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Subject: Should you play Cosmic Encounter? rss

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Big Guy
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There are already some excellent reviews of Cosmic Encounter that explain how it plays and that break down the differences among the various versions. But I wanted to contribute my own, since this is a game I have enjoyed so tremendously over the years.

The versions

Like many gamers of my generation, I first encountered the Eon version as a youth. That is the classic version, which defined most of the Alien Powers that are the foundation of the game. Its flares are all powerful, since they are kept in hand after being played.

Later in life, after moving on from old haunts, I got the Cosmic bug again and wanted a copy of my own. I had to get the Mayfair version, and become used to the new flare rules, and to the new art. But that version retained the basic feel of the game, and my copy (with expansion) has served me well.

I've seen the Hasbro version and been disappointed. I don't like the plastic parts; I much prefer the old-fashioned cone and round tokens. And limiting the game to four players just doesn't work.

The game

In Cosmic Encounter there is a fairly simple structure of play, which is then twisted and warped by the introduction of innumerable rule-breaking effects.

The idea is to win by having tokens on five different planets outside of your home system. On your turn you get one or two chances to put tokens on a planet by winning a challenge against another player. But you don't get to choose what player to fight; destiny does.

What you can do is invite other players to join your side, to increase your odds of winning. And so can the defender. So this is a game of diplomacy and shifting alliances. It is even possible to share victory, and sometimes that is the best option, when the other choice is defeat.

The real fun of the game is in the Alien Power you receive. This lets you break the rules in some interesting way. Usually, after learning the game, players will realize how much more fun they can have if everyone gets two powers. Then some crazy combos start to happen.

Flares, which I mentioned earlier, are cards that match the Alien Powers. Each flare has one effect if you have the corresponding Power, and another one if you don't. In the Eon version, they are essentially additional powers, but in later versions, since they are one-shots, they just give you a momentary edge.

There are other types of cards which modify the basic rules structure, but I won’t elaborate. In later expansions in the Eon version (and in Mayfair’s one expansion) moons and Lucre (money) are added for more complexity. But the game plays fine without these two additions.

So what’s it like?

Cosmic Encounter is chaotic and unpredictable, with players’ fortunes fluctuating wildly as their powers interact and as they gang up on the leader in the ever-changing alliances. It is unbalanced, especially with two Alien Powers per players, where some combos are just overwhelming.

Sometimes a player will have a considerable advantage from the random effects, but other times the game will stagnate as everyone counters everyone else. So there is considerable variability in game length. I prefer to play more than once in row, to sort of even things out.

The pure joy of playing this game is devising clever ways to use you power(s) in conjunction with other effects to give yourself the edge. Usually this is a gambit, as you take your chances on whether the other players have the cards needed to counter you. Or on whether they even notice what you’re up to...nothing is more satisfying than the look on your opponents’ faces when they realize what you have pulled off and that there is no stopping you!

Which version should you play?

I don’t recommend the Hasbro version, but have heard that it is an acceptable introduction for new players or light gamers. I say get the Mayfair, except it is hard to find. Or you could go for the classic experience and try to get a hold of an Eon, but then you will have difficulty getting all of the expansions. Maybe it's best to wait for the rumored Fantasy Flight version...

Summary

This is the game for you if you like or don’t mind chaos, or like highly interactive games. If you prefer seriousness or a payoff from a carefully thought out strategy, you should probably avoid it. Or maybe you could just lighten up a bit and have some goofy fun once in a while!


Edit: updated statements of availability of versions
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Kenneth Bailey
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This is a very good review. I think Cosmic Encounter paved the way for a game like Magic because many of the cards supersede the basic rules and add new rules and twists to the game. But I think in order to have fun with this game, you have to have the right crowd.
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Davido
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Well, Mayfair Cosmic Encounter will set you back some serious change, so the best compromise would be Mayfair's Simply Cosmic for the hexes/tokens etc. plus More Cosmic Encounter which will add more powers plus the funky stuff like lucre and moons etc.

Here is hoping that Fantasy Flight 'gets it right' and reissues Cosmic w/ lots of powers, flares and up to 6 players out of the box.

My full Eon set 'goes to 8', but really, 5 is the sweet spot for this game.

"should you play Cosmic Encounter?" Church meet Choir. H-E-double hockey sticks YEEEEEEEEAH!
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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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Even though I've played it a few times and still don't "get" it, I'll probably buy the FFG set when it's released. Hope to one day pick up a Hasbro set, too.
 
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mar hawkman
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A better question is why NOT play.

This is without question one of my favorite board games of all time. Then again, all boardgames with more than a simple "1 on 1 fight to the finish" premise are fun. Why? they don't get old as fast. Playing a dozen games of Cosmic encounter will give different results a dozen times. Of course, that's assuming you're playing the original Eon Version. Playing with the stuff added in the later versions makes it almost like playing a different game(depending on what you use).

My personal favorite additions are special destiny cards, and special solar systems. Lucre... not so much.

I am SOOO looking forward to the FFG version.
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Big Guy
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davido wrote:
Well, Mayfair Cosmic Encounter will set you back some serious change, so the best compromise would be Mayfair's Simply Cosmic for the hexes/tokens etc. plus More Cosmic Encounter which will add more powers plus the funky stuff like lucre and moons etc.


