I read something on the net about a 30+ years old board game that was space themed and recently went through reprinting and repainting process. I was instantly interested mainly due to the space theme which is something I really enjoy in board games. What stroke me as inspiring was the fact that the game endured for 30 years and made it successfully through repainting process. It was chewed by the game board sites and not spat out and forgotten.In essence this game falls in the category of bluffing card games. Its base mechanics includeHand management - meaning that players are rewarded for playing the cards in certain sequences or groupsVariable player power - different abilities/powers are assigned to a player which in turn allow player to win in different pathGame infoDesigner: Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Peter Olotka, and Bill Norton Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games Playtime: 1 hour (our initial game took 1 hour and 30 minutes + 15 minutes for setup) Players: 3-5 Suggested Age: 12+ Dice: None Board: Cards and playing pieces - no board per se Space requirement: 5 player game does not require too much space, medium coffee table should sufficeInitially the game was published by EON in 1977. It was republished by Mayfair Games and Avalon Hill (Hasbro) and this new edition was revised, updated and released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2008.The goal of the game is rather simple. Establish five colonies on home planets not owned by you.Initial game setup
Players chooses a color and are dealt 5 round card board pieces and 20 stack-able plastic flying saucers – playing pieces in chosen color that represent home planets and attacking or defending ships. In the middle of the playing table, accessible to all players, a card board piece is put which represents The Warp. This is where all the flying saucers will end up when destroyed in the space battles. Another pointy looking card board piece is placed on the table. It represents Hyperspace gate – a starting point of offensive player.
Bundled with the game there are 50 Alien cards representing 50 player powers. Each Alien card has its own Flare card which represents aftermath or boost to the alien power that can be used by all the players in the game. Each player is dealt two randomly chosen Flare cards. From those cards he has to chose one Alien card which will be his Alien card for the game. Dealt Flare cards are not shown to all the players they are shuffled together with the Cosmic cards and put on the table. A deck of Destiny cards is shuffled and placed on the table. Destiny cards represent a player color that will be the defending player in an encounter.
Cards from Destiny deck are turned until a color card is shown and that player is the initial player. Destiny deck is reshuffled and placed on the table. Each player is dealt 8 Cosmic cards which represent his playing hand. Game can now start with the initial player.
Game play – a player’s turn
Active player becomes the offense and will have an encounter with another player. He regroups his forces and turns the Destiny card – designating new defending player. Offensive player now commits up to 4 ships from his colonies or home planets to the fight and puts them on the Hyperspace gate which is pointed at the defending player chosen home system. Defending player ships on chosen home system represent his defending force.
At this point offense and defense start to gather allies. All players can be invited and after they accept they become allies with defending or offending player. Allies can also commit up to 4 ships from their colonies to the fight. Once alliances are established Main players chose an encounter card which is put face down on the table. Main players turns the chosen encounter card and score is calculated from number of ships participating in the encounter and played card values. Special encounter cards or alien powers can create special situations in which the winner of the combat is determined in a different manor.If attackers win they can establish a colony and defender's ships go to warp. If attackers lose their ships go to warp. Main defending player is rewarded with keeping his colony and allied defender is rewarded a defenders reward. If attacking player was successful he turns another Destiny card and repeats another turn, this time skipping his regroup phase. Then the game play passes to the player on the left.The Aliens & Cosmic CardsNothing can prepare you for another turn of the Cosmic Encounter. No two games are the same - there are fifty alien cards bundled with the game to give it superb variety.
The alien cards in FFG’s version are separated in three different categories. Green, yellow and red, representing the degree with which the Aliens can alter the normal game play. Green cards will have less affect on the game than yellow which affects less then red. It is recommended that newbie players start the game with green Aliens and then gradually when they are more proficient with the rules spice up the game with yellow and red. This can depend on the general experience of your game group. Our second game was full blown with red aliens and we did not regret it.
Alien sheets include descriptions of Alien powers. They are described in details about players role, when the power can be used, in which encounter phase can be used and if the power is mandatory or not. Players must pay special attention to the power description. Sometimes they can be miss-leading due to the usage of the words use, may use and used which can present timing issues. Artwork on the cards is superb, their design simple and intuitive and after a game or two they become second nature to the player.
Cosmic Cards are categorized with a clearly marked card type, card title and card description. Special attention must be paid to text describing what role must player posses, when the card can be used and in which encounter phase. The design of Cosmic cards which include Encounters (Attack, Negotiate, Morph), Artifacts, Reinforcements and Flares is simple and intuitive to use.
Is this game for me?
I guess it depends on the type of gamer you are. If you like bluffing games and you have 3+ friends which can play the same game again and again and discover its depths and rediscover how the same Alien pulverized you again and again then I can say yes, this game is for you.
The game pieces in FFG’s game are made of quality cardboard material, cards are tough and durable. Plastic pieces can be swallowed by little children so take care of those flying saucers. The game has an endless re-playability, various encounter options and don’t forget about the social aspect when the alliances are forming.
It is a complex game with complex rules, so a good understanding of English language is required to understand the mechanics that ties the Alien powers and grants their usage in the game. There is also some confusion for the “literal” players since there is some “errata” present in the Alien sheets and Cosmic cards. FFG has provided FAQ which handles some of the confusion.
I have to mention that it is a space themed game and we all know there are not enough of those around and its got some mileage under its hood. Expansions to the base game are already on the market and I will do another post and describe the goodies available in them at a later date.
Too good to be true – I would like to try it
You can! Not the FFG version because there is no VASSAL module which will allow you on-line game play on VASSAL engine but there is a company on the net that bought the intellectual property rights from EON and published Cosmic Encounter Online which will not be hard to track for the Google minded.