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CARL SKUTSCH
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Agricola, Sekigahara, Concordia, Innovation, COOKIE!!! (and Guinness)
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Ok, another quick and dirty review from me.



Overview

Star Realms is a cousin of Ascension but don't worry if you've never played it or never liked it. I wasn't a big fan of Ascension (although I think the art work and interplay of the cards could be quite fascinating) and I love Star Realms.

The big difference between the two games is that Star Realms portrays a head-to-head war in which you, Luke Blondegoodness, are pitted against the evil Dark Overlord (although, strangely enough, he or she will believe that you, good and virtuous defender of all that is free and true, are the evil one, and that he or she, covered in slime though they may be, is the good one). In other words, you're not scoring victory points, you're destroying your enemy's precious life force.

Each of you starts with a deck of 10 cards, 8 of them 1 point Scouts (that can buy more cards), and 2 of them 1 point Vipers (that can fight, sorta). You also start with 50 points of Authority (life). Playing 5 cards at a time, you buy new cards, attack your enemy, and try to stay alive.

Is it a deck builder?

Star Realms bills itself as a deck builder, but it isn't really, not truly. Both players start with the same cards and "build" their deck by buying whatever cards are available in the Trade Row (there are always 5 tasty space ships waiting to be bought). So there is no carefully planned and designed deck. Instead, you buy what you can, trying to make it fit together with what you've already bought (or buying the card that you know will help your rival).

Good play requires your to pick cards that fit your organically growing deck, but sometimes they're just not there and you have to buy whatever crap is available. Rather than a true mastermind deck builder, you're more of a star bum, wandering around backwater planets, trying to find some fools who will join you and your Aluminum Falchion in your war against Lord Slartibartfast.

Theme

The theme is rather generic. The spaceships (and star bases) you can buy belong to 4 peoples: the organic (and disgusting) Blobs, the versatile Traders, the standard Star Empire, and the usual Machine worshipping Cult. All very cliché. Yet I don't mind. The cards are brightly colored, depicting cool bang bang space ships, and you have the feeling of interstellar conflict on a grand scale.

Skill vs. luck

Obviously there's a big heaping o' luck in this game. Draw the right card combos and you blast your opponent into the next galaxy. Fail to shuffle properly and you limp home to the Alpha Quadrant.

The skill lies in buying the right cards to set up those card combos. Most of the cards have bonuses when used with cards from the same faction. So when you play a Mech ship with a Mech ship you get extra firepower, or some extra special ability. So if you've filled your deck with cool cards from all 4 factions, you'll find that you rarely get those combos. But if you focused on one or two factions, you are going to triumph.

There is also some tactical skill in how you play the cards. Suppose you have the Machine Cult's Stealth Needle (a favorite of mine) that duplicates any ship you played this round. And you have the perfectly decent Supply Bot ready to be duplicated, an ok play. OR you can use your Machine Base to draw another card first. If it's a dud, nothing lost, if it's your Trade Federation Command Ship, helllooooo big green tentacled mama! Pappy Blob is gonna buy you 8 new pairs of shoes!

Oh, and adding to the tactical fun, and further differentiating this game from Ascension, is that some of your cards are star bases. Unlike space ships, star bases stick around, adding strength to your forces, until blown up and sent back into your deck. Even cooler, some of those star bases are "Outposts", brave defenders who must be destroyed before you yourself can be attacked. When to buy bases and how to attack them is a big part of planning your eventual victory and your opponent's inevitable defeat.

Fun factor

This puppy is fast and fun. There is NO down time. While your opponent is playing their cards, you're drawing your new deck and shuffling when necessary. Cool combos elicit cries of joy and groans of pain, depending on who's wielding them. If you got unlucky (ignore your opponent's claim of "skill"), the game is over in 15 minutes and you can fight a new one. If your enemy is subject to analysis paralysis in THIS game, he/she/it is a lost cause.

Depth of play

Mmmm, not so much. Expansions may add something here, but I doubt it. There are only so many combos and once you have a feel for the game, you probably won't get a whole lot better. But so what? This is supposed to be a quick fun blast, and it is. You want Terra Mystica, go play that baby (which I also like a lot).

And it's cheap!

In this age of super-sized super-priced monstrosities, or night of the living dead card games that suck your wallet brains dry, it's a pleasure to come across a game that's priced to move at $15. That's all, $15. Oh, wait, if you want to play with 3 or 4 people you need to buy another deck. For $15. This is insanely cheap and I love White Wizard for being so generous with their brilliance.

And it's online!

Yes, that's right. Go to their web site and download a copy for your Mac or PC. Or get the Android version. Or the iPad version. Or the iPhone version. And play solitaire for free or pay $5 (CHEAP!) and play against other people, with all your accounts interconnected. (So you can start a game vs. Edward on your computer, and finish it later that day on your iPad.)

