This week’s backpack pick is Star Realms from White Wizard Games LLC. Star Realms is a deck-building game for two players. Unlike many other deck-building games, this combines the strategies of a deck-building game and marries it with the interactive battle nature of many popular trading or living card games.
Star Realms comes packaged in a tuckbox packed with 128 cards and 2 rule sheets. The rule sheets have one for two-players and the second rule sheet has multiplayer rules, which can be used by adding additional sets of Star Realms.
In Star Realms, players start off with a basic deck of 10 cards, eight of them being Scout Ships which give Trade resources and two of them are Viper Ships that give Combat Resources. Players also start off with 50 Authority, which can be thought of as life points. The object of the game is to build your deck into a powerful armada and to reduce your opponent’s Authority to zero.
There are 80 cards that make up the Trade Deck and on a player’s turn, there will always be five cards available to be purchased using Trade resources in the Trade row. In addition, players can also purchase Explorer Ship Cards. In the trade deck, there are four different factions that you can recruit into your armada: The Trade Federation, Star Empire Faction, Machine Cult, and Blob. Each of these factions perform differently and can be added to your deck to help generate resources. For example, The Trade Federation is very good at generating Authority. There are different types of ships that can be purchased to add to your armada and there are also Outposts that can be built. Some outposts are bases that can be used to protect you from direct attack from your opponent. When outposts are played, they stay in your play area until they are destroyed, and each turn, they will generate resources.
Aside from the starting round, players will have a hand of five cards to start their turn. Each turn has three phases: The main phase, the discard phase, and the draw phase. In the main phase, cards are played from your hand. You will generate resources that will go into their respective pools. Authority is immediately added to your Authority total. Trade resources are used to purchase cards from the Trade row. Combat resources are used to attack your opponent and his/her outposts and bases. When playing cards, some of them will have ally abilities, meaning that if you play another card of the same faction that turn, an additional ability will be triggered. The Ally ability can be used anytime during the main phase of the turn.
A unique mechanic in Star Realms is the scrapping mechanic. This allows players to thin out their decks to maximize performance. Certain cards have scrapping as an ability and others have a scrapping icon. When cards are scrapped, they are placed out of play in the scrap heap, with the exception of Explorer Ships, which are placed back on the Explorer Ship pile. A card that has a scrapping icon can be played for it’s ability and then you choose to scrap it on your turn to generate a second ability or resource. Cards that are scrapped for any reason other than the scrapping icon will not trigger the scrap ability.
Any cards that are acquired during the main phase are placed into the discard pile. During the discard phase, place all in-play ships in the discard pile along with any cards left in your hand. Any left over trade or combat resources are lost from their respective pools at the end of your turn.
In the draw phase, draw five cards from your draw pile. If at any time you need to draw cards from your draw pile and it is empty, shuffle your discard pile to form a new draw pile.
Play continues until one player’s Authority is reduced to zero. The surviving player is the victor.
Star Realms is an intense game that gives more purpose to deck-building: DESTROY YOUR OPPONENT. This is a highly competitive game that offers many different strategies each game. Each faction can add flavor to your deck, for example, Blob faction is very heavy on generating combat resources, whereas the Trade Federation faction generates Authority. There is a lot of strategy in this game through adding cards that can combo off of each other. This game also allows for a lot of decisions to be made, especially with using the scrap mechanic. You can weigh the option of keeping the card around, or scrapping it for a one time ability, but lose the card for the rest of the game. This offers a lot of replayability due to the different combination of cards that can be added to a deck each game.
Star Realms is very compact coming packaged in tuck box the size of the cards. Personally, I think that the packaging for the game could be better as the tuck box will take a beating from the amount of times this game will be played. The amount of space needed to play this game is not very much, mostly you need room for the Trade Deck and Trade Row. Play time is not very long, so this game can be played over lunch periods, or between classes if you are student. I really enjoy this game, but the use of Authority cards can be cumbersome and inconvenient, so get rid of them and use dice or some other counter to keep track of that resource. This game is great as a 2-player game, and I recommend tracking down the promo cards to get the co-op and solo play scenarios.
This adds additional ways to play the game, including some challenging solitaire play opportunities. Adding additional sets of Star Realms, opens up the opportunity to play games for 3 up to 6 players, with different options like Free-For-All, which is every player for themselves; Hunter is a variant where players may only attack the player to your left. Hydra (two-headed or three-headed) offers a team play option. And there is an advanced team play game called Emperor. And finally there is Raid, which has one player acting as the Boss versus all of the other players as raiders working together to defeat the boss.
For further game play options, track down the Gambit cards that can be added to further enhance game play experience.
Overall this is an awesome game for two-players. And with a price point of $15 you get a lot for your money. The game is very popular with Organized play opportunities at your local game stores. Adding the additional sets and cards opens up the game for play options from 1 to 6 players. This is great for kids to play, teens, couples too. This game gets a high recommendation from me. So pick up your copy of Star Realms today. #backpackpick