Table Top

Published on July 23rd, 2015 | by Justified Croak


Star Realms Review

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Average play time per game: 20-30 minutes

Suitable for ages: 12+

Number of players: 2 (4 with a second core set)

Mechanics: Deck Building, Hand Management


Dude, you didn’t hear already? Yeah, they added a new top run to the Magic The Gathering career ladder. It now goes: collect Pokemon cards from ages 7-10 > start playing Yu-Gi Oh at age 11 > pick up an M.T.G. deck to see what all the fuss is about > Ebay Yu-Gi Oh and Pokemon cards to fund your M.T.G booster cravings > Spend life’s savings on 4 land cards to complete your ‘unbeatable’ deck > Go professional > Win tournament > become renowned player on international circuit > Design deck building game.

Deck building games are immensely popular of late, which suits me fine because I love them. They’re quick to teach, easy to learn, heaps of fun and often designed by pro Magic The Gathering players for some reason. Star Realms is one of the latest and most nattered about entries to the genre that ticks all the above boxes and still finds room for a side of innovation. Well worth a look I say!

Star Realms is a speedy 2 player deck building game with a real aggressive feel and a cool sci-fi theme. Players must use trade and combat to gear up their astral empire and grind their opponents into space dust. Here’s how:



Form 2 decks of 10 cards containing 8 scout cards and two viper cards.

Each player receives 50 authority, measured with the double sided cards provided. These cards are the most awkward score tracking system I have seen in LONG time. Best off just using pen and paper or tape some percentile dice to the box.

Form a pile of the 10 explorer cards and place them within reach of both players.

Shuffle the trade cards in to a single deck, placing it face down in the centre of the table leaving room for the scrap pile A.K.A. the discard pile.

Lay out the top 5 cards of the trade deck face up. These five cards are referred to as the “Trade Row”

Both players shuffle their personal decks and designate a first player.

NOTE: The first player draws 3 cards on his first turn. The second draws 5. This only occurs in the first round. In subsequent rounds players will always draw up to 5 cards. This is done in attempt to counterbalance the advantage of playing first in round 1.



Players will alternate taking turns with each turn having 3 phases: Main, Discard and Draw

1) The Main Phase allows players to perform any of the following actions in any order they wish.

-Play cards from their hand.

-Use the abilities of bases they have in play

-Use the ally and scrap abilities of cards they have in play

-Use trade to acquire new cards from the trade row

-Use combat to attack an opponent and/or their bases

There is no cost to play a card, a player simply need place it in front of them face up. There are 2 types of card a player may acquire for their deck. These are ships and bases.

Ships trigger their primary ability as soon as they are played. Usually generating you trade to acquire more cards from the trade row or combat to deal damage to your opponent.

Bases can generate trade and combat like ships but are not discarded at the end of your turn but instead remain in play until they are scrapped or destroyed. Each base has a defence number (life/hit points) which must be reached by your opponent in a single turn with their combat resource to destroy the base. Once destroyed a base is placed in the owners discard pile. Some bases also have the outpost keyword. This means they must be destroyed before bases without it.

Ships and Bases may also have an ally or scrap ability which may be used at any time the owners turn, so long as they meet the requirements.


Ally abilities are indicated by one of the four faction icons on the card. An ally ability may be used as soon as your have another ship or base of the same faction in play. The order in which you play the cards does not matter. As soon as you have two or more cards of the same faction in play you may trigger all relevant ally abilities. This may only be done in the main phase.

Scrap abilities are indicated by the silver trash can icon on the card. Scrapping may only be performed in the main phase and allows players to remove the card from their deck permanently for a one-off benefit. Scrapped cards are placed in the scrap pile beside the trade deck.

Acquiring – To acquire a card from the trade row a player must usually generate the trade resource. Each card in the centre row will have a cost. A player must generate trade equal to the cost of a card using their ships and bases. Once a card is bought it is placed in that player’s discard pile.

It is important to note the trade row must always have 5 cards for purchase. When a card from the centre row is bought or removed for another reason, it is immediately replaced.

Attacking – To attack another player the combat resource is required. Combat is generated with ships and bases. Combat is directed first at a player’s bases, if any. Once an opponent’s bases are destroyed, any remaining combat is directed straight at the opponent, reducing their “authority” (life/hit points)

2) Discard Phase

Once a player has finished their main phase they enter the discard phase. All ships and cards in hand are now discarded. Any left over trade and unused combat is lost at this stage.

3) Draw Phase

After discarding a player must draw 5 cards ready for their next turn. At this point their turn ends, moving to the other player’s turn.

If a player’s deck has no cards to draw then they must shuffle their discard pile which then becomes their new deck. They then draw 5 cards.

The winner is the player to reduce their opponent’s authority to 0. The loser is then ejected into deep space from the air lock. The loser then has as long as his or her oxygen lasts to contemplate why they didn’t scrap their starting cards sooner.



First off, it does feel a little like Space The Gathering. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and certainly not surprising given the game’s designer. Where most deck builders focus on the centre row, Star Realms has you bouncing between the cards available to purchase and pew pewing your opponent. This is where the game gets a lot of its faster pacing from. You’re less carefully fine tuning your deck over time and more urgently throwing up defences before you get laser death beams all up in your face.

The theme deserves a special mention also. There aren’t many deck builders that do space well and this is certainly one of them but I’d like to see a few more aliens involved. Three of the four factions available are humans, and all though the aliens are kind of cool in all their blobbiness, it seems like they missed a trick here. This could easily be remedied in future expansions and core sets however, and I assume it will be.

All the mechanics are solid and are picked up quickly by most players regardless of their past nerd experience yet there isn’t much new here. Yes this is an innovative deck builder in it’s aggression and speed but this effect is achieved using mechanics similar to ones found in other games and genres – the innovation only comes in their combination.

Overall I have to say it’s a good game, great for filling time between larger games as it really is a quick one with minimal set up. All this said though, I don’t think I personally am going to get much more play out of this. For me it’s a little too aggressive. I play a lot of games with my partner who prefers co-op games and styles like deck building because you’re not directly going at your opponent. You’re just doing your own thing, in your own little bubble and at some point one of you announces out of the blue that they have won and ruins the other’s fun. So Star Realms is deserving some what of its hype and is for many a welcome (if not permanent) distraction from M.T.G. For me however, the bold innovation of Star Realms removed my favourite part of deck building games, that chilled out, independent play style. Thus I am more than happy to recommend this one for all to try, especially given its retail price of around £12 even though, for us, it’s never to be our go to deck builder.

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