Star Realms Review
What is deck building? For those who don’t familiar with the term, deck building is a mechanic involving players to build their deck into substantial amount of cards with better or improved ability than their starting deck. So during the game they will try to acquire more cards which are better than what they have and use these cards to generate points or complete objectives in the game.
Usually when we talked about this mechanic, we cannot exclude the famous Dominion from Donald X. Vaccarino which was published in 2008. Dominion is the origin of deck-building, many other games adopted or follow the deck-building system that was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino. It’s still very popular til now among board gamers or deck-builders. Another popular deck-building games are Thunderstone and Ascencion.
Now, based on the same system, sinplified to its core, White Wizards Games published a fast-paced 2-player deck-building game with the title Star Realms. Designed by the famous Magic Hall of Famers Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty, who is the co-founder of Ascension. The game was published recently, in 2014 and already in rank 62 on BGG. What more interesting is it fits in your pocket.
The game comes in a small box that can fit right in your pocket, it only consists of a deck of cards. In the game, there are 2 sets of starting cards (one for each player), deck of cards, improve units and authority cards.
Starting the game is simple, you need to separate the two sets and give each player one (each set includes 8 coins and 2 ships), shuffle the main deck of cards and draw 5 face up in the middle of the table. Each player also given out 50 worth of Authority cards as starting hit points. The first player draw 3 cards after shuffle his starting cards, while his opponent draws 5 cards. They can start the game.
How to play is very simple (seriously). On a player’s turn, he can play cards from his hand to the table. These played cards are mainly used for 2 things, purchase cards or attack your opponent. But there are other uses such as heal, discard, destroy a card or draw cards. Players total all of his cards first and then take the corresponding action. Players can purchase as many cards as they want from the available (5 cards), with one restriction, empty slots are not refilled before a player’s turn is over. Purchased cards are placed into the discard pile. After that players can attack opponent with hit points, same as coins, tally up the hit points and reduce opponent authority cards equal as the total hit points.
The main deck consists of 2 type of cards, ships and buildings / fortresses.
There are 4 different factions in the game, these represented by different type of ships (with different banners). Each faction has different play style, which gives more exploration on building your deck. Ships with same faction banner unlock combos aside from the usual effect / ability. Aside from the combos, some cards are possible to have additional features to trash or discard for one-time benefits.
Fortress comes into play by placing it in front of the players, it stays there until an action destroy it or players decided to remove it from their table. Fortresses give players more flexibility by adding additional faction banner for combos while also provide different abilities. Some even have Outpost attribute that force opponents to assign hit points to it before assign it to hit player’s authority and other Fortresses.
In players turn, they play cards in front of them. They can buy cards with coins from the display, and also activate effects (if any) and then attack opponents with accumulative hit points. The goal is to eliminate opponent by reducing their authority points from 50 to zero (though players can heal their Authority points even beyond 50 points).
My Thought About The Game
Star Realms is very simple deck building game, for 2 players (you can play tag team with 4 players but you need extra copy of the game). The game plays very quick if players already know all the cards, since some cards have moderate in-game texts. As soon as players familiar with the card abilities and combinations, a session usually takes 15-20 minutes. So it’s very fast to spend the time between meaty games. This is also a very good choice in order getting to know about deck-building. How clean the design, to get more cards, utilize them and scrap unused cards to create more efficient deck.
The different faction abilities and play styles are interesting, though as different they may be, they do not cause restriction in player’s deck. They all are applicable with rewarding combos and no penalty for having any of them.
I find the Authority cards kinda bit wonky, since both sides of the cards have different value (which understandable to save production cost) which sometimes give you the knack to make a mistake in distributing them. I made my own custom Authority tracker, by using a card and two small markers, easier to implement and remove the fiddly issue moving around the cards. The cards are perfectly fit the box, so if you decide to sleeve all the cards (make sense since it’s a deck building game), you will have to find a bigger box.
At first, the game seemingly provides good deal of replayability and combinations, but after several plays, you will realize that the combinations just lacking and seems not impressive enough from time to time. In the end the card combinations seemed set by default and player’s strategy is guessable. I do not say it’s not a good game. It is a good game, considering what it brings to the table for strictly 2 players (yes I haven’t try this with 4 players) under 30 minutes and plays very simple with small print and save space in the table. You can expand the game with more variations from the expansion packs but I still have not try them yet.