Review: Star Realms

Star Realms Card Back
Star Realms.

Ever wanted to have a something handy that’s a really quick pick up and play game? It must also have depth and not be almost totally reliant on luck? Maybe it should also make you think and have some really close and tense games?

And it must be fun?

Then get yourself a copy of Star Realms.

Star Realms is a DBG made by White Wizard games. It started off life as a kickstarter project and now has a few awards and nominations under its belt. Including 2 Golden Geek awards for 2014 for best 2 player game and best card game.

Set in space, each player starts with a basic fleet of ships (starting deck) and needs to build his armada so that he can wrest control of the galaxy for himself. You do this by sending your ships out to attack your opponent in an attempt to reduce his Authority (AKA Health/Life) to 0.

For the TL;DR version, click here.

Opening the box

The specs on the box:

  •  2 players (expandable with multiple sets)
  • Ages 12+
  • 20+ min (10+ is easily possible)

The game is sold in a small box, size of a deck box for most CCGs. This is one of the selling points of the game, it’s in a box small enough to fit into a jacket pocket and a game is quick enough to play in a lunch break.

Everything that you need for a 2 player game is in the box. 110 cards, to be used in the game with an additional 18 cards that you use to track your Authority (life). It’s an interesting setup, not as convenient as just using some dice. Each player gets 6 double sided cards with 1 printed on the front and 5 on the back, and then 3 with 10 & 20 printed on them. Initially it does feel like a bit of a bother to track your life with these cards, but it is easy once you get used to it.

Star Realms Life Cards
Life Cards.

Instead of a rulebook there is a rules leaflet. It’s double sided and very easy to learn. 10 minutes and you can read it and teach it to someone else. You most likely won’t have to reference it ever again.

There is also a leaflet with multiplayer variants on it. However, in order to play multiplayer games you must add additional boxes, each supporting 2 more players.

The game supports expansions too. They come in booster packs, which are not random so you can select which booster packs you would like to buy. They are not necessary but do add some variety to the game, if you feel that you need it.

Theme

Star Realms has 4 different factions (races) in the game. Each faction has a different flavour to them, and it comes through very well both in the card art and in the mechanics of the ships of the different races. Players can recruit ships from any or all of the factions to build their armadas.

Star Realms Factions
Ships from the 4 factions.

The artwork in the cards is really good but the game is so fast and easy to play it’s fairly easy to overlook them.

Gameplay

Each player starts off with the same basic deck of 8 Scout ships and 2 Vipers. The Scouts produce Trade, the in game currency, and the Vipers produce Combat, attack points. Trade is used to purchase new cards and Combat is used to deal damage.

Star Realms Basic Cards
Scout & Viper.

The remaining cards are separated into Explorer ships (bigger Scouts) and a Trade Deck which contains all the cooler ships and bases that you can purchase. The first 5 cards from the Trade Deck are laid out face up in what is called the Trade Row.

During the first turn the first player only draws 3 cards. I like this mechanic as it negates the advantage of playing first in this type of game. From then onwards every player draws a hand of 5 cards.

Using Trade generated from cards played players can purchase Explorers or cards in the Trade Row, which is immediately replenished. These cards go into the discard pile of the person who purchased it, like most DBG’s.

The Trade cards, in the base game, come in 2 types, Ships and Bases. Ships are played and then discarded at the end of the turn while Bases remain in play and need to be destroyed otherwise they will give players some kind of benefit each turn. Some Bases have as subtype of Outpost, which protect players from incoming damage. Outposts must be destroyed first before damage can be assigned to a player or his non Outpost bases.

Star Realms Bases
Outpost has a black shield for its hit points/life.

The cards, when played have up to 3 abilities. A Primary ability which always happens. Secondary, which activates if you play more than 1 card from the same faction in a turn. Each will trigger the other and then any more cards from that faction played that turn will trigger as they are played. Bases in play will also trigger secondary abilities, so you can build some very good synergies if you build your deck around only 1 or 2 factions. The third ability is a Scrap ability. It’s a once off ability that you can use if you move that card to the scrap heap, effectively removing that card from the game.

Star Realms Trade Raft
The Trade Raft has 3 abilities.

Any combat generated is assigned to opponents Bases and or Authority (life) if there are no outposts protecting them. Last person left standing wins. Easy!

Conclusion

It’s easy to learn and fast to play. I once played Star Realms while playing a game of King of Tokyo. It’s got plenty of depth and can lead to some close, tense games. It’s also cheap. At the time of writing this the boxes are R200 and the expansions are R50 each.

Star Realms Explorer
More Trade than a Scout and you can scrap it for Combat.

If you are keen to try it you can download the free digital version (iOS/Android/Windows/Mac), although it only allows play on the easiest difficulty and no multiplayer, for that you need to pay. If you get the mobile version expect lots of zooming in and out on your phone until you start remembering what the cards do.

I really enjoy this game and highly recommend it as a filler game, while you are waiting for something or even just as something to do in games with excessive downtime.

Can I play this at a braai?

Yes. It’s designed to fit into your pocket. It does not take up a lot of space, unless you have 3 sets all sleeved, that’s a massive trade deck. As a 2 player game it can go almost anywhere.

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