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Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma
Finalist in the 2018 World Changing Ideas Awards

Posted on 9 April, 2018

Nerdcore Medical’s infectious disease card game, Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma, was listed as a finalist in the 2018 Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards, in the health category. There were nearly 1,400 submissions in 12 categories.

The Healing Blade card game idea was conceived of by Drs. Arun Mathews and Francis Kong, as a way to make learning about antibiotic use (and overuse) more interesting, entertaining, visually stimulating, and full of mnemonic aids. Game designer Brandon Patton and graphic designer Raul Gonzalez added the final polishes to make the game gorgeous and fun.

By giving these awards, Fast Company hopes to "give more attention to ideas with great potential, and help them expand their reach and serve as inspiration for more people to start work on solving the problems that affect us all."

See list of finalists here.

Bacterionomicon 5-star reviews on

I am a Doctor of Pharmacy student currently on my Infectious Diseases rotation in the final year of my curriculum. I loved the idea of this book and purchased it through the Nerdcore Medical kickstarter as soon as I discovered it. Infectious Disease diagnosis, pathology, and pharmacotherapy is a fascinating field that is often challenging for many students. I am not really into fantasy gaming and stories, but this book is dense with accurate information and it’s styling definitely helped me as a mnemonic to build my memorization of antibiotic spectra and coverage. This book and the other games and products from Nerdcore Medical were definitely more helpful to me as a memory aid than the other comparables I have tried like SketchyMicro, Made Ridiculously Simple series, etc. In summary, I love this book!
By William on July 6, 2015
This is an awesome book. We bought it as somethign of a casual reference book for our kids. We homeschool our children, and they are only 4, 7, and 10, so they are not too into this kind of thing yet. However, we expect this will help over time, as the move up into biology, chemistry, and health subjects. We expect that it will be something that will hopefully aid in memory recall later on in their education, more than as a direct educational tool now.
One caution I would add is that some of the artwork is not exactly family-friendly. It is not dirty or anything by any means, but the dress code for some of the creatures of Soma can be a bit relaxed, LOL. I would point out, though, that it is no worse than many of the modern comic books being put out by the likes of DC and Marvel.
All in all, it is a great resource. Great artwork and beautiful design. I would recommend it for almost anyone. Check it out!


By Rene Poyyayil on June 28, 2015

I’m not a doctor but an avid gamer. The artwork and the story behind the Bacterionomicon is amazing, well thought through and in the same league as the campaign books for games like DnD* or DsA*.

My wife is a nurse but not much into gaming. She tells me that from here point of view, the information about the bacteria is medically correct. And the visual interpretation of some (like the MRSA) gave her the shudders.

We both really enjoy the book got different reasons. If you are either into games and fantasy themes or if you are interested in medically correct information on diseases, which are easily digestible (the information, not the bacteria), then this is for you.

*if you are not into roleplaying games you probably don’t know Dungeons and Dragons or Das schwarze Auge.


Backed on Kickstarter for my wife, whose descent into being a geek rivals my own.

We’re both lovers of fantasy and science fiction, but she’s the biology lover of the two of us. She’d like nothing more than to work full time studying contagions. For her, this is the perfect mix of biological science and fantasy. For me, it’s an amazing collection of artwork and words I have no hope of pronouncing. (This is why I enjoy simple things, like robotics and programming languages. Things with words I can usually pronounce and spell…)

If you’re a med student or biology student with a love of fantasy this belongs on your shelf. My wife loves it. I’m forced to just admire it. Makes me wish I knew more than I do.


I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but it wasn’t this. The color, the artwork, the binding, the layout. It’s all done at the highest level. The attention to detail is exceptional. This does not feel like a “kickstarter project done by some friends”. It would stand out even if I pulled it off the shelf of a Barnes & Noble sitting right in the middle of a row of similarly sized coffee table/reference/picture book. I have yet to play the game, so I cannot speak to how this book augments play and understanding of the science behind it, and unfortunately I cannot play the original Healing Blade game yet because it’s sold ou,t but I have already backed the newest version of it and look forward to playing it soon.


