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Subject: Review: Not many redeeming qualities for this Christian CCG rss

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Ender Wiggins
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Background

Collectible Card Games (CCG) have made a huge impact on the gaming market, especially after the remarkable success of the grand-daddy of them all - Magic: The Gathering. It was only a matter of time before a Christian themed CCG was developed. In fact, Redemption CCG was part of the first generation of CCGs that hit the market in 1995 when the genre was still being defined. Designed by Rob Anderson and published by Cactus Game Design, it sought to put a Christian spin on the CCG model, by featuring game cards based on Biblical characters, locations and events.

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But does this model work?

NB: Since this particular product will almost exclusively be of interest to Christians only, I will be primarily directing this review to a predominantly Christian audience that might be considering whether this game is for them.

Gameplay

The main object of the game is to rescue Lost Souls from your opponent's Land of Bondage. Each player has their own deck of cards, from which they play the Hero Characters who will try to rescue these Lost Souls, as well as Evil Characters to defend their own Lost Souls. Enhancement cards modify the strength of these characters in combat, and the cards are arranged by colour in different "brigades". There are other cards, like Sites, Fortresses, Artifacts, and Dominants, but these merely flesh out the basic mechanics of the key cards already mentioned.

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Two reference cards included with the game nicely summarize how cards are arranged and played on the battlefield:

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Strengths

1. I appreciate an attempt to cater to the Christian market, and an effort to create a collectible card game with positive themes. Despite the popularity of the more successful CCGs like Magic the Gathering, many of these CCGs have certain aspects that might prove problematic for Christian families, such as the darker elements of some fantasy themes. Redemption CCG avoids this, and is an attempt to provide an alternative.

2. Incorporating texts from the Bible on each card is a real positive.

3. It is cheaper than most other popular CCGs.

Weaknesses

1. The attempt to incorporate Christian themes comes with many pitfalls, because there is always the potential to mishandle Biblical truth or deal with it inappropriately. Sadly, in my estimation, that has become the fate of Redemption CCG. While an effort to bring Biblical characters and events to playing cards is in itself laudable, it has the potential to trivialize the Bible. This creates some theological problems, for example, the whole notion of having Heroes rescue Lost Souls is problematic - doesn't the Bible teach that redemption is the work of God rather than human heroes? Moreover, is it Biblically accurate to suggest that Evil Characters like Job's Wife play a role in seeking to prevent such Lost Souls from being rescued? In instances like this, the theme seems to break down, and worse, become disrespectful. I especially can't see how turning concepts like "Son of God" into a game card is compatible with being respectful. In many instances the artwork only compounds this problem.

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I realize that there will be Christians who have a different perspective on this, but it is certainly something to be aware of and consider carefully before getting into this game.

2. The gameplay is inferior to most other popular CCGs. To compare with Magic the Gathering, for example: Redemption CCG is considerably less complex, which has the advantage of making it more accessible to children. However, it is also significantly less strategic, tactical, and satisfying. Much of the game play seems to depend on when Lost Souls are drawn, and furthermore much of it is about pumping up characters with bonuses. As someone else has said rather eloquently: This is the kind of game for people who think that Giant Growth is the best card in Magic.

3. Redemption CCG has some serious weaknesses with components, which I have illustrated in a separate review here:
"A pictorial evaluation of the cards and components of Redemption CCG"
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/340846

Recommendation

In the end, I had to conclude that the negatives more than outweighed the positives. If you find yourself sharing my concerns listed above, you'd do well to give Redemption CCG a miss. While attempts to create products that are uniquely Christian are laudable, they are not always successful, and this is a good example (although it has to be admitted that it does seem to be successful in some Christian circles). What did I do with my Redemption CCG cards? I gave some away, and some of the less objectionable ones are being used by my family as bookmarks.

Alternatives

Fortunately, Christians do have other options. One possibility to consider is to take a game such as Magic the Gathering, and remove all the thematically problematic cards. In my own family, this is my own solution, and I simply play without all the black cards, as well as a few other incidental cards that might be regarded as objectionable. But even if this isn't a choice you could make, there are many other wholesome games to choose from that don't necessarily have a Christian theme, but give families the opportunity to have an enjoyable gaming session together, and still offer good quality gameplay.

Concluding thoughts about Christians and gaming

In the end, the elements that make gaming a positive activity for Christian families and groups have little to do with the theme (although there might be games that have to be excluded from play by virtue of their theme alone). For the most part, a Christian approach to games is mostly about the spirit in which it is played, the lessons that are learned from it, and the place that it has in one's life. Perhaps this could be considered a "redeemed" approach to boardgames, when they are played to God's glory and for our neighbour's good. For me and my family, such a Redemption of boardgames will be more sucessful when playing something like Settlers of Catan, than Redemption CCG.
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Ryan Morgenegg
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Thanks for addressing the Christian gamer in your article. I see a lot of negative themes and elements seeping into boardgames, just like any other medium. We can make our voices heard by not buying certain games or letting publishers know we object to their content. Thanks for standing up for what you know is right! I bought Redemption but haven't played it yet. I also got rid of many objectional cards from my Magic the Gathering set. It's a shame they had to darken suc a fun game.

theggman
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Tim Mierz
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As a long-time player of Redemption, let me try to assure you that it's not quite what it seems. I won't speak to the issues you have with the aesthetic qualities of the cards; I have never had difficulty using the cards because of the layout decisions that were made, and quality of artwork is highly subjective. I'll just leave that up to personal preference.

