Name: Star Realms
Type: None Collectable Deck Building Game
Publisher: White Wizard Games
Players: 2-6 (2 per core box used)
Size: 9.7cm x 7.1 cm x 4.6 cm
Playtime: 20 mins
(4.0 / 5)
Star Realms is a deck building card game by White Wizard Games, published in 2014. Unlike many other deck building games, notably the juggernauts of Magic the Gathering, Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh, this is a none collectable game and so every deck comes with exactly the same cards. In this way the game is similar to the Living Card Game model used by Fantasy Flight Games.
Inside the box you get 128 full colour, illustrated cards and 2 rules sheets, one for the base 2 player game and a second with seven multiplayer variants to allow the game to be expanded to accommodate up to 6 players. The cards are split into the following categories-
- 80 x Trade Deck cards (split between 20 cards each for the 4 factions)
- 20 x Starting Deck cards (2 x 10 card decks, more on these soon)
- 10 x Explorer cards
- 18 x Authority cards (each double sided with denominations of 20, 10, 5 and 1)
The premise of the game is very simple, to build a deck in order to reduce your opponent to 0 Authority before the same happens to you. In this way the game is very similar to Magic The Gathering and that’s not surprising considering that the game was developed by Rob Dougherty and Darwin Castle, both Magic Pro Tour winners and Hall of Fame Recipients.
The rules are very simple, each player has a hand of 5 cards (except the first player on the first turn, who starts with 3, for balance). On your turn you play cards from your hand and each card provides you with Combat, Trade, Authority or some combination of all three. Combat is used to attack your opponent and reduce their Authority or destroy their Bases (I’ll explain about these soon). Trade is used to buy cards from the Trade Row and Authority increases your Authority score (so heals you). I’ll provide an overview of the game but the full rules can be read here,
A player doesn’t have to play all of their cards, nor do they have to use all of their Trade, Combat or Authority but all cards in your hand, as well as any played (aside from Bases) are discarded at the end of the turn and a fresh hand drawn. This allows you to quickly cycle through your deck and use the more powerful cards you have purchased.
To set up each player takes a Starting Deck, along with 50 Authority (a 20, 2 x 10’s, a 5 and 5 x 1’s). The first player draws 3 cards and the opponent 5. The Trade Deck is shuffled and 5 cards are placed, face up, in a line next to it to make the Trade Row. Finally the Explorer cards are placed, face up, next to the Trade Deck.
During their turn each player can use any Trade they amass to buy either Explorer cards or cards from the Trade Row. Any cards bought from the Trade Row are immediately replaced. The Trade Row is an interesting way of handling the purchasing as it limits the number of cards available at any given time which ensures that turns are resolved quickly. Combat is used to attack your opponent and reduce their Authority.
Players continue to take turns until one player is reduced to 0 Authority at which point the game instantly ends and the other player is declared the winner.
Both starting decks are identical and are made up of 2 x Vipers and 8 x Scouts. Vipers provide a single point of Combat and Scouts provide a single point of Trade. These initial cards allow you to begin to peck away at your opponent while giving you the Trade to buy new cards to build your deck.
The Trade Deck has 2 types of cards in it, Ships and Bases. Ships are played and then discarded at the end of your turn while Bases remain out until destroyed, providing an ongoing bonus. There are 2 types of Base, Normal and Outpost. Normal bases can be avoided by your opponent when they attack you and tend to provide a strong ongoing bonus. Outposts have to be attacked before your target your Authority directly and tend to provided a lesser bonus.
The game has 4 factions-
- The Blobs
- Machine Cult
- Star Empire
- The Trade Federation
Each of these provides slightly different bonuses and the key to the game is adapting to which cards show up in the Trade Row and building your deck accordingly.In my experience it is best to concentrate on 2 factions during each game so as to not bloat your deck.
The Blobs tend to deal huge amounts of damage while removing cards from the Trade Row (which are instantly replaced and therefore increasing the chance of more desirable cards)
The Machine Cult has a large number of Bases and allows you to cull your own deck of undesirable cards which then increases the chance or more potent cards coming up more often
The Star Empire can deal a large amount of damage while allowing you to draw more cards on our turn and forcing your opponent to discard from their hand and so reducing the number of cards they can play on their turn (since you only draw at the end of your turn).
The Trade Federation can generate large amounts of both Trade and Authority and so can more easily obtain the very best cards while also healing themselves.
In addition to the main bonus that a card provides, many have Ally and Scrapping abilities. Ally abilities are indicated by a Faction symbol in the text box. If the symbol is there, and you have a Ship or a Base in play from that faction (which is almost exclusively the same faction as the card with the Ally ability), then you can apply the ability. Scrapping abilities allow you remove a card from the game entirely in exchange for a one time bonus. Like Ally abilities, Scrapping abilities are indicated by a symbol in the text box.
The game is very quick to learn and easy to play. Individual turns take less than a minute and the whole game really does play out in around 20 minutes, at least with 2 players which makes it a great choice to pull out while you are waiting for other players to arrive on games night.
The art on the cards is good, bright and evocative and really helps each faction stand out individually. The cards themselves are made from fairly sturdy card stock but aren’t laminated or up to the quality of the cards in something like Cards Against Humanity, The box, unfortunately, is made of very thin card and easily tears through the normal course of opening and closing. I’d therefore suggest that box card protectors and a deck protector would be advisable if you plan on bringing Star Realms to the table on a regular basis.
All in all, Star Realms is a worthwhile game if you enjoy other deck building games like Magic The Gathering or Android: Netrunner. It’s easy to learn, quick to play and is fairly cheap, especially if you only want a 2 player game. It’d be nice if there was an easier way of expanding the game to 3+ players without having to buy more core sets as it becomes fairly expensive as a 6 player card game, being of equal price to many full board games.
At the time of writing Star Realms has 5 expansions available and is available as a digital game on Android and iPhone. Extra Promo cards can be obtained through purchasing the official deck boxes and play mats.