Sunday, May 25, 2008


There were at least two dozen different collectible cards games mention in the 1995 Origins convention booklet, which was really the year that the floodgates opened for the genre of games. In 1993 Magic: The Gathering was unique, but it didn't take long for others to see the idea's potential.

But besides having many imitators, M:TG never really found a rival, as it's still by far the Top Dog among collectible games. Of the two dozen of the Class of 1995 almost all have disappeared, save for occasional sales on eBay. It's true that one can still get original Dixie cards from Columbia Games, but considering that all these appear to come from the original 1995 stock, one can hardly say it's a living game with active players and recent expansions. Magic: The Gathering's Richard Garfield also had Jyhad, now called Vampire: The Eternal Struggle out in 1995.

No, the sole survivor from the erstwhile Magic competitors is Redemption, a Bible-based collectible card game that borrows little from Magic: The Gathering but the collectible concept itself. Yet it still ha expansions and active players, albeit mostly invisible to the larger gaming community. This is because it's popularity is mostly confined to a sort of parallel culture in America that the wider secular culture doesn't see.

That more religious subculture largely attends its own schools (when not home schooled) has its own pop music groups, own literature and magazines, television programs and movies. Finding many questionable elements in popular media and entertainment, but wanting to experience the positive elements, this largely-Protestant evangelical (but with sympathizers among other religious traditions as well) has learned how to develop its own entertainments that avoid the gratuitous objectionable elements while keeping the better parts from their perspective.

Part of this is their own games. Some popular family games such as Monopoly and Scrabble or abstract games like Chess or Dominoes pose few problems from their perspective. Some other games have been adapted to present a more explicitly Biblical flavor, perhaps the most famous of these is the Settlers of Canaan.

Many people from this belief system are, however, very hostile to anything that smacks of the occult or magic and witchcraft. Protestations that it's "just a game" don't find a receptive ear. Like Dungeons & Dragons before it, the explicitly magical elements evoked in Magic: The Gathering, while directly responsible for its popularity in the mainstream culture, brought condemnation and concern from many more religiously inclined people.

Wanting to provide a similar game experience to Magic: The Gathering, without all the magic stuff, Redemption designer Rob Anderson turned to the Bible for his theme, and discovered that there was a remarkably rich source that also included heroes, demons and yes, even dragons.

Redemption is a somewhat simpler game than Magic_The Gathering, although not a simplistic one. The basic idea is that each player competes to save the most "Lost Souls," which are special cards. Every 50-card deck must have at least 7 Lost Souls in it. When one appears it's placed in front of the player in an area called the "Land of Bondage." From there an opposing player can mount a rescue attempt during his turn by sending a hero card from his hand or already revealed in play. The defending player can attempt to thwart the rescue attempt by opposing it with one of his Evil Characters. Each player can add enhancements, with both sides comparing their respective attack and defense strengths. The higher number defeats the lower and sends the loser to the discard pile along with all the enhancements played by both sides. If the Hero wins, then the Lost Soul is rescued. The first to rescue five Lost Souls Win.

Heroes and Evil Characters each belong to one of six color-coded "Brigades" and can only be enhanced by cards that match the same color. As always in CCGs, of course, there are various cards that override the basic rules.

Unlike many games this scales well from two up to about five without any changes in the rules.

An example of a rescue attempt might play out as follows.

Player 1 sends the Biblical figure Ruth (from the White Brigade) on a rescue mission to save a Lost Soul in Player 2's Land of Bondage. Ruth is one of the weaker heroes, rated a 4/4 which means she attacks with a strength of 4 and defends with the same strength.

Player 2 responds by blocking the move with the Evil Character Pharaoh from the Yellow Brigade. Like many EC's he's stronger than some heroes with a rating of 6/6, so he's winning.

Player 1 would like to use the 3/3 "Strength" enhancement card, but it only works on Blue Brigade Heroes, so instead Player 1 plays The Purity of Enoch (2/2) and the Devotion of Ruth (1/1). The Devotion of Ruth is not only a white card, but the name of the card matches the Hero, so it's doubled to a 2/2. It's special ability of allowing the Hero to Ignore Gray Brigade Evil Characters doesn't apply in this case because the Pharaoh is Yellow.

At this point Ruth is winning at 8/8 vs. Pharaoh's 6/6 so Player 2 plays Grief (2/2) and the Stone of Thebez (2/2) to take the lead with 10/10.

Being behind again, Player 1 now plays the multi-color Pillar of a Cloud (2/2) which can be played on a hero from any brigade, bringing Ruth up to a 10/10. Player 2 has no more suitable cards to play in response, so the battle is resolved. Normally a tie would Result in both Pharaoh and Ruth being killed and discarded, although Ruth would still succeed in rescuing the Lost Soul as the rules state that "Any Hero is willing to lay down his or her life to rescue a Lost Soul." Fortunately for Ruth, however, the Pillar of a Cloud card also provides the benefit of a "first strike" ability for Ruth, so Pharaoh is defeated and discarded along with all his enhancements. Player 1 discards his enhancements but returns Ruth to his side of the table for possible use later and puts the rescued Lost Soul in the "Land of Redemption."

Besides the regular heroes and evil characters and their enhancements, there are some super powerful cards (Grim Reapers and Lambs) that a player can have just one example of in his deck.

Later expansion add more kinds of cards and powers, but the basic scheme of play remains the same.

The quality of the cards is very high, with first-class and appropriate art. Every card also contains a Biblical reference. For example, the powerful 10/10 Brown Brigade Evil Character the Beast From The Earth contains the quote from Revelation 13:11 "And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon."

All in all, Redemption succeeds admirably in its goal. It provides a good game experience while remaining true to the sensitivities of its target audience. Yet it's not heavy handed at all in its approach, and players who don't share the same concerns about occult images in their games can find Redemption a worthwhile addition to their collection. Being Bible-literate is of value even in secular society, and Redemption provides some surprising material for interesting discussion during and after the game. When your Faithful Servant (Matthew 25:21) faces the Stone Throwers (John 8:7) there's a teachable moment at hand.


  1. Hi, I believe you should consider Shadowfist a survivor of the Class of '95.

    Although not as robust as current CCGs (or perhaps even Redemption), it still has new sets put out semi-regularly by ZMan, who revived the game after it fell into a coma in the late 90s. Still a great game, excellent multiplayer. The "resource condition" cost mechanic was innovative and has been re-used by many games since then.

    Keep up the series on CCGs :)