Cosmic Encounter Review

Cosmic Encounter -- the box claims that it is the game of "infinite possibilities for 3-5 players." And as cryptic as that sounds, it is probably the best way to describe it.

Man, oh man, oh man is this game cool. How do I begin to write a review about what is probably my favorite game without gushing like a kid on Christmas? It's hard, but I am going to try and shake a stick at it.

Originally published in the 1970s, this review is of the latest edition of Cosmic Encoutner -- Fantasy Flight's excellent version released in 2008. There are two different box covers for this version, so don't be surprised if you see a different one.

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A Brief Overview of what Gameplay in Cosmic Encounter is Like

Cosmic Encounter is the type of game that almost resists explanation. Not because it is complicated; on the contrary, the base mechanics are actually quite simple. The reason this game is not easy to explain is because not only does every game play out differently, but its the players you play with who will make the game what it is.

I've played it dozens of times so far (and I hope for many more plays) and each and every game has been a different experience. Some games have been quick, fast, and furious, while other games have been long and epic. Sometimes the game is a trivial affair, and other times it can feel like an intense mental mind games match.

I do want to explain how the actual gameplay goes -- I just wanted to be sure to paint a picture of how vastly different each game of Cosmic Encounter is because my paragraphs below will not do it justice.

How the Gameplay Mechanics in Cosmic Encounter Work

In Cosmic Encounter, each player plays a unique alien race (this is what makes the game, and I'll come back it later...). The goal of the game is to establish five foreign colonies on other players planets.

Each player gets five modular planets at the start of the game, and four colorful, stackable flying saucers to represent thier alien race's "ships." These ships are attractive and for some reason it's very satisfying to move them around... and it feels even better to take your opponents ships and send them to "The Warp."

What is The Warp? Well, it is basically UFO graveyard, where destroyed alien ships go in Cosmic Encounter.

On a player's turn, they draw a card from the "destiny deck." The destiny deck well tell you which other player you have to attack. Once you know who you will be fighitng with, you choose anywhere from one to four of your ships, and send them to attack one of the opponent's planets.

After you have commited a number of ships to the battle, both players get to choose whether or not they want to invite allies to help them in the encounter. Yes, you are allowed to invite the other uninvolved participants to join in the battle with you! It's through this manner that Cosmic Encounter rarely feels boring -- you're involved in the politics and the action even when its not your turn.

Let me take a second to really hammer that point home with an example -- I've seen multiple games end where a player won this game without ever taking a turn of his own. Only in Cosmic Encounter is such a "crazy" thing possible...

After allies are invited, the offense and the defense each play an "Encounter card" face down. An encounter card can either be an attack, or an attempt to negotiate with the other player. Cards are simultaneously revealed, and the higher attack total (value of attack card + number of ships) wins.

If one player played a negotiate while the other player played an attack, the negotiating player loses but usually gets to collect "compensation" in the form of cards from the ruthless attacking player's hand. That'll show him!

On the other hand, if both players play negotiate cards, then the players have one minute to make a "deal" which involves trading of cards or colonies. If the two players cannot agree to a deal within one minute, then both players will lose three of their ships to the warp as punishment for wasting everyone's time!

If the offensive side wins, the main player and all allied aliens get to colonize the planet which they were attacking. If the defensive side wins, then any aliens who helped the defense win get to collect "defenders rewards."

Now, already you may see the potential for hilarious political battles and upsets in this game, but I've only scratched the surface. The game I've described so far might be sort of interesting, but it is also simple and trivial and not one that would hold my attention for very long.

But that's only because I haven't even gotten into talking about the alien races.

The Vast Number of Different Playable Aliens is the Heart and Soul of Cosmic Encounter

People who are into this game ADORE this game. For some people, it is the only board game they really play. And the reason for that is simple -- Cosmic Encounter offers almost unparalleled variety.

The base game comes with 50(!) different alien races (essentially characters) to play, and every single one is completely and utterly amazing. If you pick up both expansion packs released so far, then that number of aliens increases to 90.

Every power is so ridiculous and over the top. Every alien's special power allows you to COMPLETELY and UTTERLY break at LEAST one major rule of the game in such a way that when you see which alien you get (aliens are chosen randomly at the start of the game), you probably won't even believe that it's real. It will just seem completely unfair.

