Drinky Drinky
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Mr. Cat. Hold on I think I know my next move, just give me another minute....NO!!!!!!!
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Star Realms was purchased as a Kickstater. Backers got a card version of the game and (will get) the electronic/online version in various formats. In this review I will compare Star Realms to Ascension, if you don't want to see the mechanic comparisons, jump down to the end of the review to see my thoughts on the game.

Star Realms was inexpensive and promised to be a short game for 2 players. It delivered on both fronts. What surprised me is how good, simple, and deep this game Star Realms is.


Star Realms looks VERY similar in how it sets up and plays to Ascension.


Star Realms has the same Attack/Buy/VP as Ascension. The only difference is the Star Realms' (Authority) VP's are treated like the HP/health of each player rather than a game timer with the Star icon/crystals in Ascension. In Star Realms you are trying to attack the other player to get their authority down to 0 and win the game.


The starting hand for both Ascension and Star Realms is similar in that both players have start with a starter deck of 2 attack and 8 buy for a total of 10 cards. The difference with Star Realms is the first player can only draw 3 cards instead of 5 for their starting hand. This is the solution to the "equal turns played" that most card/deck builder games don't have....cough Dominion.

The initial layout of the game has a similar row of available cards that can be acquired. Ascension has 6 available cards, Star Realms has 5 available cards. Ascension's (center) row is cards can be attacked or bought, all play is done via this center row. Where as with Star Realms their row of cards in the "trade row" is only purchased. Attacks in Star Realms are directed at the other player or their built up bases and outposts. Attacking in Star Realms is directed at the other player and not other cards to be defeated such as the case in Ascension.

Placed along with the center row cards, both games have a higher 2 cost 'buy' card that can be purchased. (Ascension) Mystics vs (Star Realms) Explorer ships. Star Realms has no basic attack you can purchase, all attack cards are only available from your 2 starting hand cards (1attack viper cards) or ships and bases/outposts that are purchased from the trade row.

Star Realms does not have a crazy cultist hobo equivalent. Have a couple extra attack laying around?…Attack the other player!!! No need to beat up some wanna be Arkham Horror never ending cultist phenomena.

As I said, Star Realms has no monsters or ships that you attack in the center row, all center row ships are meant to enter your hand to then be used against the other player. Where as the non monster cards in Ascension were either Heroes or Constructs, in Star Realms the cards in the middle row are either Ships or Bases.

Of the heroes and ships both Ascension and Star Realms have 4 different races/factions (suits) that do very different things and play differently to each other.

Now here is where Star Realms shines…. Each faction in Star Realms build on each other with what is called an "Ally Ability" on each card. Draw a hand of 2 allies….and get the extra bonus for each of the allied cards. Also each card also has an included Scrap (trash) ability, you can trash that card and get another bonus. I want to say all cards have an ally ability, but not all the cards also have a scrap ability. But most of the cards do have all 3 options : default action, ally ability, and scrap effect. Also Ships effect in Star Realms are to be played immediately. Ally abilities go into effect once as another ship or base of that faction is put into play.

Bases/outposts and constructs are VERY similar between Ascension and Star Realms. Both can be built by both sides, and they remain out after built and give some sort of benefit to the player. Where as constructs are usually removed by defeating some monster in Ascension, bases are defeated by the other player directly blowing them up. Bases that are outposts in Star Realms force the other player to attack those bases first before attacking other bases or other players to deplete their "Authority" which are basically hit points.


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Ok enough comparison, they are similar but VERY different.


What I like about this Star Realms:
1) Time: Star Realms is short to setup and plays very quickly.
2) The offerings of ally abilities and scrap abilities leave the player with many valuable choices without being overly complicated
3) It is in space. I really like space themes and this game works with ships. Star Realms rates up there with Core Worlds in how the space theme works.
4) The initial 1st player stymie to 3 cards. Not only does this mix up the possible outcomes of the starting hand, I think this is an ingenious method to take out the first player advantage especially when the goal is to take out the other player, not accumulate victory points.
5) Boss Fights!! I always though games needed more boss fights and the boss fights and Star Realms offers a Solo and Co-Op versions of boss fights.
6) Factions: The different factions mean something…this ties into the ally abilities, but I like that each of the factions has distinct flavors and powers.
7) Confrontation: I didn't think I would like Ascension with direct confrontation, but Star Realms showed me otherwise.
8) Artwork: Artwork is always subjective, but I really like the artwork on the cards, also the icons are clear and concise. Very well done.
9) Double sided authority/Hit Point cards: Some people like tokens, but I thought this was an ingenious way of keeping Star Realms a complete card game. Everything in the game is a card.
10) I always like to see a new company start out with a quality product. White Wizard games has a nice little hit on their hands.



