Like Deck Building? Like Sci-fi? Then you’ve probably already played Star Realms. If you haven’t then get ready for a whole lot of spaceship smashing, base crashing fun with Star Realm’s first ‘big’ box expansion, Colony Wars.
Originally funded through Kickstarter, Star Realms is the brainchild of Darwin Kastle and Robert Dougherty, two Magic The Gathering Hall of Famers with tonnes of experience playing addictive card games. Since its release in 2014 Star Realms has seen several smaller foil pack expansions such as Gambits, Events and Heroes, each containing a handful of cards that add new mechanics to the game. Colony Wars is the same size as the original Star Realms core set, serving as a standalone expansion for the game which will appeal to experienced players and newcomers alike.
Colony Wars’ compact little box contains 128 cards. 30 of these are the basic resource cards (Scouts, Explorers and Vipers) that you need for two players, which are also available in the original Star Realms set. Previously if you wanted to play with more than two players you had to grab a second copy of the Star Realms base set, but now you can pick up all you need in the expansion instead.
The other cards in the Colony Wars box are a completely new set of bases and ships that bring extra mechanics and more devastating powers to the game. Most of these cards work in similar ways to the original game but there are enough new wrinkles for this set to feel fresh and interesting too.
Getting Colony Wars To The Table? – It’s Easier Than You Think!
Set up for Colony Wars runs the same as the Star Realms base set. Each player creates a starting deck of basic resource cards and form a personal draw pile. The remaining cards are used to create a trade row from which players can acquire new ships and bases to improve their decks.
Each turn players draw and play a hand of five cards from their personal deck. Each card provides at least one type of resource; trade, combat or authority. Trade is used to buy new cards, authority is the hit points of your empire and combat damages your opponents, reducing their authority. The winner is the last player left standing after all other players’ authority has been reduced to zero.
Decisions Decisions! – Which Colony Wars Cards To Choose?
Cards from the trade row come in two basic types, ships and bases. Ships are the most common type of card. They are single use, having an effect when played and once used they are dropped into your discard pile.
Bases are a different kettle of spacefish. Once played a base remains in play, giving you access to its skills turn after turn until it’s destroyed. Some bases have to be destroyed before you can reduce their owner’s authority while others can be bypassed to attack your opponent directly. To make things trickier you have to deal all of the damage against a base in a single turn to destroy it. Once they’ve been blown up, bases go to the discard pile, coming back into play after your next shuffle.
On top of generating resources, many cards also have special powers such as forcing your opponent to discard cards, scrapping cards from your deck or allowing you to acquire new cards for free. Some of our favourite new abilities from the Colony Wars set include the Star Empire’s Lancer ship, which gets stronger if your opponents have bases in play and the Machine Cult’s Stealth Tower which can become a copy of any other base in play.
Lights, Camera, Faction! – Which Colony Wars Empire Is The One For You?
The last wrinkle to Colony Wars’ game play is the faction system. Each card has it’s own faction indicated by a coloured border and faction symbol. You can choose from the aggressive Blob, efficient Machine Cult, balanced Trade Federation or mischievous Star Empire. The artwork here is of the same high standard that was used in the Star Realms core set, with sleek Star Empire ships jostling for space alongside the organic looking Blob.
If you manage to play more than one card of the same faction during a turn then you can set off the bonus powers on those cards. Players can buy cards from any faction they want during the game but it obviously pays to try and focus on one or two factions to make the most of your cards’ bonus powers.
New to Colony Wars are faction powers that allow you to place cards you’ve just bought straight into your hand if you’ve already played a card of the same faction that turn. This makes it easier for you to build a hand around specific factions and gives you quicker access to stronger cards.
Plenty Going On In Colony Wars – But Is It Fun To Play?!
Despite its wide range of cards, Colony Wars is pretty easy to get the hang of. I have introduced people to this game and within just 10 minutes of introducing people to the game who’d never even heard of deck builders before, you could already see them weighing up their options and making tactical choices. We even found that Colony Wars hooked in players who were initially sceptical about both the theme and the potential complexity of the game. Soon enough they were destroying bases and getting annoyed when the new card they really wanted disappeared from the trade row.
