Star Admiral, An In-Depth Review

Gameplay: 8/10
Sounds: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10

Lively, animated ships and traps make it fun to watch combat unfold.

Not too large a pool of cards to work with.


Free to play, with in-game purchases.

July 16,2014


Star Admiral is a sci-fi collectible card game on iOS. Featuring three different factions, wage war in space as you assemble and upgrade your own fleets of ships.

Star Admiral first came out back at the end of 2013, but has gone through significant updates and changes since then. In gameplay, it resembles Hearthstone a lot, even though it actually predates Blizzard’s flagship CCG. The game does have enough unique points of its own to set it apart as a unique experience, however.

So is it still a decent game today, or has it been overshadowed by bigger titles that have come out since? Read on to find out…


Two ships engaged in head-on combat, firing lasers and bullets at one another. Each ship is a fully 3D, animated model. You don’t see that in Hearthstone, do you?


Players bring a 50 card deck (called your Fleet) into space, full of ships (called Crafts), instant actions (Strikes) and delayed effect, hidden actions (called Traps). Cards cost energy to play; you start off with 1 energy and each turn you draw two cards, with the chance to discard a card at the start of the turn to add 1 permanent energy to your total. You don’t always have to do this though, so later in the game you can stop sacrificing cards to increase your total energy amount and just enjoy the extra card draw. Your hand can never go above the 6 card limit, however, and any extra card draw beyond that will not occur.

Crafts have an energy cost to play and stats for Attack and Health, as well as any special abilities as effect text. Some are familiar territory: Protector works like Taunt where that Craft has to be attacked and destroyed before any others, Haste lets you attack with a Craft the turn you play it, and so on. It’s simple enough that Crafts don’t ever have too much going on at once, just enough to create some interesting situations.

Strikes work like instant actions, whereas Traps will be played and a Trap icon added above your avatar to show the opponent that you’ve played one. These work like Secrets in Hearthstone, where it takes a specific trigger to activate them. They’re a lot of fun to use and I really enjoy the hidden information aspect to them as well as trying to second-guess what Trap(s) my opponent might have played.


Traps are mega fun to play and play against. Once you get to know most of them, you’ll start to play around them strategically which becomes a part of the game’s core challenges.

As another way to “stagger” the use of cards, some require that your character is Tier 2 to play them. As soon as your character reaches 4 energy, you can pay 4 energy to upgrade to Tier 2. This will allow you to play those cards. Some Crafts have effects that trigger while they’re in play and you upgrade, like gaining a buff to their stats. Some cards will even “downgrade” your Tier as a cost. It becomes a part of the strategy of some decks to play around with the level increase like this, but it’s not too common.

Reducing your opponent’s character from 30 to 0 life is the aim of the game. Matches are short enough to remain interesting but long enough that they’re not too basic and simple. They last a bit shorter than the average length of a Hearthstone match, I’d say. This makes it perfectly suited for phone and tablet gaming especially. Matches are really enjoyable not just because of the strategy involved but the high amount of polish here – 3D models, animated combat, great sound design – all essential to make this much better than your standard card game on Android and iOS.


The main screen in space holds all the different menus and game modes. You’ll also sometimes see some free booster packs and Dark Matter-containing asteroids floating around which is awesome as a little surprise when you log in.

Modes and Features

Floating around the main space screen will be various icons. The main ones in the middle are Missions, Matchmaking and Tournaments. Missions are space hubs that float around and there is one for each faction. You can only do these once a day and they offer an AI battle against a deck of that particular faction, with XP and currency rewards. They can also help you complete your current quests which are accessible at the side of the main screen and these give you currency for completing them.

Matchmaking will pair you up with another player and help you rank up, gaining ranking stars and rewards. This plays like similar games do with their ranked modes so nothing should come as a surprise here, but they do periodically reset the ladder so you can have a chance at starting over and beating other people to the top.

