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Subject: Exploring the differences in strategy of varying-sized games! rss

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Ryan Tullis
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One of the reasons Cosmic Encounter is a top board game (at least to me personally) is because of its sheer versatility. Combinations of alien powers in a game completely change the outlook of interaction between players and how each player manages their hands and alliances. It's crazy (awesome).

So to avoid the endless strategy discussions between specific alien powers, I want to focus on a very specific variation in Cosmic Encounter: how strategy changes depending player size. Here are some of my thoughts. I really encourage and welcome others to expand on this and show me how little I know.

3 Players

Aliens with Main-Player powers seem more useful here due to the amount of turns. Poor match-ups between alien powers (Warpish < Loser, Zombie > Grudgeon, etc.) are amplified because the encounters between them become more frequent. Alliances must be chosen more carefully, and often times the player with a bad match-up will have to team up with one of the other players to combat the strongest alien power 2v1. Hand management becomes important since you won't be able to as-easily rely on alliances. In a sense, there's more self control here, but you lose out on the benefits of alliances and diplomacy.

4 Players

A nice balance of 3 and 5. I don't have a lot of experience with this number, so I can't comment too much.

5 Players

Get your poker faces and negotiation tones out, it's the 5 player game. Great Main-Player cards are extremely viable and powerful here still, but ally powers and alternative win conditions also rise up into their glory (ex. Parasite). Zaps and alliances are capable of balancing out some of the main player powers, making weaker aliens and those with poor match-ups in a much more confident and viable position than in the 3 player game. There's a reason why Cosmic Encounter is regarded best with 5.

Six Players+

If you're doing six players like the other games (free for all), you may only get 1-2 moves tops. Zaps are everywhere, negotiations and diplomacy are constants and extremely valuable. Aliens with allied-powers or forced-alliances like Parasite are wonderful. Overall this is where the game is at its most chaotic. If the players are quick to form alliances the game can become entirely out of a player's control. An example of an alien to consider avoiding: Mite. The reason I give Mite as an example is because its power is only applicable when it's on the offense. That's half the time any other Main-Player alien power is viable. While in 3-4 it might come up often enough, in 6+ it seems sort of disappointing.


A Few Aliens that seem to be good with all sizes (And please feel free to include some more)

Zombie - Zombie is excellent. Not losing ships is effective for everything from alliances to negotiations (offering ships back from the warp). It's just an overall splendid deal.

Void - Void's terrifying, both on offense and defense. Not only is a loss end an encounter, but the opponents' end up losing their ships too. It makes the prospect of allying up with someone against Void a little more dangerous and terrifying, especially if you don't have complete confidence your ally will win.

Mind - Useful, both as an ally and as a Main-Player. The ability to see other players' hands is great whether you're in direct confrontation or simply allying up with someone else. Maybe not the best power, but a nice one at all game sizes.

Loser - This alien power is so splendid I can't see it suffering at any number of players.

Pacifist - Good for the same reasons as Loser.

Vulch - Picking up discarded artifacts is never bad, no matter the number of players. Vulch's indirect power is useful all around.



Anyway, these are just my thoughts on how the gameplay and strategies change depending on the number of players. There are going to be 20-year experts here who will scoff at my suggestions and observations (and rightfully so), so please scroll down and read what everyone has to say before you take my advice.

Please feel free to offer any observations you've made! I'd love to know more when coming across a 3-player or 6-player game and what to think about alien-choosing and hand-management strategies.





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Other aliens good at all sizes are the card-accumulation aliens. Remora and Glutton and Kamikaze can create enormous depth of resources very quickly. They don't have to aggressively manage bad cards in their hands nearly as much. In large games, Remora's flare is near certain to be in play, giving Remora extra draws all the time.

One big change at large player numbers, I am finding, is that FFG's eight-card hands combined with more resource effects (bandit wild, chosen wild, remora wild, glutton wild, mercenary wild, etc) tend to reduce the random chaos aspect and make the game very, very Political, and not always in a good way.

The deck distribution is public knowledge, and there are only so many great cards (Attack 20+, any-time Artifacts, etc.), and in a seven or eight player game with any resource powers, almost all of those cards will end up in the discard pile or in someone's hand by the end. This lets people start to apply probability projections on what cards remain (which is fine), but also gather alliances and aggressively lobby people to use their cards and powers in specific ways (which starts becoming problematic when such plays are empirically "the right" thing to do).

It lets people who have memorized the deck and who can count cards skillfully get a solid strategic edge, because the random element is muted once most of the deck is in play. They can lobby for a reasonable action in the moment that shifts the remaining resource pool down the line into their favor. That's one type of play skill, and it is completely legitimate, and if most people at the table are at a similar skill level, that's ok. But if one or two people are more deeply knowledgeable than the rest, they can start being like professional-poker sharks, incrementally and inexoribly profiting more from their knowledge of what effects really are still available, and much better able to lobby or trick other people into expending resources or granting alliances they'll wish they hadn't later.

Other than just making the cosmic deck much larger, with more random one-shots, so that 80+% of the deck in play never happens regularly, I am not sure there is a real solution to this issue for larger games. I am finding it makes large group games less fun for me, because there are always a few players who are newer who just end up being preyed upon, which is not cool for me, morally. Cosmic as a game is not supposed to be a purely brutal political exercise like Diplomacy, and I really dislike a play pattern that encourages old hands to ruthlessly exploit newer players.

(I've been thinking of test-running some team-style big games, pairing newbies with oldsters, while expanding the cosmic deck, to see if that addresses some of my concerns. An expanded cosmic deck would add more randomness and moderate the amount of exploitable deck-knowledge, and constructed teams would give each newbie a mentor and negotiation partner.)
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Nice review.

One question..

Tryken wrote:
Pacifist - Exact same thing as Alien.


what is "Alien" ?
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Ryan Tullis
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indidkid wrote:
Nice review.

One question..

Tryken wrote:
Pacifist - Exact same thing as Alien.


what is "Alien" ?


Whoops! Meant to say "Good for the same reasons as Loser." Fixed! Thanks for catching that.
 
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