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Star Realms Review

This post was last updated on December 21st, 2023

Hi!
Today’s Star Realms review starts with memory back in 2018 when me and my girlfriend were visiting Cambridge in the UK.

We were walking down a road in the middle of the city when we passed what seemed like a normal bookshop.
Therefore we stepped into the shop, passively looking for books and we suddenly saw it: an underground floor filled with all kinds of board games you can ever think of!

After spending a solid half an hour checking all the shelves, we went to the two-player board game section with the intention of buying a small and cheap game for the journey back.

After checking and discarding most of them, we were finally in between two potential choices: Star Realms and Backpacker.
Two very different games, but equally perfect for any kind of travel!

After a few thoughts we decided to buy the one we were thinking was better than the other: of course Star Rea… WRONG!!

We bought Backpacker.

Star Realms only arrived on our shelf a year after that day, shame on us!


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Star Realms Review – Game Overview

Star Realms is a popular two-player deck-building card game set in a futuristic sci-fi universe.

In the game, each player starts with a small fleet/starting deck of 10 basic cards (more on this later) and from there must acquire new ships and bases from a central trading deck, gradually improving their deck with powerful cards to attack their opponent.

The goal is to reduce the opponent’s Authority (life) to zero.

Game info

Designer: Robert Dougherty, Darwin Kastle
Players: 2 players
Play Time: 20 minutes
Age: 12+


Game components

4 Score Cards

These cards will help you track your current Authority (life).

Star Realms 4 Authority tracker cards on a black background

2 Starter decks of 10 cards each (2 Vipers and 8 Scouts)

These are the cards in your hand when the game starts, the foundations for the race to the Galactic Dominance.

Star Realms Scout and Viper cards on a black background

10 Explorer cards

These cards will be available to purchase from the beginning of the game and will help you get some more gold in the early game.

Star Realms 10 Explorer cards on a black background

80 Trade deck cards (20 for each faction)

The cards that will eventually form your deck.

Star Realms 80 faction cards on a black background

How to play Star Realms

The gameplay is very simple and it’ll only take you the first few turns to understand the gist of it.

Each player starts the game with 50 Authority and a deck made of 10 Ships: 8 Scouts and 2 Vipers.

Star Realms 2 Scout and Viper cards held in a human hand

Scouts provide 1 Trade.
You can use Trade to acquire Ships and Bases from the Trade Row to add to your deck and make it more powerful.

Vipers provide 1 Combat.
You can use Combat to attack your opponent’s Bases and Authority.

There are two types of cards in the game, Ships and Bases.
Both of these types of cards can give you different effects, and those are:

Star Realms trade mark Trade points

Star Realms combat mark Combat points

Star Realms authority mark Authority points

The main difference between the two types of cards is that Ships are drawn, played and discarded every turn, while Bases remain on the playground until they get destroyed by the opponent.

In the middle of the playground, we can find the Trade Row.
This is where you can acquire new Ships and Bases, spending your Trade points.

Players take turns playing cards from their hand to acquire new cards for their deck, attack their opponent’s Authority, and use special abilities.

Gold provided by your ship can be used to acquire new ships and bases from the trade row, which are then added to the player’s discarded cards first and later on in your hand.

In a nutshell, this game is about drawing cards, expanding your deck, playing better cards while the game progresses, and eventually destroying the enemy.

All these mechanics seasoned with a “pinch” of luck.


Game factions

What makes it a very fun deck-building game is the fact that there are 4 different factions, each with unique abilities and effects.
The player’s ability to combine them is the key to success!

The 4 Factions are:

  • Trade Federation;
  • The Blobs;
  • Star Empire;
  • Machine Cult.

Trade Federation

Star Realms some cards of the trade federation faction

“In the far future, the more traditional governing bodies of the human race have been replaced with corporate leadership.
The earth and its surrounding colonies are ruled by a group of corporations called the Trade Federation.” –

The Trade Federation specializes in generating large amounts of Trade and in gaining Authority (increasing your life).
This faction is mostly used in the early game for the high trading power and in the late game for increasing your Authority turn after turn.

The Blobs

Star Realms some cards of the blob faction

“These mysterious creatures are the first alien life forms encountered by the human race.
On the few occasions that a Blob ship has been recovered somewhat intact, the only biological remains found inside have consisted of a gelatinous mass, The Blobs.” –

The Blobs specializes in generating huge amounts of Combat and removing undesirable cards from the Trade Row.
This faction is mostly used in the mid and late game for the massive amount of damage they can deal and blow up the opponent’s strategy.

Star Empire

Star Realms some cards of the star empire faction

“The Star Empire consists primarily of former colonies of the Trade Federation.
These colonies were on the outer edges of the Federation.
Not only did they feel used by the corporations, but they felt the Federation failed to give them adequate protection from the Blobs.” –

The Star Empire is a combat-oriented faction that draws lots of cards and makes the opponent discard cards.
They are very good at messing up the opponent game’s flow.

