03 May 2022
Is Bigger Better?
Sometimes a fancier version of a beloved game is just the thing to complete your collection, but does that mean it’s the best way to start? Wise Wizard Games look to answer this question with their gorgeously decadent Star Realms Box Set.
Star Realms is a fast paced deck-building game for 1-4 players, seeing you assemble fleets of ships and bases to reduce your opponent’s Authority (i.e. life total) to zero. Everyone begins with the same deck of eight scouts (which provide Trade power used to buy new cards) and two vipers (which add to your Combat Pool, letting you pick off enemy bases and/or damage them directly). Each turn players must use their entire hand in any order they wish, ending their turn by drawing back up to five cards, reshuffling your discard pile every time your deck is empty.
New cards are either ships that get played then discarded or bases which remain in play between turns, some of which can even shield you from small amounts of damage. The vast majority of these ships/bases will be from one of four different factions, with additional powers or abilities granted if you can play two cards from the same faction in a turn: The blue Trade Federation restore Authority and boost Trade, letting you live long enough to buy the biggest ships available; the yellow Star Empire focus on card manipulation, drawing more cards to play or forcing opponents to discard; the red Machine Cult let you filter out the least powerful cards in your discard pile or hand to create a more efficient engine; lastly the green Blob ships benefit the most from faction synergy, outputting overwhelming damage if they can just play enough Blobs simultaneously.
From this simple premise, the game rockets along at a blistering pace. Turns can sometimes take a matter of seconds, as you dump your whole hand onto the table, snatching up new ships or sending a few blasts of damage out before discarding everything played, drawing up whilst your opponent takes their turn. The decision process comes from making hard choices on what ships to buy each turn. Any new cards will be significantly better than your paltry starting ships, but the more bloated your deck becomes the less likely your chances of seeing your best ships. You’re constantly having to consider what your own path to victory will be and what your opponent is trying to build, as you tussle over faction cards and do your best to negate whatever their strategy might be.
This edition of the game comes in a lovingly spacious box, doubling the player starter decks and including a wealth of variant modes, as well as the Gambit expansion. This expansion deals players powers or one-off abilities to keep the game surprising, whilst also offering a handicap system for those looking for a challenge. There’s also a fascinating solo/co-operative mode, with two choices of AI opponents that remove cards from the buying pool to activate punishing effects, with a scalable difficulty system that makes it a joy to play alongside friends instead of against them.
Whilst I enjoy having these variants and luxury box set, none of the new modes offered any significantly different from the original game’s 1v1 standard play. I would personally treat this like how a hermit crab considers shells; if you’re looking for a bigger and better way to play, you can buy this with absolute confidence, then either sell or give away your lovely, smaller, version to spread the word on how awesome it is to build a space fleet in seconds.
PLAY IT? YES
Whilst I would recommend trying out the two player base set or digital app first, there’s no denying that this box contains hours of rapid interstellar conflict that continues to deliver exciting games time after time.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Ascension: Deckbuilding Game
An earlier work by some of the same designers, this highly expandable dark fantasy deck builder offers an equally rewarding experience of cobbling together a power fantasy, but for my money Star Realms just delivers faster and harder with a beautiful sci-fi twist.
Designer: Darwin Kastle & Rob Dougherty
Publisher: Wise Wizard Games
Time: 20 minutes
What’s in the box?
- Game Board
- 4 10-card Starting Decks
- 99 Game Cards
- 13 Gambit expansion cards
- 2 Oversized challenge cards
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This review came from Tabletop Gaming Magazine, which is home to all of the latest and greatest tabletop goodness. Whether you're a board gamer, card gamer, wargamer, RPG player or all of the above, find your copy here.Get your magazine here
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