Friday, October 21, 2011

2011-2012 Upper Deck Parkhurst Champions Review

Another early season release from Upper Deck!  This time the focus is not on the current crop of NHL players... With Parkhurst Champions, Upper Deck combines bits and pieces of past products to create a set with tons of retro appeal.


Base Card Design -
The main set of Parhurst Champions comes in three forms - a basic card, wire photos, and renditions cards.  The basic cards in Parhurst are numbered from 1-100 and feature legends of the NHL.  You'll find players like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gordie Howe, and Basil McRae... yep... only the most household of names here!  haha.  Kidding aside, the players from 1-100 are great players - even though some may not be as familiar.

Upper Deck has given the base cards a fairly modern feel for such a retro themed set.  Each card is full of shiny gloss and features tasteful foil touches.  The cards are surrounded by a faded forest green border that reminds me a little of a fancy old mansion's furniture.  I have to say that I am not a fan of the border.  Tacky.  Yes, tacky is the word.  I think the base cards can't decide if they should be modern or retro, and end up being stuck in some sort of retro-modern middle ground.  They aren't terrible, but this design just doesn't resonate with me.


The backs of the cards are simple and feature full career stats.  They stick with the basics and don't add too much else.  Players with stat lines that don't fill up the entire card have a short informational paragraph written about them to fill out the rest of the backside.


Following the standard base cards are the wire photo cards.  These cards are inserted at a rate of about one in every five packs.  In my opinion, these are the gems of the entire set.  The wire photo cards are black and white photos set on an off white background.  A short description in old typewriter font is below each photo.  It was so exciting to pull these cards out of the packs.  Unlike the standard base cards, these ones hit you hard with the nostalgic retro feelings.  Upper Deck has done these RIGHT, and they are great cards to have.  Absolutely perfect for a set like this.


Finishing off the main set are the Renditions cards.  Both black and white as well as color versions are in the set.  These cards are reminiscent of the UD Masterpieces set that was release a few years back.  The cards show artistic renditions of the players.  Each card I've seen has been done in an elegant way.  I am surprised at how well the paintings nail specific moments or emotions.  The only qualm I have with these cards are distracting extra words and logos on the card.  I could do with a less cluttered front - like the wire photo cards - a more simple design would have worked better here.

Base Card Design Score:
8.5/10

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
The main draw of Parkhurst Champions are the autographs.  Upper Deck provides you with an awesome opportunity to pull on card autographs of legendary NHLers.  Each of the subsets (base cards, wire photos, and renditions) have autographed variations, and each type of autograph comes in a different tier of rarity.  A box will yield one to two autographs.  In the two boxes I have opened, one had just one auto, while the other had two.


The most basic autograph are the base card autographs.  Unlike Artifacts, these cards do not feature the sticker autograph - they are on card, a huge plus for this set.  The autographed base cards are very similar to the standard base card except that the foil on the front is in silver rather than gold.  And the back of the card has a congratulations message instead of career stats.  The base card autographs can be a little hard to see because there is not spot for the players to sign.  They just sign over the base card picture in blue ink.  With an already dark card, it is possible to even overlook the fact that a pack may contain an autograph.  But I'm sure most savvy collectors would catch them in their packs.


Wire photo and Renditions cards can also be found autographed.  Finding one of these cards in a box can be quite a challenge though.  According to the ratios stated on the Parkhurst box, the best odds of a wire photo autograph is 1:500.  Wow, that's pretty tough.  And yes, the ratios just get higher from there.  Pulling one of these cards is  an awesome treat though.  The autographed versions of these cards are stunning, and I am sure that collectors will clamor over these.  Some wire photo autographs even feature multiple player signings - how awesome is that?!?!?!?


Mini cards make a return in Parkhurst Champions.  Upper Deck has produced mini cards before in hockey as part of their Champs line.  The mini cards in Parkhurst are simply designed and look good.  I am not personally a big fan of mini cards only for the fact that they can be hard to store.  It's a fun concept though, and collectors can have fun trying to chase down all the different variations of the minis.  Minis come in all sorts of flavors - different colored backs, auto'd versions, short prints, and more.

