This must be the most out of the ordinary deck review I’ve written up-to-date. The Court Games Tarot is all kinds of special: the designer wants to remain anonymous and goes by “M” and the deck itself: it is for free. Yep, a free Tarot deck. So if you have been thinking of stepping into the world of Tarot de Marseille but want to start slow (which usually means a deck closer to the Ancient Italians) and gratis, the Court Games Tarot might just be the winner.
Since this deck is for free and printable, normal rules don’t apply. As a reviewer I was very lucky to receive a POD copy of the deck including a tuck box with window (LWB is online), but yours might look very different –depending on how and with what you’ll print and finish it. So, adding grades for stock, added materials and the like would be wrong. Therefore this is the first tarot deck I won’t ‘put a number on’, but of course I will use the wrap-up to give con’s and pro’s. You’ll still have this review to decide if you want to start using the Court Games Tarot.
Free tarot & creativity
Okay, Vamos! (Sorry, it is currently 32 degree Celcius; it brings out the holiday-lingo.) Like I said, this deck takes a page out of the book of the Conver-Ben-Dov (CBD, our number one Marseille), where downloading the cards is actually free. The CBD is still available for commercial print, but that isn’t the case with the Court Games Tarot. This one you can download on your computer, in PDF form and then do what you want with it. You can make it your own, print on cardboard, glue on blank tarot cards or even try to print them with a printing on demand service. But remember: they will always be your own special version.
The mysterious designer is actually a duo: “M” and a sculptress named Valerio Ferrero. M manages the website (darktarot.com) where the Court Games Tarot, its meanings and another deck (Archetypal Tarot) are all available for free download. M doesn’t read Tarot, but the duo was definitely inspired by Tarot history. The Court Games Tarot is based on many Ancient decks. As M says in an e-mail: “I tried, as the main thing, to create a deck that recalls the earliest Tarot decks.”
And -imho – that is a goal they succeeded in. The fact that they used many different decks is obvious, as well as the fact that they are Ancient Tarots. To begin with the brown shade of the background color. It gives the impression these cards are a few hundred years old. On top of that you can see that the inspiration comes from both Tarot de Marseille and Ancient Italian decks. The art is a combination of both, with still a hint of something of their own making.
The latter is especially visible in the suits. They have a rather simplistic feel. Where most Tarot de Marseille’s or Ancient Italians have certain embellishments like flowers, buds, branches and other plantlike shapes, these seem to be non-existent here. On the one hand that makes it easy to see how many of the suit symbols are present, but on the other that leaves you with rather plain depictions. When you interpret cards with suit symbols it is quite normal to use those embellishments to come to your conclusion. They add to your answer. In the case of the Court Games Tarot you will be left with elemental dignities and numerological approach. Still interesting, but I do miss the embellishments that usually make the Italian decks so pretty.
King Arthur Swords
The cards I like the most from the suits were Coin cards. All the coins have a weapon or shield with a face on it. They really look like Roman figures, used throughout the whole suit. Another big plus is the Sword and Wand card. Where those can look rather similar in TdM’s or ‘Ancient decks’, confusing new readers, in the Court Games Tarot that problem ‘has left the building’. The Wands look like old scrolls (or maybe those relay batons) and the Swords could be used in any Pirate or King Arthur movie. Nothing of the machete type or stick feel in the Marseille or Ancient Italians that can confuse at first sight. Because I think is deck would be excellent for a newbie to dip his or her toe into the Marseille pool, these distinctions are an extra plus.
The only issue I could find with the minors was – other than the lack of embellishments – the fact all the Wands are crossed for some reason. Making a visual interpretation and counting the amount is quite hard. Positioning of the suit symbols is also different from most decks, meaning that it is very important to come up with your own divining style for this deck. I don’t mind that, but remember that if you use this one as a stepping stone.
As in most decks from these times the expressions on the faces are rather strict. However the Kings look positively jolly. It’s almost as if the King of Coins is calling someone in the other room saying: ‘Hey dude, want to go for beer after?’ Upon which the King of cups answers: ‘I am on my way with the biggest beer pull I could find my man…’ But you know, that’s what you’ll see when you use The open reading method:‑).
The style and the regular elegance that most Ancient Italians have isn’t completely there, nor does it have this woodcut bluntness or simpleness of the 17th century Marseille decks. Yes, it does have a certain roughness, lacking in detail, where you’d expect dressings and draping. But it also has many similarities in beauty, especially when it comes to the ‘people cards’. A lot of the symbolism is respected throughout the deck and that still makes for an awesome looking tarot. Many of the major arcana like the Pope, Hierophant, Hermit, Lovers, Chariot, Strength, and the Emperor are basically the same as we can see in Tarocchi’s of that time.
The Court Games Tarot also has some interesting deviations: the Hanged Man is holding two bags of money, Justice is sitting, the Tower has three dead people in it – one who is actually impaled onto a piece of the ruin – The Wheel shows a fallen naked lady etc etc. For a modern take on these decks I really like the fact that it isn’t a complete copy and paste. They were inspired, obviously show a sort of ancient deck, but made it their own. And the differences make sense.
Another example of that is the fact that all the Pages have a rather active stance, which is uncommon for pages in most decks. Also, the Page of Swords and the Page of Wands both have a shield-something you would expect with a Knight. All the aces have the crown, even the pentacles and cups. There was one embellishment I have not been able to figure out and it is something coming back in several cards: this waving white kind of thread or cloth. I guess it is just to give some figures a certain kind of dynamic. If it is symbolism I am missing, please let me know!
Basically I think the Court Games Tarot is some sort of mishmash, were several symbols & several ages are used into one Ancient looking ‘modern’ deck. It is obviously inspired by many and at the same time its own interpretation. Any deviations from ‘regular decks’ and new symbolism are easily picked up and simple to interpret. The deck reads like it was any other, but with just enough ‘otherness’ to make it interesting. And it really gives you the feeling of having some kind of reproduction in your hands.
If you have been looking for a way to start reading Pip decks and you’re interested in either the Italians or the Marseille decks I think the Court Games Tarot will give you exactly what you need. Actually, even if you are no beginner and just a fan of these types decks, I would definitely recommend surfing to their website and make it your own. I mean…it is free: what are you waiting for! Get creative!
The online ‘little white book’ for the Court Games Tarot.
NB. I used images of the original to download deck, not scans from the one I was given. That one has a white border. Frankly, if you get to print it, I would advise to use the original brown border with the acid stain-simulation.