Step by step instructions on how to play Star Realms Board Game. This amazing space-based deck building games released in 2014 and designed by Robert Dougherty and Darwin Kastle is played by many and has spawned countless expansions. It is one of the top titles in its respective niche and gets good marks from us. Built for 2 player showdowns only. This is our complete step by step guide to how to play Star Realms.

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Star Realms is a space combat card game, pitting players against each other in a fight for dominance over the entire galaxy. To accomplish this, players must steadily grow their deck’s weak starting fleet into an armada powerful enough to overwhelm the opposition.

In the game, each player starts with a personal deck of cards representing their space Armada. Each turn, players play cards from their hand to gain Trade. Combat. Authority and other powerful effects. “Trade” is used to buy powerful ships and bases from the trade row to add to your deck. “Combat” is used to attack opponents and their bases. “Authority” is your score. You start with 50 and if it goes to 0, you lose.


Time Needed: Approximately 20 minutes.

This is a step by step guide for how to play Star Realms the popular space combat deck building board game. Additional notions and special rules can be found below the list. These will be referenced for your convenience.

1. SETUP | Hand Out Personal Decks and Draw Start Hand
To kick off how to play Star Realms, everyone needs to put together their personal starting deck which includes – 8x scouts (give you 1 trade) and 2x vipers (gives you 1 combat). Shuffle the deck and draw your starting hand of 5 cards.

2. SETUP | Place Explorer Cards
Shuffle the explorer cards and set them aside.

3. SETUP | Shuffle Trade Deck
Shuffle the separate “trade” cards and form a face-down deck. Flip up the top 5 and put them in a row in front of all players. These are communal cards players can buy with their trade.

4. SETUP | Determine First Player
The final step of how to play Star Realms before getting into gameplay is to determine the start player. No set method, use randomizer of choice.

How To Play Star Realms Initial Setup

5. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Main Phase | Playing Trade & Combat
Some cards that you draw are specifically to give you an opportunity to build up “trade” and “combat” which will allow you to do things. These accumulate as you play them and anything you do not use gets wasted at the end of the main phase.

6. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Main Phase | Playing Ships
When a ship is played, its Primary Ability triggers immediately. If a ship has an Ally and/or Scrap ability, you may choose to use one or both of these abilities any time during your Main Phase. Ships remain face up in front of you until the discard phase when they are moved to the designated pile with the same name.

7. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Main Phase | Playing Bases
Unlike ships, bases are not discarded at the end of the turn. Instead, they remain in play until they are destroyed or scrapped. Also unlike ships, you choose when to activate the main ability. Each base has a defense number that represents the amount of combat it must take in 1 turn to be destroyed.

8. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Main Phase | Using Abilities
With the exception of a ship’s primary ability which triggers immediately, players may use the various abilities of their in-play ships and bases at any time during the main phase. Some abilities are static meaning that they are always in effect. Some cards give you multiple ability options to chose from.

9. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Main Phase | Acquiring New Cards
As you play trade cards and abilities trigger, an amount of “trade” is going to be added to your pool for the turn. You can use this money to buy any combination of cards that equal that amount. Whatever you do not use goes away after your main phase. Any cards acquired get added to your Discard pile to eventually be shuffled into your personal deck.

10. GAMEPLAY | Phase 1 | Main Phase | Combat
Like “trade” that builds up and lets you buy things, “combat” build up and lets you attack your opponent and their bases. At any point during the main phase, you can use your in play area ships to attack either an existing base or the opponent. You choose. damaging the opponent lowers their “authority”.

How To Play Star Realms Card Example

11. GAMEPLAY | Phase 2 | Discard Phase
After you have done everything that you could do, your trade and combat pools are drained and every card you played this turn (except active bases) gets moved to your discard pile. As you can see from this how to play Star Realms guide, pretty much all the action happens in the main phase and your turn is basically over at this point.

12. GAMEPLAY | Phase 3 | Draw Phase
Draw a new hand of five cards to complete your turn. Draw until your deck runs out, when your deck runs out and you can no longer draw, shuffle all the cards currently in your discard pile into a new deck. Continue drawing your remaining cards from that deck.

13. GAMEPLAY | Move To Next Player and Repeat
This is one full turn. After a player has completed this, it moves over to the other player who repeats the same process. This continues, moving back and forth, until the game ends.

14. WINNING | Lower Your Opponents “Authority” To 0
When a player’s authority (that starts at 50) hits 0, the game ends immediately and that player is the loser. Ther person with remaining authority is the winner. As we mentioned earlier in how to play Star Realms, games are very quick and this comes fast.



Ally Abilities are indicated by one of four faction icons in the text box. On your turn, an Ally Ability may be used as soon as you have another ship or base of that faction in-play. Ally Abilities may be used at any time during your main phase. If you are looking through how to play Star Realms for what makes it special and brings in combos, it is these. The four allies are:

  • Blob
  • Trade Federation
  • Star Empire
  • Machine Cult


Some ships and bases have a scrap ability, indicated by a trash can icon in the text box. Any time during the main phase you may use a card’s scrap ability by immediately removing it from play and placing it on the scrap heap.

Cards that are discarded go to your discard pile and will eventually be added back into your deck. If you “scrap” something, it is completely removed and it does not come back like something that was discarded.


  • 80x Trade Deck Cards
  • 16x Scout Cards
  • 10x Explorer Cards
  • 4x Viper Cards
  • 12x 1/5 Authority Cards
  • 6x 10/20 Authority Cards
  • 1x Rules Sheet


We hope you can now say you know how to play Star Realms board game. This amazing card game makes for fantastic showdown combat and is one of the best deck building games out there. With all the customization and combos, there are so many different games you could have of this fun title. If you are more digital than analog, there is also a wonderful app edition of the game that does a great job of recreating the fun.