And one last thing... the fine folk at Upper Deck have again chosen to insert redemption cards for fossil and ancient artifact cards.  They are pretty tough pulls.  I know that collectors have mixed feelings about these cards.  They can be fun, but the argument can be made they aren't really hockey related, so they are not necessary.  I'm on the fence about these cards.  I guess I wouldn't mind pulling one.  They are certainly unique.  But I wonder why UD chose to put these cards into this particular set.  I mean, what are they trying to say?  NHL legends... fossils... relics... hmmmmmmmmmm. Tsk tsk UD!

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
9/10

Overall Rating -
Parkhurst Champions comes at collectors with a strong showing of legendary NHL players.  From a product standpoint there are some really great aspects to these cards - the foremost being that collectors can get hard signed cards of some really great players.  Wire photos are also a good reason to get some of these cards for your hockey collection; they are one of my early season favorites in terms of design.

The only drawback I see in this set is the difficulty at which it is to pull the best of the best.  A box will cost around $75-$90 USD, and there is a good chance that there is only one autographed card in the box.  It can be very hit or miss.  Pack prices are pretty low, but again, only one of those twenty packs will yield an autograph or two.  Certainly a risk to weigh when buying Parkhurst Champions.

If you're into the NHL legends, I would recommend giving this product a try.  Perhaps a case would be in order.  For more casual collectors, buying a box or two to try out is a fun proposition that could snag you a sweet auto... or even a dinosaur bone!

Overall Rating:
8.5/10
(not an average)

Here's my box of 11/12 UD Parkhurst Champions:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011-2012 ITG Canada Vs. The World Review

This year I want to review more ITG products.  ITG is a legitimate player in the hockey card world even though they don't have an official NHL license.  They make great cards that are revered by some collectors.  I'll be very interested to see what they've got this hockey card season!


Insert Card Design -
The Canada Vs. The World (CvW) is a product similar to their Decades 1980's release.  The cards come in a box of 9 cards.  There is no regular base set as all the cards are regarded as 'hits'.  For the purposes of this review, I will review the non-autographed or game-used cards in this section and save the memorabilia cards for the next.

The first insert card I received in my box was from the 100 Years of Hockey Cards set.  These unique cards feature painted images of great hockey players from the past century.  They are made to resemble old tobacco style cards.  Unlike Topps and Upper Deck mini cards, these cards are not mini sized.  The cards are produced so that they are standard sized with the mini card image sitting within a baby blue border.  I like this decision by ITG because having a bunch of mini cards can be a pain in terms of care and storage.


The painted image on these cards look really nice.  The interpretation of the hockey sweater is especially well done.  These cards have a classiness to them in their simplicity.  ITG follows the old style of card information by only putting the player's first initial and last name on the card.  For popular players this is not really a problem... but for the card shown above, it was difficult to know who it was that I had exactly since I am not familiar with older Russian hockey players.  Luckily, I got a second card of the same player in my pack.


And here it is.  Unlike the previous card, this one features a photo of the player amidst a beige-gold background.  This card highlights Valeri Kharlamov and his role during the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.  The card contains a nice write up of his participation in the event on the back.  It's good information that's interesting since I know very little about the Summit Series.  Unfortunately, though the back has great information, the front design leaves a bit more to be desired.  Having the flags of the two nations is a nice touch, but the design of this card falls a bit flat and feels a bit dated.  To me, graphics have a mid 90's feel/quality to it.  If it were up to me (and obviously it isn't), I would have made the flag graphics quite a bit bigger, or simply used the flags as a backdrop rather than the graphics shown.  I just feel that the design could have been more bold.


My third and final insert cards is of Harry Watson.  Here we have a very simply designed card.  My feeling is that this card, and cards of this type are to here to present information to card collectors.  This card definitely increases my knowledge of hockey history by reading the back.  There is a wealth of knowledge to be had simply by reading the information.  I do think that from a design standpoint more could have been done to make the card more aesthetically pleasing.  One simple suggestion would be to add red foil where the name is and feature the ITG logo in foil.  That would definitely make for a more premium feeling card.  It may be difficult for companies to add foil to card though.  I've noticed that foil is not commonly used in low or mid level ITG products (and Panini for that matter).  Perhaps the cost would increase too much in terms of production.  Just a guess... I don't know!

