While trading card games seem to be popping up everywhere, many people tend to forget about the deck building games which, by and large, are of a much simpler variety. This does not mean they are not worth playing, but it does set them apart a bit. How exactly? First of all, the deck is set, and while you can purchase expansions for your existing game, as a rule, everyone will have the same cards. This makes for a much more even playing field, and such is the case with games like Star Realms, which was created by Magic: The Gathering Hall of fame players Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty. Star Realms has many other features that set it apart from other card games, and by the time you’re done reading this, you might just want to give it a try.
Taking the Fight to the Stars
The game is like any other card game, with a standard draw pile, discard pile, etc. In addition to that, the center of the ‘board’ features a trade row from which you can use accumulated ‘gold’ throughout each turn to purchase – this is where half the fun comes in, but we’ll get to that in a moment. There are so many other things to discuss!
The game starts with each player drawing five cards, the first being simple scouts that feature either one trade point each or small fighters that provide you with one combat point. While the game starts out pretty small, you can expand on your play by choosing the right cards from the trade row. For example you might start by choosing cards that grant you more trade points, or you could choose something that packs a bit more punch when it comes to attacking. This brings us to the point of authority.
Respect my Authoritah!
In Star Realms, a player’s ‘life’ is represented by the amount of authority that they command during the course of the match. Each player starts out with 50 authority, which is shown beneath their avatar within the green shield. The point of the match is to attack the other person directly, thereby reducing the amount of authority that they command. Throughout the match you can regenerate your authority by choosing the right cards, and of course using some of the perks that come from expansion packs. Each player starts with 50 authority and, with the available regeneration cards, it is common to see someone come back from the brink of defeat and crush their opponent so long as they choose the right cards during the course of the game. Of course, it helps if certain cards and alliances are chosen during play.
The alliance you side with is determined by the cards that you choose, and it will be denoted by the logo in the corner of the card. Each card belongs to one of these alliances:
- Trade Federation
- The Blobs
- Star Empire
- Machine Cult
One of the mistakes that people tend to make when they are playing the game for the first time is choosing these cards by themselves simply because their damage or authority is higher. What they fail to realize is that by pairing cards of the same alliance, they can often quadruple their damage during a turn or even gain more trade. In addition to that, with many combos, it is possible to bring yourself back from the brink of death, making it possible to not only win the game but to make your opponent look like a complete idiot. That’s the power of alliances, and if you want to play the game right, you will often need to corner a specific alliance. For example, if your pleasure is authority and trade, then you might want to go with the star alliance. If, on the other hand, you’re more into combat and direct attacks on your opponent, then it would be a good idea to consider the machine cult or the blobs. The more combos you manage to pull off during the course of the game, the better chance you have to win.
Even if you find that you can’t boost your authority during a turn, there are still ways to keep yourself protected. Most commonly, you can play out post cards, which differ from base cards in that they sit in front, blocking attacks from your opponent while providing certain perks. The number on the card, in the lower right hand corner, denotes the amount of damage the card/outpost needs to take before it can be taken out of the equation. Unlike authority, the outpost needs to take the full amount of damage in a single shot, therefore if it reads ‘4,’ then you must have 4 or more combat available that turn to attack it, otherwise you will not be given the option to use your combat.
There are other ways to take out an outpost besides combat. For example, there are many cards that will permit you to use an inherent ability to remove an opponent’s base from the equation, but that only returns it to their deck. There are few ways to take a card out of the game, meaning so long as a player is able to strategize properly, a session can go on for a rather long time.
To the Scrapyard
The last gameplay element that we’re going to discuss is the concept of scrapping cards, which can be very helpful during the course of a turn, or even the game as a whole. Once you have used a card’s abilities during a turn, you can scrap them if you wish (or before if you have sticky fingers) and it will grant you access to additional abilities. For example, a card that only has a single trade value might have significant combat value when scrapped, giving you an advantage during your turn. One thing to note, however, is that scrapping a card takes it out of the game entirely as opposed to a standard attack, which would just take your card out of the equation until the next time it is drawn. Many of the outpost and base cards feature a scrap option, which can be tempting, but it’s really an endgame strategy.
Playing the Game
This is a multiplayer game, mostly, though there are some offline modes that you can try, which include a short campaign and AI matches. We’ll be perfectly honest though, once you’ve played enough games online, the AI matches will be like cake. In any case, one of the best things about the online matches is that they can be played asynchronously. That means, that you can take your turn, turn the game off, and when you return, the opponent will have taken their turn. You can play in this manner, or you can remain connected and wait for the other player. It’s really up to you, and for this reason, it’s a great game for people who simply don’t have time for any other games in their life. The best part is that the game itself is cross platform.
That’s right, you can play this game on any platform that supports it, which includes Windows, Mac, Android, and even iPad. You can literally buy the game, and its expansions, on one platform and then enjoy it on all of the others with the same account. All you need to do is buy the game (or try it for free), create an account, and sign in. Once you have an account, you will be able to sign in anywhere and even play on the go. It might sound a little boring, considering it’s a card game, but we found it to be pretty fun, especially if you want to play throughout the day without making a commitment to a typical multiplayer game.
The gameplay is pretty easy, though there are a few complaints. One of the biggest issues is that it can be difficult to work around dialogue boxes. For example, when scrapping a card, going to your discard pile will result in the dialogue box being placed over your card, meaning you have to use the on-screen arrows to cycle through a deck that should have been easily visible from the outset. In addition to that, when activating some cards, you will occasionally find that the description is blocked out by a dialogue box, which turns it into a bit of a guessing game.
As far as innovation goes, it’s the same type of deck building game that we’ve seen over and over, but the cross compatibility and asynchronous play make this a winner in our books.
Other than forums, the community doesn’t interact much. Fortunately, you can play random games with new people, and though you may never communicate with them, you can have all kinds of fun blowing up their bases, taking their authority, or being slaughtered by them.
It’s a low spec game that doesn’t take a huge toll on the system. In addition to that, it’s pretty nice looking, accompanied by great sounds that will resonate in your head long after you shut the game down for the night.
Value for Money: 10/10
The game is free initially, and it allows you to play the single player game. If you want to play online, you can buy the full version for $4.99, with the optional purchase of expansions later on. Overall, the entire game should cost you less than $15, which is a deal considering how much fun you’re going to get out of it.