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Subject: Star Realms - The great imposter rss

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Karsten
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First things first: This is not another content review & game description. There are some very good ones in this forum already.

Second: English is not my native language. Apologies in advance!

Third: This is my first review, and it's more of a reasoned opinion. I hope that is OK.


So, without further ado:

This game is an imposter!


A great one, considering all elements, a charming one, but still... an imposter!

It comes with all the ingredients deck-building fans will love - discernable factions, awesome combinations, lots of micro-decisions - yet ultimately fails to give them what most of them long for (YMMV): a) to build your own specialized deck, b) to be able to actively pursue tactics and c) to try out different strategies.


Star Realms is essentially about draw luck.

Yes, you can make a lot of beginners’ mistakes that will thwart your chances to win. But once both players have understood the game and know the different cards and combinations, victory is decided by draw luck - and very often very early in the game.

How so?

Well, everything boils down to what is put onto the trade lane and what you drew as your hand (and what you can buy with it).
Through buying cards, you can change probabilities of your deck being effective (in terms of interesting combos, and hence trade points to spend and damage points to deal to your opponent).
Most importantly, you have only indirect influence on which cards are played when.

You cannot “save” cards in your hand (in order to build up combos), you always play your 5+ hand cards, and you cannot discard and replace cards unless you have another card that lets you do it.
(The rules state that you can keep and discard unplayed cards at the end of your turn but since there are – yet – no cards that let you scrap or steal your opponent’s cards, there is no benefit from not playing all of your cards.)

If draw luck lets you, you can buy cards that let you scrap cards (remove from your deck) in order to tighten your deck - thus raising the probabilities of more effective cards coming out faster (and together).

There are very interesting effects and combos, and tactics one could pursue but since you have no direct control over what you get into your deck, luck will decide whether you can a) build up and b) play a Blob spam, or a card draw chain, whether you can concentrate on one faction or spread your deck over all 4. Your opponent might be able to scrap and discard cards, while you might not. (And if you are in such a situation in turns 10-20, you can just give up.)

Again, yes, you need to make decisions in the buy phase (even, rarely, some meta-game decisions, like NOT spending all of your trade points, in order to leave only weaker cards in the trade lane to your opponent), and yes, these decisions will have an impact on how a game rolls out, but if – let’s say – your opponent can seize Recycling Center in turn 2, Freighter in turn 3 and (with the help of said Freighter) Machine base in turn 5, it will get tough for you. Unless you get 2 Blob Destroyers in the same time, the game is already very much set against you. Or not! But the point is: you have almost no control over that.

For someone who knows the cards and their combo value there are almost no real choices to be made. And if you have a real choice to make (let’s say there are two cool cards on the trade lane with equal value), the effects of your choice are outweighed by the randomness of the deck cycle and distribution of cards.


This does not make Star Realms a bad game.


You still get a great bang for the buck, with a great space sci-fi design, 4 factions that have distinctive effects, lots of cool combos. The game is very easy to learn, yet takes some time to max your game efficiency. It plays in under 30 minutes and the game experience varies from game to game (up to a certain point, at least). Everything works well together and the game runs very smoothly.


But the “tweak your luck” principle does make it something different than what it looks like on first glance (a tactical deck-builder where the players are in control), and that may explain why I am a little bit disappointed by the game (after having played 30+ rounds of it. )

It says deck-building, it gives you a lot of cool things to look at, and seemingly a lot of choices but then you watch yourself play out game after game where your decisions are pretty much set, and it is pretty clear who will win - the player who got the cooler cards at the right time.

So this is why I call Star Realms an imposter!



I would always recommend it as a good game to teach non-gamers the game mechanics of deck-cycling (the general definition, not the special tactic) and combinations in deck-builders. It also works very well as a filler game. And maybe that was all that it was ever intended for, and I am making a little fuss over nothing at all. Or maybe a lot of other deck-builders are the same, and I just got a totally wrong impression from Android:Netrunner and Warhammer Invasion.

Still, this game is currently listed with a rating of 8.00/10, and that, in my opinion, is a bit too much praise for what it is.
(Even considering how BGG works, with the fanbois making a super hype out of everything, and the critics following later on...)


So, what do YOU think?



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J M
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I agree 100%. I still enjoy the game, but after a lot of plays vs the AI on the Android app, I can tell the games I will lose (start first with two scouts and a viper etc). It becomes somewhat mindless at that level.
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David
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I wouldn't go so far as to say that certain specific staring hands are doomed to failure. It still depends on what you can buy with it. 2 scouts / 1 viper great when you can snag something like a trade pod. Much better than a 3 scout hand with nothing but 2 coin cards in the trade row.