Insert Card Design Score:
6.5/10

Game-Used/Autos -
Of all companies, ITG does the best job with their game-used cards.  ITG does a fabulous job in giving you specific information about the piece of cloth imbedded in the card.  And unlike Upper Deck or Panini, these cards do not come from events - they are from actual games that the featured player has played in.  Each pack of CvW will come with 4 jersey, patch, or equipment cards.


The Angela James card shown above reminds me most of the 'standard' ITG jersey card.  It has a familiar design if you buy ITG on a regular basis.  This card has been upgraded from a design standpoint though.  The colors chosen for it mesh very well together.  Having the red and black obviously represents Canada well, but the hint of gold on right hand side really takes the card up from a design standpoint.  The card is very sharp, clean, bright, and modern.  Kudos to ITG for upping their design edge here.


The International Goalies jersey card above is pretty different than the Angela James card.  Here the jersey cloth is in a circular cut-out, and has a very different color pallet that is appropriate for the country he represents.  CvW really nails the national theme and respects each country's colors.  I am sure that hockey fans all over the world would appreciate the work ITG has done to put some national pride into this card product.


This final jersey card comes from Swedish player Hakan Loob.  It features a vertically oriented design that mimics the shape of a gold medal.  I cannot say that I think this card is spectacular looking, but this is probably my favorite card in the pack that I bought.  The card just has a certain charm to it that I find endearing.  It's a fun design that shows ITG stretching its creativity, trying to come up with new things for collectors.

In terms of autographed cards, each box contains two.  The autographs featured players from Canada as well as the entire world.  You have the possibility of getting players that have retired, who have played for their home countries, and even current NHLers.


The Mike Green autographed card is typical of what you get in a box of CvW.  I really like that again ITG has gone full bore in decking out the card with national colors.  Here we see Green in his Team Canada jersey and his signature over a Canadian flag.  I am not fond of the background of the card, but it gets the job done.

Game-Used/Autos Score:
8/10

Overall Rating -
ITG's Canada Vs. The World is an interesting product that will give collectors a variety of content per box.  It is fun to open up a box and find a wealth of international themed cards.  Certainly there is star power to be found in boxes of CvW, but some collectors may not appreciate the variety as much as others.  I would say that for hockey collectors that enjoy Canadian themed products, this is certainly a winner and a must have.  For collectors who want rookies and other NHL stars, it would be a wise idea to wait for less specifically themed products from ITG or other card companies.  Overall, CvW is a strong product out of the ITG factory.  There's a concentrated shot of hits to be had at a reasonable price point.  It's just up to you to see if what's inside is your cup of tea.

Overall Rating:
8.5/10
(Not an average)

Check out my box of Canada Vs. The World!

2011-2012 Upper Deck Victory Review

It's been out for a while... sorry for the delay my faithful readers... but the review of 11/12 UD Victory is finally here!


Base Card Design -
The Victory base cards come at you with a crisp and bright design.  The cards make use of the team's colors to create a graphic background.  Each card has a white border that enhances the brightness of the base cards.  As in previous year's Victory sets, this set gives collector's a simple and extremely basic set of hockey cards.  The cards are nice in that they have a glossy and slick feel - no glitz or glam, but fun for extremely young collectors to buy and put together.  They sort of remind me of modern Topps baseball cards without all the inserts - they just have that same feel to it.  Too bad the base set really isn't that large.  It would have been nice to have a wide player selection for this lower (heh... lowest) end set.  I guess they saved all those players for O-Pee-Chee.


The backs of the cards are nicely done.  They give a complete set of statistics amongst a full color backdrop.  Probably my favorite thing about the Victory card backs is the little part under the player's name.  Here you will find how to pronounce the player's first and last name.  This is a GREAT feature for hockey cards!  I wish more sets would have this handy little tool.


The Victory rookie cards fill out the end of the Victory base set.  The design is slightly different than the standard base card, but doesn't stray too far from it.  They share the same white border and features the team's colors in the background graphics.  The word 'Rookie' is displayed above the player's name.  The images of the players are more tightly cropped inward than the regular base cards.  I like this look as it makes the player feel more prominent on the card.  Overall though, I think the rookie cards are too similar to the standard base.  They just don't have much that sets them apart from their base card brothers.

Base Card Design Score:
6.5/10

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos -
Inserts? Yes! Game-used cards or autographed cards? No!  Victory is just about as bare-bones as you can get with a release of hockey cards.  There are a few inserts to chase in Victory, but the thrill of getting a player signed card or piece of memorabilia is non-existent.


