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Kickstarter: 7 Questions with Matt Drake of Plugged Nickel Playing Cards

The Plugged Nickel Playing Cards is a fully custom deck inspired by a love of the Old West, and pull from some of the colorful characters of that time- the gambler, the outlaw, the sheriff and the prospector. The only thing is... they are all dead!

Designed by Matt Drake of Vixen Tor Games, this unique and cool set of playing cards will truly stand out in your collection and will surely be a talking point among your friends, family and guests at your poker nights.

Matt was nice enough to have a chat with us about his design background, ninja turtles,  the inspiration behind the Plugged Nickel deck, the playing card community and his thoughts on crowd-funding.

Can you tell us about yourself and what is your design background?
I grew up on comic books and spaghetti westerns. I used to spend hours drawing barbarians and comic book heroes, dragons and zombies, and no small number of teenage mutant ninja turtles. I played a ludicrous amount of Dungeons & Dragons, watched Saturday morning cartoons, and otherwise was pretty much that nerdy kid who smuggled comics into class and pretending to be following along when he was actually reading Spider-Man. And I never really grew out of that - I just got a job and then I could afford better toys.

When I was in high school, I was just certain that I would grow and draw comic books for a living. Problem is, comic book artists can have a heck of a time paying their mortgages, so I went into graphic design. That turned out to be a great idea, because I was good at it and I loved it. I’ve been doing design, mostly print but a lot of web, for more than 15 years now. Not that doing something a long time makes you automatically good at it, but by now I do know how to set up a file to send to a print vendor.

Plugged Nickel Playing Cards is your first Kickstarter Project. Why Kickstarter?
When I started designing the deck, it was just a creative exercise. I come up with ideas all the time, just to experiment with them – I’ll write a short story, then design a vinyl toy, then make a dice tower out of plywood before I design a poster with a lot of hand-lettering. Most of the time, I give them a shot and put them away afterward. Chalk it up to a lesson learned, and try something new.

I was about half done with the Plugged Nickel cards when I happened across some Albino Dragon cards on Kickstarter while cruising through tabletop games. I was intrigued. It looked like there was actually a market for these cards, and after seeing some really amazing decks, I thought I would try my hand at it. I didn’t mean for the Plugged Nickel Playing Cards to be a profitable venture when I started, but when I showed a few to some friends, they said I should definitely put them up on Kickstarter.

Honestly, I never even considered another crowdfunding venue. I like Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing fundraising plan, and when you’re talking playing cards, ‘crowdfunding’ means ‘Kickstarter.’ I certainly didn’t have the money to have these cards printed myself, and even if I did, Kickstarter is a great proving ground. It’s almost accelerated evolution, survival of the fittest proven in 30 days or less.

What is your inspiration behind the Plugged Nickel Playing Cards? How did you come up with the idea?
Well, like I said, I love old westerns, particularly Clint Eastwood and The Man With No Name. I also used to play a lot of Deadlands, a role-playing game about the Old West if it had an awful lot of monsters. And as a kid, I used to love those old Iron Maiden posters, with their creepy undead mascot. Skeleton cowboys sounded, well, bad-ass, so I tried a few. And the more I tried, the more I liked it.

This next part is probably kind of dark, but it explains where my head was at on the barbed wire. See, skeleton cowboys had to be cursed or something. Otherwise they would just lie there, and they wouldn’t carry guns or whips or hickory axe handles. So in my head, in the dark place where those old EC Comics still rattle around from when I was ten, I figure they’re bound up with something horrible that keeps them from staying in Boot Hill. Real playing cards have these lines dividing up the face cards; I just wrapped up my cursed skeleton cowboys in barbed wire to replace those clean lines. There’s nothing clean about being an undead gunslinger.

Once I decided to do skeleton cowboys, I had to find Old West archetypes for the face cards. The sheriff, the gambler, the cavalry officer and the preacher made sense as kings. The preacher is the king of clubs, because I knew I wanted to give him an axe handle. Someone had to shove a sword through his head, so the cavalry officer made sense there. The queens were similarly cast – the fresh-faced cowgirl became the queen of hearts, the farmer’s wife was the queen of spades (get it? like shovels?), the soiled dove was the queen of diamonds, and the teacher was the queen of clubs. I actually drew the first queen of clubs carrying a paddle. Jacks followed in the same vein, an outlaw sporting dynamite, a union soldier, a cowpoke and a prospector. Obviously, the prospector was spades. I mean, obviously.

I also got a little inspiration from the old Eagles song, Desperado. That song went through my head non-stop while I was drawing the queens. ‘Don’t you draw the queen of diamonds, boy, she’ll hurt you if she’s able.’ Not that the queen of hearts is much better in this deck.

Finally, traditional cards were the springboard for the whole thing. I drew every one of the cards with its traditional counterpart sitting on the table next to me. I tried to recreate those traditional elements, but with some cursed cowboy twists. For instance, there’s a little arrowhead thing that appears on a lot of the cards; if you look on my cards, you’ll see I replaced them with bullets. I also took into account the face hair – every king has a beard, but not all of them have mustaches. Only two of the jacks have mustaches, and none have beards. The queens needed hair, though, so they got it, even though all the male courts are bald up top. I did give them all hats, though. Basically, if you really know the face cards, I wanted you to be able to tell which of my undead sodbusters was supposed to be which suit, even without the letters and pips.

