Overview: Star Realms is a quick deck builder card game set in space. Players have a starting deck of 8 scouts (1 coin each) and 2 vipers (1 attack each) and start with 50 authority (health, not capped at 50, players can go above). Goal of the game is to knock out your opponent by getting their authority to zero. Not unlike Ascension, players have a pool of 5 cards to buy each turn, which can either be bases and ships. Explorers (2 coins) can always be purchased. When players buy cards, these cards are put immediately in their discard pile unless otherwise stated. Ships are cards that have attack, authority, and coin. They are played freely (no cost to play a card) and then discarded after a turn. Bases, on the other hand have authority and stay out in a players play area until destroyed by their opponent. Some bases, called outposts, have to be targeted and destroyed first before attacking the target player. Play continues until one player has zero authority, the other player then wins.
Star Realms is a two player deck builder (can support 4+ w/more decks) that is heavy on the combat mechanics. Instead of some deck builders whose victory conditions require points, Star Realms simply requires that you destroy your opponent. Gameplay is very quick and most games finish in 15 minutes or less. Because of this, players should agree to play best 2 out of 3 or more, because some games can be over almost too quickly. Players can play any card in their hand as there is no cost to a card after it’s purchased. Players resolve ship abilities as played, but base abilities can be activated at any time in the game. It’s this simplicity which makes Star Realms so popular, because it can be taught and played within a half hour. Another shining point of Star Realms is the small box, which can be put in a coat pocket or purse. This makes for a great game to play during lunch hour or to bring on a trip.
Special note: Star Realms can be played with more players if two or more decks are purchased. For the sake of this review, we only had one deck and therefore are categorizing this as a 2 player only game.
One interesting thing to note about the ships and bases is that they each come from one of four factions. These ships and bases may have ally abilities which can be activated if another card of that faction is played that turn. Ally abilities can be activated at any time during a turn. This encourages players to focus on one or two factions, if possible, as the combos can be quite powerful. The four factions: Blob, Trade Federation, Star Empire, and Machine Cult all have different focuses and abilities. For example, the Trade Federation ships and bases tend to have a “gain authority” ability and usually coin or some attack. Blob Faction tends to be a heavy hitter with mostly attack abilities. Machine Cult focuses on attack and the “scrap” ability which means remove from the game. This can help lighten your deck in order to draw more powerful cards rather than the starting deck such as scouts and vipers. Lastly, the Star Empire focuses on drawing cards and making your opponent discard a card as well as have high attack. The knowledge of how these four factions work can be made to your extreme advantage in the game.
Being aware of what you have bought in your deck, as well as your opponent’s deck is essential. Star Realms is a game that requires constant adaptation, and what worked one game may not work in another game. Every game can be very different in Star Realms, because of the sheer amount of cards in the base deck. Players only tend to see about 25% of the deck because each game is so quick. This gives Star Realms great replay value, because each game has a lot of variation. Also, besides Outpost bases, players have no way to block or defend against an attack. This differs from many 2 player combat games, in which players get a chance to block or play cards which help in their defense. Sometimes, a player can feel helpless as their opponent rails on them with powerful faction combos. This can be a negative of the game, however, some players may enjoy this type of intense combat in such a light and quick game. Star Realms is a deep game for being so fast and easy to learn, because of the different possibilities each game can hold. With great replay value, deep strategy, and a heavy combat mechanic makes Star Realms an excellent game for players who enjoy 2 player combat.