I guess in order to increase the amount of 'star' players you can get in Victory, Upper Deck decided to insert Stars of the Games into packs.  These insert cards have absolutely no difference in terms of feel from the base cards.  There is no textural difference... no foil... no extra thickness... nothing.  In fact, they share many of the same features as the standard base card.  It has the same glossy finish, white border, and matching team colors in the background.  I wish this was not an insert - there would be no difference in having this as a subset within the main base set.  Instead, getting one of these could take the spot of a rookie card.  And I'd much rather have the chance at a rookie card than one of these.


The Game Breakers insert is only slightly better than the Stars of the Game insert set.  These cards feature a horizontal look, but again they just add in the opportunity to pick up extra cards of NHL stars in packs.  I can't imagine anyone being too thrilled to get one of these other than a very young collector.  I remember that last year's Game Breakers design was actually pretty different from the standard white bordered card.  It featured a full-bleed border that made the cards stand out from all the other Victory cards.  No such luck with this year's crop of Game Breakers.  Unfortunate.


One major difference this with this year's Victory is the inclusion of MVP base cards and rookies.  MVP was Upper Deck's low end sets when it was the only maker of hockey cards a couple years ago.  MVP was a mildly collected set that offered some nicely designed cards, interesting inserts, and an opportunity to get game-used cards.  MVP was taken out of the UD line up last year, but now the base cards and rookies are back as inserts in Victory.  The MVP standard base cards are actually pretty good looking cards.  They feature action photos of the players and a faux gold foil autograph on the front.  The foil on the MVP base insert cards give the cards a great textured feel.  The use of golden and black tones actually make the MVP cards feel quite a bit more premium than the Victory cards.  It makes me wish UD chose to go with MVP as their low end set rather than Victory.


The best looking cards that you can get in Victory this year in my opinion are the MVP rookie cards.  These cards look absolutely stunning.  Having the entire card black gives the cards and aggressive feel.  The gold foil and scripted name look very classy.  I am absolutely loving what these cards look like, and I so wish that these cards were harder to chase so that their values would be more.  These cards come about 2 per hobby Victory box.  It makes me wonder if Upper Deck will release an MVP rookie of players like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in a future release.  I really hope so!


Lastly, Victory has 2 parallel version this year - the red and the black.  Gold is out.  Red bordered cards can only be found in special fat packs of Victory.  They are pretty abundant and finding your favorite player should not be too difficult.  I like the red border on the card; anything to take away the white border is a plus for me.  And again, black bordered Victory cards are extremely rare.  These cards come about one per case... good luck pulling the player you want from a pack.  And yea, finding your favorite player's Victory black card on eBay can be a challenge as well.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
6/10

Overall Rating -
Upper Deck certainly takes advantage of Victory's early release.  I guess people would buy Victory to get their hands on the first cards of the new hockey season, but I can't really see another reason for getting Victory.  For most collectors, Victory does not offer a whole lot.  A box of Victory will yield a big stack of base cards, some inserts, and some rookies.  There is a chance that the rookie card you want won't even be in the box you get.  I know because that happened to me with my box! &%$#@%!


My advice would be to look elsewhere for your hockey card fix.  OPC is already out and that product's price point isn't too much more than this one's.  Soon Panini's Score will come out, and it looks like that product (which has the same price point) will once again be head and shoulders more collectible than Victory.  Sorry to say, Victory needs to be re-booted and re-tooled if UD releases it again next year.

Overall Rating:
3/10
(Not an average)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

2011-2012 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee Review

One of the largest sets of the year has been released - it's O-Pee-Chee hockey!  Is bigger better? What can collectors find in this massive release?


Base Card Design -
This year's OPC base card is very pleasant to look it.  There does seem to be a lot going on at first glance, but the elements of the card work together so well that the card doesn't seem busy or overcrowded.  And I really like the baby blue border.  This light shade of blue softens up the card and helps impart a retro feel.  Though this card is definitely modern in design, the blue reminds me of vintage sets that used softer color pallets.  Upper Deck is obviously going for a retro feel with this brand, and they design geniuses over there were able to put that hint of vintage into these slick base cards.  The front of the cards have all the basic informational needs presented in a clean way.  The OPC brand is featured prominently above the player's name as well as in a slanted bar across the bottom of the card.  I love that slanted bar for some reason!  Very cool.  The photos are passable, but are not nearly as spectacular as those found in Upper Deck Series 1.


The backs of the OPC base cards are plain, but feature the required amount of statistical information.  Unlike many modern base cards, these do not feature any color or photos.  They share design elements more in common with their 1980's OPC brethren.  I do wish, however, that there was at least a little paragraph written about the player on the back.  This would have been a very time consuming undertaking for a set this size, but I think it would have been nice - especially for younger collectors who might take the time to examine their cards closely.


Similarly to Artifacts this year, OPC has subsets within the base set that feature the same design with a different color scheme.  The Marquee Legend subset features stars from the NHL's past.  The design is actually a vertical reverse of the standard base card.  Interesting.  But the color choice and logo just don't do it for me.  These cards seem a bit uninspired and boring.  The backs of the cards display the full statistical information of the player's career and look pretty much identical to the backs of the base cards.


The rookies share the same design as the Marquee Legends but have a livelier green color highlighting the cards.  The look is slightly better, but the overall design is still weak.  OPC rookie cards have never featured stellar designs, and the trend continues here.  The backs of the rookie cards are well done though.  The draft information about each rookie is prominently featured and there is a short write up about the player in both French and English.  Nice!

Base Card Design Score:
7.5/10

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos - 
OPC is a product that features the chance at getting autographed cards, game-used memorabilia cards, as well as a variety of inserts at a very nice price point.


One of the inserts this year is interesting because it is an extension of last year's set.  Last year Upper Deck was going to produce a stand alone update set featuring rookies that did not make it into 10/11 OPC.  That set got cancelled.  Instead, you can find those cards here in these packs  This is great for collector's who want as complete a set that you can get to add on to their set from last year.  Interestingly enough, you can also find the retro design from last year of these players as well.  I was surprised to pull one of last year's retro designs in my box.


Speaking of retro cards.  The retro parallel set is back... and it looks great!  These cards are extremely retro in design - they sort of look like old playing cards.  I have already heard collectors saying how much they enjoy the retro design this year.  The retro cards feature a simple star background with a black and white photo of the player on the front.  You will find the player's first initial and last name only on the front with no other information.  The backs are very sparse as well.  Very little information to be had there.  And if you're lucky, you may even get a blank back card - a card with literally no information or anything on the back.  The blank back cards provide a very challenging chase for collectors.  Upper Deck did not officially announce the blank back cards... but they are there!


As they did last year, Upper Deck also inserted foil parallel cards of the base set into packs.  There are both non-numbered and black bordered (#'d to 100) versions of these cards.  It's a nice looking rainbow foil.  These cards are not worth a huge amount of money, but can be easily collected and enjoyed by player collectors.


One of the nicest insert sets to come out of OPC this year are their In Action cards.  These are released annually, but are always good looking cards.  These cards feature the same foil as the foil parallels but with a different design.  The yellow border of these cards is particularly eye catching.  These cards come about one per box.  There are short printed versions of these cards that come about one in ten boxes.  The other inserts found in OPC come on standard card stock and feature things like team leaders and trophy winners.


Lastly, there is a chance to pull game-used as well as autographed cards from OPC boxes.  They are very difficult though.  Looking at the odds on the back of the packs shows you that you have to be extremely lucky to get one from a pack.  The autographs and memorabilia cards are nicely designed - they are neat and clean.  Getting a memorabilia or autograph card from a product like OPC is especially exciting because of these difficult odds.

Inserts/Game-Used/Autos Score:
8/10

Overall Rating -
At around or under $60 a box, O-Pee-Chee is a wonderful product to crack open.  It's one of the few products now that give the the opportunity to open a lot of packs out of a box - so many boxes now feature only a few packs within.  I found it fun to see all the retro cards and pull foil parallels from the packs.  It's definitely a product that can surprise you too.  There are fun things to find such as blank backs and tough autographs.  This is a product that collectors of all ages can enjoy.  I would not hesitate to recommend this year's OPC for purchase.  A very solid product this time around!

Overall Rating:
8.5/10
(not an average)


Watch me open up a box of 11/12 O-Pee-Chee Hockey!