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Our Favourites: Cosmic Encounter

Ah, Cosmic Encounter.

Let's explain - my love is a new love. I am not someone who played earlier editions, nor am I someone who had even heard about the game except occasionally mentioned by others fondly, before Fantasy Flight announced it was reprinting this awesome game.

Let me be frank and up front - the reason Cosmic has lasted so long is because it is a work of genius.

Not because it is complicated. Oh no! Far from it.

Let me start with what it is NOT.

It is NOT a game of space battles and whoosh bang explosions. No. If you are looking for a space battles game, this most categorically is not it.

It IS a game of negotiation and adaptation, cunning and misdirection.

======How DO I win?======

The aim of any game of Cosmic Encounter is to gain a number of "colonies" on other players' planets. you do this by defeating them in battle and establishing a base there.

The way Cosmic works is that it starts from a very simple game, and then messes with it in fun and exciting ways. Each of these can be added to your games as you like, creating extra chaos if you want it, or keeping things relatively simple.

======So what's this Simple Game then?======

Ah, my old friend the bold question and answer format! :p

The simple game here is a majority number game.

You are assigned by a deck of cards to an "encounter" - this is simply a very abstracted combat sequence.

You send a number of ships to the encounter (at least one, not more than four) then both sides play a card. You add the number on the card to the number of ships you sent to the fight, highest number wins, ties to the defender.

======Wow. That is simple. And rubbish.======

Frankly, yes.

So in the deck of cards are a couple of different ones; a negotiate card, that lets you make a mutually beneficial deal with you opponent, and a morph card that is always counted as identical to your opponent's card.

Both of these are joined by "artifacts" which are just simple "special" cards allowing you to take actions not normally possible.

======OK, that's sounding a little more interesting======

But still not wonderful, right? I hear you.

How about this for another building block. When you're involved in an encounter (either attacking or defending) you can ask the players not yet involved if they'd like to help you out. Of course, they will reap the benefits of a victory, so is it worth asking for their help? Or will it help them more than it helps you?

======Wouldn't you just hold onto good cards?======

No! Here's the clever thing with your hand of cards - it starts at eight, but you don't get new ones til you've used or got rid of ALL the ones you had. That card with a zero on it? You'll have to use it at some point!

======Nice! But come on, more variety, please!======

I'm a big fan of variable player abilities, so lets talk about the single most important aspect of the game - alien powers.

Each player in the game chooses at random (or from several picked at random) at least one power. This is simply a way in which they can break the rules. FFG have included 50 different ones here. That means you could play 50 successive games and never have the same Alien. For me, that is magnificently crazy.

Let's look at a couple for examples:

Normally when you play a card for your encounter, it is discarded. If you are the CLONE however, you get to choose whether to take it straight back into your hand or not - bearing in mind the other players now know what it is.

Can't win an encounter? No worries! LOSER aliens get the option to "declare an upset" and reverse the outcome, so the loser wins and the winner loses. Problem is, you must decide to do this before you play your cards.

Hopefully you can see how ingenious these powers are in changing the game.CLONE has a quandary - is that card worth taking, since everyone knows what it is? Also, if you're down to your last card and you pick it back up - you won't get any more cards to play with til you play it again!

As for LOSER - do you declare an upset? How confident are you that their cards are THAT much better than yours?

======And there are 50 of these?======

Oh yes indeed, From Amoeba to Zombie.

But, Wait, as they say! There's more!

Each Alien Power has a "flare" card; a powerful ability that either gives powers to other aliens, or massive powers to the right alien! These are shuffled into the deck at the start of the game as required, and add even more variety and craziness to the game. They are optional as well, since they are very random and can sometimes be irritating to some players (Resurrection is particularly annoying).

======So, even more variety?======

Oh, indeed. You get even more than that, too, in the form of Tech Cards. These represent abilities you can earn by spending ships. Again, these are entirely optional so you can decide to use them, or not. I haven't played a game with them yet since I have been having enough fun already, but for even more variety and value I say thanks to the designers.

======And the big finish?======

Cosmic Encounter is a game that can be tailored to suit almost any group of friends, so long as they enjoy games at all. The simplicity of the base rules is an absolute godsend to world weary rules explainers like myself.

The fact that in subsequent games you can add in the other rules one at a time is also helpful if you're the poor soul who has to introduce them to your mates.

There's a lot said about the various different games you can experience from getting different combinations of Aliens, and their interaction is really what this game is all about. Take for example the VIRUS, which everyone initially thinks of as outrageously overpowered (it multiplies its ships by cards instead of adding them) but the first time someone got it in our games, someone else got ANTIMATTER, which makes the lower score win. That made every encounter between them far more in ANTIMATTER'S favour. Interesting.

It is very easy to get attached to your favourites (mine is GAMBLER) and wish for them to come out of the deck as often as possible - unfortunately this is unlikely (1 in 50 chance) so you must learn new things every time you play - sure you may have had an easy time with VIRUS last time out, but this time you've pulled out HACKER - much harder to get the most out of and you're not going to win as any encounters on your own.

It is this that brings freshness and fun to every new game of Cosmic Encounter you play. To win at Cosmic, you must be adaptable, cunning and persuasive. You are even given the option to have more than one Alien power if you wish - making for even more combinations and possibilities!

Not many games live on for as long as Cosmic Encounter, and while it will not suit everyone with its chaotic nature and vastly variable playtimes (some games last fifteen minutes and you won't get a go, others can go on for many hours) but if you're up for fun above all else then I'm not sure it has a peer.

Ten games in, I'm most looking forward to the next hundred.

As always, whatever you think of Cosmic Encounter, I hope you enjoyed my review!


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