But do agree that by the second shuffle you usually have a pretty good idea how the game will go.

Still, it *IS* a nice fast, tactical game. And especially the mobile version makes for some fun solo gaming.
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Kevin Seachrist
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I have an easier time predicting a loss on my opening Hearthstone draw than I do Star Realms. Your point is a solid one, but true for a great many card games, perhaps even more so for constructed deck games, when you know right off the bat you're not going to establish early tempo and will be playing reactively.
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Chris Funk
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Honestly, it's a great two-player card game that plays out in under 20 minutes. It's like less than a filler, and as such, I expect less and am not disappointed.

I do agree 100% that it's a luck of the draw game, but there some ways to help negate that. It all depends on your deck and your opponents deck. Every faction has their uses and specialties and you need to watch what the other person is collecting and form your deck around that at the same time.

Now, do I think some of the card are overpowered? Yuuuuuup. The blue Command Ship is one of those game killers. Every time I've had it, I've won. Every time someone else has had it, I've lost. If I have cards with the ability to trash trade row cards, and if I feel I can't get that one, it's destroyed.
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Stephen Schaefer
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I think it would depend on whether you consider Ascension to be an impostor to good deckbuilding games.

This game plays more or less the same as Ascension, but the trade deck is entirely ships and stations, and your attack power is levied at your opponent rather than any cards that may be in the trade row.

I consider this a marked improvement over (base game) Ascension because, in addition to the luck of the faction pull, there is the additional odds of having many good cards on the table but no spending money, or many monsters on the table and no "punching money". Between that and the huge size of the Ascension trade deck (especially with expansions), that dilutes long-term strategy even more than Star Realms, to the point where I consider it strictly a turn-by-turn game.

Additionally, I find the synergy within factions to be much stronger in Star Realms than in (base game) Ascension, where the only real combos you can make are with the mech faction, and no player is dumb enough to let you stockpile mech cards more than once.

Yes, the trade row means you're always adjusting what you have to do, but Race for the Galaxy kind of acclimated me to the notion of changing tactics in mid-stream. Impostor or not, I consider Star Realms to be an improvement on Ascension in nearly every way: cheaper, quicker, simpler to teach, less chancy, more combo-friendly, and a better theme (strictly personal and aesthetic; space games are a soft spot for me).
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David Lyerly
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Completely agree. The game has received a ton of praise and hype. I've heard those that have even said it's the next step for deck building. I've played around 15+ games and am left a little disappointed. I play other LCGs, CCGs, and deck builders. I find this one just doesn't really compete with the best of them. Randomness from the draw is one thing. Randomness from the draw and from the market is too much. You can't reasonably create a strategy like you can in other deck builders. You can't manipulate the market (like Jaipur) because there are very few cards that interact with it directly. Not a title I'd recommend.
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Jon Kern
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The goal of any good deck builder is luck mitigation. There are 0 deck builders that have 0 luck. Therefore, strategy is a big part of the game because correct strategy mitigates luck. On average if you mitigate your luck more than your opponents you will win. This means that the better player will win more often.
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Tim Koppang
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I'm guessing that the publisher is working on expansion cards. If you added in some additional options via an expansion, do you think that would help the game?
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David Lyerly
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Limitless333 wrote:
The goal of any good deck builder is luck mitigation. There are 0 deck builders that have 0 luck. Therefore, strategy is a big part of the game because correct strategy mitigates luck. On average if you mitigate your luck more than your opponents you will win. This means that the better player will win more often.


I hear you and completely agree that the goal of deck building is mitigating luck. I have very strict rules when I build my Magic decks either in draft or constructed. I pay very close attention to percentages when building via Dominion or other deck builders. This isn't the same. Of course strategy plays a role. I suggested as much above. The randomness and the balance of the cards in the market make this much less competitive than other deck builders. Unlike many other games with markets, there isn't an ability to wipe out all the cards in it. To get a reboot. That's a key component of mitigation. Some times you're just gonna get poor options and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. That's just not fun. It has nothing to do with being better.
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Kaboda
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You make some great points but this is how it is with most deckbuilders and card games in general. Deckbuilders in the Dominion fold have very minimal luck Iin the market while Ascension type games have luck in both market, draw and deck composition.

