Cosmic Encounter

Several alien races are competing to conquer the universe! They all want victory, they often need help in attacking or defending, and they all have a power that makes them unique. This is the Cosmic Encounter, now from Fantasy Flight Games.

Gameplay is deceptively simple. Each player has five home planets, with four ships on each planet.
(Ships on a planet make up a colony.) During a player's turn they get a ship from Warp (where ships go when lost), draws a system to attack, and goes after that player's planet in their system. Both attacker and defender can invite other players to help, but that has risks for both sides. If the helpers' side loses, the ships sent to help go to warp; if the helpers assist in attacking, they get a colony on the attacked planet too, and if they defend they get ships or cards for each ship that helped.

In each combat, both attacker and defender select an encounter card -- either Attack or Negotiate -- that are placed face down and revealed. If both are Attacks, the cards and helpers are totaled and the attacker wins if they have a higher total than the defender; defenders win ties or if they have the higher total. If both players play Negotiate, they have one minute to make a deal (swapping colonies or cards) or both lose three ships to Warp. And if only one side Negotiates, they lose -- but get to draw a random card from the attacker for each ship lost. (There are also a few other cards, Artifacts and Flares, that have their own game effects.) If a player wins they can take a second turn, then the next player goes. And a player can't get new cards until all their Attack and Negotiate cards have been used.

What really makes Cosmic Encounter unique are the aliens. There are fifty different aliens in the game, and they are all very distinct from each other. Some have great offensive powers (the Virus multiplies its ships and Attack card instead of adding them), some excel at defense (Macron's ships are worth four points each, Zombie ships never go to Warp), and some are variable. (Tick-Tock starts with 10 tokens, one comes off each time someone loses a battle, and if all 10 are gone they win.) They are color-coded into green, yellow, and red for different levels of complexity, so players can start with the "easy" aliens if they like. Each player gets two alien cards at the start of the game and picks one to be for that game. And if a player has less than three colonies in their home system, their power is gone unless they get three colonies in their system again.)

Cosmic Encounter is a terrific game. The rules are pretty simple, yet there's a great deal of strategy in both when to invite allies and when to go it alone, and what to do with cards you don't want to play but have to. The aliens make each game unique, and none of them guarantee a win: I thought I'd win with the powerful Virus, let I lost when someone had Machine and took turn after turn until they wore us down! The Fantasy Flight Games edition is colorful, functional (these ships stack much easier than in the last version), now allows up to five players, and has great art and histories for each alien. I could do without the "tech tree" option, but that's easily left in the box. For a fun, fast, and pretty unique game to play with a few friends, get Cosmic Encounter and find your inner alien!

Overall grade: A

Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: