Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Wednesday 1 August 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Star Realms Frontiers

Game: Star Realms Frontiers

Publisher: White Wizard Games

Designer: Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle

Year: 2018

Star Realms Frontiers was a massive Kickstarter campaign last year that we found overwhelming. The contrast between the small but perfectly formed deck box that was the original Star Realms and the huge box full of expansion content that was available in the Kickstarter campaign for Star Realms Frontiers.

We love Star Realms and it's one of our most played games, but it has sat on the shelf unplayed for some time, although we still play a lot on the app. The arrival of the new standalone expansion Star Realms Frontiers has been a great excuse to get an older favourite back to the table!


If you know how to play Star Realms then Frontiers will be immediately familiar to you. As a quick refresher, on your turn you draw 5 cards and play them. Cards mostly give you currency or combat, currency is used to buy new cards from the market, while combat is used to attack your enemies. If you manage to play multiple cards from the same faction in one turn then you can trigger bonus abilities to make your cards more powerful. While most cards disappear after being played bases hang around until your opponent uses their combat to destroy them. There are a few other bonuses such as gaining authority (aka health), drawing cards or forcing your opponent to discard. If you manage to reduce your opponents authority to 0 then you win.

In Star Realms Frontiers the basic 2-player mode has a few changes. Firstly the health meters have been swapped out for the 2-card versions found in Hero Realms. One card tracks your tens while the second card tracks your units, combine the two and you have your current authority. Secondly there are now double faction abilities, these cards only give their rewards if you have played 2 other cards from the same faction, as you might expect these are noticeably more powerful than the single faction abilities.

Outside of the standard competitive mode there is a new solo/cooperative game mode introduced in Star Realms Frontiers. In this mode players work together against a common foe. Players will still build and use their decks in the same way, but the oversized boss cards all have unique rules on how they play cards and receive damage, creating a unique experience for each boss. There are 8 different bosses and each one can be played on one of 4 different difficulty levels for increased challenge.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Coming from the original Star Realms the first thing that struck me with Star Realms Frontiers is the power creep, the new deck of cards tend to have larger amounts of combat, trade and authority than you would expect for their costs which I originally feared would result in short games. Fortunately while the cards have bigger numbers it is well balanced, attacking might be easier but so is defending and games still ended up being tight, though the larger numbers did result in more impressive combos appearing from time to time. The basic 2-player mode is still the same classic Star Realms that I've come to love, just refined and updated.

I did really appreciate the double ally abilities helping reward mono faction decks, while single ally abilities naturally lend themselves more to a balanced deck of 2 or more factions. Sure you can focus hard and get big rewards but you often find yourself missing the bonuses of a second faction. All the factions are well balanced with their own speciality: red cards trim your deck, blue cards heal, yellow cards draw and discard and green cards hit things, really hard!

That brings us to the bosses, and this is where the game gets hard. The bosses all have different ways of attacking you, but of the ones we played it was the Dimensional Horror that gave us the most trouble. This boss in ruthless from the get go and if you don't get your deck going fast enough you'll find you are mostly defeated before you can start chipping away at it's four health bars. While the players behave the same way you always would, your enemy is a completely new beast, I loved this fresh change to the gameplay and it's by far my preferred way to play Star Realms Frontiers!

The different bosses for the cooperative or solo mode.
Fi’s Final Thoughts

Although there is enough in the box for a 4 player game, Star Realms will always be a 2-player experience for me. In the competitive mode it just makes most sense to have a head-to-head battle to reduce each others authority. Star Realms Frontiers is so familiar that we could jump straight into a competitive 2-player game and there were only subtle differences. However, the change in card value was huge compared to the base game, with very high damage cards costing very little money. Although I love being able to make huge combos and do loads of damage, the big cards hurt the pace of the game for me. One minute you could be on 50 or 60% health and the next minute the game was over before it really got going.

Fortunately, the highlight of Star Realms Frontiers for me was the cooperative mode. I had no desire to play Star Realms cooperatively and the first simple boss we tried was disappointing. Every special card action has a conversion to an amount of damage and the co-op mode just felt lazy. Fortunately the second boss we tried was much more innovative and well balanced and we had a fantastic experience. We lost in our first game, but we decided to play again straight away (something we never do). In our second game we were pushed right to the brink of defeat and then came back. When a cooperative game can give us that kind of experience, it's so much fun. And to get that experience with one of our favourite mechanisms, in just a 30 minute game, made Star Realms Frontiers a game that we will definitely add to the shelves.

You Might Like...
  • The cooperative mode seems to be really well balanced and should provide some great alternatives for Star Realms fans looking for co-op play or a solo mode.
  • The double ally abilities give you some more interesting choices about whether to specialise your deck.
  • Turns can be huge, which can be appealing for players who like 'big money' games.
You Might Not Like...
  • We don't feel like we could mix Star Realms Frontiers with the base game as an expansion due to power creep in the 'value' of cards.
  • There is not a great deal of innovation in the competitive game, although the additional content of commander decks may provide that if wee choose to add even more Star Realms to the collection.

The Verdict
8/10 Star Realms Frontiers is a must for fans of Star Realms. It's definitely refreshed the game for us and brought an old favourite back to the table, as well as introducing a great co-op mode that had provided us with some cool puzzly challenges.

Star Realms Frontiers was a review copy kindly provided to the Board Game Exposure Reviewer Collective.

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