The starter decks, which seem to be your only experience with the game, are meant primarily to give an introduction to the basic flow of the game and to be comfortable with the fundamental mechanics. But even in the G/H decks (the most recent starter decks; it looks like you have older E/F starters from your pictures), comparing the numbers on the cards takes a back seat to the special abilities on cards. The decks seen in tournament play contain far more complexity in card/ability interaction. There is delicate balance in the main classes of abilities - normal actions, protection, negation, and "can't be negated" actions - that bring a wonderful flavor to the game once the player moves on from the starters. The game continues to evolve with each set that comes out. While at the game's inception it played more like you describe - an exercise in "counting" - with each set new interesting features came out.

One thing you are upset about in the other article, that brigades' themes are loosely defined, both is and is not an issue. In sets from the last several years, the new cards closely follow themes. For instance, the Blue brigade has been receiving cards exclusively from the book of Genesis, especially focusing on Jacob and his sons. These cards have great interaction with each other, and can work together very tightly for a theme deck. Starting with the Priests expansion, the Teal brigade contains exclusively priests and priestly enhancements, and the Orange brigade has the game's demons. Some brigades have multiple themes. The Gray brigade has Roman emperors, Syrian kings and commanders, and Pharisees. A diverse group to be sure, but each theme is built on separately, and can be used with success. Earlier in the game's timeline (and you can see this in the rulebook), the brigades' themes were defined by relevant verses. For instance, from the rulebook:
"Red is descriptive of military might.
Nahum 2:3 β€˜The shield of his mighty men is made red, the valiant men are in scarlet: the chariots shall be with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the fir trees shall be terribly shaken.’"
It is true, though, that not all cards fit these themes. Sometimes the answer is reprinting cards in later sets into a proper theme. All of the priests in the game were reprinted in the aforementioned Priests expansion into Teal brigade, to strengthen that theme. Indeed, some, like Melchizedek, have two brigades to show that they belong to two themes (purple and teal, signifying he was a king and a priest). The two most recent sets, tin sets called Faith of our Fathers and Rock of Ages, have predefined sets of cards that are focused on one good theme and one evil theme. If that is a concern for you, I urge you to look into those. If you are interested in looking into the strategy and themes of Redemption, the official Cactus Game Design message board has a great community of people who love discussing just that.

I personally do not find the cards in any way sacreligious or offensive to the Christian faith. The creator of the game, Rob Anderson, is quite active in the Redemption community and makes his strong faith and Christian devotion well known in his words and his actions. I know for certain that he holds very highly the Scriptures and all therein, and he would certainly not cheapen them. If you personally do take offense to that, I can say nothing to that, but on a personal note, the cards have helped me learn and remember many Biblical events and people, and have led me into some interesting searches into the Bible.

I see that you've already gotten rid of most of your cards. There are (free, easy) ways to play online with a number of other people who are more than willing to get you up and running if you so wish. The community is a generous one, if you later find that you do want to get back into the game. I'm glad that you've taken time to look into it, and I hope that I've helped in some way.

Tim M
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Stephen Schaefer
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The game does not depict Heroes saving Lost Souls any more than people in real life "save" other people. Christian doctrine is that people are called to actively lead others to a saving knowledge but that God is the administer of grace. The Heroes are engaged in the metaphorical spiritual battle in the game, but that is not the same thing as their being directly responsible for salvation.

Quote:
Much of the game play seems to depend on when Lost Souls are drawn, and furthermore much of it is about pumping up characters with bonuses.


This is grossly understating the way the game is played, and seems to be the kind of conclusion one might arrive at if playing only with the Second or Third Edition starter decks. These decks are watered down considerably to allow ease of entry. The 10th Anniversary starter deck has a sort of "greatest hits" compilation of cards from several different sets, contains most of the different kinds of special abilities that appear in the game, and has loose but distinct thematic material among the brigades. And as Tim has mentioned, sets produced over the last five years have focused more strongly along several different lines:
- thematic representation within brigades (developing existing lines)
- increasing the strength of secondary and tertiary strategies
- increasing the usability of older cards to pull them out of the obsolescence of First Edition design

I won't go into detail about all the different kinds of viable decks that exist in the current meta, but I think that if the readers and writers are aware of the premise that Heroes battle Evil Characters for the fate of Lost Souls, then when I say someone brought a deck with no Heroes at all to this year's national tournament, won 7 of 10 rounds and finished 12th out of about 100 players in that category, the significance of that would not be lost.
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J G
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A Response to Enders review...
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Enders said:
While an effort to bring Biblical characters and events to playing cards is in itself laudable, it has the potential to trivialize the Bible.
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Yes it is laudable, but every game that is Christian based will trivialise the Bible,
But find me a Christian orientated game that is not trivialising some part of the Bible and you will have found a game that is either boring or secondly would not be capable of having non-Christians play it.
The Ark and Noah will trivialise Genesis. (A part of the Bible)
The Ark of the Covenant trivialises the journey and worship practices of bringing of the Ark back to its rightful home. (A part of the Bible)
Settlers of Canaan trivialises the building of Jerusalem. (A part of the Bible)
etc.... etc.... etc....
However, Redemption trivialises some of the characters and objects across the entire Bible....
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However, I have noticed in other posts that you like some of those games that trivialise only parts of the Bible. Why???? Maybe you see those games as enjoyable and they are acceptable because they only trivialise small parts of the Bible...

Maybe just maybe, Redemption is an enjoyable comprehensive Bible orientated game, where you should swap the word trivialise with the words "fun but discussable".
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Enders said
This creates some theological problems, for example, the whole notion of having Heroes rescue Lost Souls is problematic - doesn't the Bible teach that redemption is the work of God rather than human heroes?
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Totally correct here.... But you are playing semantics with words. God consistently uses humans to do His work and encourages us who are leaders in our fields to be role models (excellent role models). That is really just another way of saying hero. But 'Jesus is my Super hero' could have many theological problems, but it relates every day experience that people have in our world (an understanding of what a super hero is) to the one and only truly super hero. In other words the statement although a theological challenge makes Jesus relatable. Same can be said for these cards.
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Enders said:
Moreover, is it Biblically accurate to suggest that Evil Characters like Job's Wife play a role in seeking to prevent such Lost Souls from being rescued? In instances like this, the theme seems to break down, and worse, become disrespectful.
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"No more disrespectful than Jesus saying to Peter "Get behind me, satan!!!" Heck Peter thought he was defending Jesus. Do you think Peter was seeking to prevent lost souls from being rescued???" I would think not, but he was labelled as the lord of darkness by our great Lord Himself. Jesus clearly identifies here, that to do evil does not require pre-meditated or rational or deliberate thoughts or actions, sometimes people are simply unaware of the intent of their own hearts. However to do good....
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Enders said:
I especially can't see how turning concepts like "Son of God" into a game card is compatible with being respectful. In many instances the artwork only compounds this problem. I realize that there will be Christians who have a different perspective on this, but it is certainly something to be aware of and consider carefully before getting into this game.
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Christian's need to be aware of pitfalls of this in any game played; Christian based or not....... But again it opens up conversation.... I am sure there are many more pitfalls with Magic.... Such as using evil to supposedly do good.
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Enders said:
The game play is inferior to most other popular CCGs. To compare with Magic the Gathering, for example: Redemption CCG is considerably less complex, which has the advantage of making it more accessible to children.
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You state inferior and then go on to say it is more accessible to children. Maybe a more positive approach could have easily said that "Redemption is supremely superior for children" which in that case I believe you would be correct.
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Enders Said:
Redemption CCG has some serious weaknesses with components, which I have illustrated in a separate review here:
"A pictorial evaluation of the cards and components of Redemption CCG"
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/340846
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You consider this to be weaknesses? In a game that has well and truly over 1400 unique cards (not including starter decks) and close to 2000 cards in print (not including starter decks) that are all legal for tournaments you pick on those.
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But yes some of those are problems, such as writing across the artwork is definitely harder to read and would affect game play. However, the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And would conclude, that you have underestimated the power of His Word being present in a game.
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However although defending "Redemption" I would have to agree with much of your final conclusion....
In the end, the elements that make gaming a positive activity for Christian families and groups have little to do with the theme (although there might be games that have to be excluded from play by virtue of their theme alone). For the most part, a Christian approach to games is mostly about the spirit in which it is played, the lessons that are learned from it, and the place that it has in one's life. Perhaps this could be considered a "redeemed" approach to boardgames, when they are played to God's glory and for our neighbour's good.
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Ender Wiggins
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jglazebrook wrote:
But find me a Christian orientated game that is not trivialising some part of the Bible and you will have found a game that is either boring or secondly would not be capable of having non-Christians play it.

One game with a Biblical theme that I can highly recommend is Kingdom of Solomon. It is widely appreciated as an excellent modern board game in its own right, even by non-Christians. It also avoids dealing with the Biblical text in a tacky way. Rather than repeat what I've written elsewhere on this subject, I'll just refer you to some articles I posted previously about this:

Blog article: Tacky Christian Games: Where the theme gets in the way of the game

Review: Successfully bringing the excellence of Caylus-style worker placement to Bible times

Biblical background: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

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J G
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Yes agreed....

I would highly recommend Kingdom of Solomon. I have both Caylus and Kingdom of Solomon and believe that Kingdom of Solomon actually has better game play. The theme of the game does not get in the way of the quality of the game. Kingdom of Solomon is an excellent game. This game would also be more likely to NOT trivialise the Bible or the people of the Bible anywhere near as much as what some might think Redemption does.
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