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  • Writer's pictureMichael Stern

Tabletop Review: Star Realms Card Game

Developers: Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty

Publisher: Wise Wizard Games

Available Gaming Platforms: Tabletop Card Deck, PC, and Mobile

Has Magic the Gathering lost its luster, or you just can’t keep up with the new sets that keep coming out? Have you felt that your Pokemon card game is just getting to be too much? Ever wanted a game that you can play over and over again with friends, changing strategies and decks without having to buy a new card? Wish you had a game that is simple to set up and play just about anywhere at any time? Well, keep reading because this deck-building game might be perfect for you!

Star Realms is a “spaceship combat deck-building game” based around the concept of using a single deck of 80 main deck cards and two sets of starting cards that support two players, and more can be added by just adding more starter cards! The expandability of the game is boundless, and the consistent release of different types of expansions makes the game constantly evolving. The good news is that the expansions are very affordable, which makes it fun to add expansions to any game you play. There is no right or wrong strategy; the only thing is to have fun. Star Realms started as a Kickstarter back in 2013 and has been expanding ever since. The game was created by Magic Pro Tour Champions and Hall of Famers Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty, and as a game, has won several awards, such as 2015's SXSW Tabletop Game of the Year award and multiple awards for being the best 2-player game! Star Realms offers the trading card combat style with the creative and strategic deckbuilding game style. “Play powerful ships, destroy enemy bases, or blast your opponent directly on your way to victory.” (This comes straight from the developers themselves!)

The game goes at an ever-increasing speed and offers plenty of strategies while giving way to an ever-evolving and expanding universe of cards. There have been tons of expansions, with new and cooler cards, rules, and changes, that the developers keep you coming back for more! 

Let’s delve into a bit of the gameplay first; then, we will move on to a few simple ways to understand the cards and finish up with costs and where to find this amazing game. 

Overview of Gameplay:

The way the game is set up is that each player is given 10 starting cards. These cards consist of 8 cards named Scouts and 2 cards named Vipers. These cards have only a single use: buy new cards from the “Trade Line” (each Scout is worth 1 credit) or attack the enemy player (each Viper is worth 1 attack point). Each player also has an “Authority” point count starting at 50. Of course, certain expansions have different starting cards and starting “Authority” points but let’s just stick with the base game for now. 

Setting up the “Trade Line” is simply placing the 80-card deck in the middle between the players and placing the top 5 cards face up in a line between the players. This “Trade Line” will be where both players will purchase new cards to add to their ever-increasing deck. The way to purchase these cards will be to have enough “credits” from the cards in the player’s hand during that player’s turn. Be warned, though, you may want a specific card on the “Trade Line,” but so might the other player, which means the first to have the credits on their turn will probably be the one that gets that card. Don’t worry; when a card is purchased from the “Trade Line,” a new card is turned over from that 80-card deck to replace the card. 

Both players shuffle their starting decks and draw their starting hand. Player 1 will only draw 3 cards, and Player 2 will draw 5 cards. Player 1 gains a slight advantage since they get to purchase first, but the disadvantage is that they only have 3 cards to use to purchase or attack. 

The game starts and will keep going in the same fashion for the rest of the game, with Player 1 playing their full hand. No cards are held over in either player’s hand until the next turn. Each player plays their full hand out and then discards all the cards into their discard pile. When a player cannot draw another card, the discard pile is shuffled and turned back into that player’s deck. This continues until one of the player’s “Authority” points reaches 0. 

You can visit their website to get a full rundown of how to play the game here: Learn to Play | Star Realms | Deck-Building Game

Factions and Strategy:

This game is thrilling and ever-changing, and it keeps you on your toes since the “Trade Line” can change each game (with 80 cards, it is easy not to see the same card in two or three games). And by adding expansions, that 80-card deck becomes larger until you may not see the same cards for 10 games. So don’t bank on certain cards to be available on the “Trade Line”! 

You are the commander of a fleet, trying to thwart your enemy’s advancement. You are the space navy, fighting to bring down your foes! 

There are four factions that will present themselves through the “Trade Line”: 

  • Blobs - Green Cards. Blob cards excel at damage, destroying other cards (opponent’s bases or cards from the “Trade Line”) and drawing more cards.

  • Trade Federation - Blue Cards. Trade Federation excels at gaining Authority and having more credits to purchase more from the “Trade Line.” 

  • Star Empire - Yellow Cards. Star Empire excels in controlling the cards played each turn by allowing players to draw more cards or making opponents discard cards from their hands before their turn starts. 

  • Machine Cult - Red Cards. Machine Cult excels at scaping cards (removing them from the game). This can be very helpful to get rid of lower-level cards, thinning out your deck so that certain cards come back into play faster and keeping you from getting too many different Factions in your deck. 

Each Faction has its pros and cons, and while these could be explained, the simple explanation above will be a great first step in understanding each Factions main use. Past that, you will have to see which one, two, or three, or if all four Factions work for each game you play. Strategies will change from game to game based on what cards are dealt. Again, the game is ever-changing and never the same twice. Sometimes, your beginning strategy might have to change halfway through the game, but that’s part of the excitement and fun!

The game is very similar to other card games, such as Magic the Gathering, in that strategies are based on both what you are dealt and what your opponent is. There are turn phases that you go through, and the outcome is based on reducing your opponent’s Authority to 0 (in Magic, it would be called “Life Points”). 

Physical and Digital Versions:

If the card game is a bit too daunting or confusing, you can always go another route: the video game version. This version can be played on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. There are talks of getting this game to consoles, but as of right now, it is not available in any console stores. The video game version will also walk you through your turn, not allowing you to move forward without doing certain things (such as spending all your credits, attacks, and any abilities you may have forgotten about). It is helpful to those just starting the game and needing a bit more help. There are a lot of differences between the physical card game and the digital card game, but the overall gameplay is the same. The digital game is free, but if you want to play against friends, get expansions, or do more than just basic games, the full game will cost $5, and each expansion will cost anywhere from $2 to $10 on Steam. There will be more on the digital version in a separate review, so stay tuned to read that!

Where to buy this game, and how much will it cost?

Overall, Star Realms Card Game is a fun, simple, yet strategic game that can be played in almost any setting. It has a quick setup/breakdown and can be “paused” for a bit of time without any problems. The ever-changing selection of cards keeps players on the edge of their seats and allows players to change their strategies from game to game. The added digital version of the game allows players to try the game out for free while also giving them access to the expansions at a very reasonable price. The main difference between the physical and digital copy is that each player must have the full game and any expansions they want to play with their friends, rather than the physical copy only needing only one purchased deck to be able to play with a friend. The game can be found on Amazon for around $15 - $20, and the expansions can be purchased for about the same price each. A player can even purchase the full franchise physical cards from Amazon for around $160 (but that’s a LOT of cards included with that). The full line of expansions and games on Steam will run around $60 for each person who wants to play the game. So, while it may be cheaper for the main person to purchase the game on Steam, the problem is they can't play with friends unless their friends buy the game, too. Pros and Cons, as always!

You can find tips, tricks, strategies, rules (and rule updates), and tons of videos and updates on their website at,, and they have all their social media on their site, too. If you have questions, they will have the answers!

Good luck and enjoy!

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