At the end of your review you state the following:

treslibras wrote:
Or maybe a lot of other deck-builders are the same, and I just got a totally wrong impression from Android:Netrunner and Warhammer Invasion.



So seems you are coming at this from a purely CCG/LCG point a view. Which is a different genre and beast from deckbuilding games. I like both genres of games although lately I'm more prone to deckbuilding as it's easier to get out and play with other people and they tend to be more group oriented and you don't have to preconstruct decks for everyone. Yes deckbuilding games will have more overall luck driving the outcome and this is known and expected. For me they are still fun and a blast but not everyone will like them just as with any genre of games.

Thanks for the well thought out review/opinion as it will be helpful to those who dislike too much luck in their card games.
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Roger S.
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I think what you have here is simply a mismatch of expectations and reality.

The game has a much higher luck element than the OP would prefer. That's not an indictment on the game, it's just simple fact.

I enjoy it for what it is, which is a light game that is quick and easy to teach.
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Matt Schoonmaker-Gates
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Limitless333 wrote:
The goal of any good deck builder is luck mitigation. There are 0 deck builders that have 0 luck. Therefore, strategy is a big part of the game because correct strategy mitigates luck. On average if you mitigate your luck more than your opponents you will win. This means that the better player will win more often.


I agree with this. Well said.

diggityjones wrote:

Some times you're just gonna get poor options and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. That's just not fun. It has nothing to do with being better.


I respect your opinion and think you make a valid point. I don't know the other deck building games enough to compare them to. However, technically when you say "there is absolutely nothing you can do about it", that's not true. You can do your best with the options available. Sometimes your opponent is faced with the same poor options, and they have to do the best with it too. If you can do better than your opponent in these poor option situations, then you can win more often. I think what the above quote is trying to say is that there is obviously luck involved, so the better player won't win 100% of the time. If the difference between players is small, then the better player might only win 55% of the time, and it will come down to the luck of the draw or cards. I think this comes down to a philosophical question of "what is luck?" and "how much luck should a game have?". It sounds like in other deck building games, there are more options available to you? So there is still luck involved I'm guessing, but you feel like there are more options available to you to mitigate the luck?

Now if you don't find this part fun, I can't argue with that :-).
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Duncan Idaho
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railbaron wrote:
However, technically when you say "there is absolutely nothing you can do about it", that's not true. You can do your best with the options available. Sometimes your opponent is faced with the same poor options, and they have to do the best with it too. If you can do better than your opponent in these poor option situations, then you can win more often.


I think the OP was stating that if you get a bad draw, and they get a good draw, there's nothing you can do, and that happens much more frequently in this game than the OP would like.
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David Lyerly
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railbaron wrote:

If the difference between players is small, then the better player might only win 55% of the time, and it will come down to the luck of the draw or cards. I think this comes down to a philosophical question of "what is luck?" and "how much luck should a game have?". It sounds like in other deck building games, there are more options available to you? So there is still luck involved I'm guessing, but you feel like there are more options available to you to mitigate the luck?

Now if you don't find this part fun, I can't argue with that :-).


A very well balanced retort. It was not my intent to malign Star Realms as a game. If you see my original post, I was merely suggesting I preferred the other deck builders. Star Realms has 4 different factions. Each card in a faction interacts with cards of the same faction. Star Realms does simplify this by not requiring particular cards to interact but factions. As long as the colors are the same you'll get the benefit of the effect. This discourages just grabbing too many cards of different factions. This sounds great until you face a market with nothing in the colors you've committed to. The market doesn't reset. It can stay that way for some time. This happened quite frequently in games I played. Either in my favor or against. You've developed a sound strategy then oh-oh, no more red/blue/green/yellow. Not only that but your buddy is seemingly grabbing everything he/she needs. In addition, it can be that you keep getting all the cheap cards in your colors in the late game while your opponent has access to all the high cost cards in his/her colors. That's where the randomness in the market hurts the depth in my personal opinion. I didn't like winning matches when this happened. Felt lopsided and cheap. You're swinging for 18-24 a turn, and he can barely keep up due to market issues. It was already over by the third turn. Sorry to go on and on. Just felt I should explain. I'll pass the mic now and stop hogging the forum.
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Moe45673
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Keep explaining, that's good stuff.

First of all, one loose early strategy is to buy cards that provide hits as much as possible, ignoring faction bonuses. This will usually beat an economic player. This means that if your opponent sees you doing this, they will put economy on the backburner, meaning those higher cost cards aren't attainable.

