Cosmic Encounter by Fantasy Flight Games has been hailed by many as one of the greatest and most influential games ever created. While it has its fair share of issues, it has been published many times in many languages, has five unique expansions, and has tons of fan made content. In short; Cosmic Encounter is a space opera, where each player take on the role of a unique alien race with special traits and sometimes ulterior motives, but with the ultimate goal of creating colonies on five foreign worlds. No two sessions are ever alike, and the highly social aspects of the game make for endless stories to share.
The game is played over a series of rounds until one or more players have achieved victory. I should point out, one of the finest qualities about this game is the possibility for more than a single player to win. In fact, this is a common occurrence that comes from players making alliances throughout the game. Each round consists of seven phases (helpfully listed on the bottom of the alien cards), and while this may seem like a lot, the meat of each round comes from the alliances and encounters themselves. This is when all the aliens–I mean players–begin making deals, begging for mercy, giving high-fives, and stabbing each other in the back.
In a round, the active player will determine, by the draw of a card, which other player they will have an encounter with. The active player then chooses how many ships they will send to the other player’s world, and may choose to request further assistance by other players. Once the battle lines have been drawn, the active player and the defending player will enter the encounter. At this point, the players will determine the type of encounter based on which cards they decide to play from their hand. If either of them choose to attack, they will engage in an all out war, with the victory going to whoever has the greatest attacking force. If the attacking player and their allies are victorious, will each gain a new colony on the defending player’s planet, bringing them one step closer to victory. However, if each player chooses to negotiate with each other, they will have 60 seconds to come to an agreement, which may include the trade of cards, the gaining of colonies, or some other agreement for future rounds.
All the while, players will be discussing plans, making deals and promises they may or may not keep. Ships will be lost, colonies will be gained, and empires will rise and fall in the blink of an eye. If you think that is compelling enough, I want to remind you about the aliens each player chooses to play as, because this is where the game gets turned up to an 11.
Each player will receive or choose one of 50 unique alien races with its own special abilities, such as the Trader, who may trade hands of cards with the other player before encounters, or the Observer, who may return their ships home after a battle instead of losing them. Some aliens may have an alternate victory condition, like the Tic-Toc, who instantly wins the game if there has been 10 successful encounters, or the Masochist who wins if they lose all of their ships. With expansions, the options increase to over 160 different aliens, and playing with different aliens each time, the combinations are nearly endless.
In one game, a friend of mine was playing as the Masochist, and was quickly destroying all of his ships with every battle. We all knew that it was only a matter of time before his last ship would be destroyed and he would win the game because of his special victory condition. In an effort to thwart his plans, I played a card that forced him to rebuild all of his ships and return them home, drastically setting him back. What I hadn’t anticipated was that he had been planning for this to happen all along. To the group’s surprise, instead of returning his ships to different worlds, he returned them all to a single planet. What we hadn’t realized was that he had been developing a technology capable of destroying an entire planet, and at that very moment, he turned the powerful weapon on himself, destroying his own planet and all of the ships on it, securing the victory.
I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what this game has to offer. Cosmic Encounter is not always the easiest game to get into at first, so I suggest new players start with the base set and expand slowly. As soon as you can see the universe through the stars, you will find yourself working every angle, forming alliances, and knowing just the right time to strike.
Image Credits: Fantasy Flight Games and Robert Hornbek