Game: Star Realms v3.0.256
Developer: White Wizard Games
Category: Card Game
IAP: $1.99 - $4.99 per item
Star Realms is an immensely popular deck-building card game that took the world by storm after a notably successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013. The game was conceived and designed by Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle; both seasoned champions of Magic: The Gathering, with honors in the Magic Hall of Fame. Moving beyond Magic with respectable pedigrees in card game mechanics, they formed White Wizard Games to create their own card games to address the inherent shortcomings of collectable card games, or CCG's, in general. Magic: The Gathering is the most expensive card game known to mankind; this is a known fact beyond any doubt. Competitive constructed decks can start at $800, with new card sets phasing in every couple of months that have professional players scrambling to discover new synergies with very costly rare cards. This is the design of collectable card games, and it is every bit intentional. The goal and mission statement of White Wizard Games (WWG henceforth) is to create fun and affordable card games that ditch the rarity and collecting aspects, effectively giving gamers access to all the cards they need in single reasonable purchases. Both designers decided upon the deck-building format, which first originated in Dominion that was designed by Donald X. Vaccarino in 2006, and later became a popular format with games like Ascension, among others. By creating a streamlined and fast-paced deck-building game that costs a fraction of their competitor's products, gaming geeks around the world lined up to crowdfund the next Big Thing in card games, and thus a star was born; Star Realms. The crowdfunders were delighted, word of mouth spread at lightspeed internationally, and the game won many awards upon release of the physical set, which had a difficult time staying in stock for quite some time. The next logical step was to digitize Star Realms, and deliver it to every platform possible. For the very reasonable cost of the base set and expansions, Star Realms unlocks on Android, iOS, Mac and Windows for a single purchase. Mission accomplished, White Wizard Games!
Star Realms is easy to teach others in mere minutes to play instantly without having to read through 500 page manuals, or memorize 3,200 cards for their abilities. Each player starts with 50 Authority points, which is basically your life total that your opponent will try to chisel down to zero to win the game. In the center between two players is the Trade Row, which are purchasable cards each player will use to build up their decks, and is always stocked at five total cards. When a card is bought from the Trade Row, a card is drawn from the main face-down deck to replenish it. Each card holds a purchasable value, and has Trade and/or Combat values that add to a point pool to use to purchase more cards and/or attack your opponent. Some cards also have special abilities that can be played to manipulate the game in your favor or induce interesting mechanics that other players must follow. Prior to starting a game, the player who will play first is decided; that player is dealt three cards from their basic starting deck, the other player is dealt five. This eliminates any first turn advantage and stifles any complaints other players could possibly have about privileged position. Playing these cards will yield Trade or Combat points to either purchase cards from the Trade Row, attack your opponent or their bases, or both. When resolved, you are dealt five cards face up, plus or minus any cards dictated by other cards, and your turn ends. This also helps speed up games because you can compare your drawn cards with the Trade Row to plot your next turn while others take their turns. You can easily calculate your point pools, decide on abilities and played card order, and watch for cards you need in the Trade Row as new ones are drawn. By the time your turn starts, you pretty much know what you will do already.
There are four total factions in Star Realms with different color schemes and play styles that vary. Trade Federation is focused on trade and growth, Blobs specialize in Combat and card removal, Star Empire generates Combat and draws cards, and the Machine Cult focuses on removing undesirable cards and defending from opponent's attacks. As you purchase more cards from the Trade Row, attempting to stick with one or two factions is preferred as the cards often have synergies with their own faction that will yield bonuses while they are in play. These synergies are what make the game really shine as they give you a dynamic goal while playing; sometimes generating surpluses of Authority, Trade or Combat on a single turn that can equate three turns or more worth of points. Players can acquire bases with abilities and point generation that will also block incoming attacks; the attacker must destroy them before being able to attack their opponent's Authority total. If these bases stack up and go unchecked, they effectively build a wall to protect the Authority of a player, making it difficult to approach a win. There is always a delicate balance in each game of what should be done, but not limited to any particular system or strategy. The cards always dictate the flow and direction of the game, and since they appear at random, players have little direct control over destiny. However, a seasoned player will usually find a way to challenge you no matter what is drawn. Adding in all the expansions and promotional cards for a game will provide a universe of situations that will keep you on your toes, while inspiring new tactics and strategies. Often when your game is looking too good to be true, it usually is as something always comes up that isn't in your favor. There were times where I was over 100 points in Authority and lost the game because the other player had synergies in effect that wiped my points clean with no reasonable answer. It's great to have well laid plans, but keeping your eyes focused on the Trade Row is an even better strategy with Star Realms.
