Star Realms after 500 plays

I'm about to do 41 damage to my opponent who only has 20 Authority left. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

I just logged my 500th game of Star Realms against a live opponent. I lost which was disappointing, especially considering my next turn would have allowed for me to play 3 bases, but that's neither here nor there. I wanted to do a quick write up about what playing a single game that many times is like.

I should mention that despite having a physical copy of the game, I've never actually played it. All 500 games were played on the app, which was recently updated and looks amazing (see the picture above). Also, all of my plays are with the base game and none of the expansions or promos.

I can't think of another tabletop game aside from maybe, Magic: The Gathering, that I've played 500 times. Even with M:TG, I don't think I ever reached that number despite playing it for 3 or so years. The only other games other than classic card games like Hearts that I've played over 100 times are: Can't Stop (300), Quoridor (171), & 6nimmt! (153). all of which have only been played on Board Game Arena, except 1 game of 6nimmt! (also known as Slide 5). As you can see, thanks to online gaming, one can really dive deep into games without having to play face to face. I would much prefer to playing with someone physically across the table from me but I'll take what I can get.

So what have I learned from playing the same game 500 times? The biggest lesson is definitely that less is more. Perhaps I should share a quick bit about how the game works for those of you who haven't played it before. Here is the description straight from BGG:

"Star Realms is a fast paced deck-building card game of outer space combat. It combines the fun of a deck-building game with the interactivity of Trading Card Game style combat. As you play, you make use of Trade to acquire new Ships and Bases from the cards being turned face up in the Trade Row from the Trade Deck. You use the Ships and Bases you acquire to either generate more Trade or to generate Combat to attack your opponent and their bases. When you reduce your opponent’s score (called Authority) to zero, you win!"

So your turn, you almost always have the opportunity to acquire more ships or bases using the trade amounts from the ships or bases you play on your turn. When many people play for the first time, including myself, they will acquire whatever they can in an effort to make their deck better. However, this isn't usually the best strategy. You want to get combinations going early and often but if you just keep adding card after card in three or more colors, your deck is going to be a chunky, clunky mess. Sometimes the best move is to not spend any trade and essentially throw it away during your turn. This is especially true when the cards on the Trade Row are all high in value and you don't have enough to acquire them so your only option is to take Explorer ships, which are always available. Early in the game it's fine to acquire Explorer ships, but after maybe the 4th or 5th turn, you shouldn't bother and are likely going to be in a bit of trouble soon if that's all you've really got.

If you just keep acquiring whatever you can get your hands on, as the cards get shuffled to form your draw pile, it's unlikely you'll get good combinations, or any for that matter, in a given hand. You want to focus on two colors if possible, and while it's okay to draft a third or even fourth color because a specific card might be really helpful, try to keep from doing that. Also, acquiring the red Machine Cult cards is incredibly helpful because their abilities often let you remove cards from your deck out of the game. This allows you to streamline and get more combo possibilities going.

As I said at the beginning of this post, all of my games have been with the base game and honestly, I'm nowhere tired of it. I think it's simplicity and mechanics remind me of my M:TG days. I would argue that Star Realms is better in many ways. They're not exactly the same type of game but they're both head to head battles with each player having a deck of cards they're drawing from. Only with Star Realms, both players start with the same cards and have access to the same cards in the form of the Trade Row. The game starts off even unlike M:TG where each player brings their constructed deck. A player with lots of money could build an incredible deck that rips other decks apart simply because that player has the resources to buy expensive cards. Not to say a cheap deck couldn't win, it's just that the scales are not usually balanced going into a match. Another advantage Star Realms has is that it's completely your fault if you are trade screwed, meaning you don't have enough. In M;TG the initial shuffle can determine that even though your deck is balanced. In M:TG you can also be mana flooded, meaning you have way too much to spend and not enough creatures to summon or spells to cast. This is not a problem in Star Realms because more trade allows you to acquire more valuable cards in most cases. However, having lots of cards that generate trade and few that generate combat isn't a great strategy.

Now that I've sufficiently learned the base game in and out, I plan on getting the expansions and adding the stand alone game, Star Realms: Colony Wars, to my app and will likely purchase the physical copies as well (already have SR: CW coming from a trade). That will add replayability and enjoyment to one of, if not my favorite games.


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