Kickstarter: 7 Questions with Lee McKenzie of Kings and Crooks

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Kickstarter: 7 Questions with Lee McKenzie of Kings and Crooks

It's great to see Lee McKenzie back in the limelight with his long anticipated follow up to his hugely successful Empire deck. Lee's decided to continue the Empire theme with Empire Bloodlines now LIVE on Kickstarter!

With all the work that goes into a new project and campaign, Lee was still nice enough to spare a little time to give us some insight into Bloodlines and Kings and Crooks.

What was the inspiration of the Bloodlines design?
The original Empire was at the very core of the Bloodlines. I wanted them to be connected as a new deck in the series, but rather than just a new color, I wanted it to have a life of it's own too. To stand strong but still have the epic Empire spirit rushing wildly in it's veins. So you'll see some similar core elements from the original Empires, but tweaked and modified to incorporate a whole new design that surrounds them, which allows the deck to stay true to the Empire theme, but still offer a very fresh and bold look. After waiting almost a a year since the first one,  just a new color would have been a slap in the face to everyone.

Was the intention of your next deck always meant to be a “Continuation” on the Empire deck?
Yep. After the first Kickstarter, I felt like there was still a lot of room to take this concept further and evolve it into something just as bold but with a whole new appeal. With the originals now very rare to find, I wanted to spark life back into the Empire brand and have it around for a lot longer for more people to enjoy.

How much time has gone into the concept and creation of Bloodlines?
I've been working on and off on Empire Bloodlines since around September 2013, before it even had a name. The fulfilment and shipping of the first deck was 99% taken care of in December but there were a handful of folks missing addresses, damaged items, missing items and other things that dragged it out to much later. Combining that with developing and planning Kings & Crooks direction in the future and all the moving parts it would take, the artwork wasn't truly finished until about a month ago (even tho I was still tweaking until 2 days ago)! Creating the trailer for Empire Bloodlines was another huge undertaking, and although not absolutely necessary for a product, I love to try and bring people into the world I've created within the playing card design, using powerful stories, graphics and audio to give a real sense of what an Empire Bloodlines deck stands for. Plus, a little bit of entertainment is always nice.

This being your second Kickstarter project, are there things you learned from your 1st experience that will help the Bloodlines campaign, both behind the scenes and in rewards for backers?
Definitely. Having backers feel connected as part of the team and journey you're on was personally a very important for me to do. For example, wanted to thank each and every backer, so I did. I written out over 800 personal messages to every single backer who pledged. I received messages back from people thinking it was some kind of automated response! I wanted backers to know how much their contribution matters and that I appreciate it. However, doing that, as good intentioned as it was, took a huge amount of time, which could have been spent coming up with ways of adding more value for backers in other ways. This time, I'll be jumping where I can, as much as I can, but I now also know the importance of trying to find other ways to give more value to backers. Also, this time around I'm focusing on trying not to go insane dealing with the many plates in the air that running a campaign can be. Less stress, more focus and a relaxed approach will help me be able to serve people in a more effective way and less "reactionary", if that' even a word. When you spend all your time reacting and putting out small fires out everywhere, you miss the bigger picture.

Even since the Empire campaign, the Playing Card industry has exploded, what are your thoughts on where it’s at and where it could be headed?
I don't think it will stop any time soon. I remember Ellusionists Vintage 1800 , Tigers and Ghost Bicycle decks. They blew my mind and open doors in my imagination. Theory 11 with the Guardians too. Since Arcanes, one of the first non-Bicycle branded main stream custom decks, the card industry has been growing so fast. Interest in playing cards, magic, cardistry and gambling doesn't seem to ever stop either. And along with that will always be creative people wanting to contribute and be a part of something they enjoy. The tools and platforms will become more and more. However, as I have witnessed too, the amount of playing card ideas that just seem to lack heart and ability to execute what could have been a fantastic concept, is also on the increase. Anyone can be creative and I encourage everyone to step up and do their thing in their own way, but there's a huge difference between doing it in a way that is appealing to other people to enjoy and that really does justice to your idea, and doing it in a way that just adds to the existing noise in the market. If your aim is to sell your art, I believe you owe it to your idea and concept to execute it as well as possible, even if that means finding someone else to help you if you don't have the vision or skill. At the end of the day, it's all subjective and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which makes things seem like a level playing field. But If there's a certain level of quality out there that people have come to expect and you want to join the fun, do it in your own way but in the best way you can to really let your idea shine at full potential. If you have give it everything, with your heart on your sleeve and passion in your eyes, you can never go wrong, no matter what anyone says really. Results and opinions may differ but if you expressed it fully without holding back, and even if it didn't work out, you can never regret not taking the shot.

Can we expect to see more coming from Kings and Crooks in the coming year?
In a word, hell yeah. The original Empire, although a successful but extremely limited edition, hasn't quite allowed me the flexibility to progress as fast as I'd like. Being a one man show is hard, hard work. But you gotta love the grind, even the tough days. To know you still have the fire that drives you inside is all you need to take the next step. Then the next one. So when Empire 'Bloodlines' comes to a close, I hope it's successful. I hope we smash the funding goal, because every step that we do will help in progressing that little bit sooner to the next exciting step. I'm on Kings & Crooks full time, but to be able to make a full time living doing what I love takes work. 365 days to overnight success is probably a more accurate phrase in that sense. Step by step.

Can we expect to see the Empire Series continue to expand?
I'll never say never. But right now, I feel that after Empire 'Bloodlines' is out there, I'd like to get going on some ideas that have been burning in the back of my mind. I have ideas enough for the next 10 years, it's just a matter of how long it takes me until I can fully explore each idea and present it in the best way possible to everyone. Kings & Crooks exists for reasons beyond creating some of the finest playing cards you'll own. The Warrior Card Amour and the 'Hustler's Code' shirt on this Kickstarter are prime examples of that, and we're only just getting started.

Pledges for Empire Bloodlines start at $13.00 AUD and are available in Royal Blue and Emerald Green, not to mention you have got to check out the Warrior Card Armour, it's just awesome! Help Lee bring Bloodlines to life! BE A BACKER!

As always we would like to thank Lee for his time, we're sure your campaign goal will be met and the new Empire will be a reality! You can help support Lee's project Empire Bloodlines on Kickstarter as well as follow Lee on his website Kings and Crooks soon to be LIVE "Be part of a bolder breed of playing cards"
Kickstarter: 7 Questions with Lee McKenzie of Kings and Crooks Reviewed by highlite23 on 7/16/2014 Rating: 5


  1. The deck is so hot. Amazingly detailed and beautiful design. I love the card clip too (if I can even call it that). So badass! Sad I missed the original Empire campaign, but I supported the crap out of this one. Hopefully there are some awesome stretch goals soon!

  2. Amazing deck. Can't wait to get them.

  3. Anthony IngrassiaJuly 17, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    Do to Lee's site and register! When it opens it's doors in a month or so a limited supply of the original Empire decks should be available. I'm not sure of the numbers, but it's worth a try ;)

  4. Already did that. I hope to snag a few of the original when it opens!


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