Review – Star Realms

Star Realms is a competitive deckbuilding game for two players, though you can add more by purchasing more copies – each copy lets you include two more players to a suggested maximum of 6. It was Kickstarted earlier this year, and should be in stores soon retailing for about 15 bucks a copy. It was designed by Darwin Castle and Rob Dougherty, ex Magic Pros and you can see the magical influences on it.

What’s in the Box?

128 beautifully illustrated cards:
•80 card main deck
•10 Explorer cards
•Two 10 card personal decks
•18 double-sided score cards
And a full-color rule booklet

How does the game play?

Short answer: it’s an Ascension style deck builder where you attack each other instead of monsters on the board.

Long answer: Each player starts with a standardized deck of ten cards. In the middle is a row of five random cards which they can buy to put into their deck. Cards can produce money or attack. Each player starts at 50 life, and once they run out they are eliminated.

Other than your starter cards and an always available middle row card all cards belong to one of four factions. Each faction has some specialization – drawing cards, gaining life, removing cards from your deck, etc. Each card has some number of actions on it: at least one action that requires nothing else be played, and then usually one other action that either requires removing the card from the game or playing on the same turn (or in case of bases still having out from an earlier turn) a card with the same faction. This leads to a nice boost to your deck if you’re able to specialize into a faction, since that increases the odds of you being able to trigger these kicker actions.

Cards come in one of two types: ships and bases. (This is a space theme after all) Ships are played for their effect and then enter your discard pile at the end of the turn. Bases hang out until they are destroyed. They have a defense stat, which the other player needs to do in damage in one turn to defeat them, at which point they enter your discard pile. Another twist is that some bases are “outposts” that protect you and your other bases. As long as you have an outpost in play you cannot be attacked and neither can your non-outpost bases.

The basic game comes with enough starter cards for two players, as well as the deck in the middle. By purchasing more copies you can expand to 4 or 6 players, and there are rules included on suggested formats for doing so. Hopefully they’ll have an F.A.Q. to answer this shortly: It does not specify if you should use one middle deck or shuffle all three into one giant middle deck, so when I played with 6 players I thought the deck might run out so I did the latter. This turned out to be a mistake as it became ridiculous to shuffle the deck, leading to more clumping since there were now more copies of the high-end cards in the deck.

Minor flaws

As with any game there are a few minor flaws in it. With no native way to clear cards from the middle row (there are a few card effects that do it, but you can’t count on those) it occasionally happens that the trade row gets clogged with expensive cards that neither player can afford. Thankfully the Explorer cards which are always available for purchase take some of the sting out of that.

The second minor flaw is the outposts: with their all or nothing defense, if you don’t have enough attack to take them out your attack is worthless. An early game outpost can lead to one player beating on their opponent with nothing the other player can do about it until they finally draw into a card or cards with enough attack to take it out.

Which leads into my final minor flaw: the major ramp up. To overcome the outpost problem, the cards ramp up very quickly. This leads into the inverse issue: if you don’t draw into an outpost you can go from healthy to dead very very quickly.

Again, these are minor flaws. I’d much rather a fast paced game like this than one that can stall out, and the outposts can give you a nice breathing room to stabilize.

Final Thoughts

Artist’s rendition of Chris reviewing a game.

I really liked the game. It’s one of the few I have that I’ve had multiple people request I bring. It’s one of those rare games that even Chris likes. I especially like how it scales up to 6 players, and even has rules for all of those fun Magic multiplayer formats everyone likes like two-headed giant and Emperor. I would definitely recommend you check it out.

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