I feel like I have only scratched the surface with Cosmic Encounter. I’ve only just recently been able to play a game, but I can say unequivocally that it is a game that works so well, that it is recommended that you just go out and buy it. It’s a wargame, a bluffing game, a negotiation game and a space game all wrapped up by some of the most interesting mechanics in board gaming.
At the beginning of the game, you’re going to get a unique race. This race is dripping with flavour and has abilities that affect the way the entire game is going to be played. I’ve read that some of these abilities are overpowered, break the game or are too weak. I didn’t see anything that was so broken it couldn’t be accounted for by shrewd negotiation, but I bet there’s something that’s unreasonable. That’s a bit of the fun of it, though. The games don’t last long enough for this to be a huge issue, and savvy players should be able to play around an overpowered race by taking the appropriate countermeasures.
After you’ve got your race, you can start playing the game. Every turn, you’re going to turn over a fate card that reveals which other player you must engage with. This is a fantastic mechanic. You can’t just sit in your corner and try to turtle to victory, you can’t NEVER attack anyone. You have to engage with the game. This overcomes so many different problems with wargames or even eurogames with wargame elements. So often, a player is uninterested in wargames or games with attacking elements that they won’t even play those kind of games. I can see the issue- a person doesn’t feel like being all that aggressive in their social downtime, or doesn’t like dealing with the unpleasantness of aggressive gamers and the passive aggressiveness and overt aggressiveness that those gamers can bring to a game night. Cosmic Encounter sidesteps all of that and turns the war element of their game into something that players can’t choose. Even if it would be in your best interest to attack the Red Player this turn, you HAVE to attack the Yellow player, with whom you’ve had a cordial alliance since the beginning of the game. This mechanic takes all of the worst out of group wargaming. You’re never going to be hounded about making the wrong move, and you’re never going to be upset about having to attack.
Following the fate card, you’re then forced into a negotiation with the other player. Will you both agree to negotiate? Will you encourage others to join in your attack? Will you pray that others come to your defense? Both players play their card face down, and when that card is turned face up, depending upon the card chosen, interesting outcomes ensue. If you both picked negotiate, you both have to come up with an agreeable trade in a short period of time. If you both revealed attack cards, your allies will be able to join in the attack with their own cards. Ultimately if the attacker is successful, they get to land colonies on a distant star system, thus bringing them one step closer to galactic domination. If the defender is successful, then the attacking ships are all sent to the warp, where they will pray they get released.
Who is in the lead is always known information, so it’s never a great idea to get off to a really fast start. This leads to tense games where everyone is relatively close in score. You’re always one good turn away from victory in Cosmic Encounter. Everyone is engaged on every turn, which is another great thing about this game.
The other really fantastic thing: It’s easy. It’s a light-ish war/negotiation game that can be taught in 5-10 minutes. It’s colourful, it’s engaging. It’s a really good game! Sure, there may be less player control than some people would like, but that’s why the game is so good. If you’ve got a game group of grizzled veterans of the long war, that can’t wait to dive headlong into a wargame filled with analysis and plotting, with negotiations and backstabbing, well, you’re not in the majority of