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Subject: Grading the Aliens - FFG Base Set - Citadel through Fido rss

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Rob Burns
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I'm continuing my project of grading the aliens in FFG's base set. Part 1, where I describe the criteria I'm using, is here. Although I initially thought to make one big thread; I've now decided to split the 50 aliens up into threads of 5 aliens each. Therefore, we'll be covering Citadel, Clone, Cudgel, Dictator, and Fido in this thread.

On to Citadel...

[EDIT 1/7/16 - Added "visceral reaction" poll, on page 2]
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Rob Burns
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_CITADEL_
Builds Citadels On Planets

Power Description, with History and Flare (from “The Warp”): You have the power of Fortification. During each player’s turn, after destiny is drawn, you may play an attack card from your hand faceup next to any planet in any system as a citadel. If a planet with one or more citadels is attacked, after encounter cards are selected, but before they are revealed, you may use this power to activate all citadels on the planet. If so, add their combined value to the defense’s total for the encounter. If you activate your citadels on a planet and the defense loses the encounter, discard the citadels. If the defense wins or you do not activate the citadels, they stay in place.

History: Brilliant architects who obsessively build vast fortresses as they travel throughout the Cosmos, the Citadels are often welcomed with open arms by the other races, who are delighted to benefit from the Universe’s best defenses. Of course, what the Citadels don’t tell them is that these fortifications only work when the Citadels want them to do so.

Wild: As a main player or ally, after encounter cards are revealed, you may add 5 to the defense's total.

Super: Your citadels may either add to or subtract from the defense's total when you activate them. Citadels are still discarded if the defense loses, even when they are used to subtract.

EVALUATION AND GRADING

1. Is it a power? Yes, most definitely. Citadel gets to use his power, during every Encounter, should he wish, to give himself several neat benefits. I will try to list them:

1. He can quickly cycle low Attack cards out of his hand, saving valuable space in his hand for all the other decent cards. New hands can more quickly for Citadel.

2. Citadel is wise to build citadels near his own planets, where he can activate them if he needs to for a defensive boost. Theoretically at least, it is harder to make him lose his power.

3. Citadel is also wise to build citadels near planets of aliens that tend to be weaker in combat. This slows down other powers hoping to roll over those aliens towards their fifth foreign colonies and the win.

4. This last one also benefits Citadel, as he leverages those placed Citadels with the defending alien in order to secure defensive alliances (“invite me or the citadel stays off”), and the cards and ships that come with a defensive win.

5. Alternately, Citadel can leverage those citadels if he wants to be offensive ally (“invite me and the citadel stays deactivated”).

This is a really clever power.

Bill Martinson noticed a “leak” with this alien; namely, that the alien’s power description leaves unspecified what happens to activated citadels in the case of a deal. In his Cosmodex, he suggests replacing the longish “If the defense wins or you do not activate the citadels” clause with “otherwise”, thereby covering other cases. This is an ideal fix; unfortunately, it should have been done during development.

2. Does it obsolete a previously-published alien power? No (as we are evaluating the FFG base set aliens in this series, this question will only be relevant for the expansions).

3. Is the alien over-powered? No. Citadel’s power doesn’t help him when he’s offensive main player, which is one of the touchstones of Cosmic Encounter. If it did, we’d probably be having a different discussion.

4. Does the alien power strip a player of control in one of the most basic aspects of the game? No.

5. Is the alien accessible? In other words, if I’m a first time player of Citadel, can I read the alien’s power and get a good grip on how the alien works? Will the other players “get it” fairly quickly?

I would say that Citadel is fairly accessible. In my first ever game of Fantasy Flight Cosmic Encounter, I was Citadel. It took me a little bit of time to get used to the power, and it took everyone else a little bit more time getting used to it as well. Citadel has a pronounced effect on the whole game, so I agree with the “red alert” status of the alien, and would say that it’s accessible enough with that helpful warning.

6. Is the alien innovative? In other words, does it bring something unique to Cosmic Encounter?

It most definitely does. Citadel is unlike any other alien power I can think of, and that’s a great thing.

7. Is the alien elegant in its simplicity?

Citadel might appear to be complex, especially with a not-small amount of text in the power description and the “red alert” light. However, it only has two “moving parts”. The first is when Citadel places a citadel, and the second is when he activates them, after cards are selected but before they are revealed. This second function is the “use” of the power, meaning that Citadel can be Zapped at that time. If we patch the “leak” with one word (“otherwise”), then it becomes clear, and rather intuitive, as to when they are discarded, i.e. when they are activated but still “fail” (defense loses the Encounter).

All of this is to say that Citadel is not super-simple but it is still fairly straightforward.

Classification: Chosen is either a Class A (helps you in the Encounter) or Class B (helps you manage the future) alien power, depending on where the citadels are, i.e. what benefit Citadel is receiving from their activation.

Extra Credit: Is the gameplay of this alien evocative of its theme? Yes, although like Bill Martinson, I’d prefer if the alien were not named after a structure. A “citadel” is what the alien produces, not what he is. Why not “Beaver” or something that evokes an obsessive builder?

Extra Credit: Does the art of this alien match its description or history? The tools and tool belt, definitely. Otherwise, it’s a Talz (see:http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Talz) from the “Star Wars” universe (not that that’s a bad thing).

And now for the whimsical…

Good, Bad, or Ugly? This is one of the few aliens I can’t quickly associate with any one character from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” There are a number of self-serving characters in those movies; maybe you can think of one that resembles Citadel.

Grade of FFG alien: A- (the “minus” is for the leak)

Personal “iTunes” rating, out of 5: 4(“love it”)

Personal commentary: Like Barbarian, Citadel is brand new to “official” Cosmic Encounter, thanks to the work of Fantasy Flight Games. Like Barbarian, Citadel is a most excellent addition. It’s an innovative concept, it’s not too hard to understand, and it’s got several subtle facets to its game. Jack Reda, in his early review of the aliens in the base set, wrote that “This is an alien that you start to discover its value the more you play with it,” and “it's like a Philanthropist for yourself.” These are very accurate assessments of Citadel, yet I’m quick to add that the power is only remotely anything like Philanthropist. At first, I was resistant to the notion of entirely new aliens, aliens that hadn’t even ever appeared on homebrew lists at the Warp and elsewhere appearing in FFG’s base set, but Citadel is a breath of fresh air that made waiting for classics like Filth or Skeptic worth it.

