FTW Staff Picks - Star Realms

For The Win Board Game Cafe's Staff Picks is a weekly series where we take a quick look at some of the staff's favourite games, old and new. 

Star Realms

Genre: Deck-Building

Designer: Robert Dougherty & Darwin Kastle

Player Size: 2 to 6 Players (with additional copies)

Game Length: 20 minutes

For fans of: Dominion, DC Deck-Building Game, Ascension

Not every great game has to come in a bloated, over-sized box. Among a very crowded genre of deck-building games, Star Realms has managed to standout. Like its ancestor Ascension, Star Realms was designed by two famed Magic the Gathering pros. As their first game under the newly established White Wizard Games, Dougherty and Kastle had to make a big impact with its debut. And nearly 5 years later with several expansions and spin-offs, it’s safe to say that Star Realms has had an enormous impact on the table top world in a very short time.

In Star Realms, two players duel in a fast-paced space battle in hopes to destroy their opposition. To begin the game, players are given the same 10 starting cards to form their decks and set their starting health to 50. The Trade Deck is shuffled and 5 cards are drawn face-up to create the Trade Row. On the active player’s turn, they may play cards from their hand, use abilities of bases and ships in play, attack their opponent and acquire cards from Trade Row. Trade Cards are given a Faction affiliation. Cards belonging to the same Faction may provide combo bonuses when played together. Play continues until one player’s health has been reduced to 0. The player with life remaining at the end of the game is declared the winner!

There are two primary resources to keep track of in Star Realms.: health and money. Money is used to acquire stronger cards. Health is something that can be attacked or healed. Each of the 4 Factions in the game have specific play-styles. Blue is defensive, yellow is draw power, red is efficiency and green is aggro. Deciding which direction to go is often a decision players will have to make on the fly, based on availability. Some cards can be scrapped permanently for one-time-use effects. Bases provide a shield and additional target for opponents to think about. The game never gets over-complicated, but there are actually several mechanics at work. It just feels seamless, and after 1 or 2 plays it all becomes second nature.

I’ve played probably close to a hundred or so Star Realms games. I’ve played them both in physical card form and through their official mobile & desktop app. It’s a great time-killer. And if you’re the type of person who likes variant-play, you should pickup an extra copy or any of the many expansions now out. The game has several modes (likely inspired by Magic the Gathering) which implement cooperative, team-based and free-for-all play. When it comes to pure value, Star Realms is the best purchase I’ve made - including all the platforms I’ve bought it on.

Earl OliverosComment