we learned about plastic playing cards. We had just assumed that all playing cards had paper cores.

At first blush, we thought plastic cards were a bad idea. They’re plastic; not really biodegradable, and not the obvious ecological choice. Paper cards, though, are really just a thin bit of card stock sandwiched between two sheets of clear plastic, so, it turns out that they’re really not much better. In fact, they are likely to end up in a land fill at a higher rate than fully plastic cards since they need to be replaced so often.

Then we remembered something interesting. When Chris first started to date Louanna, way back in 1990, they had taken their mountain bikes to visit her grandparents in the mountains outside of Emporium, Pennsylvania. Grandpa John and Grandma Rose had a deck of plastic playing cards. We thought it was some sort of hard-to-find specialty deck. This deck was used A LOT. Chris and Lou had played a number of games with them while visiting, including many hands of Solitaire (not much to do when it rained). Rose played several hands of Solitaire almost every day when taking her midmorning and early afternoon coffee breaks. On top of that, they were used in weekly games of Chinese Rummy with the neighbors while sitting around the very dining table that now resides in our home.  Almost 15 years later, when their health started failing and they moved down from the mountains to move in with Louanna’s mother, John and Rose still had that same deck and used it regularly. To this day, as far as we know, that deck lives with Aunt Linda, and is still in use.

The edges of these paper decks are already degrading after less than six months.

The edges of these paper decks are already degrading after less than six months.

So, plastic playing cards have the potential to last decades, if not longer. Now, we don’t know about you, but card games we’ve bought in the past don’t last that long. If we really like a game, we’re happy to get a year or two out of it. Even if we don’t like it much, we still only expect to get a few years. Cardboard isn’t very strong. It creases easily. Cards can start fraying and pulling apart at the edges. It deforms if it gets wet, which can happen too easily when drinks and snacks are at the table. You can’t easily clean them if there’s an accident.

When you first get a cardboard deck, it is very stiff until you work it in. After a little while, it hits its sweet spot with just enough spring to make shuffling easy and pleasurable. After that, you start to notice the cards weakening and losing their spring. If you can keep them long enough without some other disaster happening, you can’t even shuffle them properly anymore. So you start side-shuffling because the spring isn’t entirely gone in that direction. Or you start side-slipping the deck halves together, which just accelerates the nicking and fraying of the edges. Before long, the deck is unusable and you have to go back out and purchase the game. Again. We’ve purchased many, many replacement decks in our day.

Plastic cards aren’t like that. They are harder to crease (yes, they will crease, but you have to try harder to do it). They don’t split. The edges don’t mash or fray. Out of the box, they have that sweet spot of springiness and they hold it for a long time. The edges stay crisp and the deck just looks new longer. Best of all, if you get ketchup fingers on them, or nacho cheese powder, or juice box spills, you can just wash them off, dry them and add them back to the deck. No harm, no foul.

After 6 months, this plastic deck is still clean and sharp.

After 6 months, this plastic deck is still clean and sharp.

Thinking back to John and Rose’s deck, we realized that a twenty+ year deck is quite impressive. It has actually become a bit of a family heirloom. When discussing with friends and colleagues, we’ve been advised to go with paper decks so that the cards wear out and have to be replaced every few years. “Its better for business if they have to keep buying!” But we’ve always hated having to replace decks that were falling apart, assuming you can even find the game again.  We figure that other folks dislike that, too. Perhaps you’re even one of them. And so, we made our decision; We want to make games that you can buy once and play with for years. We want to make games that have the potential of lasting a lifetime.

So, Paper or Plastic? In this case, Plastic.

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