Star Realms

star realms campaign
Players:
2
Multiplayer:Yes, via pass n play or private server (account required)
AI:Yes, 3 levels (though "3 separate tactics" might be more accurate)
Universal App:Yes (there is a single app which works on both iPhone and iPad in HD)
Purchase for iPhone:Use link below to purchase universal app
Purchase for iPad:
Star Realms
Price: Free
User rating:
GD Star Rating
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Star Realms, 8.6 out of 10 based on 26 ratings

It seems that these days, if you’re a former Magic the Gathering champion, what you do is design a deck builder. The first on the scene was Ascension, but the latest is Kickstarter wünderkind Star Realms, a game which no retailer seems to be able to keep on the shelves. Will the digital version scratch the itch?

Gameplay

Unlike most deck builders, SR is designed to be a head-to-head contest with fast and furious gameplay. Rather than simply competing for a high score as in most deck builders, SR is a M:tG style slugfest.

star realms pass n play

Each player starts with 50 Authority (life points) and a standard deck of 8 Scouts and 2 Vipers. Scouts produce Trade, which is used to purchase cards from the center row; Vipers produce Combat, which can be used to weaken your opponents’ Authority.

star realms card closeup

The cards represent Ships, Outposts, and Bases from 4 factions. All cards have a primary ability which triggers when played, and most have an Ally ability that triggers when a second card from their faction enters play that turn. Bases and Outposts remain in play, and can trigger Ally abilities on ships. It thus behooves you to focus on one or two factions for the most optimized deck, though you’re at the mercy of the 6 cards in the Trade Row as to what’s available. Some cards also have Scrap abilities, that trigger when you remove the cards not only from your deck, but from the game as a whole.

star realms gameplay

50 life points may sound like a lot, but as the game play proceeds it’s not uncommon to start unleashing combos that produce 15-20 Combat in a turn. Strategy is further wrinkled by Outposts, which must be destroyed before your main Authority is vulnerable. The first to reduce their opponents’ Authority to 0 wins.

Implementation

SR is designed to be played rapidly, and the single player implementation nails that perfectly. More on the multiplayer in a moment.

star realms tutorialThe tutorial is completely interactive and broken into four segments. This is not a challenging game mechanically – most of the depth lies in the combos – and the tutorial does an excellent job on the basics. The three AI strengths employ notably different strategies, though we’re not sure if Easy/Medium/Hard, as much as the different tactics each focuses on, is the most accurate description.

star realms unspent combat

The main advantage of a digital version of a game is the automated record keeping, and SR is one of the best we’ve seen in that department. Not only does it track basic stats for you, the interface makes it clear which cards have “may” abilities you can trigger. It also throws up a dialog when you attempt to end your turn with resources unspent or card abilities unplayed. This is almost a better teaching aid than the tutorial, and enables vets to cruise through games in no time flat.

star realms campaign

The free download lets you play against the easy AI and one of the two campaigns. The campaigns are each split into missions, each of which starts you off with a different Authority level and a different starter deck. A one time $5 unlock grants you access to two more AI levels, the second campaign, and multiplay.

star realms typing

Online multiplay is handled via an Internet server and you are required to create an account – it’s rumored that difficulties with this aspect of the game held up Apple’s approval. Whether that’s true or not, the interface leaves a bit to be desired – it’s not possible to tab to the next field, and in fact the screen doesn’t move when the keyboard pops up, meaning you’ll have to open and close it several times to enter each field and establish your account. It’s by no means a deal breaker but it shows a lack of concern in the coherence of the interface.

star realms online

Tapping the “New Game” button starts an asynchronous online game as soon as an opponent is found. The interface keeps track of your level but it’s not clear why, since there doesn’t seem to be opponent matching or other recognition based on it. There also doesn’t seem to be a way to remove completed games from the interface, which makes us concerned about what may happen down the line from a memory-management perspective. Perhaps our largest complaint: there is no notification when it’s your turn in an online game. You’ll have to manually check, repeatedly, for online games to complete.

Verdict

Star Realms is a fun, fast, and furious game with far more player interaction than is usual in a deck builder. Once you get into the game play, the iPad implementation shines. Imperfect multiplay mars the gleam, but the issues are mostly cosmetic – a bit of spit and polish is all that stands between this app and perfection. May we suggest starting with an icon badge when you have games waiting?

NOTE: After this review was written, notifications of pending turns did start turning up in Notification Center. We still don’t see the badge working right though, even with the badges option turned on in Notification Center settings.

star realms win