Thanks to Animo Games for providing a review copy of this game.
Full disclosure right up front: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a TCG guy. For the uninitiated, TCG stands for Trading Card Game, and is also known as a Collectible Card Game (CCG). There have been a number of popular TCG/CCGs over the years, including Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon. My experience with this type of game is extremely minimal – I’ve played one round of Magic, one round of the Star Wars TCG, and have a set of Netrunner cards that I still need to play at some point. All that said, here comes a review of a a TCG called
Animo: Living Deck Bible Verse Game came out originally in 2017, designed by Josh Patton, Josh Wegner, and Theresa Wegner. It’s published by Animo Games, and is a TCG with a Biblical basis. You’re not collecting disciples or anything, but rather are collecting a bunch of cute fantasy creatures that are batting enemies called Sinnies while trying to build up your Truth Seeker. Specifically for this review, I was sent a couple of decks from from the new set called Red Letter Day, which should be going up on Kickstarter tomorrow.
Each player begins the game with a deck of 50-60 cards. Starter decks are sold so you can start competing right out of the box, though boosters and expansions will help you customize your decks so you can be more competitive. Each player also has a Truth Seeker, which gives a special ability and a power that can be used throughout the game. Each player shuffles up their deck before starting the game, but that’s all you really need to do. There are mats available you can use to organize stuff.
At the start of your turn, you’ll draw up to five cards (or a single card if you already have five or more). Then you can do any number of actions based on what you have and want to play.
- Play a Power Card. On your turn, you can only play one power card to the side of your play area, called your Power Pool.
- Play a Virtuous Animo. Take a Level 1 Animo from your hand and play it face up in an area called your Small Group. You can play as many as you want to on a turn, but you’re limited to four in your Small Group.
- Grow your Animo. Play a higher level Animo on top of a lower level Animo with the same name. So a Level 2 Treashell on a Level 1 Treashell, and a Level 3 on Level 2. (Note: I only saw one Level 3 Animo in the Red Letter Day cards, I’m asuming you’ll find more in Booster packs)
- Attach an Equipment Card. Place an Equipment card under an Animo so that only its side is visible. This usually makes your Animo stronger. Each Animo can only have one Equipment.
- Play a Story Card. Play the card and follow the instructions, then discard it. You can only play one story card per turn.
- Reveal a Sinnie. Play a Sinnie into the Active Sinnie area for your opponent. This needs to be defeated before your opponent can start scoring points.
- Attach a Hindrance. This works a lot like Equipment, but is attached to an active Sinnie.
- Exploit a Sinnie’s Weakness. If a Sinnie has a weakness listed on the card to an Animo that happens to be in your Small Group, you can hold up the Animo so you’re looking at its back and recite the Bible verse on the card. If you get it right, the Sinnie is defeated and you continue your turn. (Note: I saw no weaknesses on the Sinnies in the Red Letter Day set, but as it’s a preproduction copy, it’s possible these will be added later)
- Discard. If you have cards in your hand you just don’t want or need, you can discard them.
- Use Abilities. If an Animo in your Small Group, or your Truth Seeker, has abilities, you can use them. These can only be used once per turn.
After you’ve done your actions, it’s time for the Scoring Phase. You can activate any of your Animo that you want to or can. To activate, you’ll need to have a cost in Power, which you mark by putting tokens on the cards from your Power Pool you’ve used. Some cards have a Fellowship bonus, which is more points if a certain condition is met. Then you’ll score – first apply the value of the Amino to the active Sinnie, then score the remainder in points. If you can’t beat the Sinnie, the Animo are placed on the Sinnie so that you can add more on the next turn.
You’ll then discard any Animo used (and the Sinnie if defeated). Your turn ends, and play is passed to your opponent.
You win in one of three ways:
- Score 60 points.
- Defeat 6 Sinnies.
- Your opponent can’t draw up to five cards at the start of their turn.
As mentioned before, I got a preproduction copy of the game, and not all the art was finished yet. But what was finished, with different artists contributing art for different cards, gave a very interesting fantasy feel to the game. Everything was pretty well labeled, though text was kind of tiny in some places. My biggest complaint about the components is the road map style rules, which I never like because I’m always unfolding the thing, looking for my rule, folding it back up so I don’t have a massive piece of paper sitting around, then unfolding it again to look something else up. At least pertinent information was mostly printed between the creases so there’s a possibility you don’t have to unfold all the way, but I much prefer booklets.
Thematically, this is a Bible based game. The little Animo you find in the game are NOT Bible based, though every one of them has a Scripture reference where you might typically find flavor text. Usually, the Scripture is bigger than any other actions or ability listed on the card. If those Scriptures weren’t there, however, you might not feel any Bible flair to the game at all. But the concepts are there, and there are some good relations between those words and what you’re doing. The Sinnies, for example, have more cautionary Scriptures.
Animo is not a destroy your opponent type dueling game. In other words, rather than trying to kill your opponent, you’re building your Truth Seeker up to win. You’re attacking Sinnies, but these aren’t a representative of your opponent; rather, they’re a challenge for you pass. The basic game is called “Sharpen Your Sword”, based on Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” In other words, challenging each other makes you both better. It’s a good attitude to take into a game, and it’s a good concept to talk about, especially if playing with kids.
Mechanically, this is mostly a hand management game. You have to be wise enough to play all your cards at the right time so you can take care of Sinnies, score points, and most importantly, not run out of cards. I do a very poor job of this as my second game ended with the me losing in all possible ways. I had drawn my last card on my previous turn, so all my wife had to do was pass and she would win. But she decided to see how well she could do, ended up scoring 16 points which got her to 68 (to my 43), and beat her sixth Sinnie in the process. It was a pretty epic win for her.
The game has several different types of cards, each with their own flair. There’s the Animo and Sinnies, which have seem to gain the main focus. Then there’s the power cards, each one named after a different spiritual gift – faith, hope, love, and the Holy Spirit. And, don’t forget the Universal power, which is basically anything (a fact that we missed in our first game and which pretty much ruined the experience of it – once we got it, the game was much better). There are Equipment and Hindrance cards, which can be pretty situational for use. And then there are Story cards, which give some bonuses to you on your turn. So there’s a good variety of cards.
This game sometimes gets compared to Pokemon. I’ve never played Pokemon, but aesthetically, I can see it. Mechanically, there seem to be some similarities – growing your creatures, for example – but from what I can tell, Animo is its own game, and even if it takes some inspiration from Pokemon, I don’t think they’re the same.
The game comes with several variants for playing with younger players and more players. There is also a different game mode called “Hide It In Your Heart” where you lay the cards out in a cross shape, then try to manipulate the cards so you have the highest score. You only need a single deck to play. It’s a pretty simple game that I was able to play with my six-year-old with no problems (she even beat me in the second game we played). It’s a completely different game from “Sharpen Your Sword”, but I appreciate the effort whenever someone tries to make younger kids feel included.
Animo is a game that lends itself well to replayability as you’re going to do better the better you know your deck. Like in my epic loss described above – knowing now what I didn’t know then, I would have done many things differently. You can even customize your deck to suit your style of play. I know some people don’t like the collectible model, but it can be very satisfying for those who do.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Animo is a pretty fun and engaging game with strategic choices and an interesting structure. As a Christian parent, I think it will be a really good tool to talk to my kids about Bible verses and the spiritual concepts introduced, and a game that my family will enjoy playing. If you’re in the market for something like that, I’d recommend you give this one a try.
Thanks again to Animo Games for providing a review copy of Red Letter Day, and thanks to you for reading!