Cosmic Encounter and Expansions Review
Cosmic Encounter was one of the first hobby board games I owned, back when I was a teenager. It was the Games Workshop edition. I can still remember being baffled by the rules. It looked and smelled like a conquest game: there were battles and alliances and units died. But what the hell kind of conquest game made you draw and card to determine your target instead of you picking on the weakest player? Where was the fun in that?
Here's the thing. When I played it for the first three or four times, it was also with people who were new to it.
But then, ironically enough, going back and playing the Mayfair game with people who had played it before...suddenly that made all of the difference in the world. I got all of its odd, seemingly too-restrictive rules. I understood why you receive a Cosmic Edict and don't choose who to fight- it's to force you to attack the guy who helped you last time...or to get that feeling of smug satisfaction when you are ordered to attack the guy that just took a planet from you.
Now, Cosmic Encounter is the best game ever published. It is the Ur-game, the One True Game. I would literally ditch my entire collection if I could have only one game and it would be Cosmic. It embodies everything that I would consider to be a "perfect" design.
But Griff is 100% correct...you get those bad games every now and then when the powers, cards and especially the players just don't line up right. That isn't the design's fault.
Like Barnes, my first play with all newbies and we didn't get it at all. People would invite the entire table to ally and we played very poorly. We ended the game and were really confused on why it was so well loved.
Michael Barnes wrote: Now, Cosmic Encounter is the best game ever published. It is the Ur-game, the One True Game. I would literally ditch my entire collection if I could have only one game and it would be Cosmic. It embodies everything that I would consider to be a "perfect" design.
If I was forced to burn my collection today, it would be the one game I would use my tears and blood to extinguish the flames. Cosmic is a wonderful game and I think there have been several recent articles and video reviews that have done it great justice. Its still a highly inventive game with little on the market that matches it. And the more that comes out (especially from Kickstarter) the more highly underrated Cosmic becomes.
Need a game that...
Euro or Ameriatrash game? Cosmic- it can be either
Quick with depth? Cosmic- plays shorter than most games of Munchkin & far more enjoyable
Involves table talk? Cosmic - just want what happens when people start negotiating for a hot 4th colony
Your college friends will play or that you can play with family? Cosmic- great with beer but nothing offensive about the design for the little ones.
Plays 4 to 8, but is not Arkham Horror? Cosmic
Will impress your jaded board game elitists in your group? Cosmic
Has a lot replayability AND expansion? Cosmic- 4 expansions and counting, plus one made by fans
I helped teach 3 new folks at PAX South and they haven't looked back. Its become a favorite game of theirs and saw it quickly picked up again at PAX East.
It nails something about interaction that a lot of games miss, even very combat-y ones. It's the kind of interaction that feels entirely organic. It's not this sort of separate "phase" to the game, but rather something that is woven into every fabric of the design. I think that if alliances weren't specifically put into the game they would emerge anyway, kind of like alliances in Risk. But BECAUSE they are an intentional element of the design, Cosmic Encounter feels incredibly aware of what kind of game it actually is. The only other game that nails its interaction so well is Settlers of Catan, with its trading. I don't know if that makes sense, I haven't played in ages. But a lot of times I think games design interaction into the game like, "Okay, now it's time to play with the other people!" In Cosmic Encounter that's just there the whole time.
But the other side is that it managed really well and doesn't become this behemoth that new players can't grok. I think of games like Bootleggers, where everything is open season pretty much all the time, and it's just a trainwreck. But in Cosmic it never feels stressful to interact. It just feels natural.
It's not the most "narrative" of games, which causes some theme-hounds to underrate it I think. But to me it has always shown just how much board games can actually do. Still the best game ever designed I think.
I think the game group has the ability to make or break this one, however... but we've never failed to have a bad experience with this one. It's a wild jaunt, replete with surprises, some bad words uttered (or thought), and a TON of laughs. Cosmic Encounter is just a solid title in my view.