If you bought the game, love the concept but are hesitant to dabble in the online community because what-if-I-lose, or people-will-laugh-at-me-because-I’m-a-noob, then don’t worry. This guide should help you a little. Even if you are a seasoned veteran, there might be a detail or two you can learn from this! For this starter’s guide I assume you have bought the full game on-line and you know and understand the basic game mechanics, but are unsure what the right tactics might be for on-line gaming. Any mistakes or errors in here are mine and mine solely.
General information about on-line gaming
A few of the great things about Star Realms online is that it’s easy to do, quick to learn (but difficult to master), it’s incredibly balanced, it is irrespective of the platform you’re using and that there’s a great community behind it that’s willing to help you and to play against you.
I have recently joined the “A Star Realms Fan Created Community Page” on Facebook and found that that’s a great group of people to be a part of. As a matter of fact, they drove me to write this guide mostly. There’s a lot going on with organized events and just general discussions so I highly recommend any of you to come and find and join us.
As mentioned above, this game is very balanced. Sure you’ll have the odd game when the cards fall your way that you really obliterate your opponent, but also vice versa. You’ll roughly win as much as you’ll lose, but hopefully (with the use of this guide) you can start winning just a bit more than you lose. But mind you, there’ll be times you’ll lose 5 games in a row. Don’t be discouraged; it happens to all of us! Next thing you know you’ll win 7 in a row.
I can also recommend completing the campaign on Hard. Although this does not represent the on-line gaming experience, it does enhance your understanding of the game and the strengths and weaknesses of the cards. And it’s fun while you’re at it too!
When you do start playing on-line, be patient. It’s OK to have multiple games going on, but don’t overdo it as you’ll have to re-evaluate the entire game every turn because you can’t remember the details of your and your opponent’s cards. Although there’s not a set etiquette of challenging people, do not be afraid to reject a challenge you might receive. Generally speaking people don’t take it personally (and shouldn’t for that matter). Flip side of the coin is not to be offended when somebody rejects your challenge. This game is meant to be fun, not a chore! Sometimes it’s just not convenient.
Typical game flow
A typical Star Realms game goes in 3 phases; Economy, Mid-Game and End Game. It’s not a predetermined numbers of turns that divide these, nor do the rules change. They are however different in approach. Here are some details.
During the Economy phase you try to build your economy to such a level, that the probability of getting enough Trade to buy cards that are worth 5 or higher increases. A lot of powerful cards cost more than 5 and your odds of picking up cheap cards you can afford in the beginning are low. The max card cost is 8 Trade, so as a rule of thumb, your goal with building Trade is to have a deck that you can reasonably expect to provide you with an 8-Trade-hand, every few turns. To reasonably expect to draw 8 Trade with 5 cards, you need to add quite a lot of Trade to your deck. If you add an Explorer (2 Trade) and a Freighter (4 Trade) to your deck in your first two turns, you would need everything to go perfect the next turn in order to hit that 8 Trade target. In addition, if you add Strength cards to your hand in the following turns, your odds of pulling 8 Trade drop even further. In general you'll need to add “more than a few” 2+ Trade ships to your deck to have an expectation of pulling 8 Trade in a single turn. A 3 Trade ship is exponentially better for this than a 2 Trade ship, and a 4 Trade ship is exponentially better than that.
Another possibility to gain Trade is the use of bases that generate Trade (sometimes at the expense of scrapping). Some great, cheap cards for this are Blob Wheel (5 Strength, Scrap: 3 Trade) and Space Station (4 Strength, Scrap: 4 Trade). When your base survives to your next turn, a single Blob Wheel can be all you need to have some chance of pulling an 8 Trade hand. Of course you are always dependent on the trade row, so having bases with Trade available can be a bit safer than having only Trade heavy ships.
The Mid-Game phase is longer and typically consists of more battle than the Economy phase. The most important part of this phase is identifying when to quit the need of Trade cards and switch your focus to Strength (combat) cards. In general you need to obtain synergy in your deck by focusing on 1 or 2 colors (factions) that work well together. Every color has its pros and cons, so it’s a matter of preference which you want. More on the colors later in this guide. You need to get and keep at least 1 base of your more important colors to help trigger ally abilities. If you have a deck evenly split between 3 or 4 colors plus Scouts, your odds of having a hand with any matching colors is low. This can cause you to miss out on a lot of ally abilities, such as card draws, Strength, free base destruction, Authority, card scraps, card discards, or even free ship purchases. If you have color matching bases in play, it's okay if you draw a hand with no matches by itself. Get bases with a slight preference for outposts and/or +Authority (Blue) cards to soak enemy Strength and keep you alive.
Also important is to concentrate your deck towards Strength through a combination of purchasing high Strength cards (4 or higher Strength) and to thinning out your deck of “unnecessary” (starter) cards like Explorers, Vipers or Scouts. Thinning your deck makes it leaner and more reliable. Red cards that scrap your own cards are a sure way of doing this. Also useful is any card that lets you draw extra cards (ally abilities don't count if they don't trigger), although you want to be careful not to do this too early in the game.
The End Game phase is probably just a turn or two, and flows seamlessly out of the Combat phase. Assuming you have gotten your deck thinned so that you scarcely draw Scouts, Vipers and Explorers, or that you draw tons of extra cards from card abilities, you should be able amass sufficient Strength to diminish your opponent to 0 Authority. If not this turn, then surely your next!
Factions / Colors
Each faction (color) has its own strengths and weaknesses. Here is a small overview of how I see them. This is not an exhaustive list in any way shape or form. Just make sure you try them all, including different combinations to know which one works best for you. There is no right or wrong here! (Thanks to TheCutter for some hard needed corrections and suggestions)
Green: Green features the most efficient straight Strength (or damage) of all colors. The ships deal a good amount of damage, even without using their ally ability. Green is also the only color that can scrap cards out of the Trade Row, which can open new purchase options for you, or hinder your opponent's.
Blue: Blue is the only color that allows you to gain Authority and therefore time. That and its Trade abilities are key for this color. The bases can be handy to be used as a “bank” for the following turns in either Authority or Trade.
Red: Red is the color of scrap. If you intend to thin out your deck, red is the only color that allows you to. Red features moderate Strength that prefers to combo in order to pack a punch. Red also features the Brain World, considered by many to be the single strongest card in the game.
Yellow: Yellow is the most underestimated color in my opinion, and maybe the most difficult to use to its full potential. Allows you to draw extra cards and forces your opponent to discard. Works best when you can activate its ally abilities.
Other Tips and Hints
Don’t be afraid to scrap cards! See it as an investment for the next round(s). If you have to scrap a decent base in order to buy that Brain World; then do! Or kill your fancy ship to get that extra Strength you need to get your opponent (almost) to 0; then do! But do it when it makes sense.
Pay attention to your opponent. If your opponent buys a lot of bases, it might be wise to purchase more ships than bases as their defense is high up. In addition; if you see your opponent is buying everything that is Green and you have enough Trade to get that Blob Destroyer you see (even though you’re not collecting Green), then maybe you should buy it anyway. It’s not a bad card to have and you deprive them from having it and its potential ally abilities. It’s OK to be mean in the game; they do it to you too! To do all above in a decent way, you have to watch your and your opponent’s cards. Both your discard piles are open to view to all; so use it! When there are a few cards in your deck to go, you can better decide to scrap that one card to draw another if that just gets you enough Trade or Strength you need.
Thanks for putting this together! I think this is a great starters guide to the game. I absolutely agree that the game is well balanced, and I love playing the game on-line!