The deck-building card game Star Realms took the gaming world by storm back in 2014 and we’ve been huge fans since the game first released. What we missed, and I’m sure many others may have as well, is the new starter box that was released four years later.
Let me tell you about Star Realms Frontiers, a new gateway or expansion to Star Realms that plays four players out of the box, offers a completely new set of cards, rules for cooperative or solo play, and more!
Disclosure: Thank you to Wise Wizard Games for letting us take a review copy of Star Realms Frontiers home from Origins. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these costs you nothing but may earn us a small commission on eligible items.
Just what is Star Realms Frontiers?
Star Realms was designed by Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle and first published by Wise Wizard Games in 2014. Star Realms Frontiers is an updated and revised entry point into the world of Star Realms, released in 2018 after a successful Kickstarter.
This Star Realms boxed set can be played by one to four players and features several different modes of play, including both solo and cooperative, as well as the traditional two player duel.
In addition to being a fully complete and playable card game on its own, Star Realms Frontiers also works as an expansion for everything that came before it. Plus, it can also be expanded upon by all previous and future Star Realms releases.
Star Realms is a deck-building card game of galactic warfare. Players use their resources to build their fleet from a variable market and use that fleet to both defend themselves and to attack and try to reduce their opponent’s Authority to zero.
One of the things that Star Realms is known for is its innovative combo system where many cards are better if played along with other cards of the same faction. Star Realms Frontiers includes everything you need to play with up to four players including a brand new eighty card trade deck.
This is another game, like The Deadlies, that we picked up both to review, as well as to give us something to play while at Origins 2023. This means we cracked open the game at the con and got in a few rounds while there so we don’t have an unboxing video for you.
Star Realms Frontiers comes in a small card box with a cardboard insert made to hold two stacks of cards. On top of that is the rulebook and a set of larger oversized cards. In addition to the new trade deck, you also get two Authority tracking cards per player, starting sets of vipers and scouts for four players, and a set of Explorer cards.
The oversized cards are Challenge Cards which are used when playing solo or cooperatively in teams. There are eight Challenge Cards. The card quality here is exactly what we’ve come to expect from Wise Wizard Games and the rulebook is the most clear and concise set of Star Realms rules to date.
Star Realms Overview of Play
Just in case you aren’t familiar with Star Realms, I thought it may be worth giving a general overview of how this deck-building card game is played.
I’m going to start with the rules for a two player duel, which was the original way to play, and then list all of the variants included in the Frontiers box.
Each player starts a game of Star Realms with 50 Authority and a deck containing 8 Scouts (which generate trade) and 2 Vipers (which generate combat).
The Trade Card deck is shuffled and five cards are flipped face up. The deck of Explorer cards is placed next to these to finish off the six card market. The first player draws three cards from their personal deck, their opponent draws five from their personal deck, and the game begins.
Players play the cards from their hand in any order. Cards generate either trade, which is used to buy cards from the market, or combat, which reduces your opponent’s Authority (you win by reducing your opponent to zero Authority), or both.
In addition, pretty much every card will have some kind of additional ability. The cards in Star Realms all belong to one of four factions each of which has its own theme.
Red Machine Cult cards tend to let you prune your deck plus they can combo to do big damage. Yellow Star Empire cards feature many abilities that let you draw more cards or that force your opponent to discard cards from their hands. The Green Blob cards can do massive damage, especially when you play groups of them in a row, and they can also manipulate the trade row. Finally, there are the Blue Trade Federation cards which include many bases for defence and quite a bit of high value trade cards, along with ways to regain Authority.
Most of these cards have abilities that go off only if played alongside other cards of the same faction, with some even requiring you to play at least two additional cards of the same faction (the concept of combos of more than two cards was new to us in Frontiers).
When you use Trade to acquire new cards from the market they are replaced immediately. Bought cards go into your discard pile and most cards when played are also discarded at the end of your turn. Bases are an exception to this. When played these cards stay in play, forming a defensive tableau.
