Players: 2 to 6
Game Length: 20 minutes
Best enjoyed: With 2 players who want a quick duelling deckbuilder with a healthy dose of chance
Star Realms is a competitive deckbuilder game where players will be purchasing ships and space stations, and using these to wage war on each other. Players start with 50 ‘Authority’ (or life), and are eliminated when this is lowered to zero. They’ll need to use the ships and stations of the four different factions to improve their decks, keep themselves alive and eliminate their enemies to win!
There are four factions in the game, and each has a different gameplay theme. The Blobs favour direct aggression and disposing of cards in the market; the Machine Cult focuses on removing cards from a player’s deck, allowing the deck to improve as a result; the Trade Federation focuses on commerce and gaining Authority to keep them in the game; and the Star Empire focuses on drawing additional cards and making opponents discard cards to strengthen your own turns while weakening your opponents’ turns. As you build up your deck, you’ll be best off if you favour one or two of the factions as you can get bonuses for playing two or more cards of the same faction in a turn, but you may not have as much choice as you’d like if the market doesn’t go your way.
As the game plays out, you’ll improve your deck and gain more powerful cards. You’ll need to adapt based on what your opponents get – it’s hard to go for the throat and end the game quickly if your opponent keeps getting stations and bonus Authority to keep herself alive, and using card powers to make your opponent discard down to just a few cards on her turn can be especially punishing in the later turns of the game, where each card can be crucial.
Star Realms’ card purchasing system does introduce an element of luck to the game. If you start purchasing ships of a particular faction, you can’t guarantee seeing any more of those ships during the course of the game. Furthermore, if you have a large amount of money on a turn you may just not have any attractive options available to you that turn, whereas on other turns you’ll be able to purchase an expensive card that could greatly improve your deck. Additionally, the faction bonuses will award you for drawing multiples of the same faction in the one turn. When you combine these elements, you end up with a game that will frequently be decided by the luck of the draw.
Despite the luck factor, Star Realms is an engaging game, and you can bring out the game and start playing within a minute, unlike other deckbuilders where you’ll need to set up a market first. The game plays quickly and is easy to learn, and allows dramatic swings of fortune which will have players praising or cursing their luck.
Star Realms works best with two players, but can be played with more if you purchase additional decks. It’s also cheap to buy, consisting of just a deck of cards, and you have the option to expand the game with small packs containing new cards if you want to add some extra flavour to the game. If you want a quick and exciting 2-player game and don’t mind a bit of chance, Star Realms is an excellent choice.