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Subject: A Game That Zaps the Competition rss

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Caleb Wynn
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I picked up the new edition of Cosmic Encounter in February of this year after playing it at the Atlanta Games Fest in January. I had heard of the older versions and remember seeing the Avalon Hill version in catalogs that came with one of my friend's copy of Axis & Allies: Europe, but I had never made the effort to find and play a copy. So when I saw the game at the Game Fest this year I decided to give it a go. I played the game three times and fell in love with it. Here is my review of the game after 40+ plays.

Cosmic Encounter is a game for 3-5 players and lasts anywhere from 30-90 minutes.

Components

The components that come in the new edition are superb! You get 20 plastic flying saucers in five different colors (red, blue, green, purple, and yellow) along with five planets for each color that represent the different players. In addition to the standard planets you get the "genesis planet", the warp, and the hyperspace gate. Then there are the alien power cards. These are the meat and potatoes of the game, and you get 50 of them. That's right, 50. They are nice and big and contain all of the game turn information and their alien power information. You also get three decks of cards and a nice, big, colorful rulebook along with an assortment of other tokens for keeping score and keeping track of certain alien powers. For $40 bucks, you get a ton of stuff.


Gameplay and Rules

Upon opening the rulebook you will be greeted with a friendly lay out and great formatting. The rules are logically laid out across about 12 pages with a few additional pages of variants and extra stuff. The best part about the rulebook is that it makes the game really easy to learn and teach.

Set up is relatively quick and painless and then you are off and running. The warp is a big circular black hole that is placed in the center of the board with notches in the side numbered zero to five. You place the colored score track token for each player in the zero. The nice thing about the score tokens is that they are notched as well so that they fit neatly inside of each other no matter how many players have the same score.

Next, you place the hyperspace gate on the table. This is what you use to launch your ships at the other players planets in attempt to capture them. You shuffle the encounter card deck and destiny decks (the destiny deck tells you which player you will be attacking this turn) and if you are using the tech deck you shuffle that as well. You then take the flare cards (these add an additional rule breaking power that can be re-used every turn that you have it, even if it isn't the card of your race) of the races in play plus a few more and shuffle those in with the encounter cards. Then you deal out an alien power to each player along with 8 cards. Now it is time to play.

The goal of the game is to capture five foreign colonies (or 5 other players planets). Whoever does this first wins. Oh, and more than one person can win the game through the use of allies, but more on that later. On your turn you conduct 8 phases: take a ship from the warp, draw a card from the destiny deck, launch 1-4 of your ships at your opponents planet of your choice, ask for allies, choose a card from your hand with which to attack, flip the cards and figure the result, get rewards. If you win your encounter, you get to have a second turn. If you lose, play passes to the player to your left. It is as simple as that.

Now for a little more detail on some of those phases and pieces. The cards in your hand are either encounter cards or artifact cards. Ther are also flare cards that correspond to each race in the game, if you get the card of your race you get to use the super ability, if you don't you get to use that card's wild ability. Encounter cards are used in battle and artifact cards are used at the designated time on the card for a special effect. For instance, if I had the Mobius Tubes card I have to play it during the reinforcement phase (when the current player gets his free ship from the warp) and it releases everyone's ships from the warp. The encounter cards are either numbered 0-40 or are titled Negotiation. Additionally, there are a few reinforcement cards valued 2-5. The encounter card I played is added to the number of ships I have and the same goes for my opponent. We then see who has the higher value. After encounter cards are played and added, we can choose to play reinforcement cards to try and give ourselves enough to beat the opponents value. The player with the highest total wins. The negotiation cards work a little differently. If I play a negotiation card and the other player doesn't, I automatically lose the battle but collect compensation from the other player's hand equal to the number of ships I had in the battle. If we both play a negotiation card, we have one minute to reach a deal through trading or giving cards or a maximum of one planet to each other. If we don't make the deal in time or one player refuses, we both lose three ships.

If I am the attacker and win the battle I get my opponent's planet, if I am the defender, I get to keep my planet. It is as simple as that. Allies that decide to join me can choose to put 1-4 ships in for the battle. If they ally with me when I am attacking they take the planet with me and we co-exist there. If they ally with me while I am defending they get to take ships or cards or a combination of the two equal to the number of ships they sent to help me.

Now, time for an explanation of the thing you REALLY want to hear about; the alien powers. The 50 different alien races each have a unique special power. Basically, they get to break a certain rule. They range from green light powers to red light powers with yellow in the middle. Green is easiest, yellow is a medium difficulty power, and red is a tough power to use. I personally don't find this system to be very true once you have played the game a number of times, but either way it works when you are just starting and doesn't matter once you have a bunch of plays under your belt. There isn't enough space to talk about each power, but I will give a couple of examples for you.

The Void - Whenever you are an attacker or defender (not an ally) and you win the battle your opponents ships are removed from the game instead of being sent to the warp.

The Macron - Your ships are worth four each instead of just one.

The Zombie - Your ships are never sent to the warp.

And those are just a few of the fun powers you will find in the box. The powers are what really makes this game shine. Without them it would be kind of boring. But with the ability to break a rule and the way the powers interact in the game, every game is different. It would take forever to play with every combination of races in a five player game.


Conclusion

To wrap up this rather wordy review all I can say is this; there is a reason I gave the game a 10. I never see it getting old. The components are great, the cards are durable, and the powers add a ton of replayability. The game works with 3, 4, or 5 players and is easily taught to new players via a quick run-through of a turn. The rulebook is nice and it is easy to find answers to questions in. The many variants listed are a great addition as well. The technology deck adds some interesting elements to the game and the flare cards are neat. The destiny deck telling you who to attack is a fun variation for a game dependent on player interaction as you never feel as though you are being ganged up on (until everyone allies against you that is!). But then playing the forty and watching their mouths drop to the table makes it all worth while. If you enjoy games with heavy player interaction, buy this game. Otherwise, you may want to avoid it. For me this game gets a 10 out of 10.


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AMERIGAMER!
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I can't wait for any expansions!
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david landes
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We have been playing since 1990 or so and I still can never get enough. Oddly enough, we removed The Void alien from our deck as it has the possibility to make the game no fun for the other players and/or forces them to come after that player to remove his/her power.
 
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Gareth Bull
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I played my first game this weekend. I was Zombie & my attacking friend was Oracle. Now knowing how I play (or is it just in his mind), he was ever so cautious (and so slow) Negotiating with me.

Before he chose his encounter card, I pointed out to him if we fail a negotiation our ships go to the warp... but of course I'll survive if we fail to agree on a deal. A better word for it would be if I deliberately sabotaged the negotiation by asking for say; all his cards in his hand and a colony.

It was our first game so I thought I'd play nice, trading some cards for a colony. After all, The more trust you earn, the more destructive you can be with it.
 
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