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Pictorial Review: Legends Playing Card Company - Legendary playing cards

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EndersGame

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LEGENDS PLAYING CARD COMPANY

I'm on a bit of a kick collecting playing cards, and this is proving to be somewhat of an addictive business, especially there are so many stunning decks available.  While cruising the internet in search of beautiful playing cards, I kept coming across mention of "Legends Playing Card Company", as a publisher of very high quality playing cards, arguably of a higher standard than those produced by US Playing Card Company.  With a bit more research, I discovered that they are based in Asia, and run by an American who is committed to the very highest standards of excellence.  The collection of playing cards available from their website features decks that are nothing short of spectacular quality.

So who is behind all of this?  Meet Lawrence Sullivan, an American magician who grew up in Asia, and works in Hong Kong:



Lawrence Sullivan

After mastering his first card trick at age 7, Lawrence has enjoyed a successful career over several decades in close-up magic.  As testament to his success and credentials, he has performed for Michael Jordan, Snoop Dogg, David Beckham, Rihanna, Jackie Chan, and even President George Bush.  That's the kind of list that would look good on any magician's resume!  You can see him perform  in an MTV Asia video here, and there are also more performance videos here.  Called by some "the Magic Man of Hong Kong", he was also featured as the speaker for a TED Talk on the great topic of "The Magic of Connection", which you can check out here.

Legends Playing Cards

So what is the connection between a magician with playing cards, aside from the fact that decks of cards are typically the tools of the trade for many magicians.  Well in 2013 Lawrence decided to establish the Legends Playing Card Company.  With a lifetime of card handling experience behind him, and equipped with a variety of skills learned from travelling and magic, Lawrence decided to put his multilingual skills and knowledge of product sourcing to work by forming a new company that would raise the bar of the standards of a deck of playing cards.  He's a perfectionist, and from my perspective as a consumer and gamer, it's good news that the guy making decks of cards for us is absolutely committed to the standards of perfection!

Lawrence started at the beginning, which required immersing himself in the history of playing cards, and studying the development of the manufacturing process.  Right from the outset, he was on a mission to print the absolute best rather than the cheapest product, and he wanted to know everything that could affect card quality - humidity, equipment settings, coating, and more.

The #852 deck

When Legends released its "Legends #852" deck of playing cards, it was an instant success. The initial print run of over 10,000 sold out in a matter of days, with collectors, magicians, and poker players all clamouring to get a copy. It featured artwork by Mark Stutzman, well-known for his successful work with David Blaine’s posters and decks of cards, and was produced in collaboration with Bill Kalush, from Expert Playing Card Company.  Here's Lawrence's own words about some of the factors that contributed to the success of this deck, and how it came about: "Growing up in Asia allowed me to source the Legends #852 factory in Taiwan and work with them extensively before printing the first Legends #852 run. Later down the road I shared the factory information with Bill Kalush, who started Expert Playing Card Company. Blaine and Stutzman helped with the design / artwork side of the first deck."



Custom decks

From here, Legends went onwards and upwards. The company now branched out to produce a series of custom decks, by combining with other illustrators who would create original artwork for them.  The Legends brand has continued to expand, and now produces playing cards for a variety of high end clients who want a quality product.  Drawing on the resources and expertise developed from printing their own decks of playing cards, Legends Playing Cards creates quality playing cards for any customer who wants to produce a custom deck of cards.  In addition to a range of paper types, options include elegant additions on the tuck boxes, including foil accents, pearlescent or white coated tuck box paper, and foil lamination on the tuck interior. Their range of options also includes hot stamped foil on the card backs, and the company recently achieved a unique first by experimenting with embroidery on the tuck box!  I've seen this first hand, and it is certainly very novel and impressive.

