You ever want to be a star fleet admiral? Commanding spaceships to do your bidding? Building space stations? Do some deck building? How do you feel about, figuratively speaking, punching the person across the table in the face? (On advice from counsel, please do not actually punch them, unless they consent to it. If you are both consenting adults go ahead and do your thing I guess. Just be ready to be punched back.) Then Star Realms is your game.
Goal of the game?
To win! But how do I do that? By knocking your opponent down to 0 Authority (The games name for Hit points).
How to play?
You start out with 10 basic cards which are, let’s face it, not that great. 8 cards that provide 1 income each and 2 that provide 1 combat each. You use these to buy better cards and do a little bit of damage.
On your turn you usually have 5* cards to play. (*On the first player’s first turn they only get 3, and later in the game you may have less if your opponent has forced you to discard cards on their turn). You can play them in any order you want, but you have to play them all. They will usually generate trade or combat points that you add to your respective pools. You then spend the points in the pools. To buy more cards in the case of trade, and do damage to the evil space menace on the other side of the table in the case of combat points. Some cards also grant you more Authority (a.k.a. Hit points) or other special actions like removing cards from the game, or drawing more cards to give just two examples. Once your turn is done you draw a hand of 5 cards. When your draw pile runs out of cards you take all the cards in your discard pile, shuffle them, and you now have your new draw pile. This is how you get to use the cool new cards you have bought. You and the other players keep taking turns until there is only one person left standing. Then they have won! Woot and hazzah!
There are two types of cards in the core set. Ships and Space Stations. Both are played on your turn, the main difference is that ships are placed into your discard pile at the end of your turn. The stations are left in your play area and can be used again on your next turn so long as they survive. Speaking of which, instead of attacking you directly, your opponent can target your stations and destroy them. As an added trick there are two types of stations as well. Normal and Outposts. Normal ones your opponent does not have to attack but can choose to. Outposts act as blockers so they must be attacked and destroyed before that evil space villain you are fighting can attack you or your other normal stations.
One other thing to touch on is that most ships and stations belong to one of four factions in the game. But, there are some neutral ones as well. Your ten starting cards, for example, are neutral and do not belong to one of the four factions. Each faction has a focus or specialty. The Trade Federation (Blue cards) focuses unsurprisingly on generating trade points but they also are the only ones that give you more Authority. The Star Empire (Yellow) is all about drawing more cards yourself and making your opponent discard cards. The Blob (Green) does damage and has some card drawing as well. And the Machine Cult (Red) allows you to Scrap cards so you can remove the bad/not good cards from your deck as well as having Outposts as blockers. Some cards get an ally bonus if you have more than one card of that faction in your play area. So generally you try to only pick up one or two of the factions to help out with that.
The wrap up.
Star Realms is a great little card game. The core set comes in one small box. Fits in most bags and, in my case, the glove box of my car. So I always have a copy on hand when I drive somewhere. I know many couples that made this their restaurant game. They place their order and get one to three games of it in before the food arrives. In fact, that is how I rate restaurants now. Not one to three stars but one to three games of Star Realms. I do not go to three game restaurants. That is too long to wait for food. Even when playing a good card game.
The core set supports two players. So if you want to play a three or four way battle you will need to pick up a second box. I am not as fond of it as a more than two player game tho. But your parsec-age may vary (bit of a nod to Mr. Solo there).
And if you like expansions, then boy howdy does Star Realms have you covered. There are 2 major expansions (Colony Wars (2015) and Frontiers (2018)) that can also be used as stand alone core sets or mixed in with the original. As well as smaller, booster pack-like, mini expansions (20+ at this point). The mini expansions are not random cards by the way. They each have the same cards in them. Most of them either give you more of the same thing you already love, like more bases or capital ships, or introduce a new card type or mechanic, like leaders for example. So you can use them to tweek the game how you like. And if you like tracking down single cards there is a veritable horde of promo cards to track down.
Hope you get a chance to play Star Realms.