Star Realms: Are we the bad guys, Hans?

Pairs well with: pirated space-rum
Traitor-rating: 4/10 knives in the back. Direct rivalry but not too much player interference. 

One of the expansions*

Star Realms works well as a game that you want to play again. In fact, it’s one of those games you’re keen to play again before you’ve even finished the current round. That’s either a point for or against it – you can decide.The game works this miracle by letting you see and plan enough different ways to victory, enough different cards that you want to pick and different strategies you want to use.

Star Realms is a two-player space card game.

There’s a communal pool of five different spaceships and your job is to hire them to do things for you like fight, trade or improve your authority. How do they improve your… authority? We didn’t go to the trouble of looking into it too much, but the little authority symbol on the cards looks fairly harmless, a bit imperial though. We assume the ships carry little flags and sing loyalty songs. That sounds right.


Anyway. The number of ships you can hire depends on how much trade you have to spend that turn. How much trade can you spend that turn? Well, however much trade you’ve amassed from the ships you’ve already bought. And how many of those cards come out in the hand you play this turn.

Yep, it’s also a deck-building game. A lovely, addictive deck-building game.

There are four different kinds of ship – in the basic game, minus expansions, at least – which each come from a different alliance in the galaxy. It’s nice, because each of these card sets also has a different kind of feel to them in the way that they play, as well as just a different name and a different colour. Each kind of ship will play best with certain kinds of tactics, but not in such a strict way that there’s only one good strategy for each set.

Although the farmers of misery spend 90% of their board game lives nerding-it-up with the real-life versions, this is one game where we’re certainly qualified to give a review on the app version as well.

The star realms app is pretty good. It costs money to get anything but the basic version, which is a pretty successful tactic at luring in any unsuspecting gamers (worked on Lizzy!) and, even then, there are a whole bunch of expansions to try to milk even more from you. Luckily, though, there’s still a fair bit to keep you going, particularly for people who like to milk a lot from their games. Each campaign has a number of games for you to win, with some spiel that gets read out by a deep-voiced male who sounds like he’s describing an awful action movie. And each game itself has three achievements for you to keep busy with, and a harder difficulty if that still isn’t enough.


And let’s be fair, nobody here at the blog is beneath giving the app extra credit for having puns in it. Puns that seem specifically designed to just-about avoid copyright trouble. Yeah, we’re looking at you, mission against the Machine Cult called “Rage Against the Cult” and another mission called “The Empire Strikes”.

Doesn’t look like a ram to me

We gather that not all of the people who read about our humble adventures in farming misery are British. Not even the majority of you, in fact. So instead of just diving straight into a British comedy pop culture reference we’ll have to set it up a little first.

There’s this sketch show we have called The Mitchell and Webb look. In this one scene, Webb and Mitchell are both dressed in war uniforms and making plans on the battlefield. Mitchell’s character looks concerned, and says to his friend;

“Hans… Hans I’ve just noticed something. Have you looked at our caps recently?”
“Our caps?”
“The badges on our caps. Have you looked at them?”
“What? No. A bit.”
“They’ve got skulls on them. Have you noticed that our caps have actually got little pictures of skulls on them? Hans… are we the bad guys?”

Anyway, that’s pretty much what it’s like paying attention to the semblance of plot in the Star Realms app. There’s pretty much fuck all evidence that you’re the good guys. You’re battling for territory, you’re having space fights, you’re showing the enemy who’s boss. But there’s no reason to believe you’re the good guys. No good reason why the space territory is really yours in the first place. At least, none that would hold up in a fair human (and alien) rights court. Someone needs to start talking about the merits of diplomacy, that’s all I’m saying.

“Kill some peeps.”

Overall, with the app it’s still difficult to resent the way that the app seems to give you a plentiful plethora of content and then slowly reveals the amount of extra bits you’ll need to buy in order to actually play it. Upon first download it looks like you have a wonderful six campaigns to play through, and a whole lifetime of fun ahead of you! Then, one by one, when you actually get round to the next campaign it’ll let you know that you have to buy the full version, the expansion, another expansion.

The app gameplay is good, and it offers a lot that the real life version doesn’t- particularly if you’re sat alone in your room with nobody else to play with. But the app ethics are a little pants.

The real winner is definitely not world peace, let alone space-peace. As usual, the real winner is board games. Over and out.

We come in peace?

