October 3, 2015
Star Realms is a head-to-head deck-building game created by a team of experienced game designers, including Ascension’s Rob Dougherty and Magic Pro Tour Champion Darwin Kastle. These guys know their deck-builders, and Star Realms is a gorgeous sci-fi card game in which players assemble fleets of starships and space stations to protect their own interests while crushing their opponents.
Star Realms uses a simplified version of typical mechanics found in traditional deck-builders. There are two types of cards in the game: Ships and Bases. Ships help to generate resources and effects that strengthen a player’s position, and Bases do the same thing but are played on the table and are therefore vulnerable to the attacks of opponents. Each player starts with a deck of basic Ships which are eventually used to acquire more powerful and useful ones. Three basic values are shown on each Ship card: Trade, which is used to purchase Ship and Base cards for your deck; Combat, which is used to reduce your opponents’ resources and destroy their Bases; and Authority, which is a player’s score. The goal of Star Realms is to reduce an opponent’s Authority to 0. In the basic game, two players square off and each starts with 50 Authority. There are also options to play solo or co-operative scenarios, or to combine two sets and play a larger four-player game. The options are varied and extremely flexible.
The game is quick and simple, with three phases (Main, Discard, and Draw) that keep things rolling. There are four different factions in the game (Blobs, Trade Federation, Star Empire, and the Machine Cult), each with its own ability, and cards get bonuses for being played alongside Allies of the same faction. On a turn, any number of cards may be played before drawing back up to a full hand of five. Ship and Base abilities will commonly let you draw more cards, force opponents to discard cards, obtain Trade credit, or allow you to Scrap cards from your deck, offering a shunt for Ships and Bases that don’t suit your current strategy.
In order to do well in Star Realms, players must judge which options are the best to add to their decks from the five cards always available in the Trade Row. Remembering what you and your opponents have already purchased is essential to making good strategic choices. There are also key decisions to be made about when to Scrap ships, which opponents’ Bases to attack, and in what order to use card abilities. Combat is fast, paying resources from a Combat Pool that is used to match the Defense total of a targeted Base. Some cards even allow the destruction of Bases without needing to engage in Combat!
Overall, Star Realms is a neat little card game that offers a lot of bang for a relatively small amount of bucks, and it’s created by expert card gamers who are sharp with their design. It’s distinctly non-collectible, but there are currently five expansions available ($4.95 each): Gambits, which adds more Ships as well as powerful effects that boost the start of the game; Events, cards which take effect as soon as they enter the Trade Row; Heroes, Bases & Battleships; and Fleets & Fortresses. Star Realms lets you pick up and play a game in 30 minutes while still enjoying the strategic depth of other deck-builders, but with even more interaction between players. All systems are a go!