The Flexibility of Star Realms: Frontiers

There are a lot of great deck-building games out there and it’s easy to see why. Deck-builders combine a strategic element with randomness that keeps games fresh and allows neophytes to surprise more skilled players. One of the more popular deck-building games of the past few years has been White Wizard Games’ Star Realms.

We got to sit down with their latest Star Realms release at GenCon this year. It’s a stand-alone box game called Star Realms: Frontiers. If you’ve been curious about Star Realms, Frontiers is a great way to get started in the game. And if you’re an old hand, you’ll find some neat multiplayer and solo-play treats to change your game up.

The goal of the game is to wipe out your opponent’s Authority. The value of this pool of hit points usually starts at 50. Each player also starts the game with eight Scout cards (each having a Trade value of 1) and two Viper cards (with an individual Combat power of 1).

On the board, you’ll have a deck of face-up Explorer cards; these cost 2 Trade to purchase and give you 2 Trade when you play them, or you can scrap them for 2 Combat power. Scrapping a card removes it from the game.

Next to your face-up Explorer cards is the Trade Row: five face-up Trade cards and the face-down Trade Deck. Shuffle your personal deck of Scouts and Vipers and you’re ready to play.

The player going first draws three cards from their personal deck. After that, everyone draws five. The cards you draw come in two types: ships and bases.

You place ships and bases face-up on the table. Every point of Trade allows you to purchase cards from either the Explorer deck or the Trade Row. As you purchase cards from the Trade Row, replace them with new face-up cards from the Trade Deck.

Every point of Combat power in the cards you drew allows you to remove a point of Authority from your opponent.  Some cards give you a choice between Trade or Combat power. Some add to your Authority (and yes, it can go above the starting amount). Some allow you to draw additional cards.

Some cards are aligned with one of the four factions of Star Realms. These are the blue Trade Federation, the green Blob, the red Machine Cult and the gold Star Empire. Some cards have ally abilities. This means if you have two or more cards from the same faction in play, these ally abilities become active. There are also double-ally abilities that require you to have three cards from a single faction in play.

At the end of your turn, discard all your purchased cards and ship cards; your base cards stay active in front of you.  If your base is an Outpost, your opponent must overcome its defensive value in attacks before dealing damage to your Authority. If your opponent does damage to your base equal to its defense score, that base is destroyed and placed in your discard pile.

When you run out of cards in your deck, you shuffle your discard pile (but not any scrapped cards) and this becomes your new deck. Play continues until someone’s Authority is reduced to zero.

When you first start playing this game, it might seem like you’ll never get someone down to zero authority. But a few rounds in, synergies and combos will start to kick in and you’ll be dealing dozens of points of Authority damage very round. Once you get the hang of things, you can easily go through an entire game in 15 or 20 minutes.

There are lots of different ways to play Star Realms, from your standard one-on-one game, to team play (with two or three players on a side), to Hunter (only attack the player to your left) to the mad scrum of a Free-For-All. To these options, Frontiers adds Challenge Cards. There are eight of these and they allow for coop and solo play. Each card comes with a set of AI rules it plays by as well as potential limits on the human players’ actions.

Star Realms: Frontiers comes in a sturdy little box with enough cards to create four decks (if you want to play with five or six players you’ll need to add additional decks to your game). While you’ll almost always finish a one-on-one fight in less than a half-hour, some of the other options can take up to 90 minutes to play through. The art is wild and colorful sci-fi ships and battles, but the cards are well-organized so the art never makes it hard to tell what a card does. The game travels well and doesn’t involve lots of little pieces; just the cards themselves, though you’ll need a flat, stable surface to play on.

Star Realms won SXSW’s Tabletop Game of the Year when it came out in ’14, as well as other awards. It’s quick to learn, fun to play, and incredibly flexible. If you enjoy quick, deck-building action, style options that go from solo-play to co-op to head-to-head to team play, and sci-fi themes, you’ll want to add this game to your collection. Talk to the fine folks at your local Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy® about getting your hands on Star Realms: Frontiers today.