Lorenzo Gaggiotti, better known to most of us as Stockholm17, is a rock-star in the world of modern playing cards. As evidence, you only need to consider the most recent Diamond Awards hosted by 52 Plus Joker in early October. He took out the number one spot in two elite categories: 2022 Deck of the Year Award, and 2022 Artist of the Year Award.
His highly praised “Eye of the Ocean Playing Cards” project is what earned him the coveted award for this year’s Deck of the Year. And it was the accumulated designs he contributed to the playing card industry from July 2021 through June 2022 that earned him the prestigious award for Artist of the Year.
It just doesn’t get any better than being crowned as top dog in these two categories by the world’s most illustrious club for playing card collectors. Because the playing card community can bestow no greater honour. But it’s not the first time Stockholm17 has been crowned with this level of success. He already took out the top honours in both categories in 2019, courtesy of his spectacular House of the Rising Sun deck.
Other industry accolades include the fact that his name is found three times on the list of Portfolio52 (previously United Cardists) Deck of the Year award winners. His Heretic deck won that award in 2015, and his House of the Rising Spade deck in 2018. The club deck he designed for 52 Plus Joker in 2021 won Portfolio52’s Deck of the Year award in 2021, and this extravagant design was also declared as Kardify’s 2021 Deck of the Year.
Clearly Stockholm17 is no stranger to success, and it’s no wonder that he is one of the most sought after and popular designers in the playing card industry today. His journey to the pinnacle of playing card design began in Italy, the country of his birth. There his natural abilities as an artist were nurtured and encouraged by his mother, who was a painter. As he honed his skills as a professional graphic designer and illustrator, Sweden became his adoptive home, and he now lives in the city of Stockholm. He’s now been designing playing cards professionally for about a decade now, and his reputation continues to grow with each new project that he produces.
The two major releases produced by Stockholm17 in the period of eligibility for 2022 Artist of the Year are quite well known: Eye of the Ocean, and Odd Fellows. Eye of the Ocean was a huge project that explores a naval theme of adventure, relating to the quest of a young 18th century woman to sail the high seas and find the island that her mother was searching for when she disappeared. Odd Fellows was created as the very first official deck for Portfolio52, the new parent company of United Cardists, and celebrates six brightly coloured, playful, and unusual characters, each with its own deck.
But in this article I want to take a look at one of the lesser known decks that was part of Stockholm17’s output in the past year, namely his Notorious Gambling Frogs Playing Cards. I never thought I would use the words “gambling” and “frogs” in the same sentence. “Notorious” and “gambling” perhaps, but not in combination with amphibians. But it’s that kind of originality that imaginative creators like Stockholm17 come up with.
Let’s learn more about this deck by talking to the man himself. I posed a number of questions to Stockholm17 about his Notorious Gambling Frogs project, and here’s what he had to say about it:
Q: What is the concept behind the Notorious Gambling Frog deck, and what was your goal with this project?
A: The idea is about designing and producing a standard deck, with a classic look, cheap (as much as I can) and easy to play with.
Q: How did you come up with this interesting and unusual theme?
A: I was intrigued by Mark Twain’s story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County“, and I did my “spin-off”, if that is the appropriate term.
Q: Of the different cards in this deck, which ones are you especially pleased about and why?
A: The Jokers, just because they are illustrated and depict the frog in three elegant poses.
Q: What was your thinking with the design of the card backs?
A: Frogs eat dragonflies, right?
Q: What aspects of this particular deck have proven most satisfying for you?
A: The main goal was to design a deck that is standard and at the same time “polished” with easy-to-read faces. When I say `polished’ it is about the design of the court cards. I took the standard Bicycle court cards and remade them.
Standard Bicycle faces are rough. I know the majority do not see this because they are used to them, but there are graphic design aspects of those faces that bothered me and the Notorious Gambling Frog display a neat design in all its aspects. All the lines are neat, and the design is a little more modern. These are the standard courts I am going to use for these kinds of decks.
Readability was another important aspect, therefore I decided to have indices on the four corners with a font that is easy to read and elegant at the same time.
Q: What was your goal in using all four indices, which is more common with European decks?
A: This choice costs me nothing and balances the design of all faces. On top of that, left-handed players can handle the cards in the way they prefer. It is an aesthetic and ergonomic choice.
Q: The deck feels very custom, without departing too much from a traditional style, ensuring it is very suitable for using in card games. Was that deliberate, and part of your goal?
A: Yes, it feels custom and traditional at the same time. I wanted to make a deck that people are not afraid to use, and where they do not need to spend time understanding what cards they have in their hands. The price is also an important factor, and makes it more likely that people open the deck to use it.
Q: There’s a green and an orange version of this deck – why these two particular colours?
