Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma

Created by Nerdcore Medical

Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma
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797 backers pledged $47,126.00 on Kickstarter

DEFENDERS OF SOMA: a fantasy battle card game between antibiotics and infectious bacteria.

Raised in Kickstarter
$47,126.00 / 797 backers
Raised in BackerKit
$17,293.00 / 976 backers
Estimated Shipping Date: February 2017
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Defenders of Soma card game
Miss out on the Kickstarter? Want to add another copy of the game to your order? Now's your chance!
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Occam's Razor card game
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The Apothecary Pantheon Poster
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The Lords of Pestilence Poster

Learn About Our Project:

The way these fantasy characters fight in the game reflects actual antibiotic recommendations from real world medical guides.

The game requires no medical knowledge to play and is designed for anyone who appreciates complex scenarios and difficult choices, yet it can also serve as a tool for learning.


The game was designed to be strategically rich, with complex decision making, rewarding to players who play the long game and who set up clever plays over several turns, and worthy of many replays. Being an asymmetrical card game, Defenders of Soma plays a little like Android: Netrunner or Star Wars: The Card Game (by Fantasy Flight). One player is the aggressor, and the other player reacts.

Games based on real life science are a cool trend but more often than not "educational" games are dreadfully boring and lack pizazz, good design, and haven't undergone exhaustive play tests. We want to raise the bar!


When antibiotics were discovered and started being used to cure infectious disease in the early 20th century, it was a game changer. But their effectiveness is waning as the evolutionary adaptability of bacteria plays out over millions of generations. Each generation, more and more bacteria develop and spread that are resistant to our most relied upon antibiotics. The growing antibiotic resistance among infectious bacteria is becoming one of the most worrisome public health concerns of our time.

The science of antibiotic resistance is complex and nuanced. Understanding the microbiology of bacteria and the classification of drugs is one way to gain a greater understanding of this complex phenomenon. Players of Defenders of Soma will gain familiarity with the primary actors in this ongoing drama, and an awareness of some of the medical dilemmas doctors and public health policy makers face.


The suggested treatment for each bacteria is based on recommendations from leading antibiotic guides, such as Sanford, Mayo Clinic, UpToDate, Mark Crislip's Infectious Disease Compendium, and the CDC. Playing our game will help you keep track of which bugs are which, which drugs interact with which bugs, and what drugs belong to what groups.

This game is a useful reminder that overuse of antibiotics and unnecessary "just-in-case" prescriptions of powerful antibiotics are part of the cause of their waning power. Practice cycling through different antibiotics rather than sticking with your same tried and true favorites in this game, and it may improve your antibiotic decision-making in real life.


Each card is beautifully illustrated in a high fantasy art style, AND it's medically relevant! How often do you see that? This is a rare project and one that could become disturbingly prescient in the future when we have very few antibiotics that still work. Our suffering descendants will look back miserably and think, "they played GAMES about the hideous infectious bacteria that wiped out half of humanity?" Yes, we did.


This is an entertaining teaching tool about disease and medicine for students or children. Our game provides imaginative metaphors that aid in understanding what happens inside our bodies during an infection.

Here's a quick (2 mn) video explaining how the game is played:

The Lords of Pestilence are divided into four categories:

The game features 80 different characters: 

  • 46 different infectious bacteria
  • 34 different antibiotics.

Production of the game box, cards, and pieces will be managed by MakeThatThing, which recently crowdfunded and produced Machine of Death, Alpha BanditThe Tomorrow Girl and Sam & Fuzzy Omnibus. They also helped us last year with The Bacterionomicon.

UPDATE: Everyone choosing a tier with physical product will also receive a free PDF version of the Bacterionomicon, and a Print 'n Play PDF of the game while we wait for it to get printed!

