The world of board games is mind-bogglingly vast, and Cosmic Encounter sits somewhere on the outer rims. Per se, there is no board, but there is a game. And it’s very enjoyable and engaging.
The game revolves around playing as alien races whose sole purpose is the colonization of other players’ planets to gain colonies, or points, with your ships. Every player starts off with five planets, and twenty ships split evenly among those planets as defensive forces. On their turn, each player uses these ships to attack another players’ planet, and has the possibility of inviting allies to aid in their attack with their ships. The defending player can also ask for aid, and it is here where friendships are torn apart as helping the attacker means a colony, whereas helping the defense means more cards with which to attack and utilize in the future. The game is designed for 3-5 people, but is the most enjoyable with five players, as the play time has a tendency to be longer with more people, and a lot more can happen. Players will come to find that allies are good to have at the start, but as you near victory your friends will abandon you.
Cosmic Encounter comes with 50 different alien races that all have their own unique skill or buff that alters the game play in some way. At the start, everyone chooses an alien randomly, and plays as that race. You can be an encounter-loathing Pacifist with ways to avoid fights, an aggressive Warrior with extra attack power, or a cunning Virus which has the skill to multiply its attack values. The sheer number of different combinations of alien powers results in a game that always has surprises up its sleeve. There are very few combinations that simply do not work, or are annoying in some way. It might seem that way at first, but a lot of the game’s charm comes from having totally different playing experiences every time.
The huge amount of different alien race combinations also means that the game takes some time to learn and master. At the beginning, one can feel overwhelmed by the number of rules the game has, and the amount of instructions the cards and alien race sheets have. Another thing is the way in which the turns are split into different phases. There are seven phases to a turn. As an example, there is a card that can only be used at the start of a turn, before the player chooses where they will attack. The reason is that this card is meant to be used as sabotage, and would be too powerful were it possible to use it on the player you know you will face on the same turn. Learning, and especially remembering, the phases is something that new players will struggle with.
Cosmic Encounter is a very enjoyable game, once you learn the tricks. Frustrations always arise when there is a chance your friend might turn on you, but remember, it’s just a game. A social game with a ton of replayability, and it is good.
Game Designers: Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, Peter Olotka, and Bill Norton