Tabletop Game / Star Realms

So far no new star realms have emerged successfully since the Machine Cult, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. Even various factions from within Blob space have been known to throw their lot in with humans seeking a new start...

This is your opportunity to try and form a coalition of space farers trying to establish your own new star realm.

Star Realms is a tabletop Deckbuilding Game with a space war theme. It was designed by Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle, and published by White Wizard Games in 2014.

Gameplay is straightforward: Each player's turn, the player has five cards, plays them, follow the effects (either adding money, life, or defense points or special effects), buy and attack. Afterwards, the player discards everything (except certain cards), redraws, and starts all over again next turn.

Much like Dominion, the game has the players start off with a weak deck, and use those cards to buy better cards from a common market using Trade points. As the game continues, the players build and design their decks. Unlike Dominion, the game's focus is on combat - the goal is to destroy all of the opponents' Authority points using, well, Combat points.

As the game progresses, the players could buy ships and bases from four factions:

  • Trade Federation: Represented in blue, this faction is a corproracy consisting of Earth and adjacent worlds. They focus on Trade and increasing Authority.
  • Blobs: Represented in green, a strange alien species that's generally unfriendly, though some are more than willing to work with humanity. (Which explains how the players gain access to their ships.) Their focus is on Combat and removing cards that could be purchased.
  • Star Empire: Former periphery colonies of the Federation, represented in yellow. A militaristic faction, this faction also focuses on Combat, and can force players to discard cards.
  • Machine Cult: Represented in red, the Cult started off as a bunch of mining worlds endangered by the Blobs. Developing their computer tech rapidly, they came to worship them. Their abilities allow the player to get rid of useless cards from their deck.

As the players are actually unaffiliated, they are able to use any faction without any problems. While unnecessary to stick one particular faction, there are advantages in the game if a player does this.

Easy to play and very popular, the core game comes in a single purchase. In addition to the physical card game, a digital version is also available for the PC, Mac, iPad, and Android. Star Realms Rescue Run is a novel based on the game.

Cthulhu Realms re-implements the system used in Star Realms, based on the works of Lovecraft. Hero Realms is another spin off with a high fantasy theme and setting.

Star Realms provides examples of:

