Your fleet is ready, your factions united. It is time to destroy your opponent and forge your own Star Realm.
When I first heard of the successfully Kickstarted card game, called Star Realms, I was intrigued. The game is a deck building card game with the feel of a collectable card game, all this wrapped in a Sci-Fi theme. The fact that my wife and I were looking for a new two player game to try, convinced me to give the game a go.
What is it about?
Star Realms pits two players against each other in intergalactic battle. Each player has to build up their fleet and defences in order crush their opponents.
What is in the box?
Part of what makes Star Realms so great is the fact that it is so portable. The whole game fits into a relatively small cardboard box (unfortunately this changes as soon as you add the expansions).
Inside the box are 128 cards. These cards consist of ships, bases, trade cards (money) and authority cards (health). The artwork is good and I love the fact that each faction has their own unique flavour. Not only do these factions look radically different of each other, they also play different (more on this later).
I do have one small issue with the cards, because you shuffle your deck a lot (this is not an over exaggeration) the cards tend to pick up a bit of damage around the edges, a thicker quality card stock could have prevented this.
How does it play?
Each player starts with the same deck consisting of 8 Scout cards and 2 Viper cards. The Scout cards produce trade (money) and the Viper cards produce combat (damage). Each player also receives 50 authority cards. Authority in Star Realms is used as your hit points or health.
The rest of the cards are divided into 2 decks, a Trade deck and an Explorer ships deck. The Trade deck is made up of ships and bases that you will be purchasing throughout the game. The Explorer ships produce more trade than Scout ships do, thus enabling you to purchase ships at a faster pace.
The top 5 cards from the Trade deck are placed in a row face up. These cards are called the Trade row, and it is from here that you will be purchasing ships and bases. Cards from the trade row and Explorer ships are purchased by using the trade that is generated from your cards.
Players alternate taking turns. Each turn consists of 3 phases:
Main phase – In the main phase players can play any cards from their hand. Cards usually have 3 abilities (depending on the ship/base). These abilities are their primary ability, ally ability and scrap ability. The primary abilities activate when the card is placed in play, ally abilities only activate once the player plays more ships/bases from the same faction and the scrap abilities activate when the ship/base is scrapped (removed from play).
Players can then use the trade and combat that their cards produce to attack their opponent and to acquire more ships from the Trade row.
Discard phase – Once a card has been used it is placed in that players discard pile (bases stay in play until destroyed); the same occurs when new cards are purchased from the Trade row. Players loose all their unused combat and trade during this phase. All unused cards in the player’s hand are also placed in their discard pile.
Draw phase – Players draw five cards from their deck. If there are no more cards left in their deck, players shuffle their discards pile and add it to their draw deck.
This continues until one of the players conquers their opponent’s star realm by reducing their authority (health) to zero.
What did I think of it?
I was surprised with how much my wife and I liked Star Realms. After finishing our first game, we immediately wanted to play again and again. I found the flow of the game to be quite addictive. The pacing and length of each game just felt perfect. Never did we find that playing dragged on for too long (a game takes about 20min).
Initially, I was worried that there wouldn’t be much of a difference in how each faction felt and played. Luckily this was not the case. The Blobs are aggressive damage dealers, the Trade Federation keeps generating trade and authority, the Star Empire forces their opponents to discard cards in turn letting them draw more cards, and lastly the Machine Cult can discard undesirable cards from their deck and have powerful bases.
Finding which factions complemented which is part of what drew me to Star Realms. I quickly discovered that the game had a lot more strategic depth than I initially anticipated. Having said this, people I played with quickly grasped the strategies in the game, and I found myself losing a few games to new players. For me, this is what makes Star Realms good, the fact that it is portable and accessible, yet still has enough strategic depth to keep me coming back.
The only real problems I had with the game were the quality of the cards and the thickness of the card stock used. I really think that the game would have benefitted if the cards were thicker and a better quality. I also found that using cards for keeping track of Authority (health) was a bit finicky (tokens might of worked better). This does not however change the fact that I think that Star Realms is a great 2 player deck building game. In the past few months, I have found myself bringing it to the table on several occasions and most of the people who played it with me loved it.
It has quickly become one of my favourite 2 player games.
Gameplay: 9/10 Getting to grips with the game mechanics was quite easy. The game takes about 20min to play and never felt like it dragged on unnecessarily.
Components: 2/5 I found the cards to be a bit on the thin side, this meant that they picked up damage quite quickly.
Complexity vs. Depth: 3.5/5 Although the game is easy to grasp there is a lot of strategy involved in playing.
Theme: 2.5/5 For a 2 player card game I found the theme to be good. The artwork is bright and colourful and each faction looks and feels different.
Overall: 4.5/5 I found myself really enjoying Star Realms. This is in part due to the fact that I can take it with me almost anywhere. The portable nature of the game as well as its accessibility makes it a stand out as a great 2 player card game. This is a game that I will be playing for quite a while.
Board game supplied by Boardgames SA (www.boardgames.co.za)