* Lizzy advises you to be wary of the Star Realms box. She and her ex tore it open when they first got it, to realise that was the only packaging. Whoops. Might be related to why you have a photo of an expansion instead.

Battlestar Galactica: or ‘how to legitimately take out all of those secret grudges you had on your friends with bullying and wild accusations’

Pairs well with: Space whiskey for the humans, some kind of oil-based fuel for the toasters


In a fit of hostility we’ve decided that it would be a great idea to take on a traitor game two weeks in a row. Who can say why? Perhaps because once you’ve started stirring the resentment-pot then you might as well keep going until you have a delicious broken-friendship-soup. Or perhaps it’s because games with a traitor mechanic are bloody brilliant.

2As far as traitor games go, Battlestar Galactica is one of the greats. A familiarity with the television series isn’t necessary, but is a good idea regardless of your position on board games since it’s pretty damn good. (What’s that? Strong female characters? More than one?! Don’t mind if we do!) As such, we’ve always found it a good game to whip out with a group of friends no matter their gaming experience or level of nerdiness. We have all kinds of gateway drugs board games here.

3A willingness to play along when it comes to shouting at each other always helps, though. Like with a lot of traitor games, a lot of the real fun comes from player interaction, rather than clever mechanics and strategies. But that’s good, and there’ll always be space for those sorts of games too in our board game collections. Be wary about playing it with a room full of very quiet people though: we’ve all had mishaps where we have been the only person in the room accusing, thinking ‘maybe if I get this going, everyone will join in…’, when ultimately the room silently and awkwardly judges you. We have instead worked out through trial and error that you will require at minimum of two louder people (three if possible), who are poised and ready to create a shouting, energy-fuelled, accusatory positive feedback loop between themselves. As they get louder, and the claims get wilder, the other players in the room are drawn in like the event horizon of a black hole.

Pick a loyalty card, any loyalty card!
Pick a loyalty card, any loyalty card!

It doesn’t even matter if their accusations are true – say literally anything to gain the room’s unyielding attention. ‘I put it to you could have stolen that cargo before you baked the innocent unicorn into the birthday cake!’

Continuing, the theme is a really well-done sample of the well-trodden trope of “human-makes-artificial-intelligence. Artificial-intelligence-thinks “fuck-this-I’m-a-mother-fucking-bad-ass-robot-I’m-having-you-all-for-breakfast-except-I-don’t-even-eat-meat-because-I’m-a-robot-so-I’ll-just-kill-humanity-and-mount-your-squishy-heads-on-my-wall-as-a-trophy””. Humans are the “good guys” (say The Humans) and Cylons (or “robots” or “toasters”) are the baddies. There tends to be one or two toasty traitors per game, depending on numbers, and traitors will discover their role secretly with hidden cards that are given out at the beginning and in the middle of the game.*

Dr Photographer is a good guy. This time!
Dr Photographer is a good guy. Not in real life, maybe, but in this game.

No matter how much you sit your friends down and tell them to please, carefully read the page in the instructions about what to do if you’re a Cylon, and please all make sure that you understand it all and ask any questions before the loyalty cards are handed out and the game begins, there’ll always be one person who picks their loyalty card, looks at it, looks uncomfortable for five minutes and then has to meekly ask to see the rulebook and shiftily hide which bit they’re reading. This is not a subtle Cylon strategy and we recommend avoiding it if possible.

The sympathiser
The sympathiser

One downside that this game has, (at least, nobody we’ve ever played with has seen it as an upside, that’s for sure) is the way that it deals with certain numbers of players. Camelot, for example, makes the brave move of always having only zero or one traitor per game, no matter the number of players. (It also leaves you with this nifty ability to introduce and lose players mid-game if people suddenly want to join in- genius!) Battlestar has this determination to balance things out, which maybe goes a little bit too far. The Resistance does this to a lesser degree, but still it’s super fucking difficult when everyone is shouting ‘BAD GUY’, and half of the room actually is…

More players (5+) means more Cylons. Fair enough! That can be kind of fun. There are still more good guys than bad guys and there’s an extra level of fun you can have with two Cylons working together to defeat the pesky noble humans.

Playing Battlestar with 5 players is excellent! Two Cylon traitor cards and a lot of fun. Playing Battlestar with 3 players is pretty good too, one Cylon traitor and still enough people for a bit of the ol’ shouting and accusing. With four or six players the game starts worrying that maybe it needs to add more bad guys but also there aren’t enough players for more bad guys, so it says “Shit! We’ll introduce this sympathiser to add instead!”