  • Action Bomb: Many ships and bases have the option to be "Scrapped" (removing the card from a player's deck) to cause damage.
  • Adventure-Friendly World: The setting is pretty much designed for both conflict to be plentiful and the means to gain power. The Factions are struggling with each other, and are willing to work with you as to further their goals or influence. Space being large means the various Factions are not monolithic entities- they have to deal with renegades or rivals from within. The Blobs may be willing to trade or attack, both potential ally and threat. And there's also the massive space monsters and the Pirates who may show up and ruin your day.
  • All There in the Manual: Information of the four factions and the backstory can be found on the official site. Blog posts, short stories, and Rescue Run fleshes out the setting.
  • The Alliance: A major focus for the United expansion. The new ships and bases are dual-faction, with names suggesting alliances between two or more factions. In-game, a multi faction card can trigger faction abilities of either faction it's part of.
  • Asteroid Miners: A gambit card providing 1 Trade upon reveal, and drawing a card when scrapping it.
  • Attack Drone: The numerous Bots/Mech ships used by the Cult are "largely automated".
  • Authority Equals Asskicking:
    • The Blob Overlord Hero card. Not only does it allow the player to use all this Blob ship's faction abilities, but can do additional damage.
    • Emperor's Dreadnaught, which does a bit more damage than the Dreadnaught and both allow to draw a card. The Emperor-version also forces a foe to discard, plus the ability to play right away if the requirements are reached.
    • The hero Commodore Zhang provides additional Combat damage in addition to other bonuses.
  • Back from the Dead: Triumphant Return allows the player to buy back a scrapped ship (typically removed from the game).
  • Black Market: One of the gambit cards, which opens another trade row space. The player using this gets a reduced price for cards on this spot.
  • Blob Monster: Played with the Blobs - while very hostile (at first), the Blobs are more Starfish Aliens than these.
  • Boss Battle: Shows up at the end of the App's Campaigns, were often the player must defeat a super powerful deck, the Pirates of the Dark Star, or a Nemesis Beast. In the Crisis add-on Campaigns also have a final Boss to defeat the Colossus.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: Colony Wars introduces the Aging Battleship, which is a slightly cheaper and a bit weaker version of the base set Battleship. Considering the expansion's title, a obsoleting warship may be the only thing a frontier colony has available.
  • The Captain: One of the Hero cards is the Cunning Captain. The same Captain also appears on the Veterans Pilots gambit, implying that not only as a capable leader but also he's a great combat pilot.
  • Church Militant: The Cult - being threatened by hostile aliens means they need to be pretty well armed.
  • Colony Ship: The Federation has the Colony Seed Ship, which provides Trade, Combat and Authority. Also apropos for being introduced in an expansion called Colony Wars.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • The Trade Federation hero CEO Shaner is mentioned to be one of these according to Ian Taylor (the publisher's Director of Organized Play and a writer).
    • CEO Torres in the short story "Second-in-Command", which tells how she comes to her position.
  • Cult Colony: The Machine Cult didn't start out as these, just being far flung mining worlds. By the time contact with the rest of humanity was made, the faction was pretty much ingrained in their machine idolatry.
  • Cyborg: The War Elder and Chancellor Hartman heroes are these. Natural considering they're part of the Machine Cult.
  • Death World: One of the Blob bases. The art features a scarred planet with huge gashes, and looks like on the verge of breaking up.
  • Defenseless Transports: Some ships that provide Trade tend to not provide Combat, such as the Scout. Though some ships can deal damage if they fulfill the prerequisites.
  • Deflector Shields: The Energy Shield gambit card reduces attacks on the players by one. Useful in the early game.
  • Discard and Draw:
    • As a game mechanic some Cult ships allow the player to do this.
    • In solo scenarios the inverse of this can occur, if the player uses a card that forces an opponent to discard. As the Scenario bosses has no hand, the player draws a card instead and discards another.
  • Draw Aggro: Outpost bases, which players must attack first before attacking anything else.
  • Enemy Mine: The Unlikely Alliance gambit, which shows a fleet of Blob and Cult ships working together.
  • Excuse Plot: There's not much of a plot in the game. It just seems to be an excuse for players to build a huge star fleet and begin fighting it out with each other.
  • Expansion Pack:
    • Crisis, which is actually four booster-like packs. Two of the packs - Heroes and Events, provide new card types. While the backstory is implied in the physical cards, the digital App has four chapters telling of the titular cataclysm.
    • Gambit, which technically is the first expansion but wasn't made publicly available until 2015. Originally, these were cards given out as rewards for Kickstarter. New cards include the titular "Gambits", and scenario cards allowing solo games or multiplayer co-op.
