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  • Writer's pictureMichael Stern

Review - Star Realms Digital Deck-Building Game


Developers: Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty

Publisher: Wise Wizard Games

Available on: Windows, Mac, Mobile (iOS, Android)


Star Realms is a deckbuilding, turn-based, combat card game, that has both a physical and digital version. The physical version (meaning actual cards that you play with friends) came out back in 2013, when two Magic, the Gathering Champions decided to start a Kickstarter for this revolutionary idea for a card game. Star Realms is based around spaceships and bases, used to deal damage, gain Authority (life points for those Magic the Gathering players reading this), and overall fight your opponents, in which the game ends with either you or your opponent is destroyed! 


For further understanding of how the game works and is played, feel free to check out the other article that explains the physical card game. 



Similarities and Differences between the Digital and Physical Versions of Star Realms


This article will focus on the Star Realms Digital Deck-Builder. There are plenty of similarities and some small differences. Such as, the digital version doesn’t allow you to miss things, but you can easily forget what you are doing during the gameplay of the physical version. For example, keeping count of your credits and attack points, how many you have left, or what you can afford on the Trade Line, are all highlighted and tracked during your turn on the digital version, but you must keep a running tally in your head or on a sheet of paper, for the physical version.


Let’s not dwell on the differences but rejoice at the similarities: the game is played the exact same way in both versions. So, if you have a question about things in the physical card game, you can check if it works on the digital card game, and then know the answer. You also learn how to assess your cards quicker on the digital version, where you might take a bit more time reading things on the physical version so that you know exactly what you have in your hand, and what your strategy is for the next round. 


A few quick benefits of the Star Realms digital version are that you do not have to physically keep shuffling your cards, you can play against AI, real people, or play a campaign, and lastly, you switch between expansions easily, without having to keep separating them each time you shift from one expansion to another. 


Gameplay and Campaign


On to the gameplay. The gameplay is very similar to the physical version because it is still a card game. But you get cool little graphics, like explosions, fireworks/confetti when you win, and the AI is quick about going through their turns, so you are not waiting super long until your turn. The free campaign is like dipping your toes into the pool, and once you start it, you will want to continue playing. There is a bit of a storyline with cutscenes, that is interesting and gives you a bit more in-depth understanding of the background of the game’s story, but the cutscenes are easily skipped to just continue your dominance of the enemies that you face. 


The start is a quick tutorial, and the campaign does run you through some cool tips, tricks, and strategies that you can use going forward, but the campaign also ramps up the difficulty quickly. Some of the missions seem to be impossible to get full star clears. Did I mention that each mission is based on a three-star system? Each mission has a few objectives that you are to accomplish during the game against the AI, and if you miss one, don’t worry, you can easily go back and replay the mission to get that last star! So fear not, the free campaign can keep you busy for a few hours, as well as enticing you to purchase the rest of the expansions so as to open up the rest of the campaign with expanded decks and more strategies to learn. The expansions also include changing of certain rules or shifting the gameplay a bit too, but this is true for both the digital and physical versions of the game. 



I finished the campaign, it was fun, but what else can I do?


After you have played a bit, you may wonder what else you can do with the free version of the game: AI battles. If you only have the free version of the game, you will only be allowed to play Easy and Medium AI and only the first couple hours of the campaign. But at a whopping $5, you can purchase the full game, which opens the Hard difficulty level to play against AI, as well as online multiplayer, and more of the campaign. After spending the $5, there is a good chance that it will end up costing around $60 to just purchase all the expansions and add-ons that are offered on Steam. There are also deals that go on from time to time, where the whole set might be purchased for a bit less, but that comes and goes.


How can I play against friends?


Well, there is the catch. Unlike the physical copy, where two players can play off of one deck, which means only one person had to purchase the deck for two people to play, the digital version makes each player pay for the full version to be able to play against other players. So, if you want to play against your friends, they will have to purchase the full version, plus any expansions you guys want to use. But fear not, because if both players do not mind just playing the base deck cards, then the only purchase needed is the $5 full game purchase by each player, and then the battle may commence! 


There are also two versions of gameplay to battle friends or random people: 48-hour Battle or Real-Time Battle. In the 48-hour battle, the game does not need to be real-time. This means your opponent can take a couple of hours to take their next turn. This is good for times when someone might be working, doing chores around the house, going on vacation, or different time zones, or even when just busy living life and someone only has a limited amount of time to play games, and being able to grab your phone and play your turn is all the time you have each day. But that doesn’t mean the 48-hour battle cannot be played in real-time, it just means there is not a timer counting down during each player’s turn. 


Which brings me to the Real-Time Battle. The Real-Time Battle is much faster-paced and has a countdown timer for each person’s turn. This means if you do not make moves or do something during your turn, and the timer hits zero, then your turn is over and your opponent starts their turn, regardless of if there was more for you to do during your turn. While this sounds crazy and daunting, it really is not that bad, because the counter resets if you make moves, such as purchasing a card from the Trade Line, or play a new card from your hand. But be warned, the timer does keep counting down, and you gain less and less “extra” time if you take longer to go through your turn. 


The recommendation of the writer is to stick with the 48-hour battle, since there is no timer, and each player can take their time during their turn. But if you like the stressful ticking of the timer, then, play the Real-Time Battle. It does give a bit of a nail-biting stressful and cutthroat feel to the game, which some may find more fun!



Star Realms Digital Deck-Builder Pros and Cons:


Pros: 

  1. Star Realms can be played anywhere from a phone or tablet, but also be put on bigger screens with a PC or Mac.

  2. No constant shuffling of cards or wear and tear on the cards because it is all digital.

  3. A campaign that can be replayed many times or expanded by purchasing other expansions.

  4. AI battles with Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulty levels.

  5. Super affordable for the full game ($5), and at the normal cost of a game, you can purchase all the expansions (around $60). 

  6. Can be played with friends who have purchased at least the $5 full game version.

  7. Can be played solo, against AI, or against real-world people.

  8. Two different multiplayer game types to challenge friends and random players online.

  9. Weekly leaderboards for multiplayer games.

  10. Nice graphics and helpful tips on gameplay.

  11. The computer does not allow you to continue a game without finishing everything during your turns, using reminders about various moves you may have missed.

  12. Starts up quickly, allowing players to get into games quicker.

  13. Simple UI and a good tutorial to understand the game.

  14. Expansions are cheap, usually between $1 and $3 per expansion.


Cons:

  1. Must purchase the full game ($5) to be able to play multiplayer and Hard level AI. 

  2. Both players must purchase the full game to be able to play each other, and both players must purchase the expansions if that is to be included in their battles. 

  3. The graphics are good, but not the greatest.

  4. Cutscenes are simplistic and are mainly just still pictures with narration.

  5. The game holds your hand a bit too much by not allowing you to make mistakes or miss certain moves that you can make. This is both good and bad. 

  6. There are bugs that need to be fixed

  7. The AI difficulty jumps a lot between the Medium and Hard levels of difficulty.

  8. The campaign could be longer or more in-depth.

  9. The community is small, so matchmaking with random opponents can take a little bit of time. 

  10. Can be a pain to find a way to challenge friends, the whole process could be simplified.


Overall, the digital version of Star Realms is amazing and comes in at a pretty cheap price point. While there are a few downsides to the game, the pros far outweigh the cons. It is a fun, simple, strategic, yet straightforward game that can be picked up and played easily, either with or without friends! It is a great game to pass the time, as well as a fun way to spend an afternoon with friends. 


Good Luck and Enjoy!

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