Machine Cult

Star Realms some cards of the machine cult faction

“A cluster of industrial mining worlds were completely cut off from the Trade Federation by the Blobs.
With the threat of annihilation always looming, a cult of technology arose, focused on using advanced technology, robotics and computerization to create strong defenses and a powerful military that belied their relatively small population.” –

The Machine Cult specialises in removing undesirable cards from your deck and from having a large number of Bases to defend your Authority.
This faction is mostly used in early to mid-game when you want to thin your deck.


Conclusion

I’m going to start by saying what is, in my opinion, the only flaw of this game: the rules book.
I didn’t understand the rules at all when I read them the first time. Neither the second. And the third.

Now, someone could say that the problem is me and I could easily answer “You’re right Sir”, but downloading the free App really saved me a lot of time. Unfortunately, it didn’t save the time I wasted reading the rules book. That’s gone.

Besides the rules though, I truly think this game is incredible.
It’s compact, perfect if you like travelling, it’s cheap (only £ 14,00), it has a lot of depth and incredible replayability!

Fun
If you’re looking for a fun game to play with your partner or your best mate, Star Realms won’t disappoint you. It’s a fast-paced game and has that snowball effect that makes sure boredom doesn’t eat you alive.

There are a lot of unique cards and all of their abilities are very easy to understand: earn gold, do damage, discard and draw cards, scrap cards, etc etc.
I think a game is fun when you want to keep playing it even when it’s over.

This happens all the time with Star Realms, when finish playing a match I always have this urge to keep building my deck of cards that it’s only fed after 4/5 games.

Components Quality
Star Realms cards aren’t the best in terms of quality as they’re very thin and they almost shout to be sleeved.
If you also add the fact that generally deck-building games are the ones that require a lot of shuffling, your cards will be visibly worn after a few dozen games.
To avoid that, I 100% recommend buying thin card sleeves.

Be aware that if you buy card sleeves you won’t be able to store the cards in the original game box anymore.
Rather annoying I know. I bought a standard TCG deck box (Vaultx deck box) in which Star Realms cards fit perfectly.

Replayability
What happens when you have a game that features 4 very different factions and a total of 80+ cards? Simple, the game becomes almost endless.
You can play over and over without worrying about getting bored as none of your games will be identical to another.
That’s one of the beauties of this game, you can play it any day and it’ll always surprise you.

The only boredom might kick in if you play with the same opponent all the time, as both might get used to the other’s strategy.
But apart from that, Star Realms has enormous value from the point of view of replayability.

Player Interaction
Every card in Star Realms is designed to influence your opponent’s plan. You can attack them, force them to discard cards and you can even scrap cards from the common Trade Row, thus influencing the cards your opponent can buy.

Difficulty
The entry threshold is very low, everyone can have a good grasp of the game already in the first round, and learn it completely after the first match. Mastering the game, however, is another matter entirely.

Honestly, you get so much value out of a tiny game that it would be a shame not to have it in your collection!
And if you lose against your best mate don’t you worry, you can ask for a re-match right afterwards, as the duration of each game is only around 20 mins.

So, what are you waiting for, go get it!! Don’t waste any more time. Don’t be us!

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Star Realms
  • Fun Amazingly rich yet easy to learn game play
  • Portable The whole game comes in a deck box that can fit in your jacket pocket
  • Expandable One copy supports 2 players Add additional copies for multi player games of up to 6 players

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P.S.: if you want to read other recommendations, why don’t you take a look at our Best Two-Player board games article?


Star Realms FAQ

Is Star Realms similar to Dominion?

Star Realms is very different from Dominion and the main difference lies in the Trade Row/Supply area. The former game has a Trade Row that changes almost every turn, which makes it very difficult to build long-term strategies; players are constantly called upon to adapt their strategy based on what’s in front of them.

On the other hand, Dominion’s Supply area consists of a card pool available in its entirety from the start and this allows you to plan your strategy from the first turn.

Which Star Realms to buy first?

I’d recommend Star Realms or Star Realms Frontiers as a starting point.
The former is the classic beloved 1vs1 deck-building game, while the latter is a standalone version that allows the game to be played by up to 4 players and it includes challenge cards for solo mode.
All the 80 trade cards have different artwork between the 2 games so you can even combine them if you possess both editions.

How many expansions does Star Realms have?

Star Realms has 3 thematic expansions: Crisis, United and High Alert.

Crisis expansion has 4 different packs of cards that include new ships and bases and it introduces events and heroes cards for the first time.
United is another 4 packs of cards expansion that includes new ships, bases and heroes and introduces new missions type cards that give players a new way to win the game.
High Alert is a 5 packs of cards expansion that comes with new heroes, ships, and bases and adds a new type of card, the tech cards which give your fleet permanent abilities.

Can you play Star Realms solo?

To play solo, it’s necessary to purchase Star Realms Frontiers, as it’s the only version of the game that includes 8 oversized challenge cards for solo/co-op play.

What are Star Realms similar games?

The most similar game I can think of is Hero Realms, which is basically the same game dressed in a Fantasy theme.
Other similar deck-building games you can try are Ascension, Dominion, Legendary Marvel and Aeon’s End.