Star Realms has been out for quite a while, but I hadn’t played it until very recently. Which is a shame since it’s possibly the best introduction to deckbuilding games I’ve seen.
The unifying theme of all deckbuilding games taking an initially bad deck and building it up to be more efficient. Typically this follows two paths, finding ways to make more money so you can continue to buy better cards, and pushing for the victory conditions. In every deckbuilding game there comes a point when you have to switch from building your money and card draw to spending money on your victory condition.
In Star Realms the route to victory is simple, reducing your opponent to zero life or ‘authority’. You’ll achieve this with your deck of ships and star bases. Which provide some combination of money, damage, and authority, as well as special abilities.
One unique feature of Star Realms is the distinction between ships and bases. In most deckbuilders you play out your hand, resolve any effects, then discard all cards and draw a new hand. While ships do work like this, bases stick around, meaning you get their effects every round, and some bases must be destroyed before your authority can be reduced. This gives star realms an element of board presence not seen in most other deckbuilders.
The cards you can buy in Star Realms belong to one of four factions, each having things they tend to be good at. The Trade Federation restores your authority and draws lots of cards, the Star Empire messes with your opponents’ hands, the Blob make plenty of money and the Machine Cult are strong attackers and the best at scrapping cards from your deck. Scrapping cards is important because as the game goes on some cards will become ineffective, so them remaining in your deck is inefficient. Also, cards will have abilities that only trigger when another card of that faction has been played so specialising has advantages.
This synergy within factions plays into the way Star Realms organises its shop. typically in deckbuilders the cards available for purchase are already determined meaning you can plan out you purchases ahead of time. However in Star Realms the buyable cards are all shuffled together and five are dealt out for purchase. This means you need to think about what factions you start purchasing, sure there might be a good Blob ship available but there may be none for a while after that. This also makes setup much simpler, just give out the starter decks then shuffle a big pile of cards, so Star Realms manages to fit into my natural habitat, the pub.
Star Realms also includes some excellent multiplayer modes to make it great for teaching, there are several team variants and a very cool boss battle mode where all players fight against one. This means you can pair up the more and less experienced players to help everyone have a good time, and spread teaching out across the whole game rather than having to front load all the rules and strategies. This feature is something I’ve seen few other games do and is the reason I would say it’s the best deckbuilding game for new players. And if you feel that way inclined the game has plenty of expansions to keep the card pool fresh.
I have almost nothing bad to say about the game, apart from its art which isn’t bad but doesn’t do anything great either. When you combine the excellent entry point to the really engaging gameplay and the fact that it is dirt cheap and very portable it should definitely have a place in your collection.