Colony Wars flows smoothly, mixing light economy management with a good dose of bashing your opponents. Thanks to the faction system and base mechanics, there’s room to play in a variety of ways. You can be super defensive, trying to build up a wall of bases and healing units, you could create a big money making empire or go on the offensive, smashing through the other players before they can set their plans in motion.
Ultimately the game comes down to eliminating your foes, which means everyone will have to engage in combat at some point. You’ll need to be comfortable with direct player conflict before you play, thinking about who and when you decide to attack.
The key to Colony Wars is balancing the damage you give and take until you can be sure of wiping out an opponent, at which point it’s time to go in for the kill. This means the game often balances itself with players sharing out the damage they deal equally, trying not to give players an excuse to gang up on them.
Having played Colony Wars with a variety of gamers it seems to work equally well with everything from 2 to 5 players. There is a little down time between turns with larger groups but this is often spent eyeing up the trade row and figuring out which tempting new card you want to purchase. Larger games also lend themselves to more tactical decisions in terms of who and when to attack which makes the game feel deeper. In two player games the fun of Colony Wars is still there, it’s just much quicker. There are brief lulls when tough shopping decisions turn up, but there’s only one person you’re trying to hit so the combat comes thick and fast. In two player games of Colony Wars you also have more ability to control the pace of the game, slowing down your attacks to focus on building your deck because you know you won’t have to survive several other players’ turns before your next go.
So Colony Wars Is A Fun Game – Is It For You?
Colony Wars is both a great expansion to the original Star Realms and a cracking game in its own right. Building on the same smooth mechanics of its predecessor, Colony Wars brings more punch and some more variety to the table. In a lot of ways Colony Wars feels like a more polished version of Star Realms. Compared to its predecessor, Colony Wars cards seem stronger on average, giving more resources and doing more damage than many in the original core set. The number of different card abilities have also been streamlined, making it easier to pick up the whole range of skills in Colony Wars. There has also been an emphasis on scrapping cards from the trade row which helps you deny powerful cards to your opponent and speeds up play into the bargain. These tweaks combined with clean and simple design make Colony Wars a great introduction to both Star Realms and deck building as a genre.
Like Star Realms, Colony Wars really begins to shine halfway into your first game. As the faction system starts to make sense and your collection of cards grows, you get your first glimpse of the depth of interaction and strategy that’s possible here. Excitement builds as you draw each hand, hoping for that killer ship you bought a few turns back and praying that one of your opponents doesn’t pick up that one base you really want from the trade row before you can get to it. Once you’ve mastered the basic, free-for-all style of play there are also four other game variants detailed in the rules, each adding greater structure and tactical challenge to the core mechanics of the game.
As a deck builder there is always going to be a fair degree of luck involved in Colony Wars. No matter how well you plan, sometimes the cards just won’t fall in your favour or the perfect hand will come together for your opponent at the worst possible moment for you. The influence of luck in this style of game is what keeps each hand fresh and gives first timer players a chance against more experienced Colony Wars gamers, but that’s going to really annoy some people.
It’s important to remember that this is a game about managing probability rather than slapping it in a straight jacket. In Colony Wars you can set out with a game plan in mind, intending to stick to a certain faction or to make your hand as efficient as possible, but that often goes right out the window when you see a shiny new ship with a fun skill. This game does a great job of making you feel like a kid in an intergalactic sweet shop. There are so many fun cards to pick up in Colony Wars that by the end of one game you’ll often want to dive right back in and see what you new toys you can grab on your next playthrough.
Ultimately the luck factor will probably be a decider on this one. If you want a fairly light, easy to pick up deck builder with a dose of strategy and direct player conflict thrown in, then this is for you. If you don’t like the idea of your slow building plan crumbling round your ears in the face of an incredibly blessed hand then you might want to give this a miss. There’s room for longer term strategy here but in Colony Wars adaptability is king, learning to roll with the punches as you build your own galactic empire.
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I'm pretty much a lifelong gamer, playing since I was a kid and now gaming with other big kids who are also pretending to be adults. I'll give almost any genre a go but love nothing better than sitting down at the beginning of a new tabletop adventure, with a fist full of dice and a really crazy plan that just might work...