The Wild Flare is pretty darn basic. It’s like a Reinforcement for defense that sticks around in your hand. Of course, +5 isn’t anything to sneeze at.

The Super has all kinds of potential for nastiness. Imagine if you’re some defender with an Attack 06 citadel by your planet, and some other mean player comes to attack it. Citadel joins up with the offense, so you know that he won’t activate the citadel, but then reveals Super Citadel and puts you 6 points in the hole. Ouch! Of course, Super Citadel also is an effective counter to Anti-Matter, Loser, and the like.

[Edit: Put the History into italics, and eliminated a repeated phrase from a failed copy-and-paste operation.]
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Jon Gon
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rjburns3 wrote:

It most definitely does. Citadel is unlike any other alien power I can think of, and that’s a great thing.

It reminds me of Matt Stone's Cadaver. He has two powers on the base set, Mirror and Masochist. I don't know if Citadel was based on Cadaver or if it was developed independently.

I think that this is a very good alien; it may be somewhat similar to Philanthropist but it is different enough to deserve its own space. It also has the potential to create interesting scenarios, like creating citadels on Anti-Matter's or Loser's planets.
Citadel is one of those powers that makes me wish that the FFG's illustrations showed a portion of the aliens home worlds instead of that repetitive background.


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Jon Gon wrote:

I think that this is a very good alien; it may be somewhat similar to Philanthropist but it is different enough to deserve its own space.


Really? I find that to be an interesting comment. I suppose it removes cards from your hand, but in a very different way, and with very different results. The comparison would have never occurred to me!
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Holmes108 wrote:
Jon Gon wrote:

I think that this is a very good alien; it may be somewhat similar to Philanthropist but it is different enough to deserve its own space.

Really? I find that to be an interesting comment. I suppose it removes cards from your hand, but in a very different way, and with very different results. The comparison would have never occurred to me!

I am responding to this part of Rob's personal commentary:

rjburns3 wrote:
“This is an alien that you start to discover its value the more you play with it,” and “it's like a Philanthropist for yourself.” These are very accurate assessments of Citadel, yet I’m quick to add that the power is only remotely anything like Philanthropist.

I am stating that, to some extent, I see some similarities. Both aliens discard unwanted cards to their benefit and use them to cause hindrances to other player’s strategies. Nevertheless, I agree with Rob's assessment that, in practice, it is different enough. I'm not claiming that they occupy the same design space.


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Jon Gon wrote:

I am responding to this part of Rob's personal commentary:



Ah apologies. I missed him bring up the comparison first. It all makes more sense to me in context.
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rjburns3 wrote:
3. Citadel is also wise to build citadels near planets of aliens that tend to be weaker in combat. This slows down other powers hoping to roll over those aliens towards their fifth foreign colonies and the win.

4. This last one also benefits Citadel, as he leverages those placed Citadels with the defending alien in order to secure defensive alliances (“invite me or the citadel stays off”), and the cards and ships that come with a defensive win.

5. Alternately, Citadel can leverage those citadels if he wants to be offensive ally (“invite me and the citadel stays deactivated”).

It's hard for me to visualize Citadel benefitting from scenarios like these often enough for them to be a noteworthy focal point. Since the offense chooses which planet to encounter, he can easily just work around your citadel cards unless you can really lay down a carpet of them across multiple systems — but a game is rarely long enough for that.

The offense will typically have three to five venues in every system where he does not already have a colony. Since you can't really predict which planet he will go to or even what color he will draw for destiny, how are you going to cover enough planets to force your citadel cards into the action? (And it's a different mix of planets for every opponent.)

In a five-player game, you have four opponents. Statistically, that means any given foreign citadel is only 25% as likely to come into the action as one in your home system (and perhaps only 50% likely to be on the right side for you, making that 25% really just a 12.5%.

Put another way, if you drop five citadels at home (one per planet), it's guaranteed that at least one of them will have a chance to help you the next time you are the defense; and when those citadels come into scope, you will always be on the right side of the encounter for them to benefit you. But you could spend, say, the first 16 encounters of the game putting 4 citadels in every foreign system, and much of the time your opponents could still work around them. On average, that's over ten turns or two entire rounds of play, by which time the game is often already over. Even when these foreign citadels do come into scope, you might be on the wrong side of the encounter to use them, or not even involved. In fact, the time you would want them the most would be when you are the offense or an offensive ally, but this is when they work against you. It all feels like such a poor investment.

Around here, it seems like the few times Citadel placed cards in other systems, they just sat there for the rest of the game. Every card you invest in a foreign system to sit there and be ignored is a card that isn't in your home system actually working for you; sort of like tying up money in a 20-year CD with a very low interest rate, when you have access to a much higher-interest account that's more liquid.

Am I missing something?
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Rob Burns
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Bill Martinson wrote:
rjburns3 wrote:
3. Citadel is also wise to build citadels near planets of aliens that tend to be weaker in combat...


It's hard for me to visualize Citadel benefitting from scenarios like these often enough for them to be a noteworthy focal point. Since the offense chooses which planet to encounter, he can easily just work around your citadel cards unless you can really lay down a carpet of them across multiple systems — but a game is rarely long enough for that...


My idea is that a savvy Citadel builds citadels by the planets of an alien (maybe two) that tends to be weaker in combat - while avoiding building in other aliens' systems. Let's take for an example my first game of FFG Cosmic, when I was Citadel. It was a five-player game; the other powers in play were Cudgel, Sorcerer, Fido, and Reserve. I first put Citadels around my own planets (but I think only four of them as I lost an encounter as defense early). As I was still figuring out the power, I'm not sure what I did after that. But if I were doing it all over again, I'd build my next citadels by Fido's planets, for two reasons: (a) his is the only power that won't help him in combat (Cudgel's ability means that players will often attack him with fewer ships, which is a slight point advantage), and (b) he'll probably offer me some of the good things he fetches. Depending on how things go, I might double up citadels on my own planets, Fido's planets, or start building in Cudgel's system (if I have time).

You're right; you don't have time to build them everywhere. So you (as Citadel) have got to keep evaluating as the game plays and make a choice.
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rjburns3 wrote:
(Cudgel's ability means that players will often attack him with fewer ships, which is a slight point advantage)

You might want to read that power again.
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Oops, you are right! Well, I honestly hadn't seen him again since that game. His power really doesn't help him win the Encounter, either. So I might choose to help him, rather than Fido at first. (I can't believe that game was almost five years ago.)
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_CLONE_
Keeps Own Encounter Card

Power Description, with History and Flare (from “The Warp”): You have the power to Replicate. As a main player, after the encounter is resolved (and after any compensation is claimed), you may use this power to return your encounter card to your hand instead of discarding it.

History: A prolific species on a slowly cooling globe, the Clones traditionally selected the best of their race to represent them in territorial struggles. But as the gene pool thinned, one clan developed techniques to artificially duplicate their champion before battle. Thus, always rejuvenated, they came to dominate their world during the geologic crisis and emerged from it anxious to carry their new knowledge into a Cosmic competition.

Wild: You do not have to discard any artifact you play. Instead you may retain it and play it again during a later encounter.

Super: You may choose to receive up to double the normal amount of compensation, if your opponent has sufficient cards.

EVALUATION AND GRADING

1. Is it a power? Yes, most definitely. Most CE players have to carefully consider when to play their big Attack card, because they’re going to get one shot with it. Clone doesn’t worry about that. There are times when you play a Negotiate, and later, when you want one, you don’t have one. Clone can (and often does) keep at least one Negotiate card in his hand.

Clone is very powerful. The nature of his alien power is such that he is a magnet for the Cosmic Zap. Good Clone players know this, and plan accordingly.

Fantasy Flight Games, in their FAQ, specified that Clone’s card is not subject to aliens such as Fido and Filch. The idea is that Clone’s card never actually goes to the discard pile, Clone (as he chooses) retrieves it before it goes there, while Fido and Filch act when cards enter the discard pile. This is a reasonable way to handle this alien power; it’s consistent with its description.

2. Does it obsolete a previously-published alien power? No (as we are evaluating the FFG base set aliens in this series, this question will only be relevant for the expansions).

3. Is the alien over-powered? Clone is powerful, but he’s not over-powered. Sometimes Clone won’t have any big Attack cards. Sometimes he might have a garbage hand, and then he’ll need to tread carefully: if he continues to keep the Attack 08 he’s been playing, the other players are tipped off that he doesn’t have anything big. Clone with an Attack 40 is truly scary, but if his opponents work together, they can often find ways to secure the Zap and play it on him, or otherwise cut him down to size with things like the Plague.

4. Does the alien power strip a player of control in one of the most basic aspects of the game? No.

5. Is the alien accessible? In other words, if I’m a first time player of Clone, can I read the alien’s power and get a good grip on how the alien works? Will the other players “get it” fairly quickly?

Yes.

6. Is the alien innovative? In other words, does it bring something unique to Cosmic Encounter?

Yes.

7. Is the alien elegant in its simplicity?

Clone is one of the simplest aliens. The alien’s history text is longer than its power description! An additional sentence or clause is necessary to specify what happens in a Compensation situation, but Fantasy Flight Games includes that.

Classification: Clone, when he first utilizes his power, is a Class B power (helps you manage the future). From then on, it is both a Class A (helps you in the Encounter) and Class B alien power. I suppose another way to look at it (and perhaps this is the right way) is that Clone is only a Class B alien power as the power itself doesn’t do anything “extra” with either ,the card played, the ships involved, or the Encounter totals themselves.

Extra Credit: Is the gameplay of this alien evocative of its theme? Yes, I rather think so.

Extra Credit: Does the art of this alien match its description or history? Yes, definitely, if we understand the clones in the pods will grow to be warriors, eventually.

And now for the whimsical…

Good, Bad, or Ugly? Clone is “The Bad.” Like “Angel Eyes,” the Lee Van Cleef character, Clone keeps coming like an inexorable force. You know that in order to win, you’ve got to deal with him. When both Cosmic Zaps are in the discard pile, and Clone’s showing the 30, again and again, the merciless nature of the Clone power feels very akin to the merciless Angel Eyes. Or so I think.

Grade of FFG alien: A

Personal “iTunes” rating, out of 5: 3(“like it”)

Personal commentary: What can you say about Clone? One of the original aliens is still one of the best. I watched my son roll over all the opposition (including myself) with an Attack 40, when we couldn’t get a Cosmic Zap for love or money (as I recall, they were buried at the bottom of the deck and Clone had the 40 in his initial hand). None of us had the kind of powers that could prove a powerful counterweight, and with two newbies, the experience level was lacking in order to successfully round up a coalition that would know what to do.

Yet that game is a bit of an outlier. Sure it happens, and that’s Cosmic. Usually, however, Clone is anything but invincible. It’s a simple and strong alien. Clone often forces his opponents into situations where they’re making tough decisions, and that’s fun.

The Wild Flare is one of the best, and it’s a bit of an unstoppable force in its own right. If you’re an opponent of Wild Clone, you better do what you can to make sure it gets Card Zapped. Granted, Wild Clone needs to also have an Artifact, but there’s a fair amount of those in the deck. Yikes!

The Super is a really cool Super Flare. On the surface, it may not look much like what you might think a Super Clone looks like. However, double Compensation when Clone’s lost a lot of ships to the Warp on an early Negotiate can net him a lot of cards and maybe the big Attack card he needs to get on a roll. Beautiful!

[Edit: Put the History into italics.]
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_CUDGEL_
Opponent Loses More Ships

Power Description (with History and Flare from “The Warp”): You have the power to Smash. As a main player, when you win an encounter in which you revealed an attack card, use this power to force your opponent to lose extra ships of his or her choice equal to the number of ships you had in the encounter, in addition to any ships he or she would normally lose.

