Friday, December 2, 2011

Cosmic Encounter Review

The components in this game are top notch. FFG puts out good quality in all of their games, and this is no exception. The stackable ships just scream for a power like Fungus, hopefully for the expansion. The one thing that I will say against the components is the Prometheus ship that is a tech. Tech is a variant after all, and as others have said I would much rather have high quality in other things, than an optional variant.
Components 9.5/10 

Game Mechanics 
The basics of this game are pretty simple. When it is your turn, you randomly draw a card from the destiny deck to determine who you have an encounter with. Once that it determined, you place ships into the "hyperspace gate," point at a planet in the defensive system, ask for allies, play cards, and determine which side has a higher total. Losing ships go to the warp and can be retrieved at the start of your turn. This goes on with players taking turns until one or more players has 5 foreign colonies. There isn't much innovative about the mechanics, but the alien powers are what makes it.
Mechanics 8/10 

Player Interaction 
For me, this is where the game shines. When encounters occur, players have the option of playing attack or negotiate cards. Some players will be more inclined to make deals, where a foreign colony can be traded for a foreign colony, thus aiding both players aim to achieve 5 foreign bases. Other players may choose to play attack cards, where the higher total wins. If the offense has the higher total, they gain the colony, and the defense loses it. Whatever route a player chooses, more likely a combination of both, makes the game interesting. Alliances can tip the battle to one side's favor, or help make things level. There are always risks and rewards for either choice.
Interaction 10/10 

The Twist 
The thing that gives this game replayability are alien powers. Each player will have the chance to break a game rule with their alien power. Some are as simple as not having to discard the card you use to attack with, while others can make the loser of a challenge win and the other way around. The Fantasy Flight version included 50 different alien powers, but other versions such as Eon or Mayfair have included upwards of 75. Point of that is that there are a lot of things that can be done with expansions.

Learning Curve 
While the basics of Cosmic Encounter are rather simple; alien powers complicate the game. Depending on the group and how many new players are there, it can take a few games to get the hang of it. The downside of most of the cards is that asking for help can reveal what you can do, and someone who knows the game can take advantage of it. The best thing I've done when teaching a new player is have someone who knows the game around to answer questions, and guide a player through tricky situations.
Learning Curve - Moderate-Long

Why I like this game 
I played 110 games in under 7 months, now over 200 games in 3 years, and have played multiple games on other versions; it can be replayed, over and over. It is rather difficult to be completely out of a game, though the occasional bad game will happen. It has a huge amount of player interaction which can be a bad thing, but it turns out to be a balancing factor. There's not a lot of luck in the game, but it's also not pure strategy. The game is very tactical, and knowing when to have allies, and when to go it alone can be a crucial thing. Ultimately people make the game. It is almost impossible to win a game with no help from any other player at the table.

Why I don't like this game
The randomness of the destiny deck means that who you fight is out of your control. Because of that, some players can form more permanent alliances, but that can be mitigated by the fact that they can fight each other at any point. Some of the add-ons in expansions complicate things, as does Tech in the base game.  

Overall Score 10/10 [on player interaction and the sheer number of possibilities in the game.]

Will you like this game? 
It's really hard for me to put it in a category.  It's unlike anything else I've ever played, so there isn't a way to compare it.  I've played with a bunch of people from ages 10-55 and it works. A disposition to science-fiction will help players enjoy the game, but it's not dripping with theme. It's not a great space combat game, it's more complicated than a play a card and see which one is higher, so if you're looking for either, this isn't a game for you. The various alien powers certainly are a love it or hate it aspect. The game thrives on player interaction, and there is some amount of luck.  If you like the ability to plan turns ahead, this probably isn't the game for you; but if you like thinking on your toes and adapting, you just might enjoy the challenge of Cosmic Encounter.

Final Thought
If you ever get a chance to play this game, give it a go. It's been around since 1977 in various forms, and a lot of people have enjoyed it. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask, I'm always happy to help however I can.

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  1. Ha! I've played Cosmic with you a few times and I still learned a bunch of new stuff about it in this post! I like Cosmic, but you are so right about the learning curve. I've played 3 games and I still don't thoroughly get it, but I know it will be worth it when I do because it really is a great game.

  2. Back in March of 2010, I had to design a VoiceThread project for Computers in the Classroom, and I decided to explain how to play Cosmic Encounter. So if you're interested in learning, watch this and I can explain things later.