Betacantrips/ bits/ 8-bit-tarot

I got my deck of 8-Bit Tarot in the mail today; this post is to chronicle my first impressions. If you aren't in the mood, perhaps you will like these 8bit music videos (my favorites, for varying reasons, are "Video Computer System", "Total Control", and "L-V---SC-LD-RTH-ND--TH" -- I typically love YMCK but these videos aren't their best).

The 8-Bit Tarot, designed by Indigo Kelleigh and published on, fuses the vibrant, digital, and modern-retro aesthetic of 8-bit with the mysticism and tradition of tarot. The deck itself is $30; for comparison, a standard Rider-Waite deck will cost you about $12 on Amazon, and a Robin Wood deck $13-14. The deck is packed in a box made of thin cardboard, suitable for display but not for travel (at least by my own, somewhat destructive standards). The cards themselves are small, especially by tarot standards -- 2.5" by 3.5", or a little bit smaller than a playing card. "Standard" tarot cards are more like 3" by 5". You can get a sense of the art from the deck's homepage at Lunar Bistro. The cardstock is glossy, a little thin, but turns out to be quite stiff; due to the cards' size and stiffness, they are very difficult to shuffle.

A bit of background about tarot decks: the most well-known deck, the Rider-Waite deck, was designed in the early 1900s according to "traditional" tarot mysticism. Since then, there have been many other decks created by other people, most in the vein of the Rider-Waite deck -- the Robin Wood deck, which I typically use, is one of these, although somewhat more accessible. There are other "traditions" of tarot deck. The 8-Bit Tarot deck is more-or-less a reskin of the standard Rider-Waite deck. More information about all of this can be found at the Tarotpedia.

Now, for the cards themselves -- they're freakin' gorgeous. I don't usually care for Rider-Waite, but it really pops off the cards here. The art is cartoony and fun, even on traditionally negative cards like the Devil or the Tower. One annoyance is that the artist's initials, "ik", are on every card in the lower-right. This isn't unheard of for Tarot decks -- most cards in the Robin Wood deck are signed or initialed, but in a pixelated medium the initials are large and distracting.

The deck hews very very closely to the Rider-Waite designs. As a fan of the Robin Wood deck, I found this somewhat disappointing. A lot of the cards resonated more deeply with me in the Robin Wood deck -- I keep looking at the Five of Pentacles and thinking, "No, they're supposed to be lepers".

But it's not just that I prefer the conventions of the Robin Wood deck -- the 8-Bit Tarot deck had a real opportunity to push the envelope a lot more, and make something really innovative and 8-bit at its heart, instead of a new coat of paint on something old. However, if Mr. Kelleigh had chosen to go that route, we might have ended up with a gimmick-y "Mario Tarot" or something equally tasteless. It seems to me that leaning on the Rider-Waite deck makes the 8-Bit Tarot deck solid and authentic, but some 8-bit hardliners out there may feel that the use of lo-fi aesthetics in this deck is in fact quite gimmicky, particularly the use of suit icons at the top of each card ("[cup] X 4" for the Four of Cups, for example).

My biggest complaint is the quality of the cardstock. Just shuffling the cards is a real challenge. I had to resort to the old three-piles trick. By and large I'd say this deck is a solid piece of art and a completely valid tarot deck.

Blue Sky design by Jonas John.