By November 4, 2005

KEM Plastic Card Review

Growing up, I played a lot of cards. My family was particularly fond of hearts, but there were lots of times where my father and I, or my stepmother and I, would play Gin or Rummy or whatnot. High school was full of exciting and cerebral games such as “Egyptian Rat Fuck” and “Spit” and “Speed.” College saw the maturation of my card playing: spades games lasted well past reasonable hours, and thanks to my man Stilts I picked up how to play Cribbage and Pinochle.

In all of those years of card playing, there was always satisfaction in cracking open a fresh deck of cards. They shuffled so smoothly! We used to play our decks out — worn edges, gritty surfaces …. You could always tell when the 5 of clubs or whatever was in someone’s hand because the corner was dog-eared. Time to break out a new deck of cards, and the cycle would start all over again.

Stilts acquired a set of plastic playing cards at some point. We didn’t really use them because they were brittle — I think his family snapped a card during a particularly vigorous game of Pinochle — but the idea was intriguing. You see, plastic cards never got rough edges. Their corners never flopped over like a hound’s ear. Cards get grungy from the dining room table? With plastic cards, you can clean them up with mild soap and water. Beat that, paper cards!

KEM cards are available from some game retailers, but I found my modern deck at a paper/stationery store of all places. I bought some vintage cards (I have a deck from the 40s that you’ll see in a bit) on eBay. I bought the modern 2-deck set for around $25; the vintage decks ran from $15 for my Pinochle set to $30 I think for the two-deck set.

One thing about the KEM cards that I have is that they’re smaller than normal cards. At the risk of sounding ageist, I’m guessing the smaller cards were for the arthritis-stricken claws of the Gray Panthers — KEM cards were originally pushed to Bridge clubs as a cost saving measure.

The modern KEM deck is on the left, my vintage ones are on the right, and a common Bicycle card is in the center.

They’re not quite as wide as paper Bicycle cards:

As such, the faces are smaller than what I’m used to (KEM on the left):

Aside from that annoyance, which I’ve gotten used to, the KEM cards are great. They shuffle nicely — just as nicely as the first time we played with them. They are quieter, and make more of a slurfing sound than a shuffling sound. You know, slurrrrrrrrf. That’s how they go.

I have noticed with one of my vintage decks that the cards are curled. Lots of shuffling upside-down have helped a little bit, but I think the cards need to be put under a damp towel and ironed. I’m too lazy to do that. Stilts reports that older, much-played cards can become brittle and snap. I don’t know if the curling and snapping are due to extreme use or overhandling (perhaps someone was shuffling the vintage set Vegas dealer style by making a “C” with the deck). I guess I’ll have to wait 60 years to find out if my modern deck will hold up!

If you or someone you know really enjoys cards, then I’d say spring for a KEM set. They aren’t especially cost effective: I bought a dozen Bicycle decks at Costco for $13. You could buy almost two dozen decks of mediocre paper playing cards for the price of a KEM two-deck set. However, you’ll eventually lose that graceful, new-deck shuffle, and Uncle Maury will know you have the 5 of clubs. Plus if you stick with paper cards you’ll be Card Simple, and who the fuck wants to be boring?

You gotta know when to hold ’em

  • Extremely durable, washable plastic cards keep those games of strip poker going without interruption. From card trouble, anyway.
  • Smaller sized cards for all of your pals on oxygen.
  • Pretty backs you won’t find on plain-Jane paper cards, even the NASCAR Bicycle cards you can find at Food Lion don’t come close.

Know when to fold ’em (when to fooooold ’em)

  • May be too pricey for some (should make this a Gibberish macro)
  • Smaller sized cards may irritate your meat-handed pals.
  • Hard to find traditional-style (ala poker/casino) backs. The brown pattern you see on my modern deck is as close to “normal” as I could find. Again, this is a throwback to bridge players, who like pretty flowers, paisleys, and flying mallard ducks.

KEM Plastic Cards, I award thee:
Four out of five STFU mugs!

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2 Comments on "KEM Plastic Card Review"

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  1. configuratrix says:

    I want some!

  2. ca11away says:

    Little pricey for a pack of cards, though I guess the super card playing type might enjoy/notice the difference.

    Anytime I can get two dozen x for the prize of one y, well…you only live once (if you’re not Hindu).