Let’s Get Physical! [Part 1]

by Alex Sarkissian aka SilentAl

We all love Star Realms, but most of us primarily play online.  In fact, there is a whole lot of the community that either don’t own the physical cards, or if they do, have only touched them to sleeve them and put them away for safe keeping.  Which is fine.  But what happens when you go to a live tournament?  What happens when you want to win a playmat, some cash, or even your face on a card at Origins or Gen Con?

Whether you realize it or not, playing the physical game is a much different experience than playing online.  So, how can you prepare?  How can you transition from being a great player online to a great player in the real world?  Hopefully, this article can help with that.

Keep in mind, I am going to primarily be talking about playing in physical tournaments.  So, I may leave some details out about differences in the physical game in general.  That was done purposefully, because they don’t apply to tournament play.

The Basics


The first thing you should do is get comfortable with the physical cards.  It seems like a simple thing, but it can make a big difference.  Get used to shuffling, drawing a hand of 5, offering cuts, and all the other little things the app does for you.  The more you can rely on muscle memory and routine for these little things, the less you have to think about it and can concentrate at the game at hand.

This also means practicing your math.  The app isn’t going to keep track of your authority for you.  Get used to keeping score (both yours and your opponent’s), adding up damage, and watching how much money you already spent on trade row.  There are apps that will help you track your life total, but at the end of the day, you need to know what is going on.

Know What is Different

Keep in mind that there are different rules when playing the physical game.  Discards happen in real time.  If an opponent forces you to discard, you do it right away, not when your turn begins.  Keep that in mind.  There is some strategy to when you make your opponent discard and what you can learn.

Primary abilities on ships happen when you play them in both the physical and digital game; but in contrast to the digital game, faction abilities in the physical game are optional and only trigger when you decide.  Think about that for a second.  That means there are some cards that are better on paper than they are in the app.


If there is ever a question about the rules and how they differ, don’t be afraid to call over the judge or tournament organizer.  Especially if this is a White Wizard Games run event.  Their event staff are knowledgeable, friendly, and happy to help.  There is no shame in needing a rules clarification and don’t feel the need to trust your opponent’s interpretation of the rules, just because they seem confident.

Practice Online

Yes, while the game is different on paper, you can still practice online.  But, you may have to modify how you play online.  First, know the format of the tournament and grind that kind of game.  Usually it will be base sets only (Vanilla, Colony Wars, or Frontiers).  So, get used to not having to watch for things like Events or Heroes popping up.

Second, play real time games.  They force you to stay in the moment and watch what is going on in that game and that game only.  Which leads to the third point.

Don’t look at your deck or your opponent’s deck.  You can’t do it in the real world, so don’t even try it online.  Get used to not having all the information you would with a normal online game.  This forces you to pay attention to what your opponent is buying and what you are buying.

Finally, learn to play tired and distracted.  Play late at night.  Play with the TV/radio on in the background or in a busy place.  Distraction and fatigue, both physical and mental, are very real things (especially at big gaming conventions).  You need to learn to play outside of your comfort zone and be able to rely on good instincts when you are dead tired on the last day of a massive gaming convention.

Relax and Support


Stress and nerves are also very real in a tournament setting.  They can beat you more than any opponent sitting across the table from you.  The trick is to figure out how to alleviate them, which is difficult because it is different for everyone.

The way I relax in a tournament is by having fun and pretending it is just another casual tournament at my FLGS.  This means making jokes, chatting with my opponent before the round begins, and talking to friends between rounds.  Which brings me to my next point.

Have supporters and people to talk to between rounds.  It can help tremendously, whether it is someone to grab you a drink, commiserate over a bad draw, or congratulate you on a tough win.  Don’t worry if you don’t have someone to bring with you, though.  If you are part of the online Star Realms community (either on BGG or the Fan Facebook page), then chances are you will have someone there.  The Star Realms online community is one of the best gaming communities and members are always happy to support each other.

But overall, how you deal with the stress and nerves of the situation is up to you.  Know what works for you.  Whether that means being a social butterfly, taking a walk between rounds, or something else.  It is up to you.

Find a Partner

Finally, the most basic thing you can do is find someone in the real world to play with.  It doesn’t matter if they play online, know every card, or have any desire to play competitively.  You just need someone willing to sling cards with you.  A sparring partner.

This will force you to practice your card shuffling skills, your math skills, and in general be more prepared to deal with the realities of playing with the physical cards.  In fact, teaching someone new how to play the game will help clarify and remind you of all the rules you take for granted.  It will also give you an excuse to use all the cards you may see in a tournament that haven’t made it to the app yet.

This is Only the Beginning

So, hopefully this article has given you an idea on how to prepare before going to your first live tournament.  In my next article, I will give you some tips and tricks to use while you are in the tournament itself.


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