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Review: The Alleyman’s Tarot

So, back before Kickstarter imploded, it used to not only be where you could support your friend’s creepy children’s book or a new D&D campaign setting focusing on African myth with actual writers of African heritage or a reusable nylon bag that folds up into a little capsule, but also the place to find really cool, wild, creative Tarot decks; whether you wanted to tell your future, turn your inner eye inward or just support a cool project, you’d find the robot deck or pulp comic-book deck or million varieties of erotica decks for you, many of them gender-and-race inclusive and diverse and ambivalent and non-applicable, and I loved it. Then everything changed when the blockchain attacked, but the internet has been around long enough for us to have learned that it’s a question of when capitalism ruins something you love, not if. Sunrise, sunset, etc.

Fortunately, some things die of being too beautiful for this world before they can introduce their StrongBucks cryptocurrency and put the Decemberween toons behind a paywall.

All of that said, the last couple of things I backed on Kickstarter have taken the better part of two years to come to fruition for obvious reasons, but the Alleyman’s Tarot is the most belligerently weird, honest and unapologetic of the bunch, alongside the Literary Tarot was one of my most-anticipated projects due in no small part to the sheer scope of the thing, and was the single most successful Tarot project in Kickstarter’s history.
The concept is fairly simple: in the fiction of the deck (revealed in bites throughout the handbook and limited series podcast) this is a deck scrumbled together by a mysterious figure known as The Alleyman; in practice this is manifested by a deck of 137 cards (almost twice the standard Tarot count), with four booster packs (!!!) totaling 58 MORE cards, each and every one drawn from a different preexisting deck or created by an artist specifically and exclusively for this one. It is bonkers. It is a work of STAGGERING effort, detail and complexity and honestly following Seven through the production process has been a fascinating look at the actual day-to-day of conceiving and executing a project of this scale and intricacy, easily on par with the actual product and the in-world story to which it is a sibling. (See their interview on with Backerkit for more of the story of the logistics-side of things.)
Naturally it be easy for this review to become unwieldy; exhausting to read and to write, and with this in mind I will do my best to be brief but thorough, before the howlin’ frogs come a-callin’ for me.

The Skin

As I saw people on Twitter receiving theirs, I increasingly wondered what the actual arrival-package would look like considering that I’d ordered a fair chunk of the menu, and I was not disappointed, it was an absolute unit of a parcel. I don’t usually go for deluxe editions of crowdfunded projects but I’m glad I splurged here, because this wooden cigar-box is dead sexy and could, at need, hold other bric-a-brac, tchotchkes and miscellaneous whatnot that you accumulate as bonuses when you crowdfund projects like this, like reading-cloths and challenge coins (of which, despite my best efforts, I appear to be cultivating quite a crop), since the standard box is already quite handsome.
Let’s crack this baby open and take a look at:

The Gutbones

Slice this sucker open and there is some FUN stuff rattling around between those ribs:

Two copies of the handbook! For some reason! Some reason that I, for one, am prepared to unquestioningly accept; it is as the Alleyman wills it, so say we all. So here we see my order: a copy of the deck, guidebook (and twin), three booster packs and the reading-cloth. I spent a moment convinced that I had been goozled out of my fourth booster and challenge coin (I was not the only one; Seven has had to give it its own item in the FAQ), but realized immediately upon opening the deckbox proper that they’d simply made good use of that space. This also makes sense because, due to the overwhelming success of the campaign, every backer received Booster #4 and the coin free of charge as a thank-you bonus! What a thoughtful and not at all ominous gesture.
My only note–not even a complaint–is that the cloth is, momentarily bafflingly, one-sided; the obverse is just white cloth with a different texture that I imagine there’s a textile term for. It probably has something to do with how high-quality the front-facing side is, and I’m not disappointed or anything, I had just been expecting a more traditional double-sided bandana sort of thing that are frequently used as deck-wraps, but clearly this is designed with more of an altar-cloth application in mind, and in that sense is perfect.

Brief Sidebar On Challenge Coins:

What the hell are those about?

Five coins in two rows, two above, three below. Top row: a silver coin with the Bitcoin logo on and a yellow and blue coin with the face of an older presumable man, reading 'Friend of Desoto' and 'Fan of Special Conscience'
Below: a dull brassy coin with six intersecting circles around the circumference, intersecting in the middle to make a six-petaled flower; a shiny bronze or brass coin with a Doge-style shiba on it, and a dull bronze coin reading 'fate' and 17 *cent symbol*
Pictured: Some extremely expensive vending-machine fodder, and also a Bitcoin-coin and Dogecoin-coin my friend Autumn sent me as a prank, but jokes’s on them, I can whip these fuckin things at a goose later, make some #GooseChange

The Slices

And now we get to the main event: the deck itself, which, I will remind you, is 195 cards big and could easily stun an intruder or crush a poorly-bred grandchild if bound together with a rubber band, and that has always been my definition of great art. Naturally reviewing this presents a unique challenge; I’m not showing you every card because I’m gonna die one day, so I trust this carefully curated selection that definitely isn’t just the top few from the deck and each of the boosters provides you with, if not a comprehensive idea, at least a spiritually thorough one.

Are all of these to my taste, aesthetically or spiritually? Hell nah old sport, but that’s not the point, except in all the ways it is. The guidebook–to which we’ll get momentarily–explicitly tells us that the Alleyman himself expects us to add to, remove from and otherwise alter the deck to suit us better, for whatever definition of the term we decide, so it it would be perfectly possible to build a version of it that was entirely to your specific aesthetic and thematic tastes, but another theme–in Tarot as a whole and in this deck specifically–is that a deck that only shows or tells you things you like isn’t doing its job.

The Book Of The Alleyman

The comp-book format is perfect for purpose: in-fiction it purports to be the actual Alleyman’s record of his deck and adjacent thoughts, curated by Seven, the Publishing Goblin, who has included helpful notes clarifying and listing the origins of every card, some of which are from other decks that can be found and purchased, many of which are bespoke and unavailable anywhere else. It even includes the boosters, which is great if you have them and would be extremely cool and mysterious and confusing and kinda irritating if you didn’t, like any good Tarot reading, honestly.

I THINK WE CAN AGREE: a hell of a weird thing, and I love it completely. Proooobably not for personal use, if only because it’s full of nonstandard cards and like, dawgs, there’s 78 of them shits in a regular Tarot deck and I’m still learning those. But it’s the biggest, most involved crowdfunding whatsit I’ve ever been privileged enough to be a part of, and seeing it emerge as a project on that level, and as a logistical nightmare involving hundreds of artists and fistfighting the UPS guy, and as an in-world fiction, and finally as a real-world product has been a completely unique experience that I wouldn’t trade for all of the “normal” and “not so confusing confusing” and “less overtly threatening” decks in the world. I’m sorry to say that YOU CAN’T HAVE ONE, because it was designed from the beginning as a particular, limited, isolated–okay it’s actually pretty hilarious that I’m having to search find a synonym for ‘unique’ because I just used it, but that’s actually just about right, considering the topic. Although considering its absolute gutbuster success–again, most-funded Tarot project ever, cracked over a million goddamn dollars in support–Seven could definitely count on a reissue or second edition or hell, an expansion being financially viable, but for now, the Alleyman has lit out for the territories, leaving behind a seventeen-cent piece and the memory of a question.

–The Bageler

I should warn you I go to sleep

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