For all it has going against it, Star Trek Rivals should not be a good game. It has no single-player mode; its card packs are overpriced; it can be glitchy; its Star Trek branding is inconsequential. And yet it still manages to be a fun, engaging game. Like the space-faring heroes of the franchise it’s based on, Star Trek Rivals defies the odds and kind of succeeds.
This is an easy strategy game to wrap your head around, particularly if you’ve played the card game in Final Fantasy VIII. Each game is an online one-on-one affair against friends or strangers. When you start a match, five random cards are drawn from your deck. You and your opponent take turns laying down cards on a three-by-three grid. Your cards are blue; your opponents’ are red. You can capture each other’s cards as you play, and whoever has the most cards on the board when all the spaces are taken wins.
Every card has a number on each side of it, so when you lay a card next to an opponent’s card, two numbers touch. If the number on your card is higher than the number on your opponent’s card, you gain control of their card, turning it blue. This can also cause chain reactions, which can lead to clever strategies and multiple turnovers in a match.
The game has 172 cards that you can collect by purchasing packs that cost in-game currency. Like booster packs for real-life collectable card games, the card packs are randomized, so if you want to collect them all you’ll waste a lot of currency on duplicates. Worse, the packs that are more likely to contain rare cards are ridiculously expensive. To buy enough currency to purchase the best possible pack will set you back $9.99. Playing enough games to earn that currency without opening your wallet would take an unreasonable amount of time. These packs are absurdly overpriced.
And the Star Trek integration is shallow. The cards represent people, places, and things from the world of Star Trek Into Darkness, but that’s as far as it goes. There’s no storyline or voice work or even clips from the movie. It’s a standard strategy game with a Star Trek skin.
So why is Star Trek Rivals worth playing? Because it’s a fun game, with just enough strategy to keep you coming back. With the cost of good card packs so ridiculously high, you probably won’t be filling out your card collection any time soon, but that didn’t stop me from having fun. Keep your expectations in check, download the game for free, and see if you don’t have a good time.