I backed this book on Kickstarter. I originally thought this book was a novel idea and something I could use to spice up some of my D&D campaigns. Well I was blown away once I got this book in my hands because I got so much more. The artwork is breathtakingly beautiful and the information inside not only educational but had hints of its fantastical world. I am so glad that I got this. Its a very informative read that’s written in a way that even my six year nephew is beginning to understand how some antibiotics fight off nasty infections. As far as my original purpose for kickstarting it goes, it is a big hit among my players. I highly recommend this book to anyone really. It can be used in so many ways.

This book is amazing! I backed it on Kickstarter, and was blown away by the quality of the product when I received it. The art is top-notch, and the writing is a wonderful blend of information and winking nudges about the “Land of Soma” and the Lords of Pestilence that seek to destroy it. Since acquiring it, I’ve used it to teach my preschooler basic concepts about bacteria and antibiotics and what they do. I’ve also just read it for sheer pleasure, marveling at the art and then looking up the details of the disease in the real world. I can’t recommend this enough.

Now, if we can just get RPG stats for the Lords of Pestilence….


GeekDad Prototype Review

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The Nerdcore Medical crew is at it again. After the original Healing Blade card game, which introduced us to the mythical world of Soma, creator Arun Mathews, M.D., has joined forces with game designer Brandon Patton and artist Raul Gonzalez in creating Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma. The Kickstarter launched a little over a week ago and is roughly two-thirds of the way to being fully funded…

Described as an “asymmetrical fantasy card game,” Defenders of Soma pits the forces of the Apothecary Healers – based on real-world antibiotics – against the dark forces of the Lords of Pestilence – creatures symbolic of naturally occurring bacteria – with the lives of meeple villagers hanging in the balance. The player controlling the Lords of Pestilence uses cards drawn from several decks of bacterial pathogens in an attempt to kill non-player “villagers.” The Apothecary Healers attempt to maim or kill the bacterial agents of the Lords of Pestilence, freeing the villagers from the pall of disease and death. The full rule set and game balance are still being fine-tuned, but the current iteration gives me lots of hope that this game will be a household favorite.

As a physician married to a pharmacist, the idea that your average gamer may one day understand why he shouldn’t take antibiotics for his head cold excites me to no end. I’ve been playing an early prototype with the aforementioned pharmacist, and not only did I refresh my knowledge of bacterial pathogens and antibiotics, but I had tons of fun doing it. On the surface, this game may look like a slightly nerdy take on good versus evil. In reality Defenders of Soma incorporates basic microbiology, pathology and pharmacology with a strategic understanding of the appropriate and judicious use of antibiotics.

You don’t have to be a scientist or doctor to enjoy the game mechanics or the amazing artwork, but biology students may understand more of the subtext involved. Resistance mechanisms ‘evolve’ as Apothecary Healers are over-used, thus encouraging players to use their antibiotics wisely. The forces of Pestilence and the Apothecaries have access to special abilities based on the real-world properties of bacteria and antibiotics as well, giving the game a subtle multi-layered strategy.

The Verdict

This game combines a solid asynchronous deck dueler with a well-rounded and accurate teaching aid, wrapped up in a beautifully illustrated package. Game mechanics give great replay potential, and the integration of even advanced concepts in microbiology makes this an excellent tool for learning or reviewing. Visit the Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma Kickstarter page for more details.

See original here.

DiceTower News
Now on Kickstarter: Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma by Nerdcore Medical

May 31, 2015

Have you ever imagined the battles that are conducted in your body between infectious bacteria and antibiotics? If so did you imagine the antibiotics as fantasy heroes and the bacteria as the monsters they slay in battle? Well apparently these guys did and they made a game out called Healing Blade for the rest of us to enjoy. Healing Blade is sold out and instead of doing a reprint Nerdcore Medical has decided to do a complete redesign with the help of Kickstarter backers.

The reprint is called Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma and in it two players will battle it out in the land of Soma. One player will take on the role of antibiotics as The Apothecary Healers, a group of sorcerers and warriors named after antibiotics and the way they fight reflects actual antibiotic recommendations from real world medical guides. Their opponent will play The Lords of Pestilence a diverse group of evil monsters like dragons and zombies that are named after real world bacteria and infections and have the same characteristics as their real world counterparts. During the game the Pestilence player will attempt to kill 3 of the 5 villagers while the Apothecary player tries to defend the villagers until the end of the plague.

The game was envisioned by Dr. Arun Matthews and designed by Brandon Patton it has some very cool looking artwork by Raul Gonzalez who has also illustrated a The Bacterionomicon an artbook with the Apothecary Healers and Lords of Pestilence. It comes with 80 different characters:

  • 46 different infectious bacteria
  • 34 different antibiotics.

This is certainly a unique Kickstarter but definitely worth checking out. The artwork is great and the game itself is based on real science, a rarity in the non-educational game world and looks like a solid game. There are some interesting stretch goals like a pill bottle to hold the game pieces, and trying to pronounce the names of the characters is almost a game in itself. There is also a PnP pledge level for those that like to craft. So head over to the Kickstarter project for Healing Blade: Defenders of Soma today.

See original here.

GeekDad: Bacterionomicon Outfits Impractical for Battle

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The Bacterionomicon by Nerdcore Medical

Nerdcore Medical created a game called The Healing Blade, which was kind of like a cross between Magic: The Gathering and a medical textbook. The monsters were various bacteria known as the Lords of Pestilence, and the heroes were the antibiotics used to treat them (the Apothecary Healers). The game, unfortunately, sold out and is now out of print, but Nerdcore Medical launched a campaign to print a nice hardcover book to showcase the various monsters and heroes from the game. The result looks like a monster manual from a role-playing game, and it’s pretty impressive. My only complaint is that, as in many other fantasy-based games, most of the women are wearing outfits that seem completely impractical for battle.

The book is now available for pre-order in case you missed the Kickstarter campaign, and I’ve gotten word that there is a new game in the works, so I’m excited to see how that turns out.

See original here.


March 16, 2014 – by Kylee Sills

Nothing jaw-droppingly amazing happened in the world of Kickstarter this week. I personally got the funds together to back those Period Panties that inspired it all before the time ran out for pledges. And with San Diego Comic Con craziness happening this weekend, this post is one day late. Shh.


The Bacterionomicon




Look at that awesome sample page right there. How awesome does that look? The Bacterionomicon is a fantasy art book that will showcase 41 “Lords of Pestilence” (infectious bacteria) and 27 “Apothecary Healers” (antibiotics), based on a 2010 card game called Healing Blade. The metaphorical descriptions will give clues to the actual facts about the different bacteria and antibiotics. If that doesn’t blow the CDC and their faux zombie preparedness articles out of the water, nothing (…okay, a lot) will. An index with all of the planned bacteria and antibiotics can be found on their Kickstarter page. Each entry into The Bacterionomicon is going to feature a full set of stats, descriptions, icons, and a full-color layout. Be honest, you’ve always wanted to know what kind of beast Helicobacter pylori is.

See original here.

Doctors make game out of learning infection control


Two medical school buddies who bonded over geek culture have founded a gaming company aimed at medical students.


By PAMELA LEWIS DOLAN — Posted April 26, 2010

For Dr. Arun Mathews and Dr. Francis Kong, teaching medical students is as much about sorcerers and science fiction as it is about textbooks and rounds.

The two physicians are the founders of Nerdcore Learning, a gaming company geared toward creating study tools that combine two things they both enjoy: medical education and geek culture.

Nerdcore recently launched what it considers to be its signature product, “The Healing Blade.” It is a role-playing card game that, like “Pokemon,” “Yu-Gi-Oh” or “Magic: The Gathering,” depicts sorcerers, creatures and heroines. But “The Healing Blade” teaches about infectious diseases. Nerdcore is developing an iPhone version of the game as well.

The two self-proclaimed “mega geeks” met while attending the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. It was there that a fellow gamer friend of Dr. Mathews told him he had to meet Dr. Kong, who had a campus reputation as being the ultimate gamer geek. Before entering medical school, Dr. Kong worked as a game reviewer in San Francisco. (Now he’s back in that city as a health information technology consultant.)

Dr. Mathews recalled the first time he walked into Dr. Kong’s dorm room. “He had like two or three [game] consoles in his room, and it was just like walking into geek heaven.”

The two stayed in touch after medical school. When Dr. Mathews got the idea to launch a company that combined gaming with medical education, he called his old friend.

The doctors developed their first product, a mnemonic calendar for medical students to use as a learning tool, in October 2008. They then set out to create “The Healing Blade.”

A table-top card battle game, “The Healing Blade” is built around a fantasy world, complete with sorcerers, villains and heroines that the two doctors created. Characters are divided into The Apothecary Healers, named after real-world antibiotics, and The Lords of Pestilence, named after actual bacterial agents.

Dr. Mathews, a hospitalist and intensivist in New Mexico, said the concept for the game came to him one night during ICU rounds.

“I was struck upon the complexity and yet innate nature of gaming within the choice I would make for putting some of my sick patients on particular antibiotics,” he said. “Essentially, in a similar way, when you are playing a complex multi-tiered video game, we are making similar choices by obtaining data from our cultures [and] making risk-management decisions.”

Nerdcore is working on another game that will use symptoms and signs to create sets that players use to identify ailments.

Dr. Mathews said Nerdcore’s primary goal for games is to create fictitious worlds that people want to come back to and explore, much like BioWare has done. Both doctors are huge fans of that company, whose most popular titles are “Mass Effect” and “Mass Effect 2.”

“That type of approach should be taken towards education, where if you want to sit down and learn about all the glorious things that occur in microbiology, you should be able to do that on many different levels,” Dr. Mathews said.

“The Healing Blade,” which retails for $24.99, is considered a “serious game,” defined as a game that serves a purpose beyond entertainment.

It was launched at the American Medical Student Assn.’s annual meeting in March in Anaheim, Calif. Nerdcore planned to bring about 30 copies of the game to the meeting, but because of an ordering error by the printer, there were more than 100 copies.

It ended up being a fortunate mistake, as more than 90 were sold. But even that wasn’t the highlight for Dr. Mathews.

At the end of the conference, while all the other booths on the exhibit floor were being broken down, “We had this gaggle of students just sitting down, spreading out on a bunch of tables, all playing the game. That is one memory that will take a while to fade, because it was such a neat thing to see students getting super excited about infectious disease and therapies,” he said.

“They were just totally geeking out.”



It’s infection vs. antibiotic in “The Healing Blade”

Common infections take on distinct personas in the fantasy world of physician-owned Nerdcore Learning’s game, “The Healing Blade.”

Here is how the card game works.

Players choose the side they want to represent in a fantasy battle between infectious disease, the Lords of Pestilence, and treatments, the Apothecary Healers.

Each Apothecary champion has a unique set of gifts and abilities. The Apothecaries also can turn into adversaries when real-world events such as resistance come into play.

The Lords of Pestilence have specific symptoms or drug resistances that must be considered as the Apothecary Healers design their battle strategy.

The cards each have an artistic interpretation of the characters as villains, creatures or vixens. They are used with the backdrop of a fantasy world depicted on two play mats.

The teams battle using real-world understanding of microbiology and common medical therapies for infectious disease to determine if the antibiotics are used properly to fight off the infectious diseases, or if the diseases will be victorious.

Also included are 30 special events cards, which include spells and real-life adverse effects that influence the battle.


Social entrepreneurship at work

Dr. Arun Mathews and Dr. Francis Kong, the minds behind Nerdcore Learning, aren’t using the business to make a profit. At least, not for themselves.

The two physicians are believers in a concept called social entrepreneurship, in which businesses are created for the purpose of raising money for causes the founders support, as well as using the business as a means of promoting a certain social principle.

In the case of Nerdcore Learning, that principle is medical education. Its signature product, a strategy card game called “The Healing Blade,” is meant to be used as a tool to help medical students learn about infectious diseases.

The money Nerdcore raises by selling the game goes toward an organization Dr. Mathews created called HOPE, Hospital-based Online Pediatric Environment, which provides video game consoles to pediatric hospitals. (Dr. Mathews has written research articles on the effectiveness of the use of gaming by pediatric patients as a means to increase self-esteem and decrease isolation.) Other charities may be added.

Dr. Mathews said he first discovered social entrepreneurship when he heard a recorded lecture on the topic while driving his brother to the airport one day. He heard stories of how social entrepreneurs used their business acumen to help address societal problems and causes. Dr. Mathews said he was “mesmerized” by the idea of building a business that supported a larger cause.

At the time he heard that lecture, Dr. Mathews was struggling to obtain funding to get HOPE off the ground. He was working on developing a mnemonic calendar for medical students as a fundraiser when he decided to recruit Dr. Kong, a friend from medical school in Ireland, to create an educational publishing start-up company built around the social entrepreneur concept.

Both doctors make their living elsewhere — Dr. Mathews as a hospitalist and intensivist in New Mexico, and Dr. Kong as a health information technology consultant in San Francisco.