A few years ago, I was searching the internet for places to play board games online. This was before I got into the hobby, so I’m ashamed to admit that I was looking for a place to play something like Monopoly. While searching, I found something called Cosmic Encounter Online, created an account, and learned how to play. I absolutely loved it. It was unlike anything I had ever played before. I looked around to see if there was any way I could get my own copy, but alas, it was out of print. So CE barely missed being my gateway game, losing out to Settlers of Catan about three years later. But what might have been…
A couple of years ago now, Fantasy Flight published the newest edition of Cosmic Encounter. The original, which came out in 1977, was designed by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Bill Norton, and Peter Olotka. Over the years, a number of editions have been produced – the original Eon edition, the 1986 West End edition, the 1991 Mayfair edition, and the 2000 Avalon Hill edition. Each edition has added its own spins to the original design, and Fantasy Flight sought to fuse a number of the best elements together in their 2008 edition. Kevin Wilson was the lead designer for the FF project, along with a number of artists. The base set is playable by 3-5 players, takes about 60 minutes, and is for ages 12 and up.
The main concept of the game is that you are trying to settle five colonies on foreign planets. You’ll do this by choosing a planet and attacking. If you win, you get to place a colony. If you lose, you lose your ships. This in itself is not terribly interesting. What makes this game into such a classic is in a couple of novel mechanics – variable player powers and diplomacy.
At the start of the game, each player gets a different alien race. Each race has its own power, a way to bend the rules. Trader, for example, can trade hands with an opponent; Zombie never loses ships when defeated in battle; Fido retrieves discarded cards; Virus multiplies your strength in an attack. You’ll need to keep all of these in mind as you play.
The other cool thing about the game is the diplomacy that goes on. If you’re on the attack or defending, you can ask for allies. People can accept or refuse and donate ships to your cause. When attacking, you add that number of ships to an attack card that you play. Players can add reinforcements if they wish (or if they can) to try to run up their score and defeat the other players. If you are on the losing side, you lose your ships. All winners on the attacking side get to place a colony on the indicated planet. All allies who successfully aided in defending a planet get to take a reward equal to the number of ships they donated to the cause, either by reclaiming lost ships or by drawing new cards (or a combination of the two).
Along with the attack and reinforcement cards, there are a number of other special cards in the deck. The Morph card turns into whatever your opponent played, making it a battle of ships. Negotiate cards mean you’re throwing up a white flag and admitting that you cannot win a battle. You automatically lose, but you may take compensation from your opponent by stealing cards from them. If both players play negotiate, they have one minute to make a mutually beneficial deal or lose three ships each. Artifacts are one-time use cards that allow you a small (sometimes quite significant) bonus.
Also included are flares and technology cards. Flares are special powers specific to the races in the game (as well as a few that didn’t get taken). If you play a flare, you’ll get a special power. If you are the indicated alien, you get an even more powerful power. Technology offers further ways to break the rules, but take time and ships to build. Neither of these are strictly necessary to play with, but add interesting dynamics.
The game goes until someone has five players. At that point, the game is over and that player wins. Due to the negotiation factor, it is possible and in fact likely that you will have multiple winners.
The FF edition came with 50 aliens, divided into three classes – beginner, intermediate, and expert. But of course, that wasn’t enough. This IS Fantasy Flight, after all. In 2010, Cosmic Incursion dropped, adding 20 new aliens to the fray. In addition, new bits were added for a sixth player to join the game, and a 32-card reward deck came into the system. These rewards that the form of special powers, additional artifacts, crooked deals, negative attacks, new reinforcements, and a new Morph card.
Enough? No way! If there’s one thing Fantasy Flight knows how to do, it’s how to do expansions. Next year, in 2011, we’ll see the Cosmic Conflict expansion. FF has not released a ton of information as of yet, but we know is this – there will be pieces for a seventh player, 20 new alien races, something called Cosmic Quakes that will shake up player hands, and a deck of hazard cards that add dangerous events into the game.
Though I have played the face-to-face version several times, I do not own my own copy of Cosmic Encounter. However, it’s at number one on my wishlist at the moment, so I’d be surprised if I make it out of the holiday season without acquiring my own copy. The expansions may come in down the line, but every time a new one comes out, I’m going to feel like I’m further and further behind in my Cosmicness. I truly love this game, and have for a long time. I’m not sure how much play it will get, knowing my gaming habits lately. However, it’s a fairly simple and fun game that I highly recommend to a lot of people. I love the variability – even having 50 races gives the game an incredible amount of combinations. The really great thing about the negotiation aspect is that you always have something to do in the game. You will almost always be asked to ally with someone, either on defense or on offense. Whether or not you do is up to you, but you’re always engaged. Looking at the potential of having seven players with CC is a bit daunting, but though you may have to wait longer to be the main player, you still have a lot to do. It may get a bit long, but hey – at least you’re always playing.
I’m very interested to take a look at all the new races for Cosmic Conflict whenever they are announced. Hopefully, I’ll be able to try it out in the near future. Thanks for reading, and insert clever tagline here.