I was introduced to collectible card games the summer I turned fifteen. I’d been going to the local game store a lot, playing Warhammer 40k, but there was always time between matches where I had nothing to do. During one of these down times, my friends asked if I wanted to play some Magic the Gathering with them. I never played it before but decided to give it a try. I was hooked almost immediately and wanted more. I played every chance I could get. There were times I walked around school just listening for the familiar sound of cards shifting plastic cases. I distinctly remember sitting in Geometry and hearing, “I heard a weird sound in your backpack, do you play Magic?”
“Why yes, I do!” We played straight through lunch that day.
I made a lot of new friends that first week back to school, and most of them were made by playing, Magic the Gathering. Now Magic wasn’t the only CCG I played, but the others would come and go. I always came back to Magic.
That was over 20 years ago. I’m a father of three now. They’re gamers in their own rights, and I’ve watched them discover games like I did. There’s part of me that wants to see them find that same joy as they pack their deck box into their backpacks, yet I’ve been wary of introducing my kids to CCGs for a few reasons. Mainly the subject matter. What worked for myself at fifteen won’t work well for my kids who are decidedly younger. I’ve tried a few games that are considered more family friendly or try to sell them as the “Christian alternative to Magic,” but consistently found them lacking. When I heard about a game coming to Kickstarter called Animo: Living Deck Bible Verse Game – I was curious if this one could do what others couldn’t. So I reached out to the game’s designer, and he sent me a starter deck to give it a try.
The game of Animo has three different modes. They’re called Sharpen Your Sword, Hide It In Your Heart, and Animo Training. Animo Training isn’t so much a game as it’s just a means to encourage Bible memorization. Each card has a verse attached to it—so associating the colorful character with the verse helps kids remember what they say as a mnemonic device. A sort of upgraded flash cards system rather than a game— but if you’re in the market for a way to help your kids learn the Bible, it might be a fun way to help facilitate that.
Sharpen Your Sword is clearly attempting to be a battle game in the style of Pokemon. You lay down your Animo card, which is a virtue represented by a colorful animal character with names like Glimmer, Luminey, and Grundy, and power cards and equipment to help you overcome your opponent’s attacks, and story cards that give you special actions. Attacks involve laying down a “Sinnie” card on them – representing sins and vices. The person receiving the attack has to defeat it by powering up your Virtue cards with the right amount of matching power to attack the Sinnie. Make your attack worth more points than the Sinnie, and you defend against the attack. When you attack your Sinnie with your Virtue, you have to discard your Virtue afterward. Any extra points are tallied at the end of combat, and whoever has the most points wins. You do have to think through the game a little bit—which card should I sacrifice and which card should I hold back for the next round.
When I first played Sharpen Your Sword with my son, something didn’t sit well. Laying down Sinnie cards on your opponent especially didn’t feel right. It was like the game was encouraging the player to want people to sin, or possibly even point out the sins of others as a means to attack them. Discarding a Virtue after you defeat a sinnie card played on you also felt thematically odd. Overcoming sin in our lives helps make us stronger, embracing our virtue as we draw closer to God. We realize we are capable of standing against it with God’s help and start relying on Him more. This mechanic felt like virtues were just a shield against evil instead of being good in and of themselves.
That was my initial impression, though. After more games and a bit of reflection as I reread the wording in the rule book, I changed my mind. The intention is that you are helping your friend to overcome sin in their life. Playing sinnies isn’t so much about attacking each other as it is helping each other identify something that isn’t honoring to God and helping them overcome it. Yeah, you still discard the virtue after it’s used to overcome the sinnie – but certain thematic allowances can be made for the sake of the game. As a parent, we can use this to teach our kids that it’s not about attacking someone else for their sins, but about seeking God in the middle of it, that He can help us choose the virtuous option.
Hide It In Your Heart is a game about self-betterment. Each card has a point value. You have five cards laid out in a cross, face down, and you are only able to look at the middle card, revealing the point value of that card before returning it face down. You draw three new cards on your first turn and decide if you want to swap out one of the cards from your hand to your heart—the cards in the cross pattern on the table in front of you. In later turns, you’ll be able to draw these cards from the deck or the top of the discard pile. Once you decide if you want to swap out one of the cards in your heart, you show the new card face up. If you get a power card that corresponds with one of the Animo cards in your heart, you can place that card under a part of your heart to get a power-up bonus at the end of the game – and any sinnie cards in your heart give negative points. The game can end in one of three ways. A player yells “SEARCH YOUR HEART” at the end of their turn if they think they have enough points to win. Everyone else gets one more turn and the game is over. The game can also end when all four corners of your heart have been exposed, or when there are no more cards left to in the deck to draw from.
When the game is over, you tally your points. Adding the values of your Animos and power-ups while subtracting Sinnie values. The person with the highest score wins.
With a family of five, I need more games that can support a player count higher than 4 players, and this variant of the game does that. It’s also more accessible to younger kids and can be played by my whole family at the same time. This version is suggested for ages four and up to Sharpen Your Sword’s six and up, and my entire family can play together instead of just the one on one play of the other game mode. It’s fun, simple, and a great play. It teaches kids that all things hidden in their heart will be uncovered and that we should always strive to do better.
When I pulled out this deck of cards to show my kids, my oldest immediately said she wasn’t interested and walked away. I asked her why and she said it was a kids game. She couldn’t get past the artwork that seemed immature and cartoony to her, which makes sense. She’s in a transitional age and doesn’t want to be seen as a kid anymore. The artwork and simple gameplay definitely trend towards a younger player base – and that was confirmed as my seven-year-old was amazed. He thought this was the most awesome thing he’d ever seen. He loved playing with me, and I even noticed him ducking underneath the table as he drew new cards so that he could write down every Bible verse he saw. He was trying to memorize them while we played. We finished our first game after a few rounds and he hasn’t stopped asking me if we can play again since. He’s made plans to save up his money for this game and keeps asking me when it’s coming out. He is becoming Animo obsessed.
I have to admit I brought a level of skepticism into this game being any good. After all, this isn’t the first time I’ve tried games that claimed to be “a great Christian alternative to popular game x,” only to find that it was none of those things. It’s clear, when you play, that the designer took what they love about something already on the market, but this isn’t trying to be some faith-based replacement title. If this game was pitched as “better than Pokemon or Magic” – it would fail when subject to that comparison. Much like my daughter’s reaction showed – the terminology and art style definitely point to a niche age range and demographic. Likewise, I did have that initial thematic confusion before I could see how the designer’s concept fit together. But even with all that, Animo did exactly what it set out to do. It was everything I hoped it would be for my son and me. It gave him that same experience I had with Magic – that infectious fun that keeps the player coming back for more and wondering what other characters and deck options waited in the next pack. It did it in a format that he could understand at his age, and it gave us an opportunity to share a love of God together at the same time.
At the time of posting – the Kickstarter for Animo: A Living Deck Bible Verse Card Game still has 20 days remaining and has already reached its initial funding goal. If this sounds like something that would be fun for your family, please check them out.