Playing Star Realms for the first time

A few months ago, I got involved in yet another Humble Bundle, because I have a terrible addiction to Humble Bundles. This one, notably, got me a copy of Star Realms (you can find their website, unsurprisingly, at, which I forgot about immediately after ordering (par for the course, really, as far as I’m concerned). Of course, this made it much more fun to receive it in the mail, since I had no idea what was in the envelope.

Unfortunately, this was before the wedding, and before Sarah’s visa got approved, and I didn’t know anyone else who was willing to put up with playing card games with me, so it got put to the side, forgotten, for another couple of months.

Time passed. Stuff happened. Sarah and I got married, that was pretty cool. (We’re now living in our new house, which is pretty awesome. Actually, I still can’t get over how insane it is that I’m living in my own house! ADULTHOOD! RESPONSIBILITY! GAH!). I’ll have to post more about the whole house thing soon, but that can wait; it’s not really what I wanted to say in this particular entry. Anyway. Star Realms. Yeah.

Last night, I was cleaning up around the house and stumbled across my Star Realms box, and thought to myself: “You know what would be really, really fun tonight, after a long day of moving crap out of my old apartment? STAR REALMS.” So I opened the box, unwrapped the cards, and Sarah and I sat down for a nice light session of gaming.

Starting out, neither of us had any idea what in the world we were doing, so we opened up the instructions. We discovered that reading them linearly was a mistake- we started reading about the Trade Row, for example, before we knew what the Trade Row was, which prompted the question of “How do we play the cards? Are they communal cards?”, and so on. Fortunately, the instructions, when taken as a whole, are fairly clear – after reading everything, we had very few questions. (Some places on the Internet mentioned “think of it like a more confrontational version of Dominion,” which helped me figure things out, too).

When we finally got started playing, we found it really easy to play. Of course, going in blind with no idea of how to build an efficient deck meant that we had some really interesting first games – I got absolutely stomped in the first couple, mostly due to a very disorganized deck, and not taking advantage of those ever-so-important ally abilities (for those who don’t play – some cards of a specific faction, when played, have an additional effect that activates if you play another card of the same faction – basically doubling the value of the card, usually). By the time we got into our third game, though, I had started to catch on – and built my deck around the yellow “Star Empire” faction, incorporating a ton of bases (persistent-effect cards) and hand-manipulation into my deck. While the limited options for purchase made it difficult to get the perfect deck sometimes, there was quite a lot of strategic depth as we got more familiar with the mechanics. The randomness of card draw led to some really interesting situations, though – like the one where both of us had one Outpost (a base that has to be attacked before any damage can be dealt to the player) and couldn’t draw enough damage to destroy the other player’s Outpost – and couldn’t draw enough buying power to purchase anything else on the board! (We eventually managed to break out of that, but it can be really frustrating when you’re really short on buying power and the game stagnates for a couple of turns because the lowest-cost card on the board is a 6 or 7).

Speaking of mechanics, I’m sure there’s still a lot more that I need to learn to really start to get the hang of the game. The biggest one that springs immediately to mind is the scrapping mechanic (similar to trashing cards in Dominion). Neither Sarah nor I really used that mechanic in our games, but I feel like it could turn into a really big improvement in hand power in the late game (actually, I found a really nice blog post on the Star Realms site about this today).  I’m looking forward to trying out some new strategies in the next couple days (at least, before Dominion: Seaside shows up at my doorstep – which I’m also very excited to sink my teeth into. Yes, I know, I’m years behind the times. Don’t hate me, please).

There are also a couple of expansions available for the game – there’s the Gambit set, which adds a cool play mechanic that I really want to get my hands on (unique, one-time use cards that each player gets at the beginning of the game), and the Crisis set, which adds more ships and bases as well as another couple of mechanics (Events, which affect all players, and Heroes, which stay on the board until activated). Both of these expansions look like a ton of fun, and I’m looking forward to picking them up and giving them a shot.

I guess they have an online version, too, which looks pretty cool – free to play (as opposed to the $13-15 price point of the physical starter deck), and support for both live and asynchronous play (as a busy person, I appreciate this), as well as computer opponents. It’s also cross-platform, which is awesome. I don’t know whether I’d ever take advantage of the online matchmaking – I enjoy casual games with friends a lot more – but it’s definitely a cool alternative to needing to be in the same room to play the game.

Star Realms can be purchased on Amazon (affiliate link) for $13. I’ve already gotten $13 worth of enjoyment out of the game; definitely worth it.

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