Let me out of the brig!
Let me out of the brig!

Nobody wants to be the sympathiser. The sympathiser is a poor player who gets dicked over at the ‘halfway’ point of the game. If the human team are close to death then the sympathiser is a Cylon who sympathises with them, and gets put in the brig but is still on the human team. If the human team aren’t quite teetering on destruction yet then the sympathiser is a dastardly human who sides with the Cylons but can’t do the full range of Cylon moves. So in attempting to balance out the human vs Cylon ratio the game just selects a player and shits on them a little. Boo, sir.

A team that’s getting along fairly well might find themselves trying, on purpose, to lower a resource to a required level so that the sympathiser that’s about to be chosen will side with them. How does that translate into plot? It doesn’t, it definitely doesn’t.

“Why are you chucking all of that food out of the airlock, Sir?”
“Oh, I was hoping that if we get a food shortage then the Cylons will start to take pity on us.”

I don't mean to worry you all, but this card says
I don’t mean to worry you all, but this card says “Ambush”…

Is there also something a little shitty about being a regular Cylon who only gets their traitor card halfway through the game? After you’ve been trying so hard to stay alive this whole time? Maybe, but that does kind of work as a mechanic. You realise your programming, you realise you’ve just been trying to blend in with the fleshbags and earn their trust, and now it’s up to you to make them pay.

Shit's going down
Shit’s going down

The plight of the humans is pretty damn difficult anyway, as it should be in any co-op game. You don’t want victory to come easy, you want all of your games to be a painful and horrible slog, clawing hopelessly at all your resource dials and trying to stay just about afloat in time to reach the end of the game. Our photographer bought this game over one evening when we’d requested a “small-to-medium sized game”, and he insisted against Lizzy’s protests that it would totally be fine. Several hours later he confessed that, actually, it was just so rare that he’d survived long enough during a game that he barely knew the full length of it.

The card appropriately titled
The card appropriately titled “Loss of a Friend”

Perhaps Lily the dog had the correct tactic when she just waltzed in and knocked everything over. Good girl, Lily.

The gameplay itself has two important rules that aren’t mentioned explicitly in the actual official rules set. Firstly, whenever someone does anything it’s important to determine why, assume that makes them suspicious, and to yell at them for probably being the traitor. This is particularly the case when it’s something that you know they had no choice over.

“OH! You just happened to draw THAT random card, huh? Just what the Cylon would do.”
“OH!! You’re going to the bathroom NOW, huh? Seems like you’re all too keen to convince us of your human functions, huh? cough cough CYLON”
“I saw you touch the toaster this morning, to get toast huh? Lies. You don’t like toast. More like communicating via instantaneous up-link the invasion plans back to the general!”


Secondly, it’s important that you make the appropriate noises when you’re trying to blow things up. Every time one of us forgot to make the appropriate “pew pew” noises as we rolled a die to destroy a raider, we failed. COINCIDENCE?**

Appropriately for a team of misery farmers and their friends we ended up losing from too much misery. Losing any one of your four main ‘resources’ will end the game. It’s pretty clear how this works in terms of running out of population (“Guys? Where is everyone?”), food (humans need that to survive, apparently) and fuel (“Ok, ok, we’ll just float around in space… let’s see…”) but it’s not as clear what’s happening when you run out of morale. Mass apathy? Everyone just goes to their room and has a little sulk? Riots, perhaps?

Too much misery
Too much misery

Whatever it was, it got us good. It was an apt representation of our real life selves, as Sophie was just starting to fall asleep in the corner.

It’s a great game for several players and several hours, as long as you have a good team of people keen to accuse each other. Good luck, brave humans. Get your accusatory pointed finger at the ready.

*of course saying that traitor cards are handed out in ‘the middle’ of the game is a generous but loosely-used description. It’s the middle of the game in theory, if the mighty humans are heading for a full game and a victory. It is, unfortunately, also possible for the game to not even reach the point of handing out the second round of cards before humanity gets blasted into oblivion. It maybe wouldn’t be too shocking if this happened when there aren’t even any traitors on board yet.

** Yes.

Credit to Adam “Not the cylon for once” Photographer-friend for the photos. (Usually about 50% game and 50% hamster these days)

Quantum: Space Dice!