    • Colony Wars, which is also a stand alone set that could be played with or without the base set. According to Word of St. Paul, it takes place after the Crisis, and focuses on settling a new area of space. It provides many new cards for the factions.
    • Cosmic Gambits, providing more Gambits.
    • United, also comes in booster-like packs. The expansion introduces multi faction ships - allowing one ship to trigger two types of faction abilities. The set also includes Mission cards, which when completed provide bonuses.
  • Expanded Universe: Two short stories (found on the official site) and Rescue Run help flesh out the setting.
  • Extra Eyes: Sveral Blob heroes, which is part of their alien biology.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Implied in the base game, otherwise it would be difficult for ships and bases to cross space. Crisis: Events has the Warp Jump, and the digital game mentions warp gates in the campaign.
  • First Contact: The Blobs were the first intelligent aliens humanity came into contact. And by contact, it meant human colonies were wiped out.
  • Flavor Text: Occasionally on some cards, giving a bit of info on a ship or base.
  • Gambit Pileup: Literally when playing with Gambit cards. Each player has several dealt out to each other, and can decide when to reveal the gambit for its benefit.
  • Giant Space Flea from Nowhere: The Nemesis Beast solo/co-op scenario. Even for a game full of warships fighting it out, a giant planet eating monster seems out of left field. The digital app has it as one of the bosses to defeat in one campaign, where it just shows up with little context.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Averted, the Empire doesn't seem to be as good or bad as the Federation.
  • Hero Unit: Downplayed with the Hero cards. While providing the useful ability to activate all the Faction Abilities for a single ship, the Heroes don't represent the player character in the physical game. In the app, certain campaigns has the player in the shoes of heroes like CEO Torres, High Priest Lyle, Adm. Rassmuson, and a human Cunning Captain working with the Blobs.
  • House Rules: Fans of the game have their own variants and rules, some of which were mentioned on the official blog. One example is having five "Trade Stacks" instead of just a single Trade deck and the trade row. Done for reasons of practicality: if the players are using every set and expansion pack in the game, the result would be a large Trade Tower.
  • Hit Points: Authority. Unlike most examples, Authority is rather abstract instead of correlating to physical health. It presumably represents how much influence or support your Realm has. Also present on Bases, showing the minimum amount damage necessary to discard it.
  • High Priest: The Machine Cult Hero Lyle, dressed in an outlandish outfit and holding a glowing mace to denote his status.
  • Increasingly Lethal Enemy: Each turn the Nemesis Beast consumes a card from the trade row. It then attacks with combat points equal to the total number of cards consumed.
  • Improvised Weapon:
    • Inverted with the Cargo Launch - combat craft re-purposed for hauling cargo.
    • Explorer ships can be scrapped to do additional Damage.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Mentioned in the background material as the few willing to peacefully trade with The Blobs.
  • In-Series Nickname: "Blobs" for the alien faction. It came about after humans could only find jelly-like biomass in captured alien ships.
  • Instant-Win Condition: The second benefit of finishing Mission arcs. Complete a certain number of them, and that player gains victory.
  • Living Ship: Downplayed with the Blobs - their ships look organic, looking more animal than machine. However, its left ambiguous if the ships are actually living or just look that way. The background on the faction notes that the only biological remains found in Blob ships was just "gelatinous mass".
  • Lost Colony: Played with the Machine Cult. They started off as mining worlds that lost contact with Earth due to the Blobs. But instead of regressing, they focused on developing their technology.
  • Machine Worship: The Cult, naturally. Oddly enough, their ships don't seem to reflect this - the trope is implied by the flavor text in-game.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: The artwork for Missile Bot and Missile Mech appropriately has their respective ships firing tons of missiles all at once.
  • Meaningful Background Event: One Event Supernova doesn't seem that plot worthy in the game, and in the the app backstory it doesn't have much impact on the story at first. Then it's revealed it was no minor cataclysm as it was a test for a Star Killing starship, and is now aimed right at the Solar System.
  • Monster Lord: Implied with the Hive Lord hero. He's more expensive, and allows activation of Blob ships and to Scrap trade cards when purchased, and can be scrapped later for more bonuses.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: An unnamed alliance of smugglers and pirates that built the Colossus, capable of working in secret to later threaten humanity.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: The Trade Federation. Their abilities, ships, and bases reflect their corporate focus.
