White Wizard Games ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for their deck-building game, Star Realms. Our own Enrico Nardini, hot on the heels of his editorial yesterday, takes a look at the game in this review post.
Enrico picked up a copy for himself and wanted to share his thoughts on it.
So strap on your flight helmet and space boots, it's time for another TGN Review. This time, it's Star Realms.
Star Realms is one of the easiest games I’ve had to review because it is such a pleasure to play. This deck-builder from White Wizard Games is a sublimely refined two-player experience. It’s the kind of card game you would expect from a company staffed by Magic: The Gathering pros and a member of Ascension’s design team.
Star Realms is packaged in a deck box which contains two folded sheets of rules and 128 cards. It is a compact affair and completely portable. The box is pretty flimsy but standard fair for this type of game. The cards are nice enough, but I was surprised at the amount of wear I noticed on them after only one play-through. I quickly purchased card sleeves and a new box, and I recommend that anyone purchasing this game do the same.
The card art is very nice. It has a nice mix of classic science fiction ship design and modern sensibilities. It honestly struck me as a bit boring the first time I viewed it, but it has grown on me over time. Each of the four factions has a style which is shared among the cards of that faction. Blob cards are the most alien, but they are all fairly distinct.
The game includes 18 double-sided cards for tracking Authority (explained below). It’s great that these were included. They allow you to play the complete game with only the contents of the box, but I found using the cards clunky. It was way easier to track Authority with dice, rendering them superfluous.
Star Realms eschews the common deck-building convention of players acquiring some kind of victory points, instead opting for a system similar to the life points in Magic: The Gathering. These are called Authority, and like MTG, the goal in Star Realms is to reduce your opponent’s points to zero. This changes the tone of the game dramatically. In other deck-building games, you tend to focus more on simply playing your hand to maximize how you accrue points. This will be based on the game state and the game’s economy. Star Realms is much more directly confrontational. You are playing against your opponent, and they are trying to do harm to you directly. Maximizing your resources is still important, but it is done within the context of an intergalactic conflict.
Star Realms shares many mechanical likenesses to Ascension. Your starting deck includes 8 cards that represent game currency and 2 cards that represent attack power. You use these cards to buy new cards from the Trade Row (a row of 5 cards from the Trade Deck which are replaced as they are purchased).
There are four factions to purchase cards from. Each of the four factions highlight a different ability in the game: scrapping cards (removing cards from your deck), drawing cards, forcing discard, etc.
Blob - This faction seems to utilize strange, seemingly organic ships. Blob cards tend toward destruction and large combat values. Some Blob cards also allow you to remove cards from the Trade Row, possibly exposing more favorable purchases.
Trade Federation - Many of these cards will allow you to gain Authority. This can be a life-saver in certain situations. There few things more demoralizing than having your opponent on the ropes, only to have them pull a high Authority gaining Trade Federation combo.
Star Empire - These are the masters of drawing and discard. What’s more demoralizing than a Trade Federation combo? Having your opponent draw through half their deck while forcing you to discard most of your hand!
Machine Cult - The Cult specializes in scrapping. This mechanic allows you to remove the undesirable cards from your deck, making it more efficient. The importance of this humble ability cannot be overstated.
Ships vary greatly in power based on their cost. The more expensive the ship, the more powerful abilities it will possess. Some of the most expensive ships are truly dangerous and can shift the battle dramatically when they are played.
Bases can also be purchased from the Trade Row. These come in two forms: Bases and Outposts. Bases stay in play until they are destroyed and often bestow certain abilities upon the player. Outposts act just like bases, but if they are in play, they must be destroyed before other bases or the player can be attacked.
Ally abilities are very common and are triggered when more than one card from a particular faction are played in the same turn. These raise the potency of a card exponentially, making even 1 and 2 cost cards effective plays.
Scrap abilities give you a benefit if you are willing to remove the card from your deck entirely. These can give you a bump in trade or attack at just the right time, but you must be willing to sacrifice the card to get it.
Star Realms plays fantastically at its intended number of players (two). The second rule sheet does provide you with multi-player options. I did not get a chance to explore them (you need to have two decks), but as I read through them, I was reminded of Magic: The Gathering’s multiplayer formats. They can definitely be fun, but they lack the refinement of the core experience.
Do you like Ascension? Do you like punching people in the face? If you answered yes to both of these questions, you will likely love Star Realms. Star Realms is an excellent two-player deck-building game. Games are quick and exciting, and the four factions offer a fair amount of variety. It’s a fantastic deal at its $14.95 MSRP.