Second, a thin deck in this game (and most deckbuilders) is very powerful. Grab a few "draw a card" cards and you'll be drawing most of your deck each turn.

Yeah there's more luck than a game like Dominion but this is the only deckbuilder with a constantly shifting bank i've enjoyed, including Legendary and Ascension.
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Ian Allen
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Nice review. I agree that the game doesn't have many interesting choices and sort of plays itself.

It's kind of bland and doesn't do much for me. Just buy the biggest card possible and play your stuff when it comes up. zzzz

I have no need to own a copy.
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Tony Go
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A lot of people don't care about building their own deck.

I like pre-generated factions.

Another thing I've been thinking about is the theme to this game. It's sci-fi with very serious looking ships and flavor terms, and I wonder if the theme was "lighter" or even simply fantasy, if people would have lower expectations.

I'm reminded of Mag·Blast and how the art makes you think- oh this is serious business- a card 4X. And then all the players who were disappointed in it. Fast forward the better half of a decade and Mag·Blast (Third Edition) releases with lighter artwork and the game just kind of works. You don't go into it thinking you're going to command a capitol ship, take over worlds and out-strategize your opponents. You're just gonna blast people into pieces with mouth-made sound effects.

A more biased assessment is my own Hunters of Arcfall in which a few playtesters were really let down by the lack of deep strategy, despite being told it was always just a push your luck dice game. And when I re-theme the game to silly creatures and goofy hunters, those comments stop.

Star Realms is an instance where expectations struggle to meet reality for a number of reasons including popularity (in part due to current rarity), designer recognition and premium artwork. Obviously a game shouldn't be rated in a vacumn, but I think Star Realm's approach to creating a good game experience lies in many more aspects beyond game design.

I for one, am a stalwart fan of "light" games with premium art.
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Dustin
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I feel no need to play this again after playing blue moon legends.
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Roger S.
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SeerMagic wrote:
I feel no need to play this again after playing blue moon legends.

That's like comparing a steak dinner to a pop tart.
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Dustin
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decadence20 wrote:
SeerMagic wrote:
I feel no need to play this again after playing blue moon legends.

That's like comparing a steak dinner to a pop tart.


they both play 2 players fast.
 
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Mike Forrey
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I think the intent was to make a filler using Ascension and MTG together as one, which is what they did.

I'm personally waiting for Allegiance to come out for a deeper deck building game.
 
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Steve
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It's no impostor. It's a light, quick game that, as far as I can tell, was never presented as anything else. Did someone tell you to throw out your copy of Caylus now that Star Realms has arrived because I'm not sure why your first glance made you think it was going to be something other than it is.

Warhammer Invasion and Netrunner are not deck-builders. Have you played Dominion, Ascension or any other deck-builder?

Plenty of luck? Sure. No real decisions? Exaggeration.

Quote:
It also works very well as a filler game. And maybe that was all that it was ever intended for, and I am making a little fuss over nothing at all.

Yes.
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Jon Kern
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I feel like many people here are overestimating the amount of luck in Star Realms. A good player will beat a bad player a large majority (67%+) of the time. If players have equal skill, then luck plays a larger role. So I think the real complaint here is that the skill gap between a bad player and a good player is small. This means that people often play games against equals and that leads to a 50-50 or so win rate. If you have a 50-50 win rate vs equals, that is normal and shows that skill is an important factor.

If luck was overwhelming, players of any skill would win a somewhat random percentage of the time. For example, there would be good players that won 80% of the time vs bad players and others that won 30% of the time vs bad players. One good player against equals could win 20% of the time and another could win 90% of the time. This situation of sporadic odds has not been my experience. I experience players of similar skill having even odds.

This does not mean that things will always go your way though. When I started playing online I lost 4 of my first 5 games. However, my win rate now is 56% after 25 games. This means that small sample sizes can lead to bad conclusions about the amount of luck in a game.
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Alex Brown
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stevepop wrote:
It's no impostor. It's a light, quick game that, as far as I can tell, was never presented as anything else. Did someone tell you to throw out your copy of Caylus now that Star Realms has arrived because I'm not sure why your first glance made you think it was going to be something other than it is.

Warhammer Invasion and Netrunner are not deck-builders. Have you played Dominion, Ascension or any other deck-builder?

Plenty of luck? Sure. No real decisions? Exaggeration.

Quote:
It also works very well as a filler game. And maybe that was all that it was ever intended for, and I am making a little fuss over nothing at all.

Yes.


Hold the phone: no one is allowed an opinion anymore.

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