The verdict is still out on:
1) Gambit cards - These still seem iffy, I can see the core game being VERY polished and even (aside form a few underpriced powerful ships) but some of the extra kickstater bonuses seem a bit rushed. Though I do like the co-op version of the game.
2) Packaging - yes we got all the releases of extra cards for the year including factionless ships, but the extra cards look to be a bit warped and do not fit in the initial box, I ended up using a Fantasy Flight deck box to hold the full game unsleeved.
3) If this game ends up having expansions, do I even want to upgrade? The game has enough in the core set I wouldn't want to touch it, the game is really that balanced, so I am wary of expansions if there are any. Though I will take expanded boss fights.
4) Playing in raid of greater than 2 player format. I don't want to see this descend to Red Dragon Inn, in space.


Overall:
Star Realms is a surprising addition to the game collection. It is fast fun, surprisingly deep yet simple to play. I hope others will jump on the Star Realms bandwagon.



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David Luchetti
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I can't wait for the retail release! Want!!!
 
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Jordan Booth
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I don't think this game is "very" different from Ascension, it has 2 small tweaks that open it up strategically, and it is refocused from euro to AT. Even the tweaks are known 'bugs' in Ascension. Ally abilities are Unite included from premiere release. And I'm not sure why Ascension is still only letting one faction banish.

Nonetheless, the skeleton is so obviously Ascension that I will be teaching it as such. Even just reading the rules I see clauses that remind me of all the challenges to teaching people DBGs. ("Aquiring a card doesn't count as playing it") which solidifies with me how this game was evolved from its clear predecessors. If someone asks me "What is that?" I'm going to reply, "PvP Ascension in space, let's play."
 
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Peter Rabinowitz
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I liked the gameplay of Ascension just fine but the theme was such a turn off for me that I didn't play it nearly as much as I would have otherwise. On the other hand, ships in space and bright primary colors are just my thing.

I wonder how much money there is in retheming already successful games? Tanto Cuoro and Barbarossa would open up whole new markets...
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Remy Gibson
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I've never played Ascension, primarily because I have no interest in fantasy, but I have been very impressed with Star Realms in my first couple of plays.

I will also second the kudos on the artwork. Exceptionally good space opera stuff.
 
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Scott Koon
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I'm loving this game. I like that the entire game fits in a single small box. I'm not a big fan of the cards as points. "The Agents" uses that as well and I find it a little cumbersome. Since the values of the card are not printed in the corner of each card, you can not stack the cards up or overlay them and see what your total is. Plus, and this is a kind of a petty complaint, you have to add up the totals to find out what you have. I'm sure I'll make or use some kind of spinner for keeping track of totals.
 
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Adam Harvey
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My only hope is that they do not put out expansions for this game.

We're 65+ plays and it has created an evolution in my play style that I pay close, almost obsessive attention to so do the other people I play this absolute gem of a game with.
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Aaron Phillips
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xandrellas wrote:
My only hope is that they do not put out expansions for this game.

We're 65+ plays and it has created an evolution in my play style that I pay close, almost obsessive attention to so do the other people I play this absolute gem of a game with.


If they do put out expansions, you don't have to buy them...

One of my favorite things about Star Realms vs Ascension is the time and form factor. Star Realms can fit the entire game in a deck box (or a 250-count ultra pro plastic box if you are an obsessive sleever). No tokens, chits or bits, only cards. Easy to throw in a carry-on to play in airports, easy to throw in the top of your gaming bag.

It (for us at least) also sets up, tears down, and plays faster than Ascension, without sacrificing much in the way of strategic depth. This makes it a great game for me and my wife to break out when the kids go down for a nap. Quick, but still deep and engaging.
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