How much time did you spend working on the deck?
I started in March of last year. My first drawings were sketches I doodled in the margins while I was in meetings at work, but they took hold. I tried a few passes at doing them on the computer, but skeleton gunslingers ought to be hand-drawn, if you ask me. Clean vector lines don’t say ‘cursed to walk the earth’ to me. I drew most of the face cards in about two months, and then looked at them and wanted them to be a lot better. So I started over from scratch, and drew the batch you see now. The second round took a lot longer, since I was drawing them larger and adding a whole lot more detail. Plus I drew every one with the traditional version at hand, which added a tremendous amount of time. If this were my day job, I would have been fired. I took way too long, because I wasn’t going to stop until I was happy with the results.

I actually put the finishing touches on the last few cards around the middle of December. By this time, I was seriously considering a Kickstarter, but I wanted to have my ducks in a row before I started. I shopped around for coins, dice, and card boxes, trying to find the people who could deliver just what I had in mind. I ordered a couple prints to see what they would look like before I offered them to backers. I built the VixenTor Games website. I researched shipping costs, and looked at other successful Kickstarter projects to see what they did right. The cards themselves were done two months before I started the Kickstarter.

We initially noticed Plugged Nickel Playing Cards on the forums. What do you think of the playing card community?
To be perfectly honest, I’m not a playing card guy. I like playing cards. I like buying cool decks. But I can barely follow along on many of the conversations. Before I joined the forums, ‘indicia’ meant the post office info I stick in the corner of direct-mail postcards. There’s so much to understand, and a lot to learn if you want to be a serious collector. I am so not a serious collector. Really, I mostly feel far out of my depth.

That said, though, I have enjoyed many of the conversations I’ve had, both at United Cardists and The Discourse. Several people have been very friendly, and the feedback as been honest and useful. I particularly want to thank Don Boyer, who has been willing to offer great advice and suggestions. I’m really very lucky to have found the forums, and have quite enjoyed expanding my world. I just wish I had found them last summer, to be honest. I would have loved to have the chance to post up the designs as I was putting them together.

What are your thoughts about the continuous strong growth of playing card projects on Kickstarter?
I honestly can’t say a whole lot here. I just started buying Kickstarter decks last fall. I have seen more and more appear all the time, and your numbers make it pretty clear that it’s not just my perception – the market really is booming. I think anything that allows an artist more access to people who would like his work is a step in the right direction. There is more awareness of the feasibility of playing cards as an art form, and that means more variety in cool decks. I have yet to back a project that failed, and I’ve received every deck I pledged for, not counting the ones that aren’t due yet, so for now, all those playing card decks are sunshine and roses. I love seeing some of the more imaginative decks, and I’m delighted that someone is finally making a deck with dragons on it. The D&D nerd in me can’t wait to grab a deck of those, even if I have no idea what books they’re based on.

Finally, what are your favourite playing card decks? 
Way before I started considering playing cards as collectibles, I used to buy cool decks just because I liked cool decks. My favorite was one that was a reprint of a Jack Daniels deck from around the turn of the century. It was printed on regular playing card stock, but it looked authentically old-school. We wore that one out playing Deadlands.

I also had a deck with pirates on it. It came with a gold doubloon as a dealer’s coin, and the back had a skull & crossbones. We played a whole lot of poker with those cards. Problem was, they were black all the way to the edges, so after a few dozen plays, they were all chipped and scuffed and fingerprinted. I lost that deck and the Jack Daniels deck in a house fire a couple years ago, but I miss them.

Since I just started buying decks off Kickstarter last year, I missed a lot of the really neat stuff that came out before then. I did manage to come in on the tail end of the second Federal 52, though, and at the risk of sounding like a total fanboy, that is one gorgeous deck of cards. Better yet, Jackson knows enough not to mess with the pips. My Evolution deck looks neat, but you can’t tell what card you’re playing. After a couple games of Hearts with a variety of decks I’ve picked up, that Federal 52 is the only deck we want to use.

But just today, I got the mail and my Sentinels deck from Theory11 was waiting for me. Mind you, I haven’t busted them out to play cards yet, but that is a dead-sexy deck of cards. The pips are easy to read, the designs are simple and sleek, and the cards feel like a million bucks (except not actual bucks, because real money always sticks together). They haven’t replaced the Federal 52 as my favorite yet, but they’re damned close.

Thank you for your time Matt and all the best! Oh... I love your tabletop games review blog, Drake's Flames. Very entertaining! ^_^

The Plugged Nickel Playing Cards will be available in two editions: the rusted tin, a dark background reminiscent of the decay you might see in the remains of an old ghost town. and the wanted poster edition which features a light background, like the rough paper once used to warn law-abiding citizens of the presence of unwanted outlaws.

Printed by the USPCC, pledge starts from $12 and there are multiple add-ons available such as card box (awesome!), poster prints, dealer coin, uncut sheets and a pair of dice.

Kickstarter: 7 Questions with Matt Drake of Plugged Nickel Playing Cards Reviewed by Ivan on 3/02/2014 Rating: 5


  1. Where can I get these??????

  2. April, here's the link:


  3. Thank you! :-)

  4. I have a question.. if I pledge the 12 +9 for shipping that the price I pay for the deck or is that just part of the price?


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