A: They are complementary colors. For the games with 2 decks it is a good color combination. Also, I wanted to do something different from blue and red.
Q: How did you decide to use WJPC to print this deck?
A: For standard projects they are faster and cheaper. One of the goals was to sell it for as little as I could. However, mind that I am not Bicycle and my production runs do not go over 3000 decks on average.
Q: What was your experience in working with WJPC like?
A: Pretty good, although if something is not standard or not in a catalog, it gets harder to make them understand a concept. They are also very reliable with the deadlines for standard products, and their production line does not struggle to understand how they have to pack a deck.
Q: The card stock used for this deck (300gsm German stock) has been received very positively by collectors. What are your own impressions of it?
A: I like it very much, very close to the popular ones. Unfortunately this card stock may be discontinued and a slightly slimmer one (290gsm) replacing this option. WJPC sent a sample, and I have to say it handles very well and I am sure people will like it.
Q: Is there anything else about this project that you’d like to share?
A: These decks have a little easter egg printed on the tuckbox, which is quite easy to find.
I am not planning a third color at the moment for this series, but I probably will produce a mini deck in 2023. I know the third joker frog will feel alone without its own deck, but for now two are enough.
Now let’s take a closer look at the Notorious Gambling Frog deck for ourselves. It comes in two main colours, green and orange, a combination that pairs well together. The tuck box features matt card stock with embossing, and showcases our frog protagonist in one of two poses, depending on the colour of the deck.
The reverse side of the box features the symmetrical two way design that will return on the attractive card backs. The body and wings of a dragonfly forms the main part of the design on each half of the card, along with smaller details. It’s a design that suits the theme well, offering something unique and memorable, without distracting too much from playability.
Instead of the usual black and red for the pips and indices, these playing cards rely on a colour scheme of dark green and orange red. This does a good job of complementing the overall colour scheme of each deck, without being so novel that it would distract from gameplay when used in card games. The pips themselves are customized enough to make the deck feel unique, without looking so unusual that they become a focus of attention or distraction.
A successful formula has been applied to all aspects of design: combining the novel with the familiar, gearing everything to a balance between creativity and functionality, to ensure that this deck will be especially at home at the card table. This is also why the cards have indices in all four corners, to further enhance playability and practicality.
The court cards take their cue from traditional courts, but have had an overhaul in the usual Stockholm17 style, to give them more personality, and to ensure that they too have an original feel. The Aces all get special treatment, with a giant over-sized pip on each card. These in particular showcase a subtle design detail found throughout the deck that is easily overlooked: the canvas of the cards is off-white, and has a faint hash pattern as background that further adds to the unique look and feel.
The four extra cards included alongside our familiar 52 friends are three Jokers – each with its own frog personage – while the fourth card is either a 17 of Spades or a 17 of Hearts, depending on whether you have the green or the orange deck.
For those who appreciate a touch of luxury, a limited edition version of each deck is available with gilded edges, in either orange or green. It looks quite spectacular, and I was particularly pleased to notice that the gilding doesn’t negatively impact the handling.
In fact, the handling of these playing cards, which were produced by WJPC in China using their popular German 300gsm stock, proved very satisfactory all round. These decks are further proof that the quality of playing cards coming out of China has improved dramatically in the last couple of years. It’s no accident that we’re seeing an increasing number of big creators turning to Chinese-based producers like WJPC and EPCC/LPCC to print their projects, in an affordable manner without big compromises to quality. The handling qualities of WJPC’s German 300gsm stock are very pleasing, and in numerous playing card forums that I frequent, this card stock has been universally well received, and is often compared favourably with USPCC’s stock, which is no small praise.
It’s true that the Notorious Gambling Frog decks don’t showcase the same level of creativity and novelty we’ve come to expect from most Stockholm17 projects. But that is very much deliberate, and by design. This deck was created with card players in mind, and is best enjoyed at the card table, over a game of Cribbage, Rummy, Hearts, or Spades. The fact that the two different coloured decks pair well together also makes it suitable for games that require two decks, like Canasta.
While the Notorious Gambling Frog may not dazzle as much as its big brother The Eye of the Ocean, its more practical and down-to-earth looks are exactly what give it appeal. It also demonstrates Stockholm17’s versatility as a playing card designer, and illustrates that he’s capable not just of producing a large earth-shattering project that blows people away, but also in coming up with a very practical deck that is still original and charming.
His frogs may be notorious gamblers, but purchasing a Stockholm17 deck is no gamble, and rarely disappoints. These frogs only help confirm Stockholm17’s credentials as the worthy winner of this year’s 2022 Diamond Award for Best Artist, and are certain to be enjoyed at any card table.
About the original writer:
A well-known and highly respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards.
He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.