Follow TV Tropes


Tabletop Game / Star Realms

Go To

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: A corproracy consisting of Earth and adjacent worlds. Represented in Blue, they focus on Trade and increasing Authority.
  • Blobs: Marked 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, as well as having powerful same-faction bonuses.
  • Star Empire: Former periphery colonies of the Federation, represented in yellow. A militaristic faction that focuses on Combat. The Empire can force players to discard cards, and help players discard and draw to cycle through their deck.
  • Machine Cult: A technology worshiping faction, with advanced computer and cybernetic technology. Represented in Red, 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 Frontiers was released after a successful Kickstarter campaign, creating nine new sets for the series.

Star Realms provides examples of:

     General Tropes 
  • Ace Pilot: Veteran Pilots allows Vipers to go from barely useless to dealing more damage.
  • Action Bomb: Several ships and bases have the option to be "Scrapped" (removing the card from a player's deck) to cause damage.
  • Adminisphere: Central Office, a Trade Federation base. Its not an Outpost so it doesn't have to be attacked, avoiding outright destruction. It also has a high Defense number, so it can take the damage. And it has several good abilities compared to other Federation bases.
  • 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 Planets Are Earth-Like: Averted mostly - in game many of the planets are far from Earth-like, more so with the Blob planets.
  • All There in the Manual: Information of the main 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.
  • The Ark: One of the Cult starships, causing damage and allowing to Scrap and Draw cards. While the ship itself doesn't resemble the traditional image of an Ark, it does have a church-like structure on top of the craft.
  • Asteroid Miners: A gambit providing 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:
    • Blob Overlord. Not only does it allow the player to use a Blob ship's faction abilities, but can do additional damage.
    • Emperor's Dreadnaught, which does a bit more damage than the basic 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.
    • Commodore Zhang provides additional Combat damage in addition to other bonuses.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Junkyard or Fleet HQ bases have some neat abilities, but cost too much. By the end game both bases are not that useful compared to other cards.
  • 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.
    • Grey Market (The Digital app version of Black Market) reduces the cost of a selected faction's cards by 1 for the remainder of the turn.
  • Bounty Hunter: In this case a Trade Federation ship type. Does plenty of damage and when Allied, gives Authority.
    "No disintegration, we need them alive." - CEO Shaner
  • 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.
  • Call a Hit Point a "Smeerp": 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.
  • 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.
  • Card Cycling: The Star Empire suit/faction specializes in cards that preserve the number of cards in their player's hands. A.k.a letting them draw another card to replace the one that was just played, a.k.a activated.
  • Cool Starship: One of the protagonists of Rescue Run gets to ride in a few of these, such as a Cargo Launch and latter manages to take over a Megahauler.
  • 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.
  • Colonized Solar System: In Rescue Run, Mars is home to several human colonies. As Earth is the capital of the Trade Federation, Mars is also under their control.
  • Combat Medic: Any Trade Federation base or ship that replenishes Authority and/or provides Attack.
  • Comet of Doom: Downplayed with the Comet event, which merely allows the players to scrap a few cards. Good yes, but not a momentous omen.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • 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.
  • Curse Cut Short: The flavor text for the Federation Shuttle boasts, "Fast? This baby doesn't just haul cargo, she hauls—"
  • 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: 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: Energy Shield reduces attacks on the players by one. Useful in the early game.
  • Discard and Draw:
    • As a game mechanic some Cult and Empire cards 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.
  • Drafting Mechanic: Players can purchase cards from the Trade Row, which consists of the top 5 cards from the Trade Deck. There's also a secondary deck containing only Explorer ships that is also part of the trade pool. Some cards have the ability to Scrap cards in the Trade Row, ensuring no one can buy them.
  • The Dreaded Dreadnought: The Star Empire has a class of these ships:
    • Dreadnaught, which can deal a lot of damage and draws another card. The downside is the high price, and the ship is relatively less useful than its counterparts among the other factions.
    • Emperor's Dreadnaught also has high damage and card draw. Despite it's high cost, this version also forces a foe to discard and can even be played right way when the conditions are meet.
  • Down in the Dumps: The Junkyard. In contrast to the typical portrayal, the Junkyard is a space-based station.
  • Draw Aggro: Outposts, which players must attack first before attacking anything else.
  • Enemy Mine: Unlikely Alliance, which has art of a fleet of Blob and Cult ships working together.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The art for Fortress Oblivion, a Cult outpost. A massive silvery tower, its less evil and more ominous than anything else.
  • Excuse Plot: There's not much of a plot in the game. It's largely just there to get 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, 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: Short stories (found on the official site) and Rescue Run help flesh out the setting.
  • Explosions in Space: Card art generally shows standard sci-fi space explosions. While unrealistic, it does add flavor to the game.
  • Extra Eyes: Several 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.
  • First-Player Advantage Mitigation: The first player draws three cards on the first turn, rather than the standard hand size of five.
  • Flavor Text: Occasionally on some cards, giving a bit of info on a ship or base.
  • Flesh Versus Steel: The Machine Cult is the Steel side, preferring machinery and robotics. Downplayed with the Blob as the Flesh side, as their ships a bit ambiguous in being organic or not. The Cult certainly consider the Blobs as "chaotic organic life".
  • 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.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Blob ships and several bases have light emitting eye-like things. Since the Blobs are known for their habit of destroying human colonies, this is pretty much implied.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Averted, the Empire doesn't seem to be as good or bad as the Federation.
  • The Handler: Implied with the Special Ops Director. It makes sense that the Trade Federation would use covert or special means to advance their agenda.
  • 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.
  • Hit Points:
    • Each Base has a number of hit points, showing the minimum amount of damage necessary to discard it.
    • The realm as a whole has a number representing its "Authority", which functions as the player's hit points; when Authority drops to 0 or below, the player is out of the game.
  • High Priest: The Machine Cult Hero Lyle, dressed in an outlandish outfit and holding a glowing mace to denote his status.
  • Improvised Weapon:
    • Inverted with the Cargo Launch - combat craft re-purposed for hauling cargo.
    • Explorer ships can be scrapped to do additional Damage.