  • Orbital Bombardment: The Bombardment Event - the art even has a fleet of warships attacking a base.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The big bad in several of the App campaign chapters and the Crisis expansion backstory. None of the factions expected the Colossus, a Star Killing weapon to appear. It's this problem that actually kicks off the story when it causes a star to supernova.
  • Peace Conference: The Galactic Summit Event card. It doesn't end the game, but it does provide a bonus to all players.
  • Practical Currency: Implied with Trade by the starting Scout unit and Explorer ships. Unlike trade ships or freighters, Scouts and Explorers do not haul cargo. Their purpose is for reconnaissance and scientific research. That data could be used in non-momentary affairs, but it seems that it could also be used for bartering.
  • Private Military Contractors: Merc Cruisers and Merc Garrisons, unaligned cards that could be purchased. They can activate the Abilities of one faction chosen by the player.
    They have as much courage as you have coin.
  • Promotional Powerless Piece of Garbage: Thankfully averted with the Year-1 Promos (12 very powerful ships and bases), and the Merc Cruiser and Gambits (originally Kickstarter exclusives). Most other promotionals are alternative art cards that can still be used in game.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The aptly named Parasite ship seems to be a cross between this and a Boarding Pod.
  • Quality Over Quantity: Despite their low population (compared to the other factions), the Cult manages to hold their own with superior technology.
  • Ramming Always Works: The Blob Ram seems to do this based on the card art. Apparently an important ship as well, since Ram Pilots are one of the Hero cards.
  • Renegade Splinter Faction: The app Campaign has the player sometimes fighting these, some of which from your Alignment.
  • SandWorm:
    • The Blob Moonwurm, which is as larger than most ships. Also inverted that the 'wurm is not a base card, but considered a ship (and not bound to being stuck underground).
    • The Leviathan ship's card art portrays a massive flying worm.
  • Sequel Escalation:
    • Crisis introduces new mechanics and a storyline in the app. Fighting heats up between the major factions, within the factions, before finally dealing with a star killing warship targeted at Earth!.
    • Colony Wars going by the name alone, but this time with the factions in a rush to claim newly discovered worlds.
  • Shout-Out: The Missile Mech, which is a call back to a similarly named card in the Epic Trading Card Game (also designed by Rob Dougherty).
  • Solo Tabletop Game: The Nemesis Beast and Pirates of the Dark Star cards allow for this. These Challenge cards automatically attack, and removes a card from the trade row. After that, a new card is added to the row - and an effect occurs based on that card's Alignment happens.
  • Space Fighter: The Blobs and Empire have their own versions and variants.
  • Space Pirates: The Pirates of the Dark Star solo/co-op scenario. How strong their attacks is determined by the Trade value of the new card that is added into the trade row.
  • Space Station: If a Base isn't a planet, it's going to be one of these.
  • Space Whale: The Blob Carrier, much to the chagrin of one human vessel.
  • Starting Units: Vipers and Scouts, providing very little in Combat or Trade. Each player starts with a deck consisting of these.
  • Standard Sci-Fi Fleet: To become victorious, the players must go from a weak fleet of Scouts and Vipers to a powerful space armada. Most ships types are present from fighters and shuttles to massive mobile bases and dreadnoughts.
  • Stealth in Space:
    • The Machine Cult Stealth Needle, by appearing like other ships down to copying their abilities. The flavor text notes how this is an example of the Cult's technological progress.
    • Stealth Towers in Colony Wars has the similar ability, except it copies bases on your turn.
  • Stone Wall: Bases are naturally this - they're the only standard cards that stay in play during the Discard Phase, and this the only ones with a Defense stat. Most of them have no offensive capability, and those that do tend not to do much damage.
  • Themed Stock Board Game: Cthulhu Realms, which is themed off the Cthulhu Mythos and has a humorous art style.
  • Tie-In Novel: Rescue Run, written by Jon Del Arroz. It tells the story of thief and smuggler Joan Shengtu and her mission to save an important VIP. The novel fleshes out the background of the series, and includes various Heroes, bases and ships from the Deckbuilder. The setting is explored in detail from a personal viewpoint, as much of the card game is often on a strategic level.
  • To Serve Man: Discussed in the app in regards to the Blobs. No human knows if the Blobs eat humans or not, and the protagonist of one chapter is in no hurry to find out.
  • Tuckerization: Several Heroes in the UNITED expansion are based on winners of various major tournaments.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: The Empire faction has its origins as peripheral Federation colonies that felt exploited by the corporations and unprotected by alien threats. They declared independence and built a military fleet to deal with both problems.
  • Weaponized Exhaust: Implied with the Plasma Vent base, which provides damage despite the seemingly nonthreatening name.
  • Zerg Rush: Some card art, like the Swarmer, portrays this in action - a massive swarm of ships trying to take out a larger target.