By the way, enquiring aliens want to know: Is it more fun digitally or in person? In person, of course. Truly, it is. I like playing this game online WAY too much. Their records say I've played 87 games online (with only a 53% win rate, wow I suck), if fact I've been playing some guy named "Josh" as I've been writing this review, in a tough neck and neck match (this turn should decide it). However I like the 6 games I've played with my son much more. Not just because I love the little beast, but also because we can actually finish the game in 15 minutes. Online, you have to wait for the other guy to do his turn. Sometimes you are both on at the same time, and the game goes fast, but often not. (ARGH, Josh just beat me! And I was so sure I had him this turn.)

Components

As I mentioned, the graphics are bright and cool and spacey. The card quality is decent, but not out of this world. The kid and I played at a restaurant and putting some of the Authority cards down on a damp spot on the table created a soggy and unhappy chunk of authority. The cards dried out but a card with a higher plastic content or glazing or something would have been less at risk. Just a heads up for y'all, because this makes a great game to play in your local Starbucks, or Greebo's Chomp 'n Chew.

Conclusion

If you like space themed games, if you like quick card games with only moderate demands on your poor puny human intelligence, buy this baby. If you can find it. I know it's been in short supply, with prices on Amazon fluctuating wildly. I, bad human that I am, got way lucky and just picked up a copy last week at a local game store.
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Brian Rayburn
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Great review of a great game.

One thing, though. You say that it calls itself a deckbuilder, but really isn't. Then you go on to give an example that is the definition of 'deckbuilder'. Can you elaborate on why you think SR isn't really a deckbuilder?

-Brian
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Dan Licata
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scarecrowking wrote:
Great review of a great game.

One thing, though. You say that it calls itself a deckbuilder, but really isn't. Then you go on to give an example that is the definition of 'deckbuilder'. Can you elaborate on why you think SR isn't really a deckbuilder?

-Brian


Was going to ask the same thing. Not sure why you say it's not a deck builder. It's just not a deck builder that all of you options are available right from the begining.

Plus you do get better after you get a feel for the game. You learn how to develop certain strategies, you get to know what cards work together better than others (hint: it's not just like colors). There are plenty of people in the online version that will be happy to show you just how much better you can get.

Another thing to point out is you need to watch what your opponent is buying and try to figure out what their strategy is. That way you can counteract it.

But glad you like the game and a good quick review. I enjoy it quite a bit myself.
 
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John Steidl
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A deckbuilder, or is it...

I believe what the OP means is that Dominion-like deckbuilders have the attribute that a limited subset of cards is used in any given game. A key aspect of strategy in those games is advance planning to acquire the right cards in the right sequence to create a strong engine that you transition to victory at the right time.

Definitions are funny things. You could list a whole bunch of attributes of "deckbuilders"; if you asked people to flag the most important ones, you would probably get different answers from different people.

Here's a stab:
Small starting decks get larger by adding cards
Weak decks that get stronger by adding better cards
The hand available for play is always a subset of the full deck, with the hand being determined (mostly) by random draw
Two or more resources (typically economic and victory, but...)
Limited subset of cards available in any given game...or not?
Some of the strategy revolves around choosing when to build up your economy vs. when to go for victory
"Bad" cards can clog up your deck
"Accelerator" cards allow you to draw more cards
"Cleaner" cards allow you to dump weaker cards
"Combo" cards are more powerful with specific other cards
Decisions typically evolve around acquisition, play, and deck cleaning - but might also involve cards that can be used in more than one way, where you have to choose which

That's a starter list - not complete I'm sure. The more of those attributes you require in a game to make it a deckbuilder, the harder you will find it to get agreement on your definition. For example, do you have to restrict the cards in any game to a limited subset of the total available? If so, Thunderstone might still be a deckbuilder, but the epic version definitely wouldn't be. Ascension wouldn't be, Star Realms wouldn't be, and many other post-Dominion "deckbuilders" wouldn't be.

Star Realms has almost all of the attributes listed above. But for the OP, a missing piece might be the ability to plan his strategy in advance, knowing that he can acquire specific cards at any time. Having all cards available through random draw definitely increases the element of luck and reduces the feeling of control. Having combo cards, where your ability to acquire them is also based on luck, is another factor. Not sure it matters whether you still call such a game a deckbuilder. More important is whether those attributes are ok or not for your gaming circle.

What I heard from the OP is that Star Realms is a game that fills a niche - when he's looking for something fast and furious that doesn't necessarily take a lot of careful planning. That's my experience as well. It wouldn't be my choice for a long Saturday of deep strategy gaming, but it would be a perfect choice for an energizing break in the middle of that Saturday.

