FCB Inferno on redesigning the humble pack of playing cards with badass queens

FCB commissioned four sets of Queen Rules cards

FCB Inferno has devised a new card game in which queens trump kings. Naturally, the creative agency designed a bespoke pack of cards to commemorate the launch, commissioning 16 female illustrators to submit their interpretation of a 2018 queen.

The designers selected for the Queen Rules project were sourced from the site Women Who Draw, an open directory of female illustrators. Drawn by artists in Mexico, the US, Denmark Brazil, China, Canada, Spain, France and the UK, the work ranges from pencilled realism to graphic nudity.

Each queen has her assigned suit printed somewhere on her form – be it a diamond tattoo on her ankle or holding a martini glass shaped like a heart.

“It might sound obvious, but it’s not our job to define what a ‘queen’ looks like,” said Ben Edwards, art director of FCB Inferno. “Powerful females come in unlimited shapes and sizes: from different cultures and of different ethnicities, the list is endless.

“We really wanted our designs to reflect this, so we asked our illustrators a simple question: ‘What does a modern day queen look like to you?’ From this brief we received an array of strong, powerful images as diverse as the talent that produced them. We think they’re pretty incredible.”

Designing playing cards is a very different affair to designing a standard illustration, as FCB soon realised. While the team originally imagined a pack filled entirely with striking illustrations, the agency’s expanded plans for the game (which includes hosting live Queen Rules poker tournaments in partnership with Unibet on 8 March) meant numbers and suits had to be immediately visible – not just for players, but for casino cameras too.

“Croupiers and dealers are also understandably fussy about the feel, plasticity and how well the cards ‘slip’ as they are being shuffled,” explained Edwards, "not to mention the all-important ‘flight’ of the card – so that each one is perfectly weighted so as not to flip over while being dealt. It’s all surprisingly complicated.”

The intricacy of this design must be feel particularly poignant considering the entire idea sparked from a conversation with a five-year-old. Edward recalled playing with his daughter on a “remarkably forgettable October morning” when he pulled out a deck for a game of high card.

It was going well until she asked: “So what’s better, king or queen?”

“I knew the answer,” said Edwards. “We all know the answer: in cards, a king is always better than a queen. And although I obviously knew this, I didn’t like it. And it wasn’t something I wanted to teach my daughter. She should grow up believing she can be whatever she wants to be. In a world without gender inequality, pay gaps or glass ceiling. And this starts with the games we play at home.”

Queen Rules was born that day and has since spawned into a full-fledged campaign for International Women’s Day. Alongside the Queen Rules tournaments in London, Stockholm and Malta, a social experiment film, a online merchandise shop and a charitable partnership with He For She are all on the cards – so to speak.

FCB hopes the legacy will live on beyond the 8 March too.

“We’re in talks with Unibet to make the live tournaments a regular fixture on the world poker circuit, and it’s looking likely that we’ll be taking online too,” he says. “We really believe that Queen Rules is bigger than just cards and has the potential to get the conversation of gender bias on the table.

“Play really is a hugely powerful tool for change, so we shouldn’t underestimate the impact something like this can make.”

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