Star Realms – Deckbuilding at its Best

Star Realms 1ToysBulletin.com reviews an exciting game from White Wizard Games.

“Star Realms” is a deckbuilding game, where each player, starting with an identical set of cards, tries to outmaneuver their opponent through clever play and a bit of luck until one of them is left with a score of zero.

The boxed game comes with 128 cards, including 80 Trade Deck cards, 16 Scout cards, 10 Explorer cards, 4 Viper cards, 18 double-sided Authority cards (used for scoring) and 2 sets of rules. The basic game is for two-players, but the second set of rules explains how to play with 3 or more players, and outlines the rules for several intriguing variants. We will stick with the two-player version in this review.

To set things up, each player receives 8 Scout cards and 2 Viper cards to form their starting deck. All of the Explorer cards are shuffled and placed face-up in a stack on the table, while all of the Trade Deck cards are also shuffled and placed face-down in a stack on the table. The top 5 cards from the Trade Deck stack are drawn and placed face-up between the Explorer card deck and the remaining Trade Deck cards. This group of 5 cards is called “Trade Row.” Space directly to the right of the Trade Deck cards is reserved for the “Scrap Heap,” which will hold cards removed from the game. Lastly, each player begins the game with an assortment of Authority (scoring) cards totaling 50.

Star Realms 2To begin play, each player shuffles their starting (personal) deck and places it face-down in front of them, leaving room for a discard pile nearby. The player that goes first draws 3 cards from their starting deck, while the second player draws 5 cards from their starting deck. Once each player has taken their initial turn, they will each draw 5 cards on every turn. There is a definite advantage to the player that goes first, but it is mitigated by drawing two less cards on the opening turn.

There are basically two types of cards that be found in “Star Realms,” ships and bases. Ships vary in their abilities, many having combat values, trade values, scrap values, authority values or one of four faction designations. In addition, most of the ships have a primary ability, which triggers immediately upon play. Bases have most of the same characteristics as ships, but bases also have a defense number that makes it difficult to destroy. Both the ships and bases have a card cost shown in the upper right corner of each card. The values and costs on the cards generally range between 1-8. Higher numbers mean more cost to buy, but generally much more strength at combat time. A successful attack will reduce the opponents score (Authority) or destroy a base. Bases with an Outpost designation must be attacked first, thus they provide the most protection.

The object of the game is to reduce the opponents score (Authority) from 50 to 0. As mentioned, this is done by attacking his bases or the opponent directly. Players will follow three phases during each of their alternating turns. There is a main phase where players can play cards from their hand, attack, use trade values to acquire new cards on “Trade Row,” use the primary abilities of bases, gain the scrap value of cards, or ally with similar factions to trigger more abilities. Combat and Trade values can be accumulated in a pool, and used during the main phase. Any cards acquired from “Trade Row” are immediately replaced from the Trade Deck cards. However, there are only 10 Explorer cards available (ships with average abilities but cheap in cost) and they are not replaced. Once the main phase is completed, a player must discard any remaining cards in hand, all in-play ships and the player loses any value remaining in the Combat and Trade Pools. The final phase requires the player to draw 5 more cards from his personal deck. Once that personal deck is exhausted, the cards in his discard pile are shuffled and used for his personal deck.

Star Realms 3“Star Realms” starts out slowly, with only minimum losses of score (Authority), but as more powerful ships and bases are acquired, the scores drop dramatically. In fact, a typical game of “Star Realms” can easily be played in 20-30 minutes. We cannot say enough about this fine game. The entire Toys Bulletin staff simply loved playing it. “Star Realms” provides a surprising array of possibilities, and every time we played, it immersed us into a galaxy of space excitement. Finally, the game was also so easy to play. There were no complicated combat rules, and after several games we became very familiar with most of the cards, making the game go by very quickly.

“Star Realms” retails for $14.99. Check it out along with many more great products at the White Wizards Games website.

–RJ Cullen

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