Earlier this week, one of our favorite apps, Star Realms, received an update in your favorite app store. The expected addition of a new expansion brought another set of eight heroes and some new scenarios along. These heroes are more powerful, and costly, than the first hero expansion. An example is a mech hero, Chancellor Hartman, who costs 4 to purchase, but provides mech abilities and a discard when purchased, and again when you trash the hero. The initial run of Star Realms heroes only offered benefits when trashed and cost 1 or 2. This is another fun addition to the game that I’m sure fans will enjoy. Except for the purists who only base with the core set, of course.
The update also provides a few visual enhancements. The fonts and icons for your online game lobby have been tweaked a bit. Stealth cards (Needle and Tower) have an obvious effect when they are actively copying another card.
However, the bigger news is the addition of the Arena, the Star Realms version of online tournaments. There is a lot to unpack in this new gameplay mode. First, it is, as described, an online tournament mode. The tournament resets each week with a new rule variant, which will likely be pulled from the various rule variants used in the scenarios. The inaugural Arena included the variant of having all purchased bases go directly into play, but they are also scrapped when destroyed. A “season” in Arena consists of a few weeks worth of tournaments, they are saying it will be about four weeks per season. Note that the games are strictly real-time, but the mode allots more time per turn than the traditional online real-time game does.
An entry into a tournament will give you a chance to play until you win six games or lose two, whichever comes first. Winning provides you with some bonuses which can be credits, trophies, foil cards, or season avatars. Avatars are handed out on a per-season basis only, so you can only win it once per season. Foil cards look fun and shiny when you play them during the game, they are not new cards, simply shiny versions of existing cards, this is purely an aesthetic feature. Trophies count how far you progress in each Arena, thus act as a measurement for your success, there will be trophy point leaderboards similar to the existing online leaderboards.
Credits are the big one here. You can win credits by winning games, but you can also directly purchase boatloads of credits for cash. The use for credits is buying additional entries into the weekly Arena. The first entry, which, again, includes you playing enough games to win six or lose two, is free, but any additional entries into that week’s Arena will cost you 20 credits. Now, if you win 5 games in your free Arena entry you will earn enough credits to get a second entry (and some extra), but those credits can only be won once the same Arena. So, if you want to play the same Arena a bunch of times, it will inevitably cost you money. The price on these credits range from 80 credits ($0.99) to 14,000 credits ($99.99).
One thing to note before going forward, wins and losses in Arena do not count towards your usual online level/rank. And while I’m noting things, the Arena mode is listed as being in beta, but things have been running smoothly for me a few games in.
So, what’s the play here for Star Realms? Well, the clear goal is to generate some more revenue, and certainly nobody will fault them for trying that. But what are they selling and will people buy it? Out of all of the rewards for winning games in an Arena, the only one which you can win multiple times in the same week are the trophies. Arenas has opened up the door for new players to crash the leaderboard which can be tough to climb given the absurdly high levels the top players have achieved in the standard online mode. (To their credit, the game does have weekly and monthly leaderboards which are tough, but less impossible to climb) Will it be enough to entice players into buying credits? Who knows. As it stands, I’m pretty happy to see that some of the fun scenario variants will be making their way into online games. Having this reset weekly is a fantastic idea that will ensure that I keep tabs on what is going on in Arena even if the foil cards, trophies, and avatars don’t really appeal to me.
This is the biggest feature addition to Star Realms in quite a while. It is an interesting twist to online play that is another example of the Star Realms team not resting on their laurels, but rather continue to try to push the game in new directions by giving players more options. Star Realms and White Wizard Games deserve a lot of credit for their continued development of this already great app.