Tournaments have only recently been added but it’s one of the best things about the game. It works like Hearthstone’s Arena, where you’ll draft a 50 card deck from limited card options (two at a time, in fact) to then play as many tournament rounds as you can. You’ll earn currency and booster packs as rewards. I love this mini-draft mode and it’s one of the most enjoyable ways to play the game, for me at least.


The new tournament mode brings a Hearthstone Arena-style drafting mode for you to play around with. I love that they show you the energy curve of your deck as you build it.

You can buy boosters in the shop for Dark Matter, the premium currency. Packs have 3 cards in them, but sometimes have the chance to have another booster pack inside as a bonus. This happened to me quite a lot of times so it didn’t seem like it was too rare an occurrence, just rare enough that it was a nice surprise each time it happened.

There is also the Assembly feature which lets you “craft” cards, assembling them or salvaging them for their resources. This makes it much easier to get cards you’re missing, but also get rid of cards that you don’t need. I liked the extra effect from upgrading the cards too, which adds a cosmetic look to them.


Assembling and upgrading ships is a nice touch that helps you flesh out those empty spots in your collection. Upgrading ships brings a nice cosmetic touch to their 3D models, as well.

Deckbuilding and Strategy

Deckbuilding is relatively straight forward in the game. You can have a maximum of 3 copies of each card and once you have chosen the faction of the deck, you can only use neutral cards and cards exclusive to that faction. The three factions are Moxxu, an alien race, the Empire, which is the main human faction, and the Shadow Network which are a breakaway human faction.

While each faction has slightly different cards available to them, there are the main TCG deck archetypes which can mostly be built using all of the factions: aggro, control, mid-range tempo, and so on. Some of the factions are better at these than the others. For example, the Shadow Network has better access to Traps and sneaky Strikes which make it a bit more control-orientated but you can also build a fast swarm deck with them too.

Strategically, controlling the board state is very important in this game. Maintaining control of the board, or swarming it so quickly that your opponent can’t keep up is one of the best ways to ensure you get the upper hand over the opponent. Since you can attack right over enemy Crafts to hit the character directly, you’re not always going to want to attack their ships because sometimes it’s better to force them to attack yours instead while you slowly drain their character of life points.

Also, when building a deck, make sure to be careful with using too many higher costing cards as this can cost you the early-game. Equally, Tier 2 cards are more difficult to play because of the added requirement to upgrade during a match, and this can cost you crucial amounts of time and energy in the early-game. I’m not entirely sure they’re worth the added cost, but if you want to play with them, keep that in mind.


Deck editing is quick and simple. I wish there was a filter to sort through card types, but this is a small gripe.

Final Thoughts

Star Admiral is a brilliant little game, polished to the max and packing a whole lot of fun into a rather small gaming space. The focus here is definitely on quality, not quantity when it comes to game modes and features, but I think that stands in its favor rather than detracting from it.

I love the attention to detail on the 3D models, sounds and animations for all the ships and traps as well as the moving, talking (or should that be death-screaming?) player avatars. Watching two ships shoot at each other and simultaneously blow up just never gets old.

It is unfortunate that the game is so overshadowed by Hearthstone, because the comparisons are inevitable even if this game did come first. What Star Admiral gets right, though, is that it offers a straight-forward, free-to-play model that is legitimately free-to-play (as it won’t take you forever to actually get good cards), whereas Hearthstone is arguably becoming less free-to-play the longer it lives.

Star Admiral is infinitely more portable, as well – it was clearly designed to work well on smaller screens and takes much less time to play a match than other comparable games. With recent updates and the new Tournaments mode, it shows that the developers are still serious about keeping the game alive so I think it’s a good time to jump in and start playing.

This isn’t going to be your new TCG/CCG obsession that will take over your whole waking life, but for those who want something that straddles the line between casual and heavy gameplay to dip in and out of on their tablets and phones, Star Admiral is one of the best there is.

For more screenshots, click here.

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Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by
Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.

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