Completing his journey through Tolkien’s trilogy, artist Jackson Robinson’s 52-card playing deck designed around The Return of the King allows fans to play Hold ‘Em with their favorite kings of Middle-earth. Robinson chats with us about finding fresh new ways to be creative with the most successful and standardized tabletop game of all time.

These officially licensed playing cards feature original artwork designed by Robinson, based on and inspired by the books of J.R.R. Tolkien. Like adaptations in other media, he has full access to every word in The Lord of the Rings books to draw original inspiration from. The first deck in the LOTR series, based on Fellowship of the Rings, became one of his most successful crowdfunds ever, with over 8,000 fans taking it over 3,000% its funding goal in 2022. A year later, The Two Towers similarly exploded in popularity. For this third set, a beautiful new wood box and display case for the whole trilogy of card packs has been created.

The Road Less Traveled and following a new career path

How does one start making official The Lord of the Rings cards? This all started with an idea and an artist’s hand. “I lived in Los Angeles for a few years and was an art director for a game studio, trying to get into that kind of Hollywood world via toy packaging. King Wild Project, my playing card thing, really kind of happened by accident. I had never thought about doing playing cards before in my life, and I did a playing card Kickstarter that was a deck of cards that looked like money, that was called the Federal 52. This was in 2013, and it kind of just blew up and fell in my lap. My wife and I were like, uh, what’s up with this? And so, it was literally, I’m gonna do this playing card thing until it breaks. I ended up quitting my full-time job to get started, and it hasn’t broke yet. My story kind of went in a different direction from where I thought I wanted to go, but I’m kind of glad that it did because I was able to kind of go on a path that there’s not very many people on right now. Even though the playing card world has kind of exploded over the past 10 years, it’s still a very small world, and a very small niche, and I get the freedom to kind of do what I want with it. The excitement is getting able to do what I want, in terms of being able to make the Lord of the Rings characters!”

Robinson’s company Kings Wild Project has since worked with Brandon Sanderson’s MISTBORN, Frank Frazetta’s estate, and created original playing card decks around other fun themes like the Founding Fathers and Arthurian legends. “Illuminated manuscripts is a big influence for me. A lot of my decks are based on classic literature so anytime I do a classic literature deck, I try to pair up the card style with a kind of art style that could have been around the same time period. So I did a deck of cards called the Arthurian, which is the King Arthur legend, and it’s in the style of the Book of the Kells.”

Even the lettering and fonts are all original, including The Lord of the Rings title on the card box. “All the artwork, from every letter to every line, that’s all artwork that I do myself. I do have an incredible crew of about four people that work for me that have been with me the past few years. They’re a great crew, but the artwork is all stuff that I do.”

More than just 52 card decks

Robinson is partnering with Shire Post Mint for buttons and a black walnut box adornment. “Something that’s brand new that we haven’t done before is for people that play poker, blackjack or whatever, they have this dealer button or card cover. It’s basically something that you put over your cards to signify to the dealer that you don’t want to take a hit or you don’t want any more cards, or it also signifies that this person’s the dealer as that dealer button travels. We call it the dealer medallion and it weighs close to half a pound.”

Another option in this kickstarter is a tabletop puzzle. “We’ve done a jigsaw puzzle for each deck. We have a Fellowship puzzle, The Two Towers puzzle, and now the Return of the King puzzle. Because this is the third deck in the series, there’s a lot of things that are kind of like the best-of, all-star thing. It doesn’t just have the Return of the King characters on the puzzle, it has all of the cards from all three decks. Plus our jigsaw puzzles are two sided, so there’s usually a photo of the playing cards spread out over a table to assemble.”

Because these cards are made with the book license from Middle-earth Enterprises, there was a bit of a challenge to avoid hewing too close to the popular movies. “If Legolas starts to look like Orlando Bloom a little bit, we need to bring it back. Or looking at that little description of the eye ringed in flame, I was just kind of pulling on what the text said. Apart from the big eye on the top of the tower or that iconic helmet from the movies, it felt like I can’t put spikes on anything that’s gonna go straight up or it’s gonna look like the movies. So, that was fun, but it was also nerve-wracking.”

For the first time, we can reveal these officially licensed Middle-earth National Park patches designed by Robinson.

Telling a story through materials

It’s not just character designs that are considered. There are gorgeous borders, pips, filigree, and ornate details everywhere, on every card. “Going back to the storytelling aspect of it, that’s something that I’ve tried to do. Going beyond not just portraying the character, but also trying to tell a kind of a meaningful story throughout. In the Fellowship of the Ring deck, the borders were all themed based on a season. Spring, Winter, Summer, Fall. The Two Towers borders were based on elements like fire, water, wind, and earth. Now, with Return of the King, they’re all based on metals. Mithril, which is the spade border; Iron, that’s the clubs; Gold, the hearts. It builds on the cohesiveness of it actually being a functional deck of playing cards where the spades are all this kind of red background with this ironwork, and the diamonds are all this to help to tell a story, but it gives more layers of storytelling.”

The Lord of the Rings cards come in standard printing and foil printing, which also includes gilding of the side edges of the card. Check out everything and discover more details here.

Watch the hour long interview with Jackson Robinson on his The Lord of the Rings cards below: