Somehow, despite backing and promoting the Kickstarter, and after hundreds of physical games and thousands of digital ones, I never got around to reviewing the original Star Realms. It’s quickly become my most-played game, and even my favorite game of all time. I’m not missing the boat this time, though, as Colony Wars has finally arrived in U.S. stores and I’ve gotten plenty of games in. How does it stack up with the original Star Realms? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: Colony Wars comes packaged the exact same way Star Realms did – squeezed into a tiny cardboard tuck box with an MSRP of $15. While it took me all of thirty seconds to throw the box away and put it in official Star Realms sleeves and an official plastic flip box, I appreciate their pricing model and I think it’s done a lot to get the game into the hands of more players. The actual contents are just a rules sheet and a bunch of cards. The artwork meshes well with previous releases, although I still think the game’s art looks a bit washed out (but good otherwise). Some players do not like the cards given to keep track of life totals, but I always use them in physical games and think it’s definitely better than nothing. If you’ve played Star Realms, nothing here will surprise you – otherwise, you might be surprised at just how deep of a game is packed in such a tiny, inexpensive package.
Accessibility: One of the biggest strengths of Star Realms is just how simple and intuitive the gameplay is, even for those uninitiated to deckbuilders. As an avid payer, I was really hoping that Colony Wars would shake things up considerably. To my initial disappointment, Colony Wars is mostly just rearrangements of the original, although there are a few surprises among the higher-cost cards. After enough plays, I think the experience is fresh enough with these small tweaks, and they made the right choice. (Good thing I’m not on the design team.)
The only minor complaint accessibility-wise is that there is a new ability that takes immediate effect, allowing you to play cards directly after buying them. The ability is a bit wordy, and because other cards don’t matter until later, players often seem to skip reading the text until they’ve played their hand out and are ready to buy, which can lead to some “oh, well if I had known that!” type moments. That’s a minor niggle, though – overall, this version is just as easy and smooth as its predecessor.
Depth: Star Realms has surprised with me just how deep it is. Several thousand games in, I still find surprising and clever moments quite often. Colony Wars seems to be just as deep, but even better than that, it’s fresh. I love being able to dig into this game’s synergies all over again, to see that the classic strategies need to be adapted or abandoned, to be “young again” in my Star Realms experience. And when that wears off, I know I’ll still have those new moments, and as the card pool widens, mixing sets together will keep things fresh. (I haven’t even tried mixing the Crisis packs or the original set with Colony Wars yet!)
Theme: Star Realms is quick and simple, and that means it can only get so far in the theme department. However, they’ve made the best effort they can. Each faction has its own identity, the cards do have good artwork (I think the printing just looks washed out), and there is flavor text on some cards as well. When the game is over, you also feel like the deck you’ve built has its own unique identity, and that is a great feeling that Star Realms accomplishes better than most other deckbuilders.
Fun: So far, I think I like the initial Star Realms release just a little better, but Colony Wars is still a huge success. If it had only been half as good as Star Realms, it still would have been an auto-buy. As it stands, it’s a great new incarnation of an incredible game, and is a must-buy for long-time fans. If you’ve never played Star Realms, I might start with the original, but this is still a fine introduction.
Colony Wars accomplishes a lot with just a little bit of tweaking – and by far its biggest accomplishment is that my favorite game of all time gets to feel fresh again.
5 out of 5