History: The customary greeting among Cudgels is a hearty handshake and a solid blow to the head. This long-standing tradition- often fatal- is frequently misunderstood by weaker races, much to the amusement of the Cudgels. Now, having flattened all of their closest friends, the gregarious Cudgels look skyward, leaving the debris of their broken planet behind. With fists raised in friendship, they seek out new beings to meet, greet, and smash, and will not stop until the Cosmos itself is shattered.

Wild: When you gain a colony as the offense, you may send all ships on that planet belonging to other players to the warp. Ships that were allied with you on this encounter are not affected.

Super: Whenever you use your power on a player, you may affect any of that player's allies also. Each player you smash loses the number of ships you had in the encounter.


EVALUATION AND GRADING

1. Is it a power? Yes. Cudgel, like other aliens that make others lose ships such as Shadow and Vacuum, deprives players of one of their most valuable and limited resources. As the game goes on, and ships pile up in the Warp, Cudgel’s power has a greater impact. With that in mind, Cudgel should consider delaying using his bigger Attack cards until the Warp starts to fill up with ships. As Alan Emrich notes in his strategy article on Cosmic Encounter, you kick a guy when he’s down, and this is especially true of Cosmic.

Bill Martinson, in his Cosmodex, provides a valuable tip for Cudgel players: “The normal ruse of placing only one ship into the hyperspace gate to make it look like you don't expect to win can be even more convincing for Cudgel, since you are also giving up the chance to smash additional ships. This can lead your opponent to conclude that you have a negotiate or a low attack, causing him to do the same.” This means your power is useful as a means of misdirection, not as means of crippling opponents, but it’s important to remember that an alien power is a resource, not an identity (again, I am indebted to Alan Emrich for this insight).

[Bill Martinson also notes in the Cosmodex that Ken Hubbard’s original Cudgel was intended to activate after a successful deal, and that Super Cudgel was slightly different. However, I’ve recently looked at the power again in its 2004 posting on rec.games.board.ce here: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/rec.games.board.c..., but I don’t see that on the thread. Am I missing something?]

2. Does it obsolete a previously-published alien power? No (as we are evaluating the FFG base set aliens in this series, this question will only be relevant for the expansions).

3. Is the alien over-powered? No. Cudgel must win as a main player in order to use his power. This often makes Cudgel’s main player opponent even more determined not to lose, sometimes making it harder for Cudgel to win.

4. Does the alien power strip a player of control in one of the most basic aspects of the game? No.

5. Is the alien accessible? In other words, if I’m a first time player of Cudgel, can I read the alien’s power and get a good grip on how the alien works? Will the other players “get it” fairly quickly?

Yes. In my first game of Fantasy Flight’s Cosmic, my brother-in-law, who’d only played one or two games several years prior, was assigned Cudgel. He took to it pretty quickly, realizing that “going big” would help him maximize his opponents’ losses. Cudgel is a “green light” alien that also has some depth to it.

6. Is the alien innovative? In other words, does it bring something unique to Cosmic Encounter?

Cudgel and Vacuum are very similar; it is probably best to say that together, they bring something unique to Cosmic Encounter. Both aliens cause their opponents to lose extra ships. The principal difference is that Cudgel needs to win, and Vacuum needs to lose ships (for any reason).

7. Is the alien elegant in its simplicity?

Yes. Cudgel may not be the easiest alien to play as it requires subtlety, but that’s quite apart from the question. The alien is straightforward; the strategies and tactics come later, with experience. That’s a good alien.

Classification: Cudgel is a Class B (helps you manage the future) alien power. Looks are deceiving; Cudgel (like Barbarian) has an intimidating image, and a tough-guy history text, but it’s actually a subtle power.

Extra Credit: Is the gameplay of this alien evocative of its theme? Yes, I rather think so.

Extra Credit: Does the art of this alien match its description or history? Yes. I like how the triceratops has a big fist; it especially matches the history of a happy-go-lucky alien.

And now for the whimsical…

Good, Bad, or Ugly? Cudgel, in terms of game play, seems to me much more of “The Bad” (Lee Van Cleef’s character) from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. “Angel Eyes” doesn’t just attack (and defeat) his obstacles, he also takes out those who aren’t even involved but belong to his opponent (I’m thinking of the family in his opening scene). While not physically imposing, he’s intimidating, and leaves a bunch of destruction in his wake.

Grade of FFG alien: A

Personal “iTunes” rating, out of 5: 3(“like it”)

Personal commentary: Cudgel is the third never-before-published alien we’ve examined to make its appearance in FFG’s edition of Cosmic Encounter. Like Barbarian and Citadel, it’s an excellent addition. So far, in the powers we’ve looked at, FFG is 3 for 3 in bringing good, solid aliens (this will change). Although I personally find playing such aliens as Cudgel nerve-wracking, it’s still a straightforward, streamlined alien.

Despite appearances, Cudgel requires its player to be clever. As noted above, players have stronger incentive to not lose to Cudgel. Cudgel, when offensive main player, must carefully consider when to place one ship on the Gate, and when to place four. Bill Martinson’s tip is one Cudgel players would do well to heed; what I enjoy about the alien is that this is “one of those things” that reveals itself over time to the player. Anything that keeps your opponents guessing is generally a good thing for you in Cosmic Encounter.

The Wild Flare is very good; it’s nice to be able to blast a number of players off of planet at once. Of course, this effect is similar to the primary effect of a couple of alien powers that had not been published in FFG’s base set (namely Filth and Mayfair’s Berserker), so Wild Cudgel may have produced anxiety amongst those of us who liked those old powers and were hoping to see them again. Thankfully, we do have Filth back again, but that’s another story. As produced, Wild Cudgel is fine in the base set.

The Super is pretty cool. Instead of the typical “you may use your power as an ally” (which is not so bad in and of itself, were it the Super) it’s a bit more intimidating and rough. It may be profitable, if you’re Cudgel, to advertise that you’ve got the Super prior to ally invitations and perhaps scare away players who’d ally with your opponent.
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_DICTATOR_
Controls Destiny Deck

Power Description (with History and Flare from “The Warp”): You have the power to Command. When you are not the offense, before destiny is chosen, use this power to take the destiny deck, look through it, and choose any card from it. That destiny card is played as though the offense had drawn it. On your turn, or any time you are zapped, the remaining destiny cards are shuffled, and one is dealt randomly.

History: Grotesque creatures rejected by an old and cultured world, the Dictators pushed and clawed their way to planetary dominion. Relentless in their demands, they turn friend against friend to do their bidding. Recently they have begun to tire of toying with the weak races at home and seek to control the entire Universe.

Wild: When you are not the offense, after destiny is chosen, you may force the offense to discard the destiny card he or she drew and draw again. Use this ability only once per encounter.

Super: You may use your power as the offense.

EVALUATION AND GRADING

1. Is it a power? Yes, most definitely. Dictator looks through Destiny and often sends his opponents to face-off against the alien they least wanted to face. This is an awesome power that provides its player not only with opportunities to make life difficult for others, but also with valuable knowledge of the all-important Destiny deck’s composition as his turn draws near. Does the alien power provide its player with an advantage? Of course it does.

Fantasy Flight Games’ version of Dictator is not the original Eon Games version; it is a variant proposed by Patrick Riley. I championed it in 2004 in my “Top 5 Revisions to Canon CE Powers” thread here on BoardGameGeek (and I suspect FFG perused that thread carefully as others of those revised aliens have also since been adopted by FFG). The reason I advocated strongly for Riley’s version is because it’s simply an outstanding revision of a power that most players liked but sometimes found abusive or strongly obnoxious. Not only did I find the revision aesthetically pleasing, I playtested it with my group and we all enjoyed it (Wild Sorcerer was in the game, so most of us even got the opportunity to play it through the course of the game). Jack Reda also became an advocate for it between Riley’s first posting of it on rec.games.board.ce in 1999, and my “Revisions” BGG thread in 2004.

Eon Games’ original alien power contained this power description: “You have the power to command. Whenever any other player picks up from the destiny pile, upon your order the color that comes up changes to any other one you wish, so long as that player can make a legitimate challenge there. He must then make a challenge in the system of that color.”

One feature of this original Dictator that was not universally well-liked was Dictator’s ability to send opponents to the same powerhouse again and again and again. While Peter Olotka (one of the original game designers) defends this feature as part and parcel of a nasty Dictator, many found it abusive. Patrick Riley’s version is ingenious because while it constrains Dictator’s ability to be abusive, it gives Dictator power that he never had by being able to look through the Destiny deck. Bill Martinson also points out in his Cosmodex: “Eon's Dictator could simply declare a color to override the destiny disc drawn; FFG's improved design maintains the natural distribution of how often players are attacked and also prepares Dictator to have more flexibility with possible future additions to the destiny deck.”

In between Eon Games’ publication of the original Dictator (late 1970s), and Patrick Riley’s revision (1999, which FFG adopted), Mayfair Games published their own revised version of the power. Unfortunately, their version is putrid: they changed the power to determining the system where the offensive player must attack; they added "Do Not Use With Siren" (what Bill Martinson terms the “tramp stamp”); they added an interpretation whereby Dictator determines Will's system but not planet if Will is in the game (effectively Zapping Will). Yuck!

2. Does it obsolete a previously-published alien power? No (as we are evaluating the FFG base set aliens in this series, this question will only be relevant for the expansions).

3. Is the alien over-powered? No. Even if Macron or some other alien that’s great on defense is in the game, Dictator is limited by the three Destiny cards of that color in the deck (although he can do the math with the special Destinies to maybe get one or two more). In practice, this is not too powerful.

4. Does the alien power strip a player of control in one of the most basic aspects of the game? No. While you may not like Dictator controlling your Destiny, the truth is that in Cosmic, nobody ever controls their own Destiny! Will is the one notable exception, and that’s his whole alien power, right there.

5. Is the alien accessible? In other words, if I’m a first time player of Dictator, can I read the alien’s power and get a good grip on how the alien works? Will the other players “get it” fairly quickly?

Yes. However the alien does alter the gameplay quite drastically, so the “red alert” light on the power is warranted. I would never introduce a newbie to a game with Dictator in it. But this is really something of a separate issue.

6. Is the alien innovative? In other words, does it bring something unique to Cosmic Encounter?

No other alien in the base set does what Dictator does. In fact, it would be hard to develop something similar and not have it be either a direct super-set or sub-set of Dictator. I offer as evidence Cosmic Storm’s Coordinator, which is essentially a mini-Dictator plus a mini-Will.

7. Is the alien elegant in its simplicity?

Yes. The concept is straightforward: when Dictator is offense, he draws from Destiny. When Dictator is not offense, Dictator selects a Destiny card of his choice for the offensive player. That’s all there is to it.

Classification: Dictator is the ultimate Class B (helps you manage the future) alien power.

Extra Credit: Is the gameplay of this alien evocative of its theme? Yes, although I will grant that the original Eon alien was even more apt to the name than FFG’s alien. Perhaps “Fate” or “Puppetmaster” or something similar would be better for FFG’s alien, but “Dictator” still does work. The history is particularly well-done.

Extra Credit: Does the art of this alien match its description or history? I had never really thought so before, but the alien on the sheet looks like it might be pulling strings. A lot of other aliens are more “grotesque” than this one, but this is just quibbling.

And now for the whimsical…

Good, Bad, or Ugly? Dictator strikes me as “The Bad” (Lee Van Cleef’s character), mostly in that when he can, he gets others to do his fighting for him. He’s a manipulator, someone who uses other people to further his own ends.

The most apt film characterization of Dictator is the "Star Wars" movies' Emperor Palpatine, who orchestrates the conflict all around him so that he can ascend to the limitless power at the moment that suits him best.

Grade of FFG alien: A
Grade of Eon’s original alien: B

Personal “iTunes” rating, out of 5: 4(“love it”)

Personal commentary: In my opinion, it doesn’t get much more Cosmic than Dictator. This alien breaks one of the rules that sets Cosmic Encounter apart from other games: your opponent is chosen at random. That this must be handled carefully is obvious. The original Dictator power was a very good power; Patrick Riley then made it great, and Fantasy Flight Games has recognized his achievement by incorporating it into the game, the highest tribute possible.