Until you see that your opponents aliens are equally "unfair"...

In its own sick and twisted kind of way, Cosmic Encounter finds balance in its imbalance. Every alien power is so broken, that none of them truly are. And this gutsy design decision is what gives Cosmic Encounter its legs.

Want some examples? How about the "Zombie", an alien that has the power of immortality? If you are the Zombie alien, your ships can never be sent to the warp.

Sound unfair? Well what about the Oracle, who can "read the opponents mind" by forcing them to play his attack card first, only needing to react afterwards?

Or the Machine, who can keep taking as many turns as he likes until he's completely out of Encounter cards?

Then there's the Warrior, who grows dramatically stronger with every single battle. If he wins, he gains strength. If he loses... he gains even more strength.

And then there's this little guy... sure, he looks cute, but he's actually a killer. He's the "Loser", and he doesn't care if the Warrior gets stronger because he actually WANTS to lose! He has the power to lose when he wins and win when he loses:

There's an alien that can use its planets to help it attack. There's an alien who can ask its opponent a yes or no question that they must answer truthfully. In one of the two released expansions (so far) there's even an alien that's allowed to whine to get its way... and the other players must appease it.

My first win ever was with an alien called the Clone. Typically when a player plays an attack or negotiate card, they have to discard it. The Clone doesn't have to -- it gets to hold on to its prized cards forever!

When it comes to the aliens, it just goes on and on and on. And because each one changes the game in such a dramatic way, every game is different.

Playing Time, Demographics, Etc.

Cosmic Encounter, once again, is a game which refuses to be defined. The manufacturer claims that the game is playable in 60 minutes. And let me tell you -- that is a useless figure because the playstyle of the players and the aliens involved will make the game end more quickly or take longer.

I've found that most 5+ player games of Cosmic Encounter with players who already know how to play are over an hour but under 90 minutes. Some games end in 30 minutes. Potentially even quicker. And then there are the long epic games I've had too.

But the thing is, the game rarely feels long, if you're playing with the right people -- there will be so much laughing, bluffing, backstabbing, deceit, laughter (I know I already said that -- its intentional)! and maybe even tears that you will forget how much time is slipping away.

Anyone who can appreciate the political nature of the game can appreciate it, regardless of their demographic. The game plays best with 4 or more players, as the interactions between the aliens and the alliance drama is much less interesting when there are less than 4 players at the table. If you think you will have trouble finding 4+ people to play this game with, you should either look into finding people to play board games with or just passing on this game in favor of a good 2-3 player game.

Recap Time: Positives and Negatives about The Cosmic Encounter board game:

Endless variety -- if you like this game, it will never get old

Extremely interactive game -- no one will feel left out unless they want to be

The game is deep, yet intuitive, so new players will have a real chance to win

Beautiful components and artwork (on the alien sheets)

Easily expandable if you want more -- the expansions are inexpensive and add new aliens to the game

Not as fun when playing with a group of players who does not like social interaction. To appreciate this game, you need a high tolerance for extreme situations. Every event in this game is highly exaggerated and over the top!

This is usually where I list drawbacks, but I truly have no negative words to say about this game. It is my favorite for a reason... if you want to hear complaints, ask somebody else.

Check below for my final verdict on Cosmic Encounter!

The Verdict on Cosmic Encounter- Is it Fun?

Cosmic Encounter is an older game that has been brilliantly updated by Fantasy Flight Games. This is the best edition yet, so there has never been a better time to pick this one up.

It is my favorite game. It is my girlfriends favorite game. And it's a hit with most fun-loving people I introduce it to.

There are some who can't stomach the chaos involved in Cosmic Encounter. They'd rather play a more structured, elegant game. And that's fine, because for every person who is turned off by the game I can find two more who will laugh their way through it and want to play again soon.

I love board games, and games in general. I didn't discover Cosmic Encounter until 2011. But it's the sort of game I was always secretly wanting without even knowing it.

I'm not even going to bother giving this game any sort of abritrary "rating" at the end of this review.

Cosmic Encounter defies a simple "rating system.". It is truly the game of infinite possibilities, and there is simply no other game like it on the market.

-Roger Wilco

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