  • 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.
  • Intrepid Merchant:
    • Mentioned in the background material as the few willing to peacefully trade with The Blobs.
    • Implied with the Star Barge:
    Trade on the fringe: High risk, high reward.
  • In-Series Nickname: "Blobs" for the alien faction. It came about after humans could only find jelly-like biomass in captured alien ships.
  • Instant Militia: Made possible with the Fleet HQ. It generates one damage for any ship, warship or unarmed transport, played.
  • Instant-Win Condition: The second benefit of finishing Mission arcs. Complete a certain number of them, and that player gains victory.
  • Jack of All Stats: Cutter ships and their variants, providing Trade, Combat and Authority if used with another Federation card. It's not much, but every bit helps.
  • 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".
  • Macross Missile Massacre: The artwork for Missile Bot and Missile Mech appropriately has their respective ships firing tons of missiles all at once.
  • Master Computer: Downplayed with the Brain World. While the Cult's supercomputers do run "every aspect" of their faction and are massive, they're not entirely centralized. There are several Brain Worlds used by the various Machine Cult sects.
  • 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.
  • The Medic: Any Trade Federation ships that generate Authority.
  • Merchant City: Port of Call provides Trade and defends as a strong Outpost. And if the player wants to, scraping the place allows to Draw a card and take out a foe's Base.
  • Money for Nothing: Trade is vital in the early to mid game. But as the deck has grown and a strategy is devised, Trade becomes less important. Unless there's a powerful card in the Market, players don't want to clog their decks with extra cards.
  • Monster Lord: Implied with the Hive Lord. 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.
  • My Brain Is Big: Brain World, though only in a figurative case. Looking like a human brain, these bases are very large supercomputers designed to run the Machine Cult itself.
  • Never Recycle Your Schemes: Invoked for Gambits. Those that have to be scrapped to be activated can not be used again for the remainder of the game.
  • N.G.O. Superpower: An unnamed alliance of smugglers and pirates that built the Colossus, capable of working in secret to later threaten humanity.
  • Ominous Floating Castle: Imperial Palace, floating over a planet and with several tall towers to invoke a castle.
  • One-Product Planet: Several bases are planets named after their major services - Capitol World, Factory World, War World, Barter World, Death World, and even a Brain World. The Mech World is noted as being the center for "open-source tech".
  • Orbital Bombardment: The Bombardment Event - the art even has a fleet of warships attacking a base.
  • Peace Conference: Galactic Summit. 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, Battlecruisers, and Garrisons, unaligned cards that could be purchased. The Merc ships can activate the Abilities of one faction chosen by the player. While also unaligned, the Merc base has Faction activated abilities.
    They have as much courage as you have coin.
  • Promotional Powerless Piece of Garbage: Thankfully averted with the Year-1 and Year-2 Promos (sets with 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.
  • Protection Mission: Invoked with Defend. The mission is completed when the player has a number of Outposts in play.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The aptly named Parasite ship seems to be a cross between this and a Boarding Pod.
  • 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.
  • Reward for Removal: Some cards have an ability that scraps themselves but gives a bonus for the current turn. This can be used if the deck is starting to fill up, or as an end-game rush.
  • Running the Blockade: Surprisingly, the Star Empire has a ship just for that: the Imperial Smuggler.
  • Sadistic Choice: Some of the Events has the players picking either discarding cards or taking damage instead.
  • SandWorm:
    • 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.
  • Settling the Frontier: The Morgana Nebula houses a resource-rich system, and has all four factions rushing to settle them. This leads up to the titular Colony Wars.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Missile Mech, a call back to a similarly named card in the Epic Trading Card Game (also designed by Rob Dougherty).
    • On the "Bounty Hunter" card, the flavor text is "No disintegration, we need them alive," the famous line from Darth Vader's briefing to the bounty hunters in The Empire Strikes Back.
  • Sigil Spam: The three human factions tend to stick their respective emblems on their ships, bases, and uniforms. Blobs avert this, but only because they lack a traditional logo. Rather their identification is their animal-shaped ships with numerous glowing eye-things on their hulls.
  • Single-Use Shield: Hidden Outpost. When destroyed, it is immediately Scrapped.
  • Solo Tabletop Game: The Nemesis Beast and Pirates of the Dark Star 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 Viper seems to be one of these, but very weak. The Blobs and Empire have their own versions and variants that are much more effective.
  • 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: 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 Human Spaceship: The human factions follow the same general aesthetic - angular and metallic. In contrast the Blob ships are green and organic.
  • 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 the controlling player's 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.
  • Tabletop Game A.I.: Challenge Cards serve as a boss that players work together to fight, or use in solitaire games. Following certain rules, the Challenge cards do something to the Market such as removing a card. Another card is added to the market, and it triggers an effect based on the card's faction.
  • Terraform: Or in this case Blob-forming. The alien Bioformer base implies this, and its purpose confirmed in the digital game. It's ambiguous wither or not the Blobs use them for Hostile Terraforming, as its capable of generating Combat.
  • Themed Stock Board Game: Cthulhu Realms, which is themed off the Cthulhu Mythos and has a humorous art style.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Can happen in the end game if the player has played his cards right. If done correctly, a Player can play a hand to do 50+ Damage to a player who probably could be taken down with far less than that.
  • 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.
  • Tuckerization: Several Heroes in the UNITED expansion are based on winners of various major tournaments.
  • Unblockable Attack: Two abilities, "Destroy Target Base" and "Opponent Discards a Card", can not be stopped at all.
  • Unrealistic Black Hole: One of the Events is "Black Hole" - forcing the players to either discard cards or take damage instead.
  • Variable Player Goals: Mission Cards provide bonuses and a way to victory. But the Missions all have different Prerequisites in order to advance.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Compared to the other factions leader ships note , the Federation Command Ship doesn't pack an impressive punch, having 5 combat points instead of 7. However it makes up by being a vastly better support ship, bestowing 4 authority, giving two draws for no sacrifice, and its faction power lets it destroy a base for free.
  • Weaponized Exhaust: Implied with the Plasma Vent, which provides damage despite the seemingly nonthreatening name.
  • We Have Reserves: Acceptable Losses. Downplayed as it's less about the player being so callous, and more about scrapping useless cards.
  • Zerg Rush: Some card art, like the Swarmer, portrays this in action - a massive swarm of ships trying to take out a larger target.