The Wild Flare is Eon Games’ old Wild Chronos flare, with the simple modification that it can’t be played as offensive main player (as Bill Martinson has noted in his Cosmodex). The Flare works just as well, if not better, as a Wild Dictator rather than a Wild Chronos. It’s a perfectly decent Flare; like the alien power, it can direct the aggressive attention of other players away from you.

The Super enables Dictator to be Dictator plus Will, minus the ability to attack a foreign colony of another player. That’s pretty decent, too.

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Rob Burns
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rjburns3 wrote:
Patrick Riley’s version is ingenious because while it constrains Dictator’s ability to be abusive, it gives Dictator power that he never had by being able to look through the Destiny deck.


It occurred to me that some CE players may not find this particular aspect valuable, as they track Destiny discards and therefore presumably know the contents of Destiny. In this case, Dictator gets frequent and regular reminders of its contents.

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Shane Brewer
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Really enjoying these. I love the historical development notes as someone fairly new to serious CE play.

While reading your Dictator review I chuckled to myself as you mentioned the Coordinator. I can't think of a less intimidating name for an alien. "Ewwww, I am the Coordinator and am going to destroy you through strategic planning and to-do list prioritization. Fear me."

Keep up the good work.
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Shane, thanks so much for the feedback. It is appreciated.

There may be better analysis that could be done, but until then, I offer mine, such as it is.
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rjburns3 wrote:
However the alien does alter the gameplay quite drastically, so the “red alert” light on the power is warranted. I would never introduce a newbie to a game with Dictator in it. But this is really something of a separate issue.

I actually think that the red alert is excessive for an alien like Dictator. For example, I find aliens like Cryo, Fungus and Sniveler to be significantly more complex and they are yellow alert.

rjburns3 wrote:
No other alien in the base set does what Dictator does. In fact, it would be hard to develop something similar and not have it be either a direct super-set or sub-set of Dictator. I offer as evidence Cosmic Storm’s Coordinator, which is essentially a mini-Dictator plus a mini-Will.

Agreed. It is very difficult to create powers that deal directly with the destiny deck without making them too similar or incompatible with Dictator. In this aspect, I think the new version is even more limiting.

rjburns3 wrote:
The original Dictator power was a very good power; Patrick Riley then made it great, and Fantasy Flight Games has recognized his achievement by incorporating it into the game, the highest tribute possible.

I agree that we should thank Patrick Riley (and FFG), because the new Dictator is a much more elegant and balanced alien power. I would also like to point out that the special destiny cards work very well with this version, giving him another resource to manage and use at the most appropriate time. Another interesting feature to point out, is the "extra" control that Dictator receives when interacting with certain powers. Dictator can, for example, decide the color of the ships that Shadow can execute, If Disease spreads or not, If Poison can send ships to the warp, etc.

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Awesome job so far. Might I suggest you transfer this into a geek list. Your evaluations are lost in the replies and once this thread catches fire it will be so confusing and jumbled.
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Dictator could probably have been yellow, but I think its red status is really about familiarity with the destiny distribution, and knowing all of the aliens in any given game well enough to understand fully what you are making players do by dictating who attacks whom. With so many different aliens, it helps to have that insight in any given game.
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Bhobs wrote:
Awesome job so far. Might I suggest you transfer this into a geek list. Your evaluations are lost in the replies and once this thread catches fire it will be so confusing and jumbled.


I also thought about it perhaps being a better Geeklist.
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Just a Bill
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Holmes108 wrote:
Bhobs wrote:
Awesome job so far. Might I suggest you transfer this into a geek list.
I also thought about it perhaps being a better Geeklist.

Really? I never like that format for stuff like this, since everything ends up being associated with some random board game that it has nothing to do with, and (at least in my experience) geeklists are generally for humorous/disposable topics. I don't generally pay them much attention, and I certainly would never look through them for serious content.

Rob's doing these in groups of five, so it's not like it's that hard to find them among the comments. His posts stand out pretty well because of their length and bolded headings.
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Marek Čtrnáct
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The Warp wrote:
Dictator could probably have been yellow, but I think its red status is really about familiarity with the destiny distribution, and knowing all of the aliens in any given game well enough to understand fully what you are making players do by dictating who attacks whom. With so many different aliens, it helps to have that insight in any given game.


I think that red aliens are not only those that are difficult to play, but also those that are difficult or annoying to play AGAINST
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_FIDO_
Retrieves Discarded Cards

Power Description (with History and Flare from “The Warp”): You have the power to Fetch. After encounter cards are discarded at the end of an encounter, you may use this power to retrieve one of the discarded cards and offer it to another player. If the card is refused, you may keep it. If the card is accepted, the other player keeps the card, then you may either retrieve one ship from the warp or draw one card from the deck.

History: Trained for generations by a strict, but unknown alien race, the Fidos were bred for retrieval. Slinking out on their own, they cannot help but fetch the debris of outer space for whomever happens by, knowing they will still be rewarded in some way.

Wild: As a main player, before cards are selected, you may force your opponent to take the top card of the discard pile and add it to his hand. You then draw a card from the deck.

Super: When several encounter cards are discarded at the end of an encounter, you may fetch any or all of them and offer them, one by one, to the other players in any order you choose.


EVALUATION AND GRADING

1. Is it a power? Yes, although there theoretically could be an argument that Fido assists other players more than he does himself. I think the essence of the argument would proceed like this: all things being equal, Fido needs to offer an Attack 08 or higher in order to get a taker and claim a card from the Cosmic deck as a “reward.” Because the vast bulk of the Attack cards in the Cosmic deck range between 04 and 10, but also because there are 15 Negotiates, an Attack 00, and an Attack 01, Fido is likely to draw an Encounter card that won’t help him win a future Encounter. While there are Artifacts, Reinforcements and Flares in the Cosmic deck, they’re not enough to counter-balance the lame Encounter cards you will often draw as your “reward” card; meanwhile an opponent of yours has just accepted another decent Attack card from your fetching. So the argument goes, all things being equal.

