Star Realms, Can you Rule the Stars?
Once again the galaxy is up for grabs. It’s up to you, an opportunist warlord, to unite The Machine Cult, Star Empire, Trade Federation. and the Alien Blob factions in an effort to forge your Star Realm.
Will you be able to form and utilize your empire to rule, before your foe, or will you be reduced to nothing more than a backwater trader?
Star Realms is a science fiction deck-building game that puts you in the role of a small time leader of nothing more than a few trade ships and 2 attack ships in the hope that you will be able to build up a mighty fleet to defeat your enemy. For those of you who are not sure what deck building means, it’s where the central mechanic of the game is to start off with a very limited number of cards and through the process of buying cards – from a large deck that is shared between all players – you build your deck into a larger more powerful one.
I have not had the chance to sit down and really try a deck builder, so when the opportunity arose to try one out, I took it. I was intrigued by the tuck-box with the space tank on it. That evening I played three matches in a row. Suffice it to say I enjoy the game immensely.
Rule Summary- Players begin with a small and considerably weak personal deck of 10 cards. The deck consists of 8 scouts which provide 1 trade each, and 2 vipers which provide 1 combat each. Players begin the game with 50 Authority, tracked using double-sided Authority cards(1,5 & 10,20) or by whatever means you’d like. A stack of 10 explorer cards is set out/ The rest of the trade deck cards are shuffled and 5 are revealed creating what we call the Trade Row. Now the start player draws 3 cards and the other draws 5.
On their turn, a player can play some or all their cards, from their hand. Most cards belong to one of four factions, and will provide you with Trade, Combat, or Authority; based on the symbols on the card. Other cards will spell out what they do, like ” Draw a card” or “Target opponent discards a card”. Cards will always have a primary ability that you get regardless many other cards posses an Ally ability or Scrap ability. Ally abilities can be activated if there is another card with the corresponding factions symbol.The Scrap ability is when you choose to remove a card from the game in exchange for more Combat, Trade, or a written effect.
There are only two types of cards Ships or Bases. Ships are played for their effect then go away at the end of your turn. Bases on the other hand once played stay out and give you their bonuses every turn, until destroyed. They have a defensive value which must be matched by your opponents combat.(I play with a house variant where your combat must exceed the defensive value to destroy a base, I find it to easy to lose them otherwise). When destroyed they go to your discard pile. Some bases are outposts. Your opponent must destroy all outposts before they can target any non-outpost bases or your authority.
While playing cards, players can choose to purchase ships & bases from the Trade Row using their accumulated Trade or attack their opponent using their combat. There is not order or limit to how you take your actions, the only hard-fast rule is when you buy something from the Trade Row you immediately refill the row. At the end of a players turn, they discard whatever is left in their hand, move all their played ships to the discard pile, and lose any unused Combat or Trade they didn’t spend, then redraw 5 cards.
As you may have guessed the objective of the game is to reduce your opponents Authority to zero. You do this by attacking them with your combat values. Every time an attack gets passed their outpost, they lose that much authority. So if you have 12 combat, take down a their 6 defence outpost they’ll lose 6 authority.
How accessible is the game to new players?
Star Realms is a very easy game to pick up and play. Rules are on a single doubled-sided piece of paper and are fairly well written.
What are the feelings the game evokes and why?
The game seems to evoke fun from everyone who has played it. People seem to really fall in love with one faction over the others, and that is thanks to the wonderful art-work, well-defined character and emphasis on different abilities. Sometimes I forget that I’m even deck-building at all. I suppose I would say that while the overall structure of the game doesn’t reinforce the theme, the individual implementation of the cards really do. The other thing I believe is a flaw is the first player penalty where you only draw 3 cards instead of 5 is too much of a hindrance, so I play without that rule.
Star Realms plays smooth as silk. the adversarial nature keeps you more engaged on your opponents turn. Unfortunately there is no nothing you can do when attacked. But you’ll want to know whether they’ll blow up a base or go straight for your throat.
What could have been done to make the game more enjoyable?
Extensions & Expansions. That is what I want to see. I want to see cards with cross faction ally abilities. I want cards that you can use to react to attacks. I just want more. Now a big problem for me is that this is a Kickstarter game, that means the above question has been answered for backers only which is the big problem I have with the game. Backers of the game got about 30 or so extra cards that add kinds of new things that I am unable to review. I won’t go into too much detail here perhaps I’ll write something on them later. Suffice it to say they add quite a lot of functionally for only 30-35 cards, it’s a big disappointment that most people won’t get to experience them if they choose to purchase the game.
Strategy, Tactics, both or neither?
I feel the game is more strategic than tactical. Hands more or less play themselves, and the order cards are played rarely matters, except when you are given the chance to scrap a card in your hand. The only decisions you’ll make are what cards to buy and if you should scrap.
But decisions about hoe to build your deck feel more interesting than from what I remember from Dominion. You’ll be compelled to stick to just one or two factions, thanks to the heavy emphasis on ally abilities. But every now and again a card comes out that is too good to pass up, even if it disturbs whatever great ally stacking you have going on. Sometimes you’ll even need to take a card so your opponent from getting their evil hands on it.
This is not a game of where you will spend minutes taking your turn or blow a synapse out because you thought to hard. They are not the most interesting choices in the world. With that being said, they are quick, and fun. Really fun. I attribute this to the adversarial nature of the game and the imaginative world you are playing in.
Everything fits into a standard size tuck-box. I recommend replacing the cheap box with your own. There are about 130 cards with two small folded rule sheets. Cards are not of a back stock but should be better quality. They shuffle and bridge nicely. Again I’d like to mention the art work on display here. Every faction has clear and distinct visual themes, and a defined colour palette to aid you in telling the cards apart from a distance. I also find the cards to be well laid out in terms of graphic design and the information on them to be clear. The Authority cards seem to be a hit & miss with players for keeping score. I use them as well as poker chips.
Long term prospects?
It’s one of the few games that had me at go and keeps me coming back for more, regardless of its short shortcomings. Every time it hits the table its been consistently fun. The pace of this game is what I love about it after the art. The turns move quickly and even when someone pulls an obscenely long card combo its alright because chances are you’ll be cooked in a turn or two after it.
As with anything with limited mechanics tho I’m sure I’ll grow tired of the base game, but should they properly support the game I could see this becoming an all time favorite that I’ll carry with me whatever I go.