What is Star Realms?
Star Realms is a deckbuilding game (see my post about the DC Deck-Building Game* for a short description if you’re not familiar with these types of games).
Forget boxes the size of paving stones, with enough spare slots to hold a lifetime’s worth of expansions, Star Realms comes in a small box the height of the playing cards it holds, and a depth of a couple of inches.
Don’t worry, you get a lot of cards for your money (128) and this is a great, self-contained game that feels unexpectedly weighty and strategic. But is should – it boasts a great pedigree, designed by Magic: The Gathering ‘Hall of Famers’ Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty, which basically means these guys know what they’re talking about.
This is specifically a two-player game, with opponents using cards to build the most powerful space-faring deck they can.
If you’re familiar with deckbuilding games, you already know how to play Star Realms. The aim of the game is to collect cards as the game progresses, building up a more powerful hand in order to defeat your opponent. It has a nice sci-fi theme which really appeals to me.
Starting with 50 ‘Authority’ – the equivalent of health or life points – players draw from a central pool of five cards. Cards tend to boast one or two basic abilities – attack points and trade points. Some also give you back Authority.
Attack points will allow you to knock Authority from your opponent’s total, trade points to acquire cards from the central pool of cards.
Players start with a very basic hand but as you go on, acquiring more powerful cards with higher levels of trade or attack values, the cards available to you become increasingly more powerful. They often have special abilities allowing you to draw another card, or force your opponent to discard a card.
Some cards have an extra ability which can be utilitised if you ‘scrap’ it, and remove it from the game.
But what helps this game step up from the fairly basic filler card game it could have been are the factions – the game has four: Blob, Machine Cult, Trade Federation and Star Empire.
The cards relating to each faction have a slightly different focus – Blob cards tend to be more powerful in terms of attack, trade federation more focused on trade, Machine Cult cards often let you scrap a card from your hand or discard pile which is a great way to rid your deck of weaker cards, and the Star Empire seems to allow you to draw extra cards more than the other factions.
This adds a great deal of strategy to the game – should you focus on one faction, giving you an associated ‘ally bonus’ when two or more cards of the same faction are in play – or should you simply get the best cards from each faction? But which are the best cards – the most powerful attacking cards or the higher value trade cards?
But is it good with two players?
Well, it’s a two player game. And a good one, so yes.
I’ve really enjoyed getting into this game. It wasn’t difficult to pick up, playing similarly to other deckbuilders but feeling like it has its own identity.
The theme is really nice, and having the four factions to get to know, learning their strengths and weaknesses, really adds to the gameplay.
I guess after a few dozen plays it could start to get a little samey, but that’s the case with every game. I imagine the creators will bring out an expansion or two before long which I’ll be ordering.
Or you know, maybe they won’t – after all, this game achieves its aim, of being a self-contained deck building game you can carry around with you.
*Punctuation fans, DC uses a hyphen in ‘deck-building,’ Star Realms doesn’t. If this bothers you, we’d probably be firm friends.
Star Realms for Android
I had to add a short postscript to this review. Star Realms is available on Android. It’s free, to a certain extent. There are in-game purchases, but you can certainly play the basic game for as long as you like without it costing a penny.
You can find it here.
I’m currently a little addicted to this game. It plays really well on a tablet although the cards can be a little small – a quick double-tap zooms in so that’s not a deal-breaker by any means.
The game plays just as it does in the real world, and has helped me practice strategies and even get to know some of the rules a little better (do you still score trade or attack points from a card you subsequently scrap? According to this version, yes, so that’s how I’ll play it in the real version).
There’s online play or against an AI with various difficulty settings. All-in-all, it’s a great job.
You can find the game’s official site here.