Paper types

For their print customers, Legends offers four types of paper/finishes, which it describes as follows:
- Diamond Finish - Hard flex, thin paper. Over 5x as long lasting as Bicycle Air-Cushion Finish. Embossed similar to "Air Cushion Finish" with our super smooth 'Diamond Cut' edges.
- Classic Finish - Softer and papery feeling, embossed similar to "Air Cushion Finish" with our super smooth 'Diamond Cut' edges.
- Elite Finish - Similar to Classic Finish, with a different embossing pattern on the cards, with our super smooth 'Diamond Cut' edges.
- Emerald Finish  - Hard-medium flex, thin paper, with a slick coating. Casino-cut edges.
I'll cover some points about the differences in my conclusions, but I will say already now that the handling and quality of the decks featuring their Diamond Finish and their Classic Finish is outstanding.

Accessories

Legends has also been adding luxury playing card accessories to their catalogue.  These include luxury card clips, premium card wallets, and portfolios.

Competition

In the world of playing cards, there are some big names that publish and produce custom cards.  Perhaps the most well-known is US Playing Card Company, which produces the Bicycle brand and several other well-known brands like Bee and Tally Ho.  Many people producing large volumes of decks of playing cards choose to go with USCC, simply because it is located in the US and has an established reputation.  Of the competition, Legends Playing Cards is arguably one of the front runners.  Together with Expert Playing Cards, they use a factory in Taiwan to produce their decks, with a quality that rivals the best that USPCC can offer, and sometimes exceeds it. It's little wonder that in recent years some publishers are choosing to publish with Legends rather than with USPCC.



QUALITY PLAYING CARDS

So why produce playing cards?  Lawrence Sullivan conceived the Legends Playing Card Company as his answer to the frustration experienced with many "premium" brands of playing cards, many of which were poorly cut and sub-par quality.  Some of this frustration was a result of his own experience with playing cards as a magician.  And so began a mission to create something better than what was currently on the market.  So what are some of the elements that Legends believes are essential to a quality deck of playing cards?

1. Quality design

The first criteria for a quality deck is a good design.  The aim of the original #852 deck created by Legends was to be bold, yet filled with detail rather than resorting to minimalism.  To accomplish this, it combined a classically ornate look with modern elegance, blending the best of Asian and Western mythology. Talented American artist Mark Stutzman gets credit here for the actual design.  In subsequent projects, Lawrence has only wanted to partner with gifted designers and creators who share his commitment to excellence in card design.



2. Quality details

 The commitment to quality is evident in small details of a deck, such as the design of the tuck case (typically with die cut elements, embossing, and foil accents), right down to the perforated stamp seal that is printed with fine detail.



3. Quality paper

 The paper is also important.  Lawrence is constantly experimenting with new paper stock and tweaking production, wanting nothing but the highest standards.  A wide range of paper stocks is offered, ranging from stiff and durable to soft and flexible, thus making playing cards that are suitable for all types of card handlers, e.g. magicians to poker players to flourishers / cardistry fans.​  I corresponded with Lawrence to find out more information about this, and he is particularly proud of the quality of his paper stock and of his card cutting technique, which he has worked years to perfect. The result is that the edges of Legends' "Diamond Cut" are buffed smoother than a typical Bicycle deck, as shown here with the Bicycle deck on the left and the Legends deck on the right.



When I first heard about this, I found it hard to believe, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that you can instantly feel the difference with  Legends deck - when I ran my fingers over a new deck, I could immediately tell that it was super smooth.  A family member of mine who is an advanced hobbyist with playing cards, could actually distinguish a Legends deck from a USPCC deck behind his back, simply by the much smoother cut of the cards!

4. Quality finish

To assist in handling a deck, the finish applied to a deck of cards is critical.  Lawrence strives for a consistent formula that creates a coating which enables cards to be easily spread, and yet not so slippery that shuffling becomes difficult.  As a result, in my experience they do handle beautifully, and just as you'd expect.



5. Quality manufacturing

 Finally, it's essential to have reliable manufacturers, who share Lawrence's vision for perfection and quality, are willing to learn new techniques, and ensure that high standards are maintained throughout the entire production process.  As a result, Legends is not afraid to print cards outside the USA, wanting to source printers based on merit rather than geography.  They have partnered with new card factory in Taipei, Taiwan, which had previously established a good reputation through printing high quality cards for Asian casinos.



BEAUTIFUL PLAYING CARDS

Legends' boss Lawrence Sullivan also has very definite ideas about what makes an aesthetically beautiful deck of playing cards.  In his view, there are two critical factors:

1. Balance

Balance is very important, and this is especially true of the art on a card back.  A card should have visual appeal even from a distance, and should be easily recognizable and memorable in a bold way.  This quality has led to the success of big names like Bicycle and Bee, and it's a quality that Legends seeks to emulate in their home grown products.

This is the reason why Lawrence opted for a distinctive diamond shaped theme with his Legends #852 deck, thus creating an immediately recognizable shape.



2. Detail

While have an immediately noticeable balance and boldness, a playing card should also reward a person who is drawn in by these qualities, and exhibits fine detail that emerges upon close examination.  Again the Bicycle deck serves as a good model here: it features two dark symmetrical circles as the main design, but close study of the details reveals an angel riding the bicycle.

In the case of his own #852 deck, the back design meets both criteria. Not only is there the strong and easily recognizable diamond shape, but closer examination of Mark Stutzman's intricate illustration will show other details such as dragons, a deer, wild boar, snake, and helmet.



CONCLUSIONS

For most people, the benchmark of quality is a deck produced by US Playing Card Company.  However Lawrence Sullivan of Legends Playing Cards is convinced that the outcome of the process he uses to produce his decks is a quality of a standard even higher than US Playing Card Company produced decks.  You'll find that reviews of the Legends cards bear this out, and are consistently very positive.  I know someone who is very experienced with playing cards, and who uses them constantly for card magic and cardistry.   Until now he has almost exclusively used USPCC Bicycle cards, so I was very curious to get his impressions on the Legends decks.  He gave them a good work out and was very impressed, and the positive observations that follow have the benefit of his input and expertise on the subject.

Finish types

The word "finish" is often used and meant in different ways. Technically it does not refer to the coating that is applied to a card at the end of the printing process, but rather to the texture of the card's surface, which can be either smooth or embossed (i.e. dimpled, to create an "air cushion" that makes the cards slide optimally).  When embossed, this can be done to different depths and with different patterns.  Legends offers four different "finishes", which are really different combinations of paper stock and embossing.  Their paper stock comes pre-embossed from overseas suppliers, and the main differences between their "finishes" has to do with the type of paper and embossing used.  Some of these finishes are identical to the ones offered by Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC), despite different names given to them, because these two companies do collaborate at times, and often use the same factory in Taiwan:
Diamond Finish (=EPCC's Master finish) - This is the thinnest paper stock, but is very hardy and durable.  The embossing is similar to Bicycle's "Air Cushion Finish".  It is the thinnest and least-embossed, and this makes it feel somewhat plastic-like, but it is also the longest lasting.
Classic Finish (=EPCC's Classic finish) - This is a thicker paper stock, which feels softer and more papery.  The embossing is also similar to Bicycle's "Air Cushion Finish".  Of all four finishes, this has an overall feel that is closest to a Bicycle type deck.
Elite Finish  (=EPCC's Damask finish) - This uses a similar paper stock to the Classic Finish, but uses a different and deeper embossing pattern on the cards, making them feel softer.
Emerald Finish  - This has a similar feel to the Diamond Finish, and is made from thin paper stock with minimal embossing, and a slick coating. Unlike the other three finishes, this is produced in a factory in China rather than Taiwan, and has standard Casino-cut edges rather than the superior Diamond Cut used for the other three finishes.
Of these four, the two that are the most commonly used are the Diamond Finish and the Classic Finish; personally I have a slight preference for the latter, but that might change over time.

Card quality

Even though the card-stock of the Legends' decks is slightly thinner than standard Bicycle stock, they have a very strong paper that doesn't seem to be any less durable than other decks.  This is especially true of the Diamond Finish cards. While they feel thinner and more snappy than most most playing cards, they are also incredibly durable.  There's an immediate sense that they can handle a lot of wear and tear, to the point that they almost seem to be made out of plastic.  Perhaps that's the reason why some designers prefer the Classic Finish over the Diamond Finish, because the Classic Finish is slightly thicker, and has an overall feel that more closer approximates the feel of typical Bicycle deck from USPCC, while still handling better than a standard Bicycle deck.  With both finishes, there's an initial stiffness that ensures that the deck actually improves in its handling as it is broken in.  The cards and hold their shape well, and have a beautiful snap, especially noticeable when springing, which is far more satisfying and smooth with this deck than a Bicycle deck!  While they have a real spring to them, at the same time the cards still fan beautifully and spread very evenly.  That's because the card surface is embossed with tiny dimples to ensure just the right level of friction, and the finish ensures good handling for shuffling and fanning.  The cards are less slippery than usual, ensuring that they don't slide over each other too much during shuffling, and they also packet well for cardistry.  In other words, the handling is superb all round.  I could find no fault with either the Diamond or Classic finish, but can't really comment on the Elite or Emerald finish, since I don't really have enough experience with those.

Card cut

As for the cut of the cards, it's precisely what Lawrence Sullivan has aimed for with all the finishes: beautiful clean edges that are second to none, and a consistent border which can be thinner than usual due to the precision printing process. The fact that they have smoother edges than Bicycle cards is immediately noticeable when taking them out the box the first time. We were very impressed with this step up in quality, when compared with a regular Bicycle deck. The card expert I consulted observed that even though the Classic finish felt more akin to a Bicycle deck from USPCC than the Diamond finish did, the Legends decks performed better than the USPCC decks because of the much smoother cut, which made maneuvers like a perfect faro far easier and smooth. Legends decks are all given a "traditional cut" (face to back) rather than the "modern cut" (back to face) used by USPCC, and that also makes the Legends decks better for doing a weave/faro shuffle straight out of the box, without needing to be worn in first - card experts prefer the traditional cut for this reason.

Card printing

The precision printing used by Legends allows them to use narrower borders than normal, which gives a greater range of options for designers, and also can produce a classier look. While a web press is preferred by USPCC for the sake of efficiency and speed when doing higher-volume print runs of many thousands, Legends only uses a sheet-fed press (which USPCC also uses for smaller print runs), which gives greater precision in printing and cutting. As best as I can tell in the decks I own, the printing registration is consistently crisp and bold. The only issue I noticed with printing was with a deck that had all black cards (Don Quixote Vol 1), and seemed to have some white marks and spots on every card, which detracted somewhat from the overall look once you noticed it. However, to be fair, some of the pictures I've seen of this deck online suggest that this might even be part of the design, in which case it's not at all a flaw in the printing process. Aside from this deck, the printing on all the other decks I have was crisp, clear, colorful, and more than satisfactory.



Tuck-box quality

In the end, what really makes a deck of cards are the playing cards themselves, but Mr Sullivan clearly isn't satisfied with that, but extends the same level of loving attention to detail and commitment to quality when it comes to the tuck box.  This is especially true of the in-house designs from Legends, which Lawrence sees as an opportunity to really push the limits of playing card production and packaging.  These deck boxes feature some very innovative designs (the die-cut window in the Legends #202 Egyptian Edition being a fine example), and when combined with embossing, and gold/silver foil accents, they look absolutely terrific.  Legends was apparently the first to do 3D foil on tuck-boxes (e.g. Legends #202 Egyptian Edition, with embossing around the Legends logo creating an even more luxurious effect), and certainly the first to try embroidery on tuck-boxes (e.g. Legends #98 Persian Edition).  The tuck box flaps are over-sized and typically feature fine details and artwork, with metallic foil accents and embossing that really highlight aspects of the artwork.   A quality and custom seal typically completes a polished package.  The end result is typically an amazing tuck box that is highly attractive,  looks great on the shelf, and creates an immediately positive impression from the moment you first hold an unopened deck in your hand.  That's not to say that every tuck box is like this, because obviously not every customer wants a more costly top shelf product.  But Legends is certainly capable of providing that, and many of their decks certainly look as good as one could ever expect.  Judging from some of the decks I've reviewed above, Lawrence evidently also enjoys trying new processes, and is more than willing to try his hand at extending the range of available options beyond the usual, and to experiment with new and innovative ideas.

Range of decks

If you want to check out some of the Legends decks, you can certainly head to their online catalogue of playing cards and put in an order.  I definitely can recommend the decks that were produced in-house as part of the Legend brand, such as the already mentioned Legends #202 Egyptian Edition.  These  look familiar enough so as not to arouse too much attention at the gaming table, and yet they have memorable, striking, and detailed artwork on the card backs, plus a gorgeous tuck case.   These qualities make them ideal for use at the poker table or for traditional games like Cribbage, or for use by magicians.  But certainly there is a range of other more luxurious and customized decks available on the site as well which Legends has produced in collaboration with and for others.  Of the ones I've tried, I'd especially recommend taking a look at the LUXX Greille for an example of sheer class, the Memento deck for an original and fresh take on classic cards, and the Bowl-a-rama deck for a more playful, fun and creative option.

Custom decks

Legends obviously provides an important service in producing cards for clients, such as designers who are funding a project with a Kickstarter project, and then looking for a company like Legends to provide fulfilment of a minimum order of 1000 decks.  But Legends Playing Cards is very selective with the projects they agree to take on, and they won't print every deck requested, since they only want to produce quality, and give each project the time and attention it deserves.  Not being a designer or a creator of playing cards, I personally haven't produced a custom deck from Legends, so I can't comment on their services in producing custom decks from personal experience.  But judging from the Kickstarters I've seen, many clients are repeat customers, and express a great level of satisfaction with the service and quality they received from Legends, so that evidence adds up to a positive re commendation on this point as well.



RECOMMENDATION

So is Legends Playing Cards something for you?  Legends might not be going the way of the majority by opting to use a factory in Taiwan, but it seems obvious that their choice isn't coming at the cost of quality, and they've found a way to produce playing cards that are at the very least the equal of those coming out of US factories.    Certainly if you're looking for a quality publisher for a card game or custom deck of playing cards in larger quantities, they have the experience and expertise to meet your needs.  Clearly the head honcho of Legends Playing Cards, Lawrence Sullivan, has been weaving a spell of magic, and his transition from magician to producer of playing cards has been very successful.

But even if you're just a gamer or card collector like me, it's well worth a look to check out their website, and see if they have a deck of playing cards that is just right for you.  Most pages for their products have a gallery of images, so you can check out what you're getting.

Hmmm, now that I think about it, their Cultura deck looks absolutely amazing, and the Tenebre Zucca deck also seems terrific.  And as for the look of the Knowledge deck - it makes me drool.  I think I already see some more decks I need... !

To learn more, head here
Official website: http://legendsplayingcards.com
Online catalogue: https://legendsplayingcards.com/collections/playing-cards

« Last Edit: April 26, 2017, 01:01:13 AM by EndersGame »

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EndersGame

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This feature article is the initial segment of a five-part series about Legends Playing Card Company, which also includes detailed reviews of almost a dozen of their decks. 

Here are links to the entire series of articles:

Part 1: Introducing Legends Playing Card Company - Legendary playing cards
Part 2: Inhouse decks from Legends - Legends #202 Egyptian Edition, Legends #098 Persian Edition, and Legends Digital Petroglyphs
Part 3: Classy decks from Legends  - LUXX Greille deck, and Don Quixote Vol 1 deck
Part 4: Colorful decks from Legends  - Rome: Antony/Cleopatra decks, and Bowl-a-rama decks
Part 5: Creative decks from Legends  - Aquila deck, Jones Playing Cards, and Memento deck

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publius

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Great writeup on LPCC. I didn't know much about them, but love what I have of their decks. It seems that lately demand for some of their older decks has waned. I purchased a brick of Blue Egyptians when they first hit the shelves in probably 2013 or '14, and sold a few really fast on Ebay. I sort of got away from the eBay thing for a couple of years, and have just recently put some decks back up for sale that I have too many off. This deck is one of them, and I haven't sold any at all. Doesn't really matter, just curious as to if anyone has any similar insight, or a completely different opinion on the subject. LPCC makes some of the best quality cards I've ever handled.
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EndersGame

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Great writeup on LPCC. I didn't know much about them, but love what I have of their decks. It seems that lately demand for some of their older decks has waned. I purchased a brick of Blue Egyptians when they first hit the shelves in probably 2013 or '14, and sold a few really fast on Ebay. I sort of got away from the eBay thing for a couple of years, and have just recently put some decks back up for sale that I have too many off. This deck is one of them, and I haven't sold any at all. Doesn't really matter, just curious as to if anyone has any similar insight, or a completely different opinion on the subject. LPCC makes some of the best quality cards I've ever handled.

Could the growth of the custom playing card industry perhaps account for some of this?  When Legends Playing Card Company started operation, they commenced with production of their own decks.  Over time, they've expanded to become one of the industry leaders alongside USPCC in producing custom playing cards.  Since 2013 and with the growing popularity of Kickstarter as a marketing engine, the whole genre of custom playing cards has really grown rapidly.  Maybe that's why the demand for older decks is dropping? 

Of course, it's also possible that sales of these inhouse decks at Legends  isn't at all dropping off, and that your experience on eBay is not indicative of a more general lack of demand for the inhouse Legends deck.

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EndersGame

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For a detailed comparison of the quality/handling of USPCC decks vs LPCC/EPCC decks, see this extensive article here:

Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck vs EPCC/LPCC decks: four key elements

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Don Boyer

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Great writeup on LPCC. I didn't know much about them, but love what I have of their decks. It seems that lately demand for some of their older decks has waned. I purchased a brick of Blue Egyptians when they first hit the shelves in probably 2013 or '14, and sold a few really fast on Ebay. I sort of got away from the eBay thing for a couple of years, and have just recently put some decks back up for sale that I have too many off. This deck is one of them, and I haven't sold any at all. Doesn't really matter, just curious as to if anyone has any similar insight, or a completely different opinion on the subject. LPCC makes some of the best quality cards I've ever handled.

Could the growth of the custom playing card industry perhaps account for some of this?  When Legends Playing Card Company started operation, they commenced with production of their own decks.  Over time, they've expanded to become one of the industry leaders alongside USPCC in producing custom playing cards.  Since 2013 and with the growing popularity of Kickstarter as a marketing engine, the whole genre of custom playing cards has really grown rapidly.  Maybe that's why the demand for older decks is dropping? 

Of course, it's also possible that sales of these inhouse decks at Legends  isn't at all dropping off, and that your experience on eBay is not indicative of a more general lack of demand for the inhouse Legends deck.

It's more indicative of the rapid growth of custom playing cards as a whole.  Miss one deck, there's a dozen more waiting to be Kickstarted!  Some decks manage to stand out from the crowd, but others just pass along with less fanfare or none at all.

It's a little like movie-making today - at one time, making movies was a craft that took a long time and cost a great deal of money so relatively few were released in a given year.  Today, there's more movies coming out in a given year than there are days in the year!  It makes it hard for them to capture the attention of the moviegoing audience, especially as the number of movie screens starts to flatten out along with the number of viable shopping malls in which to house them.  In many cases, the only reasons some films see even a single "big screen" in their release are for consideration for an Academy Award (it's mandatory that a film be theatrically released to be eligible) and for subsequent video release (while it's more common today to see straight-to-video releases and even simultaneous PPV/theatrical releases, many video publishing companies will prefer that a film get a theatrical release before going to video unless it has some other reason for standing out, like it's from a notable filmmaker or a sequel of a successful property).
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EndersGame

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Good points, Don.  It also shows the importance of marketing.  In this era where production is easy, you don't just need to produce something that's good quality (whether a deck of custom playing cards, or a film), but you need to find ways to market it and get the word out, to help it stand out from the crowd, and actually get noticed.

It's an important lesson for designers of playing cards to keep in mind as well, especially if they run their own crowdfunding project on Kickstarter.  It's not enough to have a good concept, but you need to think carefully about how you are going to advertise it, and spread the word, otherwise it's much less likely that your project will succeed, no matter how good it is.

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