American Bible Belt Christianity (ABBC) contains an odd tenet: You Can Do Whatever You Like As Long as It's Bible Flavored. Some examples: Want to hold a sign bearing a Christ-contradicting and deeply hypocritical message of hatred? Follow it with a bible reference. Want to (continue to) celebrate the 4,000 year old pagan winter solstice celebration? Go ahead, but say it's Jesus' birthday party. Want to murder? Well, there's a Commandment against it, so prefix your action with the word "Holy" or "Righteous". Want to play a collectible card game? Don't risk your immortal soul by dealing with demons, spells, and wizards. Instead, play Redemption.

Redemption is a Bible-flavored collectible card game published by Cactus Game Design. (Cactus is the source of other gems such as Bible-flavored versions of Guesstures, Outburst, and Scattergories. My personal favorite is Settlers of Canaan. I'm not kidding. Settlers of Canaan.) The inventor, Rob Anderson, cites being intrigued with Magic: the Gathering (MtG) way back in 1994 but leery of its "dark and horrific themes." So how could he get the fun and profit of a card game exactly like MtG yet clear of all intellectual property claims that Wizards of the Coast might reasonably bring to bear against him in a court of law?...oh, and reinforce God's Universal Message of Love? Begin one year of cyclic playtesting and prooftexting, and at the end you get this.

The core idea

Your Hero rescues a Lost Soul if the Hero (crucifix icon card) crosses the Field of Battle to reach the Lost Soul in your opponent's Land of Bondage. Sometimes a Hero is unopposed, but usually your Hero must defeat an opposing Evil Character (dragon icon card) in the Field of Battle. To win, you must be the first to rescue 5 Lost Souls.

This isn't a proper game review as such, so I won't go into the labyrinthine rules. Or bother to list the similarities. However, there are some contrasts worth sharing.

Some differences from Magic the Gathering

  • The power and toughness ratings on cards are in the upper left hand corner, instead of the lower right hand corner. (See? Our game is different, in a very real and legally binding sense.)
  • You have an 8 card hand instead of a 7 card hand. (See? Our game is kewl-er.)
  • You draw 3 cards each turn instead of 1. (See? Our game is kewl-er still.)
  • The Ultra Rare category of card is introduced, totally and utterly trumping MtG's wimpy-ass Rare category. (See? The Power of Christ makes sure our game is kewl-er.)

For the gamers interested in design, the biggest play difference is that in Redemption there is no land. In MtG, players may play a land per turn, and use accumulated land to "pay" for effects in the game. This helps build the game slowly over time by restricting what can likely be done when. As a concept this must have felt more Druidic than Christian to Anderson, so he had to find another means to accomplish the same function. Instead of a lands-per-turn restriction, he did away with lands entirely, in favor of an actions-per-turn restriction in the rules. For example, while you can lay down any number of characters each turn, you can only attempt a rescue once, and only block with one Evil character per turn, etc. This isn't such a bad thing, since it gets you to combat quicker, but the trade off is that there's less strategy for resource management in deck buliding and more chaos in what appears in-game when; e.g., if you're lucky, you'll summon Jesus in the first round.

Some unsettling cards

Many of the cards reinforce some of the worst aspects of ABBC. Take a gander at this quick selection of cards and their affiliation, and tell me this isn't scary.
  • Busybody: Evil (a woman, of course)
  • Sectarianism: Evil
  • War in Heaven: Good
  • Fountains of Living Water: Good
  • Prominent Women: Evil

And then there's the inexplicable cards. Two are almost entirely in Greek. The title is in Greek. The Bible verse is in Greek. The friggin' copyright is in Greek. Only the game effect is in English, and each seems pretty powerful. Are we supposed to know ancient Greek in order to understand these? Just what are we agreeing to when we play them?

Another inexplicable card is an evil creature named "Que." He's a half-lidded froglike smiling cartoon character wearing Terminator glasses and doctor's headgear. His existence in the game is justified with the verse "And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep." What, exactly, is the connection?

The big, unresolved theological issue

On your turn you control your Good forces against your opponent's Evil forces. Sounds OK. Until you realize that this means that on any other player's turn, you're Evil, acting to stop the good guys from saving souls. Now, this will pose no problem to young gamers. They will recognize it as a game mechanism for conflict and leave it at that. But the apoplectic parents who permit their children to play in hopes of some positive Christian indoctrination should give this a second thought. At least half the time they play, the kids are rooting for the bad guys. And not some fabricated evil-doers, like, say MtG's Shivan Dragon. He's easy to forget once the game is over. But in Redemption, you're controlling characters with names like Messenger of Satan and Murder. Oh, but don't get panicky. There's a Bible verse at the bottom. That'll make it OK.

But, most importantly: Is it fun?

No. Admittedly, I only tried it a handful of times, and I'm pre-biased against the ideology, but really, no. The game is too complex where it ought to be simple, and too simple-minded where it might be nuanced. It serves too many masters, and the game play is sacrificed in the process. Maybe Rod and Todd won't feel like such dorks since they get to carry around decks that Ned approves of, but in the end it's still seriously suboptimal fun.
  • The decks I bought while on research in Missouri

See some card images at

Oh, and, in case you were wondering. Directly from the rulebook: "If you have a question, please look it up in your Bible."