Outposts are special Bases that have to be destroyed before you or any of your other bases can be attacked. Standard bases can be attacked only if you have no Outposts. Both types are discarded when defeated and can come back into play on a future turn.
Finally, some cards have trash abilities. These abilities can be triggered after using any other abilities on the card including any faction combos, and they can set off combos before being trashed. Trash abilities tend to be very powerful but require you to remove the card from play after using them.
After a player has played all of their cards, activated all of the abilities they want to, and have spent any combat and trade they generated, they then discard any remaining cards in their hands and draw a new hand of five cards.
Play goes back and forth with players activating their cards, creating combos and buying new cards until one player is reduced to zero authority and the other player wins.
That’s the basic way to play Star Realms. However, Star Realms Frontiers includes a number of other modes of play.
Free-For-All is a three to six player version of Star Realms. This variant follows the usual rules with the first player starting with three cards, the next four, and then the rest five. You will need at least one other Star Realms set in addition to Frontiers if you want to play with five or six players.
In Free-For-All, when spending Combat you are free to attack anyone you want and the last player standing wins.
Hunter is very similar to Free-For-All. It also plays three to six and follows the same rules except you can only attack the player on your left or the bases of the player to your right. The winner is still the last person standing.
For something without player elimination, try Hunter First Blood. The difference here is that the game ends when the first player is eliminated, with the win going to the player to the eliminated player’s right.
Hydra is a four to six player Star Realms variant. It’s a team game where teammates share a set amount of authority. Each player has their own decks, discards, etc. and all buy from the same central market. On a team’s turn players can share Trade and Combat freely between each other and an Outpost by one player protects their entire team until it is destroyed.
When all members of one team are eliminated the other team wins. Interestingly you can play this variant with uneven team sizes.
Emperor is another team based version of Star Realms, one that plays six players exactly. One player on each team is the Emperor and the other players are their Admirals.
The Emperor sits between their Admirals who can only attack the Admiral opposite them. When an Admiral is defeated the opposite Admiral can then attack the enemy Emperor. Emperors can attack anyone they wish. A team wins by taking out the opposing Emperor.
A rule that I like from this version is that players can spend one Trade to move a card from their discard pile to any ally’s discard pile.
Next, we have The Raid which is for three to six players. This is a one vs many way of playing Star Realms. One player is chosen as the Boss and the other players are the raiders trying to take them down. The Boss has a larger-than-usual hand of cards as well as extra Authority. To give the raiders a chance, damage carries over between turns when attacking bases during a raid.
Finally, we get to what was for me the highlight of this set, and that’s the Challenge Cards which allow you to play Star Realms either solo or cooperatively.
To use them you select a Challenge Card to face. Each card features unique set-up rules which vary significantly between cards. Many of the cards also include special rules and rule changes that are in play when using them.
With eight different Challenge Cards in the box, I’m not going to go into all of the details for each of them. Some things that you can expect to see is some form of boss with an authority level based on the number of players. The Challenge Card will get their own turn or turns and what actions they take is based on the card. Some have their own boss deck, while others base their actions off the cards in the trade row, and more.
Each Challenge can be played at four different difficulty levels which adds a ton of replayability to this cooperative and solitaire way to play Star Realms.
One thing to note for those who have seen Challenge Cards in previous sets or promos, Star Realms Frontiers contains all of the Challenge Cards that have been published so far.
Coming back to Star Realms through Star Realms Frontiers
I think the important things to know about Star Realms Frontiers versus other potential Star Realms starting points is that it plays up to four players out of the box, features an all-new eighty-card trade deck, and includes full solo and cooperative rules.
It was the solo and cooperative rules that come in this box that first caught my attention. I’m a long-time fan of Star Realms. This goes back to Origins 2014 when we stopped by the Wise Wizard Games mainly to say hi to a friend who was working at the booth. He ended up showing us this new deckbuilding game, something different from Dominion, featuring a variable market and a faction-based combo system. We were instantly hooked and had bought a copy before even finishing our first game.
