Star Realms is a sci-fi deckbuilding game where 2 players clash in space wars!
Also, space commerce.
What makes this game shine is when you really get a good engine humming along. If you play your cards right, you can get crazy combos that let you draw more cards, do more damage, get more money, buy cards for free, discard opponent cards and more. It’s a great feeling when you pull it off – mostly…
We’ll come back to that in a bit. First, the basic premise and mechanics:
Both players have 50 authority (like health, but with no maximum) and the first to reduce their opponent to 0 wins. To do so, you as a galactic mover and shaker will be recruiting the ships and bases of four factions, the Trade Federation, the Blobs, the Star Empire and the Machine Cult.
You start with the same basic deck of cards as your opponent and draw 5 each turn. You build your deck as you play by buying cards from the communal Trade Row. You get money by playing cards with the yellow Trade coin near the bottom. For instance, in the photo below, the Trade Pod on the right initially cost me 2 Trade to buy, but every time I play it I get 3 Trade. Play a few Trade cards in a turn and you’ll be able to buy more useful and powerful cards.
You can have cards from any combination of factions, but playing two cards of the same faction allows you to use additional abilities (in the photo above, the 2 red Combat on the Trade Pod and the “Draw a card” ability of the Battle Blob – they’re both useable because I’ve played two green Blob Faction cards this round). And because you can’t hold onto cards from round to round, focusing on a single faction can be useful – though when it comes time to buy from Trade Row, cards from your favoured faction may not be available, so you may have to branch out a little.
So, your opponent’s got a handful of ships and they’re damaging your authority. What do you do? It’s all about that base. Get some bases into play and they’ll act as shields, taking damage before you do. And your opponent has to do enough damage in one round to destroy them – they can’t just whittle them down over time.
Some bases are outposts and those bases have to be destroyed before your other bases. So you can have two lines of defence. Ships are played then discarded until they’re shuffled in again when your deck depletes. Bases, though, stay in play. So, every round you’ll already have some faction card (like my Blob Wheel below) that you can use to activate the ally abilities of your ships. Also, the base’s powers are active each round, too. (Below, Suz is getting 2 Authority or 2 Trade each round and I’m getting 1 Combat each round).
With only 128 cards and a rules sheet, Star Realms is a tiny, portable package. There are expansions, and they won’t all fit in the box. Removing the rules, we managed to also fit one of the games many expansions, the Gambit Set, which gives new surprise abilities and provides some foes to tackle as a team.
And it looks like we may need to move onto that cooperative mode for a bit, as our last few games have been very one-sided. It could be that Blobs are just awesome, or one of us is getting good draws and the other bad. It didn’t seem like either of us was too diversified.
Either way, our last game had a 30 point difference and when you start with 50 points each, a score gap that wide is disheartening for the one on the losing side and the victory is bittersweet – the Death Star versus a helpless planet. Is it really a victory to celebrate?
So, we’ll play more games of Star Realms and we’ll definitely try the Gambit Set co-op options (not to be confused with the Cosmic Gambit set). I may update these impressions (or add a new article) once we’ve tried the co-op.
Despite our misgivings, we still recommend this game and will be playing a lot more of it. The combos you can get going in your deck are so satisfying, the game’s easy to teach, turns are very fast, and when games are closer, it’s very fun. Especially for only 30 Aussie dollars, this little game packs a big bang!