Water Margin Playing Cards

The next project is created by a new creator, Paul Guo. This project is inspired by one of the Four Great Classical Novels of China, Water Margin or 水滸傳 in Mandarin. Hence, the name of the project is Water Margin playing cards.

I chanced upon an interesting article about TV tropes while Googling about Water Margin. The article listed down a list of typical TV tropes regarding Water Margin. Just take a look, it’s going to be worth your time.

The royal court cards are characters from the novel which isn’t giving alot of credit to the novel because there are 108 heros in the novel. That is right, one hundred and eight characters, each with their own story and motivations.

In summary, the novel is about the trials and tribulations of 108 outlaws, how they defied all odds and at a strange twist of fate, they did a face-turn and worked for the government to fight against an rebel army.

The story is too massive to be covered in an article about playing cards. I will recommend reading more about the novel at New World Encyclopedia.

Back to the playing card project, the royal court portraits are characters from the novel.

The style of the illustration is strongly influenced by chinese painting. There are names in Mandarin for the characters. According to Paul Guo, the art style is based on Ukiyo-e where the Water Margin theme was popular. Also, he made a point to mention that there were Water Margin Cards during the Song Dynasty which were designed in similar Ukiyo-e style.

Chinese Playing cards or Water Margin Cards (水浒牌)

Jumping to the Aces in this deck, there are just elements which are typically associated to the four chinese mytical beasts. They are the:

  • Azure Dragon (青龍)
  • Vermilion Sparrow (朱雀)
  • White Tiger (白虎)
  • Black Tortoise (玄武)

An interesting to note is that these four mythical beasts also appear in Japanese folklore. It was likely that Japan adopted the ideology of the four beasts from China when there were trade ties between the two countries.

Next, the characters chosen as jokers are Song Jiang (the main hero leading the outlaw army) and Chao Gai (chief of the outlaws).

Moving to the card back, you may think it is hilarious that a tiger is riding a rickshaw. This is with good reason and Paul Guo explains the imagery of tiger is used due to it being a recurring animal (theme) in the novel.

For example, Wu Song (on K, Club card) beat up a tiger and he’s called “Tiger Killer”. Li Kui (on J, Club card) slain four tigers for eating his aging mother. Gu Dasao (on Q, Diamond card) has nickname, “Female Tiger” due to her temper and violence.

As for the trishaw, it is used to signify Bicycle brand of playing cards. The same design elements can be found on the front of the tuck box. The tiger is even ferrying people on its rickshaw to add more comedic effect.

Before ending this article, we have to talk about the pip design. There are some slight modifications to the traditional pip designs. Paul Guo has included some Chinese elements into the pip designs and you can see them below.

This project will be printed by United States Playing Cards Company (USPCC). To top this off, there is a special seal design for this deck. The four pip designs are on the four corners of the seal.

To end this article, I would like to comment that this project inspired by chinese folk lore is not a common playing card project in Kickstarter. Kudos to Paul Guo for adding some fine touches to the designs of the deck especially on the tuck box and card back design. I have not seen anything so intricate for a seal sticker so this is an extremely thoughtful touch.

Even without special add-ons, the deck itself has so many unique features that it is worthy of a collection.


  1. Four Great Classical Novels of China
  2. Water Margin
  3. Water Margin playing cards
  4. TV tropes (Water Margin)
  5. Ukiyo-e
  6. Four chinese mytical beasts (onmarkproductions)
  7. Song Jiang
  8. Chao Gai
  9. United States Playing Cards Company

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