Our current prototype (there may be changes) includes:

  • 46 Lords of Pestilence cards
  • 34 Apothecary Healer cards 
  • 5 "resistance" enchantments 
  • 7-10 unique, two sided Villager tokens
  • 16 cardboard coins 
  • 13 8mm cubes (different colors)
  • 1 carefully, exhaustively tweaked rules booklet with rules for a starter game and an advanced game.
  • Extra large rules reminder cards


  • Penicillin Allergy Card
  • Pregnant Villager


The first amount you see for each tier does not include shipping.  Kickstarter has a new system, and when you click on a reward tier you eventually must choose shipping to either the U.S., Canada, or Rest of the World. We expect the Defenders of Soma box to weigh 2 lb. 7 oz. and we checked and double-checked the shipping estimates to these different locations, using first class mail as our guide. (Flat rate and priority cost more.) The amount collected for shipping is also taxed by Kickstarter and we pay handling fees so that MakeThatThing will store and ship our game, and deal with incorrect addresses, and returned or damaged packages. It's kind of a massive undertaking! The U.S. price is the average rate across all zones for the sake of simplicity. Some tiers vary, but in general the shipping costs are
$12 / $19 / $27   to   U.S. / Canada / RestOfWorld. 




Did you know you can add more to your pledge? The way it works is you add an extra amount to your pledge to cover the cost of the added items. When the campaign ends, we'll send you a BackerKit survey where you give us your address and you enumerate the additional items ordered.

THE BACTERIONOMICON: A compendium of the warriors and creatures of the Healing Blade.

OCCAM'S RAZOR: The diagnostician's dilemma - an educational card game to practice diagnosis.


YOU DECIDE WHAT POSTERS WE PRINT. We could potentially make posters of any of our individual characters, so you tell us which characters you want! Each poster comes with a text section describing that character's mythical lore in the world of Soma, as well as a "real world significance" section with medical facts.

The way this works is, if we don't get enough orders for a specific character (we need at least 10 orders to do a new layout) you can choose to either cancel the poster order or switch your order to a more popular character instead. We'll sort this all out in the survey after the campaign ends!

Extra copies of Defenders of Soma
You can also add extra copies of Defenders of Soma if you want duplicates.

AMOUNT to ADD to your pledge when adding extra items:

Add $15 for each poster, PLUS a shipping fee for shipping poster tubes. We can fit up to 7 posters in one poster tube.

  • US: $6 per poster tube
  • Canada: $11 per poster tube
  • Intl: $16 per poster tube

Bacterionomicon book:
Add $45 for each book, PLUS a shipping fee for the extra weight of each extra book:

  • US: $6 per book
  • Canada: $17 per book
  • Intl: $28 per book

Occam's Razor study aid game:
Add $35 for each Occam's Razor, PLUS a shipping fee for the extra weight for each copy of Occam's Razor:

  • US: $5 per game
  • Canada: $9 per game
  • Intl: $13 per game

Extra copy of Defenders of Soma:
Add $40 for each extra copy of the game (even if you chose a tier where the game cost less) PLUS a shipping fee for the extra weight of each additional game:

  •  US: $12 per game
  • Canada: $19 per game
  • Intl: $27

About shipping fees: You'd think there'd be a shipping discount for doubling the weight but actually to our surprise it doesn't work that way - and heavier packages bump us up into priority mail rates which are even more than first class. I know it's particularly expensive for you international backers, but we don't set the rates!

Back in 2009, Arun Mathews and his good buddy from med school, Dr. Francis Kong, came up with the idea of a card game that was evocative of Magic: the Gathering but had bacteria as monsters and antibiotics as warriors. They worked with their friend Xiaolong Dai and a team of artists to commission artwork for their idea, and created Healing Blade: Infectious Disease Card Battle. They showcased the game at the American Medical Student Association conference and received an enthusiastic reception. But initial excitement turned to confusion as the first players to receive the game couldn't make sense of the instructions, had trouble reading small text, found the game rules unbalanced, and learned that some cards were unbeatable. Well, nobody involved in the project was an experienced game designer, so there were definitely some flaws!