But this is Cosmic Encounter, and only very rarely are all things equal in Cosmic. There are a multitude of other factors at work in any given game Fido finds himself in, and an alert Fido will find a way to use at least some of them to his advantage. For example, Anti-Matter might be in the game, and Anti-Matter might very likely reject Fido’s offer of an Attack 12 or an Attack 15. Fido may notice that a player is close to a new hand; this player might also refuse an Attack 12 or an Attack 15, which Fido can then add to his hand. Empath will probably accept a proffered Negotiate (of course, Sorcerer or Pacifist would accept this as well but that’s giving those aliens too much power). Genius will probably accept any card offered to him; Vulch might as well, in order to protect his Artifact-rich hand from Compensation. Players with the Warhawk Flare will accept Negotiates as well. If Relic is in the game, players will accept Fido’s offered cards to keep Relic from getting too powerful. A number of aliens like the smaller Attack cards (Citadel, Reserve, Calculator, Mirror, etc.). Fido needs to be careful, but being able to draw from the deck often should balance out whatever duds he might draw.

A smart Fido may also try to cut a (non-binding) deal with another alien: Fido can act as a “supplier” of fairly decent Attack cards; in return, the other alien will refuse a few of them so that Fido can stock his own hand. Alternatively, Fido can be an equal-opportunity arms dealer, offering decent Attack cards to whomever he will, confident that he continue to access the deck. I saw my wife’s cousin employ that very strategy, parlaying it to a massive hand and an eventual victory.

All this to say: I’m not yet convinced Fido helps his opponents more than he helps himself. The alien power gives its player flexibility to be creative, and a smart Fido will play his opponents off against each other, find an ally whom he can supply, or perhaps something else, so that ultimately he can benefit.

Brandon Freels’ original Fido power was not restricted to fetching Encounter cards (there were other differences as well but this was perhaps the most significant). As such, in my gaming group, Fido (incorporated as a homebrew) would occasionally fetch Artifacts. Fantasy Flight Games’ version is restricted to Encounter cards, and according to the FAQ, restricted to Encounter cards used to resolve the Encounter (which means Chosen’s extra cards, Merchant’s ships, etc. can not be fetched). However, these restrictions are not too onerous; Fido is still a significant alien power. It’s subtle, but as I said above, a clever Fido player can help his own cause quite significantly.

2. Does it obsolete a previously-published alien power? No (as we are evaluating the FFG base set aliens in this series, this question will only be relevant for the expansions).

3. Is the alien over-powered? No.

4. Does the alien power strip a player of control in one of the most basic aspects of the game? No, quite clearly not. In fact, an opponent is often given yet another interesting decision in Cosmic Encounter when Fido shows up at their door with an Attack card. Anti-Matter just might accept that Attack 15 Fido offers him; much depends on the particular game circumstances (especially a Cosmic Zap in Anti-Matter’s hand).

5. Is the alien accessible? In other words, if I’m a first time player of Fido, can I read the alien’s power and get a good grip on how the alien works? Will the other players “get it” fairly quickly?

Yes. I’m not sure the alien is sufficiently subtle or causes even enough chaos to warrant the “yellow alert” status on the alien sheet. Yet it is true that playing the alien well requires a bit of knowledge about the distribution of cards in the Cosmic deck, as well as being able to judge the abilities of the other alien powers and their current hand states; beginners are not likely to recognize their best opportunities right away, if at all, in their first game. Perhaps the yellow alert is warranted.

6. Is the alien innovative? In other words, does it bring something unique to Cosmic Encounter?

Fido is somewhat like Filch in that he grabs a just-used Encounter card as it hits the discard pile. Yet the powers are quite significantly different: Filch’s power may help him in the Encounter as his opponent may not want to play his “big guns”, knowing that Filch will then have that big Attack card; Fido’s opponents are less likely to hesitate. Fido requires its player to assess the other players’ capabilities and current states; Filch doesn’t (not more than any Cosmic Encounter player or power).

Fido is also similar to Healer in that he returns a spent resource, for a reward. For Fido, it’s Encounter cards; for Healer, it’s ships lost to the Warp. Both Fido and Healer tend to amass large hands. Yet Fido and Healer don’t tread on each other; they’re returning spent resources, but different ones. Neither is a duplicate of the other.

Short answer: yes, Fido is innovative.

7. Is the alien elegant in its simplicity? Yes.

Classification: Fido is a Class B (helps you manage the future) alien power.

Extra Credit: Is the gameplay of this alien evocative of its theme? Yes, most definitely. I love it when players say “good doggie” to Fido’s player, especially when he returns to them a decent Encounter card. Fido often is an alien’s best friend, and that’s pretty Cosmic.

Extra Credit: Does the art of this alien match its description or history? It’s pretty clever artwork; Fido and Filth (in Cosmic Conflict) are probably the two aliens that most bring a smile to my face when I paw through the powers.

And now for the whimsical…

Good, Bad, or Ugly? Fido is rather like “The Ugly,” Eli Wallach’s character from that movie. Both “The Bad” and “The Good” use Tuco (the character’s actual name) to do their dirty work for them, whether it’s digging up the grave, having the noose around the neck, or giving up the piece of information. Sometimes he gets rewarded, which is exactly what he’s been focused on all the way along.

Grade of FFG alien: A
Grade of Brandon Freels’ original alien: A

Personal “iTunes” rating, out of 5: 5(“can’t get enough”)

Personal commentary: In 2004, while expanding my pitifully inadequate Avalon Hill Cosmic Encounter set, and dreaming of a publisher like Fantasy Flight Games to pick up the Cosmic Encounter license and publish the game, I wrote a post on BoardGameGeek (here) listing what I felt were the Top Ten “homebrewed” alien powers I had seen on the Cosmic Encounter newsgroup (rec.games.board.ce). Brandon Freels’ Fido was at the very top of the list. When I discovered that Fantasy Flight had chosen Fido as one of the 50 aliens to publish in their base set of the game, I was ecstatic. Although Fido was not my own creation, I had talked it up, and to see it printed felt like an affirmation that, while I can’t design good homebrew aliens, I can spot others’ decent designs. To be sure, Jack Reda and Gerald Katz (among others active on the newsgroup) had spotted Fido and had incorporated it into their games as well. I felt that my role was giving the good homebrew the good publicity it richly deserved. If my 2004 post helped push Fido into FFG’s consideration, then I am certainly glad I wrote it and posted it.