We played a ton of Star Realms over the coming months and years. I even picked up two more copies of the original Star Realms box just to be able to play the Emperor variant.
Then the Star Realms app came out and pretty much all of my Star Realms gaming swapped to being online through the app. I couldn’t tell you how many games I played but it was a lot. Then, at some point, I changed phones from Apple to Android, lost my progress, and never really went back.
Fast forward to earlier this year, we are again at Origins, and we stopped by the Wise Wizard Games booth mainly just to be able to sit down and rest for a bit. We grabbed a spot at a Star Realms demo table and the Wise Wizard team was busy so we didn’t bother them.
While sitting there resting I grabbed this new looking, bigger, Star Realms box, that said Star Realms Frontiers on it. I flipped it over, read the back, and upon seeing that it included solo and co-op rules I was intrigued.
Now I know some of this stuff was in the app, including some of the stuff on the challenge cards, but I didn’t realize that you could now play solo with the physical version and the cooperative play was completely new to me.
Deanna and I ended up sitting there and playing through two full cooperative games and we had a great time. I don’t remember which Challenge Card we tried and I don’t remember if we won or lost, that didn’t matter. What did matter is just how much fun the two of us had returning to this game we both loved in the past.
Playing Star Realms Frontiers at Origins felt familiar but also new due to the entirely new deck of cards and this new way to play. We were both hooked again.
Since getting back from Origins I’ve played many rounds of Star Realms using the Frontiers box. This includes traditional two player duels as well as trying many of the variants, including trying out a variety of Challenge Cards both solo and co-op.
I introduced the game to my kids, who both love it, and have also been bringing it out to public play events.
It was at these public play events that I learned that I’m not the only one who had missed this particular Star Realms set coming out. Pretty much every time I play a game in public, a Star Realms fan comes over and is shocked to see new cards they haven’t seen before or are surprised to find out we are playing a cooperative game.
So my main goal now is to let people know that Star Realms Frontiers is a thing and that you can now enjoy this classic deck-builder in new ways. I hope that this review, and talking about the game on The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast, will help more people discover this great boxed set.
If you are a long time Star Realms fan, especially one who hasn’t kept up with the latest releases and changes, you should go pick up a copy of Star Realms Frontiers. This is the game you love presented in a new way, with an all new set of cards that will feel both comfortingly familiar and also exciting and new.
Perhaps more importantly, I think Frontiers is a fantastic way for a new player to get into Star Realms or a great way to introduce this sci-fi deck-builder to a new audience. This is a great entry point for those who missed the initial release and hype.
Star Realms Frontiers gives you everything you need to play Star Realms with one to four players. It includes the most up to date version of the rules and a surprisingly large number of ways to play, including solo and cooperatively.
If you have played Star Realms in the past and got sick of seeing the same cards over and over, didn’t like that it was mainly a two player game, or didn’t like the player vs player conflict, I suggest giving Frontiers a shot. Maybe find a friend with a copy, or ask your local game store for a demo. While feeling familiar, this box definitely offers more options than the original game did.
For those that never liked Star Realms even a bit, Frontiers is still Star Realms, just in a new box and featuring more play formats. The basic gameplay is still the same and if you didn’t dig it then you won’t now.
That’s it for our return to the world of Star Realms, a journey that started almost ten years ago with a game that still manages to capture our attention now.
Have you ever returned to a long forgotten game because of a new starter set or a new expansion? We would love to hear about that game and what brought you back in the comments below!
- Powerful new warp gate technology has opened a distant frontier, ripe for conquest. Establish your Star Realm with powerful new ships and bases!
- A new standalone Star Realms game with an all-new 80-card deck featuring some new mechanics like the double ally ability which really rewards you for focusing on a single faction!