Star Realms (review) has maintained a successful run thus far. Debuting in 2014, it won numerous awards from a variety of outlets. Excluding the most recent two reviewed here, there have been 3 expansions in the ensuing years which have not disappointed its loyal fan base. Even the digital versions have been warmly received.
That being said, if you have found yourself here, it is likely not out of total ignorance or chance, but with the same question I had when I heard about these latest additions to the series: can White Wizard Games continue to innovate and wow with the Colony Wars and United expansions, or has the sun finally set on the series?
Star Realms Colony Wars stand alone expansion and the United expansion attempt to expand the success of releases with new ships and mechanics. Since I am covering several Star Realms in this review, I’ve broken them up more specifically below.
Colony Wars is a standalone expansion to the original Star Realms, so gameplay is very familiar to anyone who has played before. There aren’t any new mechanisms, but there are new cards and seven multiplayer game variants. If you have an original Star Realms set (or a second Colony Wars copy), this can be shuffled right in for a two to six-player game. If you don’t have the a second copy, the Colony Wars two-player game stands well enough on its own as a full game. You won’t feel as if you are missing anything from the gameplay if you don’t have the original.
Play wise, this is the same old hat we all fell in love with in its first iteration. The ships and bases are mostly new in Colony Wars, but I did not feel as if I was playing an entirely new game from Star Realms.
United Four Pack Expansion
White Wizard Games split a 48-card expansion into four different promo packs of 12 cards each. I will describe these packs in more detail, but let me start off by saying that I love this release model that White Wizard Games has used for most of the Star Realms Expansions. If you like a rule change or an added mechanism, pick up the set; if you don’t want to embrace a change – leave the set at the game store. No harm, no foul.
1) Assault and 2) Command
United factions combine two of the standard four (blue Alliance faction, green Blob faction, yellow Empire faction, red Machine Cult faction). These additions triggered a lot of ally abilities, which increased turn length and drove many really interesting card combinations.
Purchased from the trade row, heroes go immediately into play and their primary and applicable faction/ally abilities activate. Heroes remain in play until their scrap abilities are activated and they are sent to the scrap heap. Same as in the Crisis Expansion, heroes cannot be attacked and are in play until scrapped.
Three mission cards are given to each player during game setup. Each mission card provides a single use ability if certain objectives are met. If all three of a player’s missions are completed, that player wins regardless of remaining authority.
Game Experience with the Expansions:
As a standalone, Colony Wars feels full and is a fine place for newcomers to start (although for a total of $30, why not just get Star Realms as well?). Games do not seem any shorter or longer than the original, and I can’t really think of any major differences.
Depending on your feelings for the original, this may be a good or bad thing. For me, I find both games enjoyable and interesting – but I find most combat themed deck builders enjoyable and interesting. In all honesty though, if you shuffled this and the original together, covered the bottom right corner of the cards and forced me to pick a set, I would not be able to do it.
As an expansion, this set can make up half of the cards you see in a game, so if you are looking to liven up the game or add two more players to the table, this is not a bad place to start – it adds new cards and a whole slew of game variants.
The United Expansion release model is one used by White Wizard Games for most of the Star Realms expansions thus far and I cannot praise it enough. For those unfamiliar with living card games, these are not randomized packs, they are full sets. Your United – Assault pack is exactly the same as mine. None of this randomized booster pack driving the game junky need for “that one rare” (although I suppose the internet has fixed that for the most part).
Want heroes? Buy the set. Want missions? Pay up. Want faction crossover? Buy half of this expansion release with just two packs. All you have to do is bolt on whatever additions you want to your game. There’s no fiddly card replacement required. White Wizard Games treats the players, their game nights, and their wallets with respect. Well done White Wizard Games, well done.
Faction alliances (Assault and Command) change the flow of the game and can make a personal draw deck that lacks direction (and usable Ally Abilities), suddenly very cohesive and dangerous. I enjoyed adding a few of these and suddenly turning a previously disjointed deck into one that felt cohesive.
The Heroes set is a great addition to this theme as they too can activate those Ally abilities from the background. Because heroes are unattackable and provide a meager ally bonus, they can move games along more quickly by driving combat and trade row purchases. Reasonably balanced for the cost, the Heroes don’t feel overpowered by any means. At worst, they are annoyance, and at best they can trigger some AP with activations and card plays.
The Missions set adds another level of randomized play with which to contend. While Star Realms continues to be praised for its streamlined PvP style of gameplay, the Missions set has opened the door for a hard-stop game victory, meaning players now have multiple routes to victory in a single 12 card expansion pack.
I loved the missions and that they set up a viable strategies for victory. The objectives are difficult enough that they feel like valid accomplishments. For balance, only one mission can be completed in a turn. Since players are given three at the start of the game, there is usually pretty fair warning when someone is attempting the mission win condition.
All in all, I am a fan of the Colony Wars and United Expansions. I enjoyed Star Realms (although my favorite is still Cthulhu Realms…) and was looking forward to the potential refresh the expansions typically provide. Colony Wars satisfied this with fresh multiplayer gaming and United hit the nail on the head with the bolt on mechanics and card abilities. There’s something here for everyone.
These expansions will satisfy both the gamer looking for familiar gameplay with more cards (or multiplayer options) and the gamer looking to push the boundaries of what they have come to expect from Star Realms. Colony Wars on first play looks and feels familiar; Star Realms players will recognize the game and need not reference the rules. Conversely, the path of that United Expansion has taken is all about new frontiers.
Colony Wars can be picked up for about $15
The United Expansions can be bought in a set for $20 or individually for $4.
• Same great gameplay as the first
• Modular design allows players to swap mechanics in and out
• Expansions play to the strengths of the original
• Common sense purchase to increase player count without buying the same game twice
• If players disliked the original, there is not much redemption here
• Colony Wars expansion could have added more than just new cards