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I’m not really sure about my feelings on Yahtzee, one of the most famous dice games ever designed. As a teenager, I played it countless times, always fruitlessly trying to attain five of a kind (something I think I’ve done ONCE in my life); but having a fun time playing the odds of the game. There is some strategy to the game, like it or not, but also a heaping dollop of luck. Then I came across Cosmic Cows (Playroom Entertainment, 2006 – Maureen Hiron), with a pile of little plastic cows and a Yahtzee-type game. The theme is rather hilarious, in which players are attempting to be the first alien to abduct three cows from a group of nine – and the cow components on a nice board help accentuate this.
Unfortunately, the gameplay just didn’t do anything for me. Cosmic Cows is a type of two-player Yahtzee that simply goes on too long and has too much luck to be enjoyable. I was just begging for the game to end and didn’t care who won – whether it was me or my opponent. I can see the game being a diversion for a few people who simply want to roll dice and have fun, but the regular game of Yahtzee is superior and at least has a fixed ending.
The game consists of a board which has nine columns in seventeen rows, with nine cows placed in the central row. Each row stands for one beam of the alien spaceships and requires a different die combination. One player takes five dice and is chosen to go first, and then play alternates between the two players.
On a player’s turn, they simply roll the five dice three times. Before their second and third roll, they may set aside any or all of the dice and keep them. Once a player has kept all five dice or rolled three times, their dice are examined. The player then uses the resulting combination to move one of the cows in the beams towards their side of the board. The combinations that can be rolled are:
- Pair, Three-of-a-kind, or Tour-of-a-kind: This allows the player to move the cow on the associated number beam two, three, or four spaces towards them respectively.
- Two pairs, Full House: This allows the player to move two cows, on two different numbers towards them that many spaces. (For example, if I roll three 6’s and two 3’s, I move the cow on the six beam three spaces towards me, and the cow on the three beam two spaces towards me.)
- Straights: If a player rolls four sequential numbers, they may move the cow in the “Straight” beam three spaces towards them, with five sequential numbers four spaces.
- Chance: If a player’s total is ten through twelve, or twenty-three through twenty-five, they move their cow three spaces towards them in the Chance beam; and four spaces if they roll less than a ten or greater than twenty-five.
- Five of a kind: This column only has three spaces, the one in the middle – and two at the end. A player who rolls five of the same number may move this cow immediately to the space on their side.
The last three spaces on each side are known as the “Win Zone”. As soon as either player has any three of the cows in their “Win Zone”, they win!
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: I will admit that the game’s components are what drew me to it in the first place. The little cows were very similar to the pigs in Pig Pile (and indeed, I learned that the same manufacturer had made both), and I enjoyed the fact that both players were given five dice of high quality. The board, while a bit gaudy, was functional and easy to understand – although I’m not sure why they picked the two most stereotypical aliens as artwork – Mr. Eyestalk and Area 51 themselves, but the cute alien theme does add a bit to the game. Everything fits inside a nice smallish rectangle box which quite easily holds everything in a cardboard insert.
2.) Rules: The rules take up only three full-color pages and can be explained to someone in five minutes – IF they have never played Yahtzee. A Yahtzee player will pick the game up in about thirty seconds.
3.) Tactics: Okay, I’m treading on thin ice here, but I’m going to assume that there is a good deal of strategy in Yahtzee – which dice to keep, where to put your score, etc. Imagine most of that being sucked out, and you have Cosmic Cows. I haven’t seen such an obvious game in a long while. If I roll four 1’s, then I move the one cow – simple as that. Sometimes you may struggle over which cow to move, but I never have and probably never will. I simply move the cows that are closest to my Win Zone in and move any cow out of my opponent’s Win Zone that is in it.
4.) Time and Fun Factor: And that, to me, is one of the most tedious parts of the game. I roll three 3’s and move the cow into my Win Zone, and my opponent will roll a couple 3’s or so to move it back out. If the rolls were harder, that would be one thing, but it’s really not hard to pull any of the cows out of the Win Zone, with the exception of the “Yahtzee” (five in a row) cow. One game I played lasted for thirty minutes, and the last twenty were simply spent in a haze, as I dully rolled the dice and moved cows around. I actually cheered when my opponent won, because they had finished the game! Cosmic Cows would have made a fascinating ten minute game – or at least an entertaining one, but it’s too long for its own good.
As I look over this review, I see that I’ve mentioned Yahtzee eight times. You might wonder why I just didn’t review that game instead. And that’s the point. Cosmic Cows offers nothing that Yahtzee doesn’t and has less strategy (albeit nicer components). So why play this variant, which is what it is – just snag the original game! And that’s probably a low mark from me, when I promote a mass market game I rarely play now days, as a fun substitute. Cute theme, poor gameplay.
“Real men play board games”
Tom, I'm surprise at you, giving this fun filler a bad rap! Seriously though, while there's not much strategy to cosmic cows, there's infinitely more player interaction. Yahtzee always felt like the epitome of multiplayer solitaire. Incidentally, I don't think I've ever played a game of Cosmic Cows that lasted more than 10 minutes. If it took much longer than that, it would definitely wear out its welcome.
I actually feel this game has more strategy than Yahtzee. With Cosmic Cows, you have to balance offensive verses defensive moves, especially when your opponent has almost tractor beamed in their 3rd and final cow.