Longtime game designer Brandon Patton started corresponding with Arun shortly after this with hundreds of ideas for ways that the game could be improved. Patton wrote new Version 2.0 instructions, changed some rules, and banned some cards, to allow for a workable version of the game that wouldn't require a reprint. Meanwhile, he worked on a grandiose vision for Defenders of Soma that would tease out its unique qualities and would be quite a departure from the original. Tuning an asymmetrical game turned out to be a pretty tough challenge. The biggest challenge of all was designing the cards so that medically accurate information was easily readable, so the pattern matching involved didn't slow down gameplay.

Meanwhile, Zeeba and Arun Mathews came up with an educational game idea about differential diagnosis and collaborated with Brandon Patton to create Occam's Razor, a simple card game that could serve as a gift or social studying tool for medical and nursing students. This was received well in its niche community and gave everyone more confidence that the original Healing Blade card game idea could be revisited.

Arun found graphic designer Raul Gonzalez through a happy accident, and they started collaborating on the Bacterionomicon, a fantasy bestiary that could showcase the art from the original Healing Blade card game. Meanwhile Patton and Gonzalez started discussing a way to turn tedious lists of text into colors and numbers to improve the card game.

NerdcoreMedical, as the group was now called, had its first Kickstarter in 2014 and was pleasantly surprised by the response, gaining more than 2000 backers for the book! During and after that Kickstarter, gamers started clamoring for the Healing Blade card game, and we had very few left. This was the kick in the pants that Patton needed to finish up his vision for a new and improved card game about battling bacteria. Instead of a reprint of the original Healing Blade, we've been working hard to create a new version of the game that lives up to the standards of experienced gamers while also being medically relevant. This took many iterations to develop, but it's finally all coming together. The game stands alone now with a unique structure unlike other well known CCGs. The theme is stronger, the rules more coherent, and the cards are more effective at transmitting information and more beautiful. The game is less driven by chance and more by player choices. The real-world medical recommendations are embedded into the game as desirable rewards, without distracting from the gameplay. The top priority was making the game fun to play, and re-play.


Kickstarter has birthed some really cool game ideas, but sadly a lot of Kickstarter games arrive with really terribly written rulebooks. One of Patton's specialties is writing rulebooks (he's a bit of a perfectionist) but the only way to really get the rulebook hammered out is to have lots of people try to play the game, read the rules, and give feedback. That's where you come in! Certain tiers include backers into this final design process, so we can hone the whole gameplay experience and catch issues we may have overlooked. Crowdsourcing some play testing and rulebook editing is something we're really excited about. It's interactions like these between creators and backers that really make crowdfunding a special experience and make it possible to polish little indie projects in ways that would be too difficult or costly otherwise. Thanks in advance for your help!

We've also partnered again with MakeThatThing and BackerKit to aid us in backer survey collection, pre-production, manufacturing, and order fulfillment. Fulfilling 1000s of orders with address changes, different add-ons, international orders with unexpectedly expensive shipping costs, and dealing with surveys that didn't get filled out is a massive undertaking and many Kickstarter campaigns get totally overwhelmed by it. During the Bacterionomicon campaign last year it was essential to have MakeThatThing's help with all the grunt work at the end. They've done this all many times before, so they know what they're doing.


We need new artwork, especially for "mutants" that were not part of the Bacterionomicon, and for newly added antibiotic characters, and for the game board if we hit that stretch goal. We still have some polishing up to do on the card design. Feedback from early backers will probably lead to some additional changes in the card design and the game materials, and the game rules. The rulebook will need several iterations, and a good look over by some game industry professionals. The packaging needs to be designed. We'll need to pay a manufacturer to create all the games, and we'll need to research the text for new posters and then pay for layout and printing. And then there's all the shipping costs! And if we wildly exceed our goal we'll finally be able to reimburse people for their years of hard work and faith in this project.