Let's start by stating the obvious: Cosmic Encounter may be the best game ever designed. It has endless variety, gameplay that is consistantly surprising, and constant interaction. And if we can't agree on that, then we can at least agree that Fantasy Flight has done right by the game. Their 2008 reprint of the Eon classic was generally a very complete package. It had 50 aliens, nice components, and even a little variant called “Technology,” which was a great addition to the Cosmic spirit.
If there was any gripe though, it was that the game only went to five players. Other versions have been able to accommodate up to six players. True, that was with an expansion or two, but FFG had enough aliens for a couple of expansions, so a sixth player felt like it belonged in the base game. Now in 2010, we have the Cosmic Incursion expansion, which rectifies this problem by adding orange ships and planets. It also goes the extra mile and throws in 20 more aliens (in case 50 wasn’t enough) and a new deck of cards called the “rewards deck.” It’s a welcome expansion, and the extra variety is so good, I would recommend this expansion be bought when you pick up the base game.
To me, a sixth player always felt like a natural thing in Cosmic Encounter. I’ve wanted to bring the game out with six players before the expansion, but you kind of had to house-rule it in. My intuition was right on the money: a sixth player is a completely great way to play the game, throwing in more chaos, more interaction, and more laughter around the table. My only complaint about a six-player game is that the game will go a little longer, but that's it. The six-player games I've played have involved more laughing and table-talk than just about any other game session I can think of.
It’s too bad the orange tokens had to wait for an expansion. It feels SO natural that I wish it had just been in the base game to begin with. Still, the base game was hardly an incomplete package, and the same is true of Cosmic Incursion. I am a huge fan of the new alien powers and the rewards deck, and those make this expansion an auto-buy for the Cosmic aficionado
The new alien powers bring the whole game to a grand total of 70 powers, almost as many as there were in the original Eon game with all its expansions. I haven’t played with nearly all of them, but it’s obvious they didn’t include all the good ones in the base game. There are several fan favorites present (Sniveler and Symbiote, just to name two), and a generous helping of new aliens as well. My personal favorite so far is the Cryo, who allows a player to save a card for later, away from the grabby fingers of your opponents. I still haven’t played all of the original aliens yet, but Cosmic Incursion always has all of its aliens thrown in anyway. For me, the game feels incomplete without them.
The final new component is the rewards deck. In former editions by Eon and Mayfair, expansions added numerous new cards to the deck, particularly kickers, which multiply the encounter card a player played. FFG took a page from the book of the essential fansite, The Warp, and put all of those extra cards into a separate deck, available only to those who allied with the defense and helped them win. The intent is to make allying with the defense more attractive. This was never a big problem for us, but the cards are a lot of fun, and players will usually take defensive rewards instead of plain old cards. It’s a sneaky deal though, because a lot of the cards really aren’t that great. A few aliens (like the Loser or Spiff) would love to have a negative encounter card, but most players will want to avoid those ones. Likewise, it takes some specific aliens to enjoy a kicker that multiplies your encounter card by zero. That tension adds a lot to the game though, and it keeps the rewards deck from being ridiculously overpowered. Note that FFG decided to make this deck with a different card back. Those rewards cards will be visible to your opponents, and that makes for some interesting mind games, particularly with the Rifts, which punishes an opponent when they are stolen.
The components still look nice, and the alien illustrations remain some of my favorite game illustrations ever. My card backs are a shade lighter than those in the base game. There has been some frustration from this, but in practice it really hasn’t been that big a deal. It’s not like the original cards are pristine anyway: they’ve been grimed up with tons of play, so the expansion cards would still stand out.
If you bought and loved Cosmic Encounter, like you should have, than you already own Cosmic Incursion. If you don’t own it already, then what on earth are you waiting for? Like I said earlier, this is an expansion that can be purchased along with the base game. It’s a pretty decent value for what you get (as much as anything else these days, anyway), and it adds even more of what makes Cosmic Encounter one of the best games of all time.