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Base Game Review
Play Time (Box): 20mins
Play Time (Goof): 15-30mins
Producer/s: White Wizard Games
Designer/s: Robert Dougherty & Darwin Kastle
Hello. My name is Goof and I am a Star Realms addict. It’s been twenty-four hours since my last hit and I’m probably going to play again after I finish writing this post… Actually if you’ll excuse me I’ll be right back… Let me try that again – It’s been two minutes since my last game.
It may not come as the world’s greatest shock that I have loved science fiction since I was a child (physically. Still one at heart). When I first laid eyes on a lightsaber I immediately wanted to be a Jedi. My first phaser had me pretending to beam up on my trampoline, which also served as my awesome ‘Matrix’ style dojo.
As I got older I found myself drawn to videogames like ‘EVE Online’, ‘XCOM’ and ‘Mass Effect’. I loved the worlds of technology, spaceships and alien races with varying lifestyles and philosophies. Now that I’m an adult (shut up, I am) and play a lot more table top games I love the likes of ‘Twilight Imperium’, ‘Firefly: The Game’ and ‘Coup’. I get giddy at the thought of laser battles and sleek starships. I’m practically jumping up and down from excitement while I write this.
So now that there is an understanding of my love for science fiction; how does Star Realms hold up? If you’re a sleuth you’ve probably deduced a lot from the opening line. But I’m looking at this game from the perspective of a long-time fan of the genre. And people can love things but recognise their flaws (just ask my girlfriend). So objectively speaking, is it a good game? Is it fun?
Alright…let’s do the review. Unless you want to play another round of Star Realms with me?
I really like the concept of deckbuilding. A deckbuilder is where a core mechanic of the game is purchasing cards through the use of other cards to shape the deck you use. The reason I’m specifying I’m a fan of the concept and not a genre is that I’ve had some bad experiences playing deckbuilders in the past (see ‘Heroes of Metro City’). I’ve played the likes of ‘Tanto Cuore’ (I can already feel your judgement), ‘Dominion’ and ‘Marvel: Legendary’ and I’m by no means saying they’re bad games. But I’ve still tended to enjoy building my own decks before the game begins more, like ‘Magic: The Gathering’ or ‘Netrunner’.
This game…THIS GAME; is exactly what I’ve been looking for in a deck builder. The game doesn’t actively discourage me from buying cards, the mechanics feel naturally implemented and simple enough to teach, and you can get a real sense of the direction you want to take your deck. To be fair, unless you’re a pretty avid gamer, it might take a few games before you work out what the best way to construct your deck is. Maybe you want to utilise a combination of damage dealing Blob ships and the resource rich Trade Federation. Maybe you’d rather focus on the control aspects of your own deck with the Machine Cult and forcing your opponent to discard using the Star Empire. I usually end up with at least three of the four factions in my deck but I’m fairly selective about which ships I get from each faction, sending those that I no longer need to the scrap heap to further my agenda. Provided the cards come up for purchase then you can play your way. It’s one of those games that are simple to learn, but takes effort to master.
I’d like to address an issue with the “play your way” aspect of this game though. In the “Trade Row” where you buy the cards, there are five ships and/or bases available for purchase. Normally there are a couple of cheap cards there for the early game as you build up, but that’s not always the case. More often than you’d expect in a deck building game the players are often unable to purchase cards and this can get really frustrating and feels like it stymies the excitement. There are a couple of fixes, purchasing Explorer ships which are cheap and almost always available and also scrapping a card in the “Trade Row” if you have a ship card that can do this. But both of those fixes rely on luck and don’t actually deal with the issue. It would have been nice to have an option to be able to get rid of the entire “Trade Row” to keep the game going, maybe deciding whether this would be worth it to get the card you need against the probability of giving your opponent access to cards they’d want. Maybe you do this if you want to stop your opponent getting a Mothership, Flagship or Mech World. It’d allow each player to see more of the cards each game and add another layer to the strategy. Just an idea.
However as it stands, you often have to adapt your deck to the types of cards you want to buy. This is an interesting element and in some matches when I look at the opening cards for purchase and decide to go all in on Blob ships only to have to throw some Machine Cult in there it can be fun to have to adapt on the fly.
There is a big difference between Base cards and Ship cards. Ships are used once in a round before they go to your discard pile however bases are left out for future rounds. Some bases, called Outposts, act as a damage buffer. They can give you ongoing effects until they’re destroyed. In the beginning they can provide a real edge and probably stick around for a few turns. In the later rounds they might only be out for a turn but the delay on the return to your discard pile (if you’re a fan of the meta) and the damage it can prevent can be really beneficial. I really like this idea. It wouldn’t have been a stretch for this game to have been developed without the bases, but they add something special to this game and really take the enjoyment to a whole new level.
Luck is arguably both a factor and not a factor in this game. I believe that luck in a game makes things more exciting. A dice roll for combat so that there is a chance, no matter how small, for that lone soldier to overcome great odds; the drawing of a deck to vary the experience or a chance encounter in a roleplaying campaign just adds that necessary spice so that it’s more than the mechanics but rather an epic story you’re weaving as you play. It’s in those moments where luck is a factor that you find people jumping up and down at the table as they scream in triumph or gasp in horror. I’ve personally never witnessed a game of chess with that level of emotion. And I was on the chess team in high school so I know how easily excitable us nerds can be. The luck element in this game comes from the cards that get placed into the “Trade Row” and the cards a player will draw from their deck. Part of this game is luck mitigation, making sure you can remove the useless carts and add the cards that have synergy. A trend I’ve noticed in the games I’ve played with a wide variety of people is that the more experienced players will usually win over the newer players which seems to demonstrate that there is a degree of skill involved. However when I play against other gamers who have a similar amount of experience with the game then it can come down to that lucky card drawn at the right time. It keeps things interesting but can also be really frustrating when you feel like you’ve put everything into a match and you end up with that unlucky drawn that ends it all.