By Lizzy, Bob, and Briony

Number of dicks in ear: 6/10. Dick size will grow in inverse proportion to the size of the map.
Pairs well with: cheap vodka. (It’s what people drink in space.)

6D-31- 365 Quantum1 Lizzy loves a game where you know who you are. Where you really know what your motivations are and why you’re collecting <Generic Resource!>. Quantum is a game about space, and it does this quite well. It has a space background. You play as a kind of space conquistador, colonising the stars using cubes. Cubes are very important in Quantum, because cubes mean victory and the ownership benevolent leadership of galaxies.

“Which galaxies?” you cry!
Whichever galaxies you like!

‘Which map shall we use?’ ‘The one that looks like a swastika!’ ‘That is absolutely not what a swastika looks like, Bob’

The layout of the map is quite variable; there are several possible galaxies to choose from for each player number, and each has its own name. You can fight over the Outer Reaches, the Barren Empire, Terra Major, Terra Minor.

Even the planets themselves each have a name. Tau 18, Ursus Major 2, you get the idea. They even have lore and geography, if that’s your bag. It’s all very good sci-fi. Points for sci-fi.

Here’s Bob posing for a photo and pretending to attack her own ships. That’s not how the game works. Silly Bob.

For further points, each of your dice are your loyal spaceships and the number on the die represents the kind of ship it is. Even better, there’s some kind of story to the mechanics behind each number! A lower number is a lot slower but better at combat because it’s a bigger ship. A 1-die, for example, is a battlestation, which is the best at fighting but can only move 1 square at a time. A 6-die is a scout, they can zip around like crazy but aren’t too hot behind the weapons. At this point in the game your in-house Bob or Bob-substitute can demonstrate agility by throwing dice around going ‘pew pew’. It’s helpful or something.

As well as the changing planetary layout, gameplay is also affected by cards, which affect the kind of play which your space-conquering race can undertake. After invading landing on a planet you can, as they say in the trade, ‘do a research’ and so learn to do fun stuff like shoot more effectively and fly across the entire galaxy to thrust your dick in your team-mate’s ear.

Quantum7 Quantum2 Quantum6

If you are the kind of person who hates dice combat you might hate this game. But even our friend ‘Dr Hates-Dice’ loves this game! And he hates dice, or any attempt at putting randomness in a game. Briony, of course, is sadly unable to roll dice or dice-shaped objects and so found this game something of a challenge. She also hates dice.

Tons o'dice
Tons o’dice
Space Cards
Space Cards.

In the words of Lizzy it is a game of learning and fun, if you understand how basic maths works. Bob, for her part, is unable to count, making the ‘fun if you know how maths works’ description more of a threat than an incentive. She has, however, played games with Lizzy before and understands that when our dear Liz looks particularly gleeful after rolling a die and buying a research card that no one is safe and… oh god oh god we’re all going to die… why is no one stopping Lizzy… we all know what happens when we don’t stop Lizzy and… oh yep she’s won. And she has the cheek to ask why we don’t trust her in board games.

6D-31- 374
We’re all gonna die when she gets that face on.


Nonetheless, this game doesn’t rub your face in your failure like a misbehaving puppy. If you do badly it’s because you’re bad at very basic counting, strategy, and rolling dice. This is in comparison with games like Terra Mystica where you feel like a failure from round 2 because you haven’t picked up on the very specific and delicate strategy required of your race. Quantum is particularly enjoyable if you bear your position as commander of the fleet in mind when communicating with the enemy. “The OrionRepublic welcomes the puny Kepler Imperium to our planet!” “The Orion Republic denies all knowledge of the weapons fire around Minim 2586. You must have been watching a training exercise.” Also humming ‘Duel of the Fates’ (literally the only good thing in ‘The Phantom Menace’) and the Star Trek theme tune are recommended during manoeuvring and battle.

6D-31- 393
A lonely spaceship contemplates its fate at the edge of the galaxy.

All in all this is a pretty fun game. It’s still Lizzy’s favourite thing to have come out of Essen 2013, well over a year on. Good luck on your colonisation, loyal Space-Dice. May the solar wind be always at your back.

Bob does not take particularly well to losing. Shame it happens so often.
Bob does not take particularly well to losing. Shame it happens so often.

Image and photography credit to Dr. Photographer.