The main reason I’m so excited about Fido’s presence in the game is that I (and others whom I’ve played Cosmic with) have found Fido to be so much fun to play. It’s hard to say why I fell so hard for Fido. I’m a sucker for theme, so maybe the “alien doggie who fetches weapons” idea really tickled me pink. Maybe it was the gameplay: the constant involvement Fido has in the game, to pick up a discarded card and offer it to another player, hoping either for the card itself or the reward. Maybe it’s the combination of elegance and cleverness in the design: an alien that can benefit others but benefits himself just slightly more (which I tried to capture in my re-design of the Eon alien Force).

With Fido, we are now 4 for 4 in terms of Fantasy Flight's success at introducing great never-before published aliens to Cosmic, joining Barbarian, Citadel, and Cudgel of the powers we've already reviewed.

Fido is a good power to have if you love to have interesting decisions in a game. Practically every Encounter will present Fido with two interesting decisions: which Encounter card to offer? To whom should it be offered?

The Wild Flare is an interesting card: it can be practically harmless to an opponent who’s hoarding cards, but quite nasty to someone hoping to cycle through their cruddy hand to get a new one. It doesn’t exactly strike me as being a variation of the Fido power, particularly with the “force your opponent” clause; Fido isn’t an alien that forces anything on anyone. I prefer Brandon Freels’ original Wild Flare more; Freels’ Wild Fido simply allowed its player to take the top card from the discard pile, or to choose one if many were being discarded at once. It is important to remember that this Flare was designed during the Mayfair era; this could possibly be too powerful as a recurring Flare.

The Super allows Fido to pick up all the cards headed to the discard pile after an Encounter, presumably Reinforcements, Artifacts, etc. and offer them as he likes (one by one). This is a pretty neat add-on to his already cool power and makes him a super-powered pooch indeed!
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Like with the first set of aliens (Amoeba through Calculator), I wanted to give you the chance to grade these aliens. You will recall that I've not been using grades as an indicator of perceived "strength", but more as an indicator of how well the alien is designed. An "A" alien provides its player with an advantage but it is not too overpowered, it's innovative and elegant, and has no serious design flaw. A "B" alien is pretty good, but might have a flaw (perhaps it's overpowered or too similar to an already existing alien). A "D" alien shouldn't have been published, but doesn't break the game. Remember also that we are comparing and contrasting aliens to other aliens in the FFG base set of Cosmic Encounter, not to expansion aliens.

Poll
How would you grade these aliens?
  A B C D F
Citadel
Clone
Cudgel
Dictator
Fido
      25 answers
Poll created by rjburns3
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Oh, I forgot to subscribe to this thread, so I didn't even notice you got to Cudgel.

rjburns3 wrote:
[Bill Martinson also notes in the Cosmodex that Ken Hubbard’s original Cudgel was intended to activate after a successful deal, and that Super Cudgel was slightly different. However, I’ve recently looked at the power again in its 2004 posting on rec.games.board.ce here: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/rec.games.board.c..., but I don’t see that on the thread. Am I missing something?]


This is actually not quite accurate. It was in fact specifically intended NOT to activate on a deal, but the way I wrote it was unnecessary since it wouldn't have activated on a deal anyway. I think Bill's comment was due to my very long-standing misinterpretation of the rule about "successful encounters" vs. "wins". I had always played, since Day One in the seventies, that a successful deal was a win. Not like a win, or similar to a win, but a win.

The restriction on Cudgel's ability is that it only works when he reveals an attack -- that was specifically included to prevent his power from firing on a deal. I thought allowing it to fire on a deal would actually weaken the power, because nobody would be willing to deal with you. And, the reason it says "reveal" an attack instead of "play" an attack, is so that it then WOULD work on an Emotion Controlled deal. I thought it was some nice thematic chrome that Cudgel will smash you if you try to force him to deal, but not when he chooses to deal.

However, all that turns out to be irrelevant since a deal is not a win anyway. So, I guess Bill's comment is probably an effort to explain the purpose of the phrase "when you win an encounter in which you revealed an attack card". In light of the actual rule, this phrase seems kind of redundant, since you generally won't win if you don't play an attack card in the first place. In other words, the alien would function exactly the same in >99% of situations if it just said "when you win an encounter".

Quote:
6. Is the alien innovative? In other words, does it bring something unique to Cosmic Encounter?

Cudgel and Vacuum are very similar; it is probably best to say that together, they bring something unique to Cosmic Encounter. Both aliens cause their opponents to lose extra ships. The principal difference is that Cudgel needs to win, and Vacuum needs to lose ships (for any reason).


While there is mechanical parallel to Vacuum, I think the feel of playing this alien (or just having it in game) is much more like Void or Bully.

Quote:
Grade of FFG alien: A


I'm obviously biased, but I give it an A also! I love the History -- I think it's one of the best in the set (again, biased). I also think that while it's in the same category as a few other aliens, it is still unique. In a game consisting of Cudgel, Bully, Barbarian, Void, and Vacuum, nobody would feel that their power has been eclipsed by another.

I do wish it was a little stronger, though.

Quote:

The Wild Flare is very good; it’s nice to be able to blast a number of players off of planet at once. Of course, this effect is similar to the primary effect of a couple of alien powers that had not been published in FFG’s base set (namely Filth and Mayfair’s Berserker), so Wild Cudgel may have produced anxiety amongst those of us who liked those old powers and were hoping to see them again. Thankfully, we do have Filth back again, but that’s another story. As produced, Wild Cudgel is fine in the base set.


Hmm, I guess I never really thought about how the Wild Flare cuts into Filth's territory. To me, it's just a way to leverage the "smash" theme, without copying the base power exactly. I also like how once you reveal the wild flare, the defender may find it easier to get allies when you threaten a planet that has other colonies on it. Thus, you basically acquire some of the weakness of Cudgel, in that your ability actually can actually make it harder to win an encounter.
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