Game title: Star Realms
Designer: Darwin Kastle
Manufacturer: White Wizard Games
Star Realms is a competitive deck building game where you start with a small fleet of basic ships which you expand upon by buying more ships from the central Trade Row. You need to balance your deck in consideration for the 3 main resources: Trade (which acts as the money to buy new cards), Authority (which acts as your health), and combat (which is used to deplete your opponent's Authority).
The cards to buy come in two types: Bases which hang around turn after turn until they are destroyed, and Ships which act as one-use cards that do their effect then fly straight into the discard pile. The bases and ships come in 4 flavours, each with trends that their cards follow. Blob ships (green) are living bio-weapons that mainly focus on combat. The Trade Federation (blue) act like the space police and deal largely in improving your authority score and thus keeping you alive. The Machine Cult (red) work with automated ships and tend to make your deck more efficient by pruning out bad cards. Finally the Star Empire are space anime race, as far as I can tell, and they deal in drawing cards and making your opponent discard them.
|A small selection of ships featuring a range of Authority (green), Trade (gold) and Combat (red)|
While it might seem a good idea to get a balance of all 4 factions you'll soon find yourself missing out on powerful Ally Abilities which only come into play when you play 2 or more ships of the same faction in one turn (or have a matching Base in play). These often double a ships effectiveness, so you may find it a good idea to focus your deck on as few factions as you can manage. Some cards also have a scrap ability, self-destructing themselves entirely out of your deck for that little edge you need.
|A fairly standard early turn, Authority is tracked by the cards to the left, played cards are in the middle and cards to buy are along the top row|
So what did I like about it? The price was very fair for the game you got, one purchase gets you a relatively quick (~20 mins) 2-player game, the instructions say for a 4-player game you can buy a second pack, although we haven't tried that. I'm a fan of deck building games where all players have the same start and the same (more or less) cards available to them. I've been given a sense of fair play after a childhood playing, and usually losing, Magic the Gathering against friends who had spent way more on the game than me. Every game we have played has also been fairly balanced so far, and while some turns can be relatively slow, there are others which involved massive combos which cause a huge swing in the game. Also if you want to try before you buy there's a free app which is actually pretty good. If you get bored of the base game there are some mini expansions that bring new rules and more powerful cards.
The game would lend itself to a willing new game player, the rules are pretty basic, but the direct competitive nature of play could be off-putting to some. The Authority scoring system is a nice touch being done on double sided cards with 1/5 and 10/20 numbers on them, though in practice this is a bit cumbersome, having a piece of paper/smart phone handy might work better for you.
Overall it's a game that serves its purpose - a quick game that is portable and fun, if not hugely deep.