“Star Realms” is advertised as a “space combat card game” that “pits players against each other in a fight for dominance over the entire galaxy.” In all honestly, they had me at “space”…I’m a dreamer, what I can say? At any rate, “Star Realms” is like “Dominion” in the sense that it is a deck-builder…that is, start with a few crappy cards and build your deck until you have the powerhouse that YOU yourself designed. Its play time of twenty minutes attracted me too, especially with the holiday season right around the corner. No time for “Stone Age” or “Lords of Waterdeep“, no sir…there are presents to wrap and cookies to make. Before I go off on some mad holiday-related tangent, let’s quickly get a look at what came in the box and how the game is played.
Editor’s Note: More players can be supported by purchasing additional copies of the game.
Cards – The cards include: one 80 card trade deck, two 10 card personal decks, 10 explorer cards, and 18 double-sided authority cards.
Setup & Gameplay
Each player starts off by receiving 50 authority and shuffling their personal deck of ten cards (2 vipers & 8 scouts). The explorer cards are placed into a deck, face-up, near the center of the table. Below them will lie the trade deck, which is shuffled and placed face-down. Five cards are dealt from this deck and placed face up to the right of it (this row is known as the “trade row”). Players determine a starting player randomly, with the first player drawing three cards for their first turn only. The player going second draws five cards.
A player’s turn is broken up into three phases:
1. Main Phase – The current player can play cards from their hand, use abilities, purchase cards from the trade row, and attack their opponent. Different cards have different abilities listed along the bottom that can be used to attack (which reduces an enemy player’s authority), trade (by purchasing from the trade row), and etc. Some cards list a particular faction and give bonuses when used in conjunction with other cards from the same faction. Bases are cards that remain on the table (are not discarded during phase two) and can sometimes act as a shield against enemy attacks (outposts have this ability).
2. Discard Phase – The current player will take their entire hand, along with any purchased cards, and place them into their personal discard pile.
3. Draw Phase – The current player draws five cards. If they run out of cards, they’ll shuffle their discard pile and continue drawing.
Players continue taking turns until someone manages to reduce their opponent’s authority to zero, in which case they win the game!
Note: The above doesn’t cover all of the rules found in the manual, but should give you an idea as to how the game is played.
“Star Realms” is a very different kind of deck-builder, at least, that was my first impression. For one, you don’t have access to ALL of the available/purchasable cards from the get go like you do with “Dominion”…it’s more like “Star Trek Deck Building Game: The Original Series” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation Deck Building Game” that way. I also took a liking to how there were four different factions and how their effects chained together. It made me consider cards from the trade row that I normally wouldn’t have purchased. There’s also the odds factor to consider as the discard pile is shuffled each time your deck runs out…there’s no guarantee that your factions cards of the same type will come up together in the same hand.
The bases were also something I had to get used to as normally, all of your cards are discarded before your turn ends. Since some act as a defense against attacks, they can add an extra security blanket for when things go horribly wrong. Bases also have abilities that they can use EVERY turn they are in play making them an ideal pick for when you have the money to burn on new cards. Since new trade cards are drawn to replace purchased cards, you never know what’s going to come up making each game satisfying random and unpredictable. For you experienced deck-builder gamers out there, you’ll be pleased to know that yes, you can scrap cards to remove dead-weight from your deck.
“Star Realms” starts out a bit slow (one damage here, two damage there) but after about fifteen minutes…whoa boy, watch the damage numbers fly! It quickly becomes a race to see who can out-damage the other guy (or girl) more quickly, making me rethink my strategy to invest in a lot of cards that yield money. Still, the player will have plenty to think about, what with the faction bonuses and the ever-changing pool of available trade cards. As such, “Star Realms” makes an excellent introductory game to the genre and is light and portable to boot. It’s well worth the twelve to fifteen bucks you can find it for on Amazon.
Final Verdict: 8/10
Digital Version: http://www.starrealms.com/purchase-star-realms/