I didn't do my research; I didn't realize the Mayfair version was so hard to find. I am going to edit the review appropriately...
 
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Dan Freedman
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Good review Steve. I never played this in the 80s. Didn't play it until a few years ago. I liked it, but I can understand why others don't. I ended up selling it because I doubt I can get it to the table again. It just doesn't have much modern appeal.

Take a typical eurogamer. They play games like Settlers, Puerto Rico, and Ticket to Ride. There's just too much chaos and luck in CE that most of them just can't get into it. And it doesn't offer enough decisions to appeal to wargamers or heavy-strategy gamers.

But IMO, it's more a beer and pretzel type game. Since the winner is so luck dependent, it's good to play several games back-to-back. And strange as it sounds, in my experience these types of games go over better with people (who are inclined to enjoy games and) who have yet to play the more popular euro's.

I've only played vanilla (Hasbro), so maybe my thoughts would change w/more expansions.

I'd wager that most of the seasoned gamers that really like CE played it before they discovered better games. They probably are very particular about how they like to play it. And I bet they don't get to play it very often. It's a nostalgia game and I understand. Man, I would have loved playing it in the 80s.
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Davido
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Double Dan makes some good points. Indeed, planning what YOU can do is difficult, but as I've said before, planning what you can DO to the other guy is MUCH easier-so it's easier to play defense and 'hoser' than to try to develop long-term strategy. And as far as nostalgia goes, this is one 'oldie' I happily play, compared to:

Talisman: played a LOT back then-now, no way-it wore out its welcome a long time ago.

Civilzation and Titan-both great games, but I don't have the time (e.g. a full day or weekend) to 'do them justice'

Cosmic Encounter-a game lasts 20-40 minutes, so as noted, you *can* play a couple of games (or variants in power selection and extras) back to back to back if you want.
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Space Monster
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Double Dan wrote:
But IMO, it's more a beer and pretzel type game. Since the winner is so luck dependent, it's good to play several games back-to-back.


Strangely enough, Cosmic has so many variables that ultimately there is very little luck, and the player who plays best will usually win. Consider a couple of things:

1. Be a good politician No matter what your power(s), it is unlikely you will win by solely winning challenges. You will have to gain bases by allying and even by striking deals. This is an openly political process, and typically the player who most wisely allies, allows allies, and betrays his allies, secures an advantage and goes on to win.

2. Pick your battles. You will not win every challenge. If you are likely to lose a battle against a particular opponent, take a moon and take your second challenge OR bluff by acting like you are going to win, invite allies and betray them! Play your 2nd or 3rd best challenge card and commiserate as you and your "allies" all go to the warp.

If you have a lead or are going for the win, the other players will gang up against you. Use this to your advantage. In battles you cannot win, force your opponents to expend their resources but don't use your best challenge card.

Only go for the solo win when you can reasonably defeat all of the other players allied against you. If a solo win isn't going to work, let another player get 4 bases and and invite him to ally with you - a dual win is still a win!

3. Get involved. Try to participate in as many challenges as possible. Losing tokens isn't that big of a deal. However, gaining bases or preventing other people from gaining bases while you collect cards is a big deal. Not only is the game more fun when you are involved, your odds of winning increase dramatically.

4. Always try to gain an advantage. Everytime you are a main player, seek to gain an advantage - this is especially true if you are the defensive player. Spend lucre to buy cards - more cards = more options. If your opponent has a good hand or large hand, play a compromise cards to gain card advantage or even force him to forgo a second challenge (you can't take a second challenge if you don't have any challenge cards). If your hand is crappy, burn challenge cards to get a new hand.

5. Know your destiny. As the destiny deck dwindles, you will know whose systems are likely to come up. Anticipate and put yourself in the best possible position.

6. Be flexible. The game can have wild swings of fortune, be ready to cash in. If you are ahead minimize random factors (force opponents to expend resources, hoard the more powerful edicts such as flare zap or cosmic zap), if you are behind introduce more random factors into the equation (buy flares, buy cards, take moons, go for rewards as a defensive player)

These are just a few basic strategy observations. Each game has a different dynamic, and your ability to assess the situation and put your self in the best position is critical to victory.
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John Wray
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Luck dependent?? My friend, have you ever played poker? Sure, there is luck with the draw of the cards and destiny deck, but what you did with it is pure bluffing, strategy, and fun!
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James Lowry
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Double Dan wrote:
And it doesn't offer enough decisions to appeal to wargamers or heavy-strategy gamers.

Actually, most all the wargamers I know (myself included) like CE quite a bit (Eon or Mayfair version).
 
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Linda Baldwin
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JackhammerJohn wrote:
Luck dependent?? My friend, have you ever played poker?


Nice analogy.

The delightful thing is that alliances are SO fluid that there's no point in holding grudges; in fact, it'll kill you. You just have to carefully evaluate your opportunities.

My favorite moment in CE, ever, was offering to ally with one (particularly obnoxious, sexist, boorish) opponent to attack my sis. She saw what I saw, and didn't try to talk him out of it. He won his first attack, and started to make his second, when I pointed out there was no need; he'd just given me the game. devil The look on his face was priceless!
 
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