Star Realms: A Fast 2-Player Deck Building Game

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Thanks to my experience with Dominion, I was already familiar with the deck-building mechanic before being introduced to Star Realms. I knew there was going to be a lot of card buying and shuffling. What I didn’t know was whether or not I would actually enjoy the game.

Game Specifications

Publisher: White Wizard Games
Published: 2014
Suggested Age: 12+
Number of Players: 2
Playing Time: 20 minutes

Gameplay

Star Realms is a space combat game in which players will compete for control of the galaxy.  In typical deck-building fashion, players will begin the game with a relatively weak selection of cards, but will gradually improve their deck by purchasing more powerful cards during each turn. Each player begins with a starting “health” of 50 Authority. The first person to reduce their opponent’s Authority down to zero wins the game.

Players will begin the game with eight Scouts (each providing 1 Trade) and two Vipers (each providing 1 Combat). During their turn, players will have the option of playing some or all of the cards in their hand. They can use their Trade (a fancy way of saying “money”) in order to purchase cards from the Trade Row, which consists of Explorer cards (each giving 2 Trade) and five cards drawn from the stack of face-down cards. Each time one of the non-Explorer cards is purchased, it is replaced with a card from the aforementioned stack. Finally, players can attack their opponent using their Combat.

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There are two main types of cards in this game: ships and bases. Each ship offers a primary ability, such as Trade, Combat, or Authority. Some ships allow you do things like draw a card or force your opponent to discard a hard from their hand. Ships are placed into your personal discard pile (along with the rest of your hand) at the end of your turn. Bases, on the other hand, remain face-up in front of you until they are destroyed by your opponent (using their Combat on their turn). Some bases are called Outposts, which act like defence “shields.” Your opponent must first destroy any Outposts you’ve played before they can attack you or your non-Outposts.

Another interesting thing about this game is that most cards belong to one of four factions. In addition to each card’s primary ability, some have an ally ability and/or a scrap ability. You gain the ally ability as long as you’ve already played another card from the same faction. You gain the scrap ability if you place the card in the Scrap pile (meaning that card is gone for the rest of the game). I love how these two abilities add so much strategy to the game. Do you purchase cards from only one or two factions in order to increase your chances of gaining the ally abilities? Or do you purchase the best available card regardless of its faction? And when should you activate your card’s scrap ability, if at all?

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The Pros

Games are short. I really appreciate how quickly you can finish a game of Star Realms, usually within 20 minutes. Every time my brother-in-law have gotten together to play this game, we’ve always ended up playing at least three or four games in one sitting. Not only does Star Realms play fast, but it also easy to reset and set up for another match.

It’s simple to learn, but difficult to master. I believe the mark of an excellent game is one that is easily accessible to new players while also being strategically stimulating for veteran players. Even if you’ve never played a deck-building game before, it’ll only take a couple minutes to learn the basic mechanics in Star Realms. I’ve played well over 600 games (the majority of which were played on the official iOS app), and I continue to enjoy the game’s depth of strategy.

The whole game can fit into your pocket. Okay, maybe not so much if you’re into skinny jeans. But seriously, this is one small game! I enjoy bringing games with me whenever I travel, but many of them are too bulky to bring. Thankfully, Star Realms is extremely travel friendly. All 128 cards fit into a box not much bigger than two packs of regular playing cards.

The Cons

It may not be well taken by casual players. When you’re playing games with others, it’s really important to know what of player they are. Are they the competitive type or are they the kind of person that just likes playing for fun? If it’s the latter, then Star Realms might not be the most appropriate (since the main goal of the game is to destroy your opponent). I find this is especially true for casual players or people who prefer less strategic games. Based on personal experience, I’ve found that this is a great game to play with one of my buddies, but it’s definitely not the best one to play with my wife. (Patchwork is a much better 2-player game alternative for us.)

It doesn’t play well with more than two players. While there are 3-6 player variants included in the rules, this game really should be played with only two people. The primary change when playing with more than two players is increased started Authority. I feel like all this does is increase the playing time for each game, which effectively nullifies what I consider to be one of the game’s greatest strengths (fast gameplay).

Conclusion

Star Realms is perfect if you’re looking for a quick two-player game. I love the fact that both the setup and gameplay are incredibly fast. I also like how each game is unique based on the selection of cards available for purchase at any given time. If you like strategy and/or deck-building, then this is definitely the game for you!

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