Star Realms from White Wizard Games might be the best bang for your tabletop buck currently on the market. It's cheap, portable, easy to learn, plays quickly and is a ton of fun.
Star Realms is a two player, head to head deck building game that plays in 20 minutes or less. Unlike many other deck building games where players are in competition to score the most points, Star Realms has players fighting directly against each other to reduce their opponent's Authority to zero. This added level of competition really helps Star Realm stand out.
Players begin the game with a small deck of 10 relatively weak cards. Between the players sits a Trade Row of cards available for both players to purchase, and thus, enhance and strengthen their decks. Players will draw 5 cards to begin their turn and will use those cards to attack their opponent's Authority, use Trade to purchase cards from the Trade Row, regain Authority, draw additional cards, block attacks from their opponent or make their opponent discard cards from their hand.
All of the cards in Star Realms, aside from the 10 starting cards in each player's deck, belong to one of four factions. Each faction's cards have a color, theme, a focus and often trigger additional abilities on cards from the same faction when played during the same turn.
The Machine Cult is the red faction whose cards focus on allowing a player to Scrap cards from their hand or discard pile. Scrapping a card removes it from the game and allows a player to remove the less powerful or less effective cards from their deck. This allows their better and more powerful cards to be drawn more often.
[caption id="attachment_32222" align="aligncenter" width="980"] Some Machine Cult cards. Machine Cult cards help players tailor their decks by Scrapping cards from their hand or discard pile permanently.[/caption]
The Trade Federation is the blue faction and focuses on gaining Trade and Authority. This gives them more purchasing power and makes it more difficult to reduce them to zero Authority.
The Blob is green and many Blob cards allow players to draw cards, Scrap cards from the Trade Row and some Blob cards have quite high attack values.
[caption id="attachment_32224" align="aligncenter" width="968"] Many Blob cards allow players to draw additional cards. Blob cards may also allow players to Scrap cards from the Trade Row which can be useful for keeping powerful cards out of the hands of their opponent.[/caption]
The final faction, The Star Empire, tends to be very aggressive and focus on card advantage and Attack. Trade Federation cards may allow a player to draw cards while others force a player's opponent to discard cards from their hand.
[caption id="attachment_32225" align="aligncenter" width="977"] Star Empire cards have little Trade value but make up for it by providing Attack and have the potential to make your opponent discard cards from their hand.[/caption]
While some strategies such as building your deck with as many cards of the same color as possible are always sound, the ever changing nature of the game keeps it interesting. Since both players buy cards from the same Trade Row and players can never be sure which cards are going to come up during a game the real meat of the game comes from trying to determine the best cards available against the current game state. Sometimes the best move for a player to take will be to buy or scrap a card that would be great for their opponent to have rather than buying a card for their own deck.
With strategies that need to be adapted on the fly, enough depth to allow for multiple approaches and an ever changing battlefield the game stays fresh even after dozens of plays. Add to this the short play time, quick set up, excellent theme, great art and very low price point and you have a game that I will be recommending as often as I can.
A note on Multiplayer: Star Realms comes with rules for Multiplayer variants although I have not played with more than 2 players as I only have one copy of the game and multiple copies are required to play with more than 2 players.
A note on game length: Games of Star Realms usually take about 20 minutes to complete. Despite this quick play time the game offers a wide range of options and strategies to pursue and feels like a complete, meaty, satisfying experience every time.
A note on “chrome”: The cards in Star Realms are all good quality and the art is excellent. The rules inserts in my copy were placed in the box at an angle and were a bit torn and creased. The rules themselves are printed on a single, folded piece of paper and as such I wasn't as bothered by it had it been a rulebook but it was still a touch disappointing. I would recommend placing the cards in sleeves as the cards are constantly being shuffled during play. Once sleeved the cards will not fit back into the retail box but do fit comfortably in an oversized deck box. There is also a nice combination deck box/sleeves set available if you want something a little nicer.
The bottom line:
Star Realms is amazing. I picked it up on a whim because it was cheap and I'd heard good things but I wasn't expecting to have it take over my table and take up my time so completely. Even when the game ends in devastating defeat for one player due to unfortunate/extremely fortunate card draws we can't wait to shuffle up the cards and play again. It combines the best aspects of deck builders and head to head card games in a way that is just pure fun. Star Realms plays quickly and is deep enough to allow for strategic play while being varied enough to stay fresh.
Get this game if:
You enjoy deck-building games.
You like games with a short play-time.
You like head to head, 2 player games.
Avoid this game if:
You dislike deck building games.
Rules for Star Realms can be found here.
Star Realms can be purchased via Amazon here.
The copy of Star Realms used for this review was purchased by the author.
Star Realms is awesome. Unless you absolutely hate deck building or competitive games you should buy it.