Cosmic Encounter

Posted in Action / Culture / Board Games / Reviews on Saturday, June 4, 2016 by Joel Höglund

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Cosmic Encounter was first released in 1977 and according to the creators they drew inspiration from Diplomacy, but hoped to create a simpler and more fast-played game. Diplomacy is still a fantastic game of strategy and negotiation, but as it is best played with seven people, who in our sessions should anticipate a playtime of at least five or six hours. Thus it is not surprising that it is Cosmic Encounter is brought out somewhat more.

If you're new to board games that are not monopoly, I'm not sure if this is the first one to get. There are many simpler and more accessible games that are just as much fun. On the other hand if you're only planning on getting one game to last you the rest of your life, I could not recommend anything better than this. This is the game that we play almost every game night, and by now it has lasted us many years!

The rules might seem a bit complicated at first, but are actually quite straightforward once you understand them. Although Fantasy Flight Games seem to have made a strong effort in clarifying and streamlining the flow of the game - in fact every card is even marked in which phase it can be played - the manual leaves a lot to wish for. Although the rules of the base game are quite well described, the finer details can feel somewhat overlooked. Some minor rules even seem to only be hinted at in examples.

When I first got the game I think we played it incorrectly for the first year or so. Still fun though, but the correct rules are definitely there for a reason. I'll give a brief description in the paragraph below, but if you'd rather read my thoughts on it you can skip to the next section.

Rules

Every player begins in a solar system of his own color, containing five planets carrying four ships each. These ships also constitutes his five colonies, as do every single or stack of ships situated on a planet. Taking turns every player has an encounter with a randomly chosen enemy. He may send up to four ships to attack a colony. Both the attacking player (the offense) and the defense has the option to invite any of the other players to send up to four of their own ships for assistance. Each ship counts as an attack point, giving some obvious clue to the strength of each side. Both main players also secretly play down a card, either an attack card with a numeric value or a negotiate card. There are three possible outcomes:

  1. If both sides play a negotiate card, the ships return and the main players have one minute to agree on a deal, constituting of trading cards, colonies or anything else they might come up with. This counts as a win for the offensive player.
  2. If both sides play an attack card, they add the number on their card together with the ships on their own side. The higher total wins and if there is a tie, the defender wins.
  3. If one side plays an attack card against a negotiate card, the former automatically wins, but the loser gets compensation by randomly drawing a number of cards equal to the number of ships he committed to the battle.

Either way, the losing side loses all their ships, including the allies. If the attacker wins, he gets to establish a colony on the planet, along with his allies. If the defender wins, all his allies gets to draw cards equal to the number of ships they committed to the battle.

 Cosmic Encounter - game in progress

If the offense won, he may choose to play a second encounter against another randomly drawn enemy, but none more than that. Then the turn passes to the left. The game continues until one or more players has gained five colonies outside of their own solar system.

The twist

By itself the above rules would perhaps make for an okay, mildly amusing game. There is room for backstabbing, bluffing, predicting your opponent's move, convincing the other players that it is in their best interest to see you win just this one encounter. What makes the game really shine however is that each player also starts the game with one alien race, giving them a unique special power, essentially breaking the rules of the game in some way.

For example, there is one alien, Zombie, that cannot lose ships, but instead they are returned to his colonies to be placed as he wishes. Another alien, Pacifist, wins an encounter if he plays a negotiate card against an attack card, but he can still win it the usual way, including playing an attack card against an opponent's negotiate card.

A third, Virus, doesn't total his attack number in the usual way by adding the ships to the card value, but instead by multiplying them. A 16 attack card with four ships is thus not a measly 20, but instead an incredible 64, higher than any attack card in the game!

And that is only three of the total 50 alien powers in the base game. Counting all the expansions there are a whooping 165 alien powers in total! Infinite possibilities indeed!

Further, there are more types of cards that are optional to play with:

  • Technology cards which must be researched before activated, providing new interesting abilities (for example access to a second alien power!)
  • Flare cards, of which there are one unique card for every alien, each providing a taste of the alien's original power.  Of these, ten are mixed into the main deck and every player who draws one to his hand may play it for his power regardless of which alien he controls. Play your own flare card though and you activate it's Super ability.

The sum of all these makes for one chaotic game that never fails to surprise! How many times have we not been sitting with four foreign colonies each, everyone convinced to win in the next round just to be swiftly beaten by least threatening player? Or confidently played the highest attack card of 40 just to have the victory snagged by some unlikely combination of cards and alien powers. To new players it may sound a bit too chaotic, but you will soon learn to control the risks in your favor.

Expansions

These are the five expansions that have been released so far, in chronological order.

Cosmic Incursion: Adds 20 aliens, orange playing pieces (ships and planets for a sixth player) and the appreciated rewards deck. Personally I think the aliens are quite good, but by themselves don't really add that much to the game. The rewards deck is for defending allies, who if their side win, may choose to draw their cards from it instead, containing some new and often, but not always, better cards.

Cosmic Conflict: Adds another 20 aliens, black playing pieces and the hazard deck. This is a kind of random event deck, which is drawn in what I'd estimate is about every fourth encounter, implementing new temporary or permanent rules to the game. It can be quite fun, but we seldom play with it anymore.

Cosmic Alliance: Adds 20 aliens, white player color, making a total of 8 possible players, extra cards for "Large games" and as the name reveals, rules for playing in teams. Come to think of it, I have yet to try that out actually.

Cosmic Storm: Most agree that of the five expansions, this one is the least worthwhile. It adds 25 aliens and an extra mini-"power" through space stations. No more player colors from now on though! The aliens are a varied bunch. Some are really good, but most are actually not. The space stations seemed interesting at first, but in our games they were often forgotten. Additionally, there are only 10 space stations, which essentially means that you could easily have seen them all in only two single games. I'd say you probably don't need this expansion. At least make it the last one you buy of these five is my advice.

Cosmic Dominion: Now this one, I have to say it's fantastic. It adds 30 new aliens and some new cards to the reward deck, some which can really change the game actually. But the aliens, oh man, the aliens! Every single one is just a delight to play. There is not one that seems weak or boring or just a rehash of another power, but all are new and interesting! Just look at the bride, who may marry herself to one other player, enabling them to share cards and allying in encounters without being invited. At least until she divorces him, taking half of his cards as alimony! Or Greenhorn who must begin every encounter by asking a question, and may make "convenient" mistakes.

My verdict on the expansions: get as many of the three first expansions you think you need, for the extra player colors, and get Cosmic Dominion. Skip Cosmic Storm.

Conclusion

Although board games might not be the highest priority of our readers in these times, we must also remember to live and enjoy life. As a substitute to especially video games, television and lackluster web browsing, I'd argue that board games are an excellent form of entertainment. Not only is it a very social activity, available even to the shyest of people since it is usually very rule-bound and often turn-based, they can also help us develop skills that we as a race usually have little talent for. In contrast to most other races, the average white usually has little experience of outright lying. It is simply not in our blood, which of course really is a good thing! That does not mean that you won't come into contact with other less scrupulous persons, especially in this multicultural cesspool that seem to swamp our cities. To them our honesty is easily mistaken as naivety, and most often they are really correct. Games like these can instead help us to get acquainted with bluffing in a harmless, playful way. I'm not saying we should start lying, but we can at least learn to recognize when we're being lied to, deals that are too good to be true or when we're simply being used.

This game especially is not unlike poker, in that a weak hand of cards can often be remedied by bluffing. A very good hand may accordingly need to be concealed so as not to be stolen as compensation. But most of all it really is a great game, that could last you a lifetime.

Last updated on Thursday, June 9, 2016

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