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REVIEW: Healing Blade: The Infectious Disease Card Battle

August 11, 2011

NB: I received a free copy of this game in order to review it.

Title: Healing Blade: Infectious Disease Card Battle
Drs Francis Kong and Arun Mathews, Nerdcore Learning
Available From: or
Best for:
Infectious Disease Nerds, Medical Students, Microbiologists, Gamers

The Idea:
Drs Arun Mathews and Francis Kong created a card game to help medical students learn about infectious diseases (bacteria) and how to treat them (with antibiotics). You chose – will you be a Lord of Pestilence, controlling the vicious ailments – or will you be defender of the light, the Apothecary Healer? Two players battle it out in a turn-based game similar to Magic: The Gathering meets Pokemon. Even if you know nothing about role-playing games or card games, it isn’t hard to get going with this learning experience. Some beginnings of knowledge of ‘bugs and drugs’ will help you play the game, and the most benefit will go to those who’ve just begun studying microbiology.

What’s in the Box:
There’s no question these cards are beautifully designed. An un-boxing video shows you what awaits. A set of cards for the Apothecary Healer, a set for the Lord of Pestilence, and some ATP (energy) counters, along with a mat which serves as the game board are included. This is all you need to begin.

The Rules:

In summary, the rules are cumbersome, but adaptable. One who has gamed before (or any doctor or med student or nerdy friend of same) possesses the mathematical skill required to, uh, cheat to make the game work.

I don’t want to get into the exact details as the rules are changing, and the details are best appreciated when you crack open the box and lay it all out yourself.

Basically, turns are taken to play opposing cards. ATP is required in order to play cards; the more powerful a card, the more it costs to play. Opportunities are given for attack and defense. The right antibiotics are required to kill the bacteria. There are special cards – Spells and Items – that can be used to modify gameplay. Each player starts with 20 life points and the game ends when a player reaches zero life points.

There were some challenges interpreting the rules. I was most fuzzy about Life Points, thinking first they were synonymous with ATP, and concluding that each Round of Play has one victor (and whoever lost that round loses one of their 20 life points, until all are gone). I haven’t figured out yet how one is meant to mark life points, other than using a piece of paper ancillary to the game. That was our adaptation and it worked really well. There have been other difficulties, but the game’s creators are so involved that there are many solutions to be found. At the bottom of this entry, you’ll find the new Healing Blade House Rules, which help smooth gameplay, should you happen to play the game.

There is an active and eager community when it comes to support. On the Healing Blade Facebook page, user-generated rules are among the content.

But does it work?

The game design certainly facilitates a fun, engaging experience while learning all about antibiotics and the bacteria they kill. Is this going to help you ace your microbiology exam? Maybe! When you attach learning to games, knowledge retention is improved; one will not forget the face of Strep. pyogenes – and consequently, I think you’ll remember that it causes necrotizing fasciitis and penicillins and cephalosporins may wipe its ugly face off the earth. That said, there are some generalizations and liberties taken in order to standardize the gameplay. In real life, one would treat H. pylori with multiple antibiotics and an acid supressing drug, but these details are omitted from the card, I expect for ease of use in the game. If you find yourself pointing out these intricacies, clearly you are becoming quite knowledgeable about bacteria and their medical treatment.


The future:

Dr. Arun Mathews, one of the creators of the game, recently gave a Prezi talk about the game as part of the Games for Health 2011 forum. It alludes to what I (dare I say) is an online and mobile version of the game. Hurrah! I think this will allow for more iterative rule and gameplay updates, and should still be able to impart ID knowledge into your brain while keeping it interesting.

More help:

View the tutorial video, put together by keen pre-meds at Berkeley:

(new rules below)


Direct from Dr Mathews:

NEW HEALING BLADE HOUSE RULES!:1) Each turn each player gets to cast 1 creature2) Bugs attack with cards facedown. must say one sx of each card so drugs player can guess.3) Drug player guesses and plays abx. if guesses correct then 2 pts damage. if not correct bug but right abx then 1pt damage.this way, bug player always attacks b/c always gets new creature each turn.4) Each bug creature only deals 1 damage.5) Only up to 3 abx can be used at one time.

6) bug player must give different sx per bug each attack.

7) if correct, bug player flips card over. if not correct then card remains facedown and lives another day.

8.) Rx player can guess bug even if he doesn’t have correct Rx. If correct bug player turns card face up, doesn’t do damage that turn, and bug card goes back into his hand.

9) Rx player can only have 10 cards in the sanctuary. His cards are face down until he reaches 10 cards in the sanctuary and then all his cards must be turned faceup.

10) To cast spell/items, must have enough ATP. To get ATP, must deal damage. ATP can allow player to summon extra creatures per turn.

**In summary, Bug player gets to attack each turn. Rx player has chance of losing if he doesn’t guess correct bug and respond with appropriate drug. Also, strategy for Bug player is to keep his cards faced down and keep making Rx player guess what bug it is and never deal damage to Bug player. Also the cap of only 3 drugs per turn makes it realistic where a physician must decide on a reasonable course of therapy and not pile on too many drugs and cause too many side effects and drug-drug interactions.

Also, when the Rx player gets up to 10 cards, he must turn his cards face up and make himself/herself vulnerable to attack. The Bug player can now see what drugs there are and can choose bugs that are not sensitive to the Drug player. So he/she must then discard drugs and place down ones he/she needs. Thus facilitating the eventual loss of cards for Rx player and makes it so the Rx player can’t just accumulate so many drugs that he can effectively counter every bug.

This keeps every turn fresh, and gives a different early, middle, and late game dynamic. For example,

Early game (hope you get right diagnosis and get right drugs. A lot of sneaky mind games with what sx you give.)

Middle (Choose the right combination of drugs to keep in sanctuary. Bug player must keep track and remember all the drugs that are out in play)

Late game dynamic (The early game decisions of what to discard will now make a big difference into who will win and who will lose all his/her cards. Ex: “D’oh, I shouldn’t have discarded Metronidazole for Cipro! Now I can’t erradiacate C. Diff!”).

Overall, this creates a fun environment and a MOTIVATION for both players to learn more symptoms of each bug. Rx player wants to learn so he can effectively guess which bug it is and kill it with the appropriate drug. The Bug player wants to learn all the possible sx so he/she can trick the Rx player into thinking it’s something else. This just adds another layer of skill and dynamic to the game!

Also, with these rules, obviously some of the spells will need to be removed and tweaked.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 11, 2011 10:56 pm

    Interesting. I actually made a very similar project like this when I was in high school. It was based on immunology/microbiology to the style of Magic Cards. We even used ATP for energy. Though I must say their drawings are much nicer.

    • August 11, 2011 11:26 pm

      great minds!?
      you might really enjoy this game then!

  2. August 18, 2011 12:30 pm

    I’ll be waiting for the Iphone App version… looks like fun!

  3. April 13, 2014 4:42 am

    Where can you buy it from?


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