Reviewer: Stuart Holden
Designers: Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty
Publisher: White Wizard Games
Star Realms is a deckbuilding game designed primarily for two players. The theme of the game is classic science fiction, with players acquiring spaceships and space stations in order to defeat the opponent’s empire. To do this, each player starts out with rudimentary spacecraft, slowly building up to larger and better ships and space stations. Players will often find that it is necessary to get rid of the lesser talented craft in their deck to make room for the more qualified ones, since cards are reshuffled and drawn multiple times over the course of a game.
You will need a bit of table room for set up. There are quite a few different card piles, counting the individual player’s decks, as well as mutual card decks that everyone has access to (such as the spacecraft that players can purchase each turn to improve their deck). For a card game, this might be one of the downsides; it just seems to take up a little too much unnecessary space. It’s not obtrusive to the point of distraction, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
Gameplay is simple and smooth. While new players will likely take more time to make decisions, when players are familiar with the game and know what they will play in their turn, the game can go from one player’s turn to the next rather quickly. Gameplay can become rather mundane, though, once you are familiar with the game’s rhythm: going back and forth, slowly whittling down each other’s life points. However, since each game is an average of 15 minutes, it isn’t too much of an issue. It does seem to be more exciting when playing in one of the game’s other modes that involve more than two people; these other modes keep the experience fresh. There’s a free for all mode for 3+ players as well as team based variants; the one we at Gospel a Gaming played was called Raid, where one player competes against two or more players working together.
Which brings us to the next point: the rules. Printed on a single sheet, they seem pretty well laid out. I for one hate searching through rule books, just trying to figure out the essence of the game. The Star Realms creators got it right and put sincere and to-the-point instructions. Alas, no more 3 hours of searching; at least, not for the standard two-player mode. Things weren’t as straightforward with other modes. When the staff here at G&G played one of the game’s three-player modes, we had to go online to verify a few rules that we’re still unsure of. It didn’t inhibit our game, just delayed it and left some thoughts of uncertainty. What could have inhibited our game is the fact that we needed an additional deck to play with more than two players; fortunately we had an extra copy of the game on hand, but buyers should be aware that you will need this extra copy in order to play a game with three or more people.
The retro artwork is very good, going for a 90s sci fi feel and modifying it to look more updated and less campy. Star Realms is already a good game, and the quality artwork just makes it better. The humorous commentary/quotes on each card are another bonus that add some character to the game. It’s just one more element of the game that I enjoy.
This is a good game for people who want to play short games, and not dig through a Bible-sized manual on how to play it. It’s targeted for people who like to build decks, as well people who like to socialize with others because the gameplay can be very relaxed. I must say, the dynamics change completely with three or more people, and it can become very competitive and exciting. Altogether I think Star Realms is one of the best deckbuilding games, and maybe one of the best tabletop games, available. To top it off, most stores sell the game at under $20, which is a good investment for a game with this many highlights.
OVERALL SCORE: B
Stuart Holden is a volunteer with Gospel & Gaming.