Something I don’t like is the suggested layout of the cards. You’re supposed to have them in the middle of the table, and they’re supposed to be upside down for one player. This makes no sense to me and I find it adds a lot of confusion to the field of play. We tried orienting the cards but we found ourselves twisting our necks to read the cards. We ended up for a setup I think makes a lot more sense (you can see it in the images throughout this post). We set the “Trade Row” up to the side so we could read them easier and they were orientated properly. This also leaves a fair amount of room so that you can see the ships and bases your opponent has. I feel like the suggested layout is very reminiscent of deckbuilders that have come before and didn’t take a whole lot of extra time to figure a way to fix it.
It’s also worth noting that the core of this game comes with only enough cards to play two players. Although the game comes with the rules to play with more, it specifies that you need more core sets to be able to play with more players. It doesn’t come with enough of the foundational ships you need to have another player at the table. I have since bought the Colony Wars standalone expansion which also allows more players but am yet to have a third or fourth player join in.
Pros: ++Deckbuilding done right, +Adapt Strategies, +Bases are awesome, +Luck mitigation.
Cons: -Cards get stuck, -Suggested layout.
The idea behind this game is that you and your opponent are amassing fleets, bases and outposts in an attempt to destroy your opponent’s authority in the galaxy. The deckbuilding element lends itself to this theme really nicely. You feel like each ship you’re adding to your deck is another ship that you’re piecing together to create your fleets or the plans for a base you’re desperately trying to build. Each time your outpost or base gets destroyed and you put another one down you feel like you’re repairing old stations or building new ones with a similar purpose. Until you’re at a point where things are blowing up every other round while you simultaneously try to destroy your opponents bases that keep sprouting up all over the galaxy.
The idea that your health is actually your “authority” in the galaxy is well thought out. There’s not a whole lot more to say on that point but I feel that if it was health or some other representative it wouldn’t fit quite as well.
It’s not hard to see why people get sucked into the immersion in this game. Sure it’s not story driven or roleplaying, but it’s got such a synergy between theme and mechanics that those parts write themselves. I can see myself amassing this fleet as I scrap some ships to use their parts elsewhere, build Trading Posts and Battle Stations to take on my enemy at the front line, and really take on the role of an Admiral. The game doesn’t demand that or find a cheap way to implement those feelings, it comes naturally. And I think that’s really important.
Pros: ++Synergy, ++Naturally thematic.
The amount of game you get in the box with this is actually quite remarkable. It’s a fairly inexpensive game (I got my core copy for $25) and the amount of times I’ve played it would far exceed some of the more expensive games.
The artwork really is quite spectacular. I didn’t expect it to be half as interesting as it is. I often spend just a little bit too much of my opponents turn checking out the artwork instead of paying attention and planning my next move. The artwork and a few pieces of flavour text on some of the cards is really all you have to get a sense of the universe the developers were trying to create; and yet it does a remarkable job. The Blob feel like this organic mass of ships, the Machine Cult feel like an industrialised group of scavengers, the Trade Federation are these sleek yet functional ships and the Star Empire ships are extravagant, beautiful and intimidating. Even the Scouts and Vipers, the two foundational ships that make up your starting deck, have excellent artwork and I’ve heard players say that they find it difficult to thin them out of the deck because they love their design. It’s the sort of artwork I’d be happy to frame and hang on the wall.
The cards are decent quality and the rulebook is a sheet of paper that clearly explains the rules. Where I feel the production falls short a little is the way you track “Authority” in the game and the box the game comes in.
The two types of cards that track your “authority” are double sided. They come as 20/10 and 5/1. This is just…really painful. It detracts from the game when you’ve got to flip cards, find others and sort out how to represent your health. Especially when you’ve got limited cards to do it and there’s the chance you’ll both gain more health than your starting value. It’s annoying. Honestly…just use a pen and paper.
I keep really good care of my games. I’m not too ashamed to say that my parents bought me another copy of ‘Sushi Go!’ once they saw how distraught I was that one of the young kids had bent the corner of a card (they’re lovely people. They were going to get the game anyway. I didn’t cry that much. Shut up). I have zip lock bags for all my components, I make sure every card is the correct way up, and I sleeve cards that I use repeatedly (Star Realms sleeves are on the way). We’re going through an age of amazing table top games and the last thing I want to do is have to decide between getting a new game or replacing components that have been damaged. If I get ten years out of a game I consider it money well spent. So this brings me to a point of devastation for me. The box. For a game that’s entirely card based and will go in and out of the box a lot, why is it so flimsy? My box looks like an animal has been at it. I’m purchasing the deck box for this game purely because I’m devastated at how damaged this has gotten, but I shouldn’t have to. Sure – maybe you’re not supposed to play a hundred games the first week you get it but surely I shouldn’t have to restrict how much I play the game purely because the box may not be able to withstand the use?
Pros: ++Spectacular artwork, +Value, +Quality components, +Clear rulebook.
Cons: –Shoddy box, -Authority cards.
This game is super addictive. As soon as you finish your first game I guarantee that you’ll want to play another. It’s fast enough, it’s simple enough and it’s damn well fun enough. I adore this game. Playing it makes me as happy as Captain Kirk landing on a planet full of beautiful green women, it has me imagining epic space battles and the construction of awe inspiring space stations.
I give ‘Star Realms’:
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go see if anyone wants to have a game.