The interface for Star Realms is simple, clean and direct. The main menu offers options for online multiplayer, single player campaign mode, single player versus AI and a Pass and Play mode. Online multiplayer is a ranked format that keeps track of your wins and losses, and matches you with players seamlessly with compatible players. It's fast and efficient, just like the physical game, and you'll always have someone to play. Pass and Play is a great feature that allows local multiplayer with a single device and single purchases, effectively adhering to WWG's mission statement completely. The single player campaign section is rather lengthy that is divided into chapters and ramps up in difficulty towards the end of each scenario. This is a great way to learn the cards, understand how the game works, and get a feel for things before you launch into ranked multiplayer. The single player versus AI games offer Easy, Normal and Hard difficulties to throw you head-first into a simulation of a multiplayer game without any fear of being called a 'newb' by starfleet generals. I personally always select Hard difficulty and have mostly victorious games these days. Either that mode isn't terribly difficult, or I'm just that incredible of a Star Realms player. Some have chewed me up in no time playing online, but playing a skilled human is always the best challenge in any game. Either way, it's all great fun, and the games are smooth, fast and very enjoyable. When you start playing deck-building games, you will wonder why you wasted so much time and money with CCG's if you were into them in the past. It becomes painfully apparent that CCG's are a money pit that tend to stray away from the game's core value of having fun to shopping for the best deals for rares, then trying to find an opponent that doesn't whine when you win. Star Realms is all about the game. It runs too fast to complain. There will never be a $300 card that will clobber you into a loss, and you won't have to search for years for a group of reasonable people to play with. I really love Dominion, Ascension and some of the other classic deck-building games, but Star Realms took this format to warpspeed and went where no other card game has gone before.
The art on each card is fantastic and rendered in great detail with vivid coloring, and it's quite easy to differentiate between factions and types of units. The numbering on the cards is easy to identify, even upside down, which is perfect for playing games in space, but that does become expensive and I can't recommend it. I have even heard of people roleplaying while they play the game to give it a narrative and an interactive story to make it come alive, which is perfectly plausible and creative. This is also a great time to mention WWG's terrific Cthulhu Realms, which is extremely close to Star Realms in a stylized theme featuring the mythos of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu universe in a more modern flavor. I would hesitate to review that game separately as the two games are so similar in mechanics and play, but the cards and art differ greatly and cater to certain tastes. I do play both, depending on my mood and the weather, as everything White Wizard Games offers is just pure fun and exceptionally well done. The most difficult part of this review has been trying to list at least one downside to this game, or some outstanding anomaly that is irksome or irritating in nature. I do prefer to hold my devices in portrait mode, and all of WWG's apps run in landscape; though, that orientation works best. Hours have been spent playing matches, even missing meals and staying up too late, which is no fault of the application, right? There were a few key phone calls that I missed while in the middle of a match, but I didn't feel like talking at the time anyway. Let me play a few more hundred matches of Star Realms, then I will replace the humorous placeholders in my Cons section with negative aspects, if they ever do arise. Lo and behold, it looks like my first five-star rating! Congratulations, White Wizard Games!
- Engaging deck-building at its best.
- Expansions are released soon after retail.
- Interesting card mechanics with fresh ideas.
- A single purchase unlocks on all four platforms.
- Nearly every type of single and multiplayer option.
- Myriad of options with expansions and promo cards.
- Beautiful card art, graphics and high production values.
- Reasonably priced with no need to mortgage the house for cards.
- Star Realms can keep you up too late.
- Star Realms could make or keep you single.
- Star Realms might make you miss some meals.
- Star Realms was not designed by me. I totally blew it!
Device/OS used: Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note 3, Nexus 7 2012 & 2013, Nexus 10 / KitKat v4.4.2, KitKat v4.4.4, Lollipop v5.1.1
Purchase at Google Play
Purchase at Star Realms Homepage
Mobilism: Star Realms v3.0.256 [Full/Unlocked]