     Tropes in the Multi-Platform App 
  • Adaptation Deviation: Due to the limits of the App, the digital game replaces Triumphant Return and Black Market with Glorious Return and Grey Market.
  • Adapted Out: The Wild Gambit card for the Digital app, because of the limits of the program.
  • All for Nothing: In later Campaigns, the result of the Colony Wars. Despite all the battles and plans, the Morgana system is ultimately destroyed.
  • Another Side, Another Story:
    • The Crisis Campaign, each of the four chapters are told from the point of view from a different character from the major factions.
    • Can happen in the middle of the Colony Wars chapters, were the player could be playing as one character and then switches over to another previously side character after a mission.
  • 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.
  • Call-Back: The star destroying weapon used during the Colony Wars missions is referenced as being "reversed-engineered" from the Colossus from earlier missions.
  • Ghost Town: In several Campaign missions, the player characters investigate several ghost bases to scavenge what's left. They soon discover there's a good reason for these places being abandoned.
  • He's Back!: Invoked in the Glorious Return digital Gambit. Scrapping the card allows a player to pay a card from their Discard, if they also pay it's cost. Since Vipers and Scouts have no cost, they can be played for free.
  • 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.
  • Renegade Splinter Faction: The app Campaign has the player sometimes fighting these, some of which from your own alignment.
  • Shout-Out: In the digital version of Cthulhu Realms, one of the chapters in the Campaign features the line "Everything is awesome! Everything is cool with a Brain in a Jar!"