Review: Star Realms

Whoo boy, time to delve into the game that’s basically consumed my every free minute for the past couple weeks.

So, the TL;DR version:

Star Realms is incredibly good, incredibly strategic, and you should have at least 1 copy on your shelf, if not 3+. It’s $15, so it should be your next game purchase if you don’t have it yet.

Soooo, I like it. A lot.

The Game:

It’s a simple, streamlined deckbuilder with heavy elements of Magic the Gathering: You’re trying to beat the piss out of the other player, by buying bigger and better cards and paring your deck down into a sleek deadly warmachine. Like most deckbuilders, you start with a bunch of crap cards, and try to trim them out of your deck permanently as you play, since simply discarded cards eventually get reshuffled to form your new draw deck.

Eventually, you want less of this…

…and more of this.

For the most part, there are very, very few complex mechanics (Nothing akin to Scry or fetch abilities like those coming from Magic might be familiar with), but nonetheless makes for a compelling and engaging game.

First Thoughts:

The depth of play here is amazing. While you want to try and avoid making a rainbow deck drawing elements from every faction equally, by the same token if you try and build a deck without some or most of the colors, you’ll likely find yourself in deep shit shortly (Especially without enough Machine Cult cards and their Scrap abilities, the only way to permanently remove crap cards from your deck).

This is the humble and inexpensive workhorse you’ll grow to know and love.

The app is also fantastic, free with great replayability even there, and only $5 for the full basic version (Which, sadly, does not unlock the entire campaign. That needs the $5 Gambit expansion, which annoyed me a bit). Still, it’s a great way to play, and the asynchronous setup is really top-notch. You can run 10 different games at once, without feeling like you’re having to do any heavy lifting in terms of organization.

Mechanical Analysis:

Each faction has a theme: Blobs (Green) focus on damage and card draw, Machine Cult (Red) on scrapping cards, Trade Federation (Blue) on lifegain and economy, and Star Empire (Yellow) on card draw and forcing opponents to discard.

Respectively, this means that if you build a deck primarily of one color, you get:

  • Green: Zerg Rush, The Card Game. These guys will tend to have absolutely bonkers card draw potential, with most units doing some damage and the beatstick units clobbering the enemy as well as their bases and sniping prime picks from the cards available to purchase. With the bigger units, you can even get cards for free and prepped to draw the next turn, guaranteed, so typically if you can get 2 of the 4ish big cards (Mothership, Blob Homeworld, Carrier, and Battle Blob) in a fairly efficient deck, you have locked in a strong and dangerous lead.
  • Red: A deck that has no waste, that will draw what you need, when you need it by the sheer fact nothing is wasted. You won’t hit them with a hammerblow in a single turn, but each round you can pound away at them for substantial damage, and blow away bases with the larger ships for free. Typically, Red is the weakest (imo) by itself, but they have oodles of bases, all Outposts (You can’t attack the player or other bases until all Outpost bases have been destroyed), and so a dedicated Red deck has lots of ablative layers before you can even touch their health.
  • Blue: All of the life! All of the wealth! Blue will keep you hale and hearty, and absolutely loaded. These sound great, but eventually money will not be as useful when too many cards threaten to bloat your deck, while the lifegain is eclipsed by the damage others can bring to the table. That’s when stuff like Freighters step in, which allow you to stick the next card you buy on top of your deck. Blue all by itself can load itself with economy, fending off early and midgame attacks, and then buy and immediately use a ridiculous quantity of beatsticks from other factions and trounce an opponent.
  • Yellow: This is the trolliest color by a wide margin. Their cheapest ship forces an opponent to discard a card, and many of their other ships and bases do the same thing. Those that don’t either draw cards, effectively giving you even more damage (Or at the very least ally synergy), or just sock the enemy in the jaw for impressive damage. A full deck of these guys has reasonably sturdy bases, but will leave you with an overflowing hand of fun, while making an opponent discard until their hands bleed.

It’s like a wasp that makes you spill your drink when it stings. Now, imagine siccing an entire hive of this sort of thing on your opponent.

What this means is that typically you will splash another color or two (At the very, very least some Red to pare down the crap starting cards), but most players will get a fairly clear and common color or two they focus on, which gives the decks very nice and unique flavors. Focusing on one strategy or style can be very beneficial if you can time it right, and having 5 bases out at once and laughing while the opponent tries to chew through them before you cycle your remaining 5-card deck results in a glorious, tingly feeling.

The only drawback is that the omnipresent card, the Explorer, costs 2, which means that in games with only very expensive cards to start, you can end up with a field of unaffordable options, and often times a lone gold leftover in a round goes unspent. This is apparently addressed in the Gambit expansion, but I do wish it’d been addressed in the base version as well.

This ugly mother is a solo opponent, and I can tell you from the app encounters I’ve had with it, it is a surprisingly powerful asspain to overcome.

Final Verdict:

I think this game will be well-worn from play years from now, and I can’t wait to get the expansions and give them a go. I’ll likely cave and get the app expansion as well, because my mind is foolish and weak like that, so keep an eye out for a review of Gambit and/or Crisis here in the next few weeks.

So, let me know in the comments who here has tried Star Realms, and what you thought about it!

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