@Dan: I have also started to find that Star Realms is deeper than a lot of people think. The challenge is that you have to play it a lot to get there. Of course, you have to play Dominion a lot (or spend a bunch of time reading) if you want to get really good at it...


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Aditya C
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It's the cards in the central row are crap, it's generally a bad idea to buy them. You should just be biding time and loading up on explorers to swoop up any good card that shows up.
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John H.
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Caibre wrote:
It's the cards in the central row are crap, it's generally a bad idea to buy them. You should just be biding time and loading up on explorers to swoop up any good card that shows up.


Explorers are worse than just about every card in the game (yes I realize you can scrap them).
 
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Dan Licata
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jsteidl wrote:
A deckbuilder, or is it...



I see what you are saying but 'Deck Builder' as defined in the BGG entry is

Quote:
Deck / Pool Building is a mechanism in which players start the game with a pre-determined set of cards / player pieces and add and change those pieces over the course of the game. Many deck-building games provide the players with a currency that they use to "buy" new items that are integrated into the deck or pool. These new resources generally expand the capabilities of the player and allow the player to build an "engine" to drive their future plays in the course of the game.

This mechanism describes something that happens in play during the game as a function of the game, not customization of the game from a body of cards prior to play.


Trying to create custom definitions for each indvidual's opinion could get confusing.


Either way pointing out the specifics as the OP did is a great way to help people figure out if the game is for them or not.
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CARL SKUTSCH
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Agricola, Sekigahara, Concordia, Innovation, COOKIE!!! (and Guinness)
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danlicata wrote:
scarecrowking wrote:
Great review of a great game.

One thing, though. You say that it calls itself a deckbuilder, but really isn't. Then you go on to give an example that is the definition of 'deckbuilder'. Can you elaborate on why you think SR isn't really a deckbuilder?

-Brian


Was going to ask the same thing. Not sure why you say it's not a deck builder. It's just not a deck builder that all of you options are available right from the begining.



I hear y'all. Perhaps it would have been better to say that it doesn't fit the parameters of what I think of as a deck builder? You know, you start with all your tools laid out in front of you, you draw up your plans, and you build a deck. Like a house builder building a house. My goal in calling it "not really a deck builder" was to warn players who wanted that experience that they were not going to get it.

Rather than a house builder, in Star Realms you are a bonsai trimmer creating a tree house from a mutant Fnghu tree that grows a yard every ten seconds. Yes, you're creating a house of sorts, but I wouldn't call you a house builder.


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John Steidl
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Quote:
Rather than a house builder, in Star Realms you are a bonsai trimmer creating a tree house from a mutant Fnghu tree that grows a yard every ten seconds. Yes, you're creating a house of sorts, but I wouldn't call you a house builder.


Hehe...or if you want to stay with the house builder analogy, it's a bit like you're getting new contruction materials delivered every day, with no blueprint and no idea what will be delivered tomorrow. But you still have to finish something that you can live in before your neighbor does. A little stressful, but fun if you're in that kind of mood.

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Aditya C
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Niediam wrote:
Caibre wrote:
It's the cards in the central row are crap, it's generally a bad idea to buy them. You should just be biding time and loading up on explorers to swoop up any good card that shows up.


Explorers are worse than just about every card in the game (yes I realize you can scrap them).

You can scrap them and they provide some cash infusion for big purchase when a good card shows up. It's not the worst card in the game because of that utility mixed with the self-scrapping. And it's definitely not the same as buying a crappy card from the central row.
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Paul W
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Yeah, the fact that you can get rid of explorers whenever you want usually makes them better than random "off color" cards for your deck. Always buying from the center row when possible isn't the worst place to start strategically, but it's readily beatable by someone with a bit more experience and finesse.
 
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John H.
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fizzmore wrote:
Yeah, the fact that you can get rid of explorers whenever you want usually makes them better than random "off color" cards for your deck. Always buying from the center row when possible isn't the worst place to start strategically, but it's readily beatable by someone with a bit more experience and finesse.


Early game there isn't really any off color cards because you are still trying to figure out where you are at. Mid and late game drawing an explorer instead of something reasonable is a kiss of death. You just don't have time to waste a draw in that way.
 
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Paul W
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There are definitely off-color cards in the early game, as well as ones you don't want to gamble on because they're so bad if you're not that color (e.g. Federation Shuttle). Depending on what cards were available in the early game, isn't not uncommon to need to boost your economy in the mid game...explorer does that well without clogging your deck later in the game. 2 econ + 2 damage is only only significantly worse than the average card in your deck if you've done some heavy thinning. Don't get me wrong: I'll frequently take nothing over an explorer in the second half of the game. You seem to be severely underestimating the card, however.
 
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