The Star Realms card game has been building in notoriety for some time now. A successful kick-starter with a digital release, although at the time of writing, it has not yet secured an iOS release for iTunes. Last week the physical card game was launched in the States and immediately sold out!!
The question is why has the Star Realms card game been so successful?
The Star Realms Designers…Background is Everything!!!
In the glitzy, glamorous, world of the Collectable or Trading Card Games (CCG or TCG), two games dominate, Magic the Gathering and Yugioh! There are millions of players currently playing the games and there are millions who once played them and other CCG games such as Pokemon, Star Wars or Star Trek.
The trouble with CCGs or TCGs is that they’re a costly habit to pursue, especially if you want to play at tournament level. Players who have abandoned the collectable side, will always look for the game that reminds them of those heady days. Where hopes and dreams rest in your deck box.
In the board game arena, the attempts have come and gone and there are only a few like Dominion and Ascension being the ones that continue to lead the way. This brings us to the designers of Star Realms, Magic Hall of Famers, Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty (Ascension Co-founder).
Magic the Gathering….Or Ascension In Space!!
There’s obviously going to be comparisons made to Magic the Gathering and Ascension. To be totally honest, Star Realms does feel like both games. It also has a number of elements from Race for the Galaxy and Core Worlds too. What it doesn’t have, is the Yugioh! monster mash up of star-ship versus star-ship, but we can’t have everything.
Make no mistake about it, Star Realms is a deck building game, yet it is simple and aggressive enough to have that Trading Card Gaming edge to it. Like Magic the Gathering, you are attempting to reduce your opponents life points to zero, except in Star Realms it is called Authority. Both players start off with fifty Authority each and some basic ships to buy further spacecraft and bases. Again this is similar to Ascension with a central card row, of different factions and the Explorer Spaceship cards that are always available.
The cards have one or a combination of two coloured values on them, these numbers indicate their Trade, Hit and Authority points (which heals your health). To match the yellow trading value, on the top right of each card is the trading cost needed to purchase the card.
Besides buying spacecraft to increase your trading and damage capability, you can buy bases or Space Stations too. These have a shield on the bottom right with a value in it. If the shield is black, then that base will defend you when you bring it into play and it gives you bonuses every turn, until they are destroyed. This is very much like the constructs in Ascension, only these bases have to be destroyed in order to attack a players Authority. The bases with grey shields do not have to be destroyed in order to attack a players Authority, but ignore these Space Stations at your peril.
Star Realms Factions…Build Them, But Don’t Take Your Eye Off Your Opponent!!
The basic set of Star Realms introduces four factions to the Game. I would imagine future expansions will introduce even more of these factions, on top of expanding existing ones. Each Faction has an underlying ability. The Star Empire have combative stats, but their key abilities are to draw extra cards or force the opponent to discard cards from their hand. This is very powerful and if you build an armada of Star Empire Bases and Space-ships you will end up playing up to ten cards in a turn. Their Recycling Station is really annoying too, discarding two cards from your hand to draw two. If you allow your opponent to buy two of these, you will have tears of frustration running down your cheeks.
However, pure aggression falls to The Blobs. This race of fish-like spacecraft will blast most well constructed defences into oblivion. It is difficult to explain the sheer hitting power this faction has, especially as most of their buying costs are relatively low.
Next up is the Trade Federation, their ships generate the most trade and heal up your authority. Don’t underestimate your opponent building up this faction though, their abilities can match the other aggressive factions, besides returning their Authority back up to and above where your last major assault damaged them.
Finally there is the Machine Cult. This is again an aggressive faction, but their key skills are in scrapping the basic space-craft from your deck to thin out the least effect vessels in your fleet. Their bases seem to offer the best defences and also the Mech World base is one of the most powerful, as it allies with all the factions, kicking off all their secondary abilities.
Having Allies in Star Realms….Leads to Big Explosions!!
Most cards in Star Realms have an ability that comes into force on activation, however, there are a number of cards that have a second ability on the lower part of the card. These abilities activate when an ally with the same symbol next to that secondary ability, comes into play. This is usually of the same faction, but there are a few bases that will ally to other factions too. With these secondary abilities going off, big, big scores come into play, going from 3 or 4 damage to 20 plus points of damage to inflict.
This can be amplified with the scraping mechanism. A lot of the cards will have a trash bin symbol on the bottom of the card, which means you can scrap the card from the game to gain a further score, usually damage or trade. Of course the timing has to be right, but it does mean a game can come to an explosive finale.
If it is So Much Like Ascension…Why Should I buy Star Realms??
In explaining Star Realms it has been easiest to compare it with Ascension. The game mechanics and central row flow of delivering new random cards to the game are more or less the same. Having said that, Star Realms is much more streamlined than Ascension, it doesn’t feel slow and odd in the hands of a CCG player. So here goes my reasons for why you should get this game.
Star Realms is Ascension on Steroids – If you like deck building games, you won’t find a better two player duellist game without spending a small fortune on a TCG competitive variant. It is quick, fun and very, very aggressive. It is probably the most aggressive deck building game I have seen in the board gaming community.
Star Realms is time saving – If you play or have played in the TCG arena. You will know you have to memorise a lot of cards and possible combinations, in order to interrupt or counter them. Yes there are four factions in Star Realms, but you don’t construct a pure deck of one of them. They are all thrown into the central deck and you build your deck on what is available to you, or what your opponent allows you to purchase. Repeated plays and practicing the game digitally, brings familiarity to the most powerful cards and combinations very quickly to your attention.
Star Realms is Cheap and Portable – For what it is, Star Realms is a cheap game, the artwork is stunning and the card stock is quality. With the number of times these cards will be used I’d recommend you sleeve them! Star Realms is essentially a two player game that you can carry around in your pocket. There are variants of the rules to allow four or six players to play a game, but you need to have two or three basic games to do this. Scoring is a bit cumbersome with working out and displaying the Authority. But if you revert to a pen and notebook as you would in a TCG game, it isn’t much of a hardship and it really speeds things up.
Star Realms is aggressive enough to cure your CCG or TCG longings – If two players play on a regular basis, they will want their own packs to try out combinations and memorise cards. In this sense it feels very much like a TCG card game. Star Realms may seem simple, but the more you play it, the more the deeper underlying strategies come to the surface. Personally I find Dominion ok, it feels like a safe game to play. Ascension I prefer, but I feel I’m combating the game, rather than my opponent who’s just along for the ride. In Star Realms you are trying to destroy your opponent and they are going to obliterate you from the universe if you don’t. That is what I miss most about TCG games, when you make a mistake or miscalculate your timings, bang the game blows up in your face. Star Realms does this, if you buy the wrong bases or ships, or allow your opponent to build his deck in a certain way, the twenty plus plasma cannon damage is just going to hurt, if not kill you completely!
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Paul Matthews is a Sales Manager for Gamesquest Ltd, as well as a part-time Board game Demonstrator and Blogger. After several years playing Yu-gi-oh at Tournament level, his latest passion is all things board gaming. Besides playing board games, Paul is a part time author and enjoys reading and archery. Paul has a Degree in Humanities Psychology/Counselling and several Life-skill Degrees in Parenting, Horse Management and Ecommerce.