Martian playing cards

Did you know that playing cards were invented as early as the 10th century? The first reference of playing cards was in Chinese literature, before they made their way over to Europe later in the 1370’s. Records of religious sermons from the 1400’s make reference to card games as a sinful gambling activity, and in particular, associations between card play and seduction became widespread. With the invention of woodblock printing in Germany in the 15th century, production was much less costly (originals were hand-painted and a plaything purely for the rich) and their social appeal grew and grew, as did development for new games.

Much of our early discussion when we started our projects revolved around what we would do for entertainment on Mars. You’re in for a LOT of down-time in space! I think an idea a lot of us get from sci-fi and movies is that a future on a different planet will look very hi-tech, with super- fast Wi-Fi and lots of little flashy buttons everywhere. But if we’re really talking about establishing a new community on a new planet, we’ll be going back to basics on a lot of things.

In lockdown, my boyfriend and I established a competitive evening routine of card games – we tried out so many and still religiously always carry a pack of cards to the pub. The lovely simplicity of sitting down to play a few hands was an easy and pleasant end to the day – and sharing games with wider groups of people is a wonderful way to build community.

I love the idea of card games on Mars. As well as being a sentimental link back to Earth, I think the Martian settlers will come up with new games and ways of playing as their own culture develops. This was important to bear in mind when making this set. Made using recycled cardboard and paper, once your cards start to fray and get grubby, you can turn them back into pulp and make new ones. They could be the same deck, or a new game altogether! The way these cards will evolve over the years is similar, I think, to what will happen to us on Mars – we’ll be gradually shaped by the years, by the new landscape, by the community and a new culture. Or maybe, a simple deck of cards won’t end up changing much at all – and will be conserved as a memory of our time back on Earth.

Making your own cards

You will need:

  • A mesh frame
  • A large container (I used a plastic planter – you can get these from a hardware shop)
  • Cardboard and paper – anything you have. Cardboard and thick paper produces much more hardwearing stuff!
  • A blender
  • Water

Step one

  • Cut or tear your paper and card into shreds. It doesn’t have to be neat – this is just so it will blend easily!

Step two

-Add to a blender with a good amount of water. Blend until very mushy and you can’t see any scraps of paper or card.

Step three

-Add your papery mush to your container. You’ll need to add some water as well to get it to the right sort of consistency.

Step four

-your mix should look like muddy water, with no visible clumps. Swish it around with your hand or a whisk to make sure it’s fully blended.

Step five

-Get the mesh frame (shallowest side up) in the water and swish around. This bit is the tricky part- you want to get the mixture as evenly spread as possible on the frame. I found that inserting the frame at a slight angle, picking up some of the mix on the way out, then turning it round and repeating gave me the best results.

Step six

You now have to wait for your paper to dry out. This could take up to 3 days – try and leave it in a warm spot and outside whilst it’s sunny to speed up the process.

Step seven

-When ready, the paper should feel completely dry to the touch. Don’t risk taking it off the frame before it’s ready – it won’t be strong enough and might break apart. When it’s ready, carefully and slowly peel from the frame, pressing from the other side to encourage it to come away.

Step eight

Time to make your cards! I made mine on Photoshop and printed them out on the smooth side of the paper, but you can hand draw if you prefer. For the templates, I used this website and made sure the backgrounds were transparent on all the cards before I printed. 

Cut them out and your cards are done! When they start to get grubby or floppy, follow the steps from the beginning to recycle them into new cards.

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