Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Star Realms (almost a placeholder post)

Star Realms is a small-box deckbuilding card game for 2 players you can get for under $20. Games take 30 minutes, maybe 45 if you really stare at your cards. It's a two-currency central row deckbuilder, if that means anything. It's LAB (Like Ascension But) as opposed to LDB (Like Dominion But).  I bought the physical game and my daughter Alex really likes playing it with me. My gaming buddy Ben and I play it a lot. I've also played multi-deck 5 player games that were ridiculous in scope and execution. I've been playing Star Realms on my phone lately, so much so that I decided to talk about it.

I've been playing so much Star Realms on my phone, in fact, that I could barely force myself to write this not-a-review.  The asynchronous play across multiple games means I have access to a lot of little tiny set-piece puzzles of how to spend my Space Money and Space Attack to blow my Space Opponent up In Space.  Every new hand being revealed is interesting (in that boring-interesting way deckbuilders are interesting: you know what's coming up in the long run because you put it there, but are you going to get your Blob Fighter/Blob Carrier combo out in the same turn), but more importantly, every time you pass the turn, you ask: "Is my opponent about to blast me out of the sky and kill me?" It's got dramatic tension, and because you and your opponent's deck composition gets crazier and crazier, it's got a satisfying narrative arc.

If you download the game for free, you can play against multiple levels of AI all you want. If you give the nice people $5, you can play as many asynchronous games of Star Realms with nerds on the internet as you want, and it's platform-agnostic so Mac and Android folks can play each other without caring who has what. There's a ladder (I'm terrible at Star Realms) and challenges (I'm terrible at Star Realms). It tracks your win-loss ratio (46%) and your total games played (525).

There's even 4 mini-expansions for Star Realms coming out later this year, and I'll buy those, too, even though I disagree with the price point, the way they're packaged, the entire format of the expansions, some of what I read so far, etc. It'll still give me a lot of new gaming for about another $20.

Star Realms has been fun, but the most interesting thing about it is watching how my gamer and game designer friends experience it. Some were decidedly underimpressed, some jumped in whole-heartedly, and some started doing what I'm doing now, making grasping-claw motions with their hands as they agonized to put into words how weird the tension is between all the elements, and how it's not really clear whether the choices you make tactically or strategically are actually that interesting most of the time.

My point is, AEG's Valley of the Kings is a much better gamer's game (hat tip to Dave Lartigue's post for articulating why), but I've played tons more Star Realms in the last week than Valley of the Kings, because I can play one in line at the grocery store, and one I can't.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go play some Star Realms.


Blogger Owen Morrison said...

Thanks for this great blog on Star Realms and the alternative Valley of the Kings which looks like a really interesting game. As you enjoy playing card games on the iPad or phone might I suggest looking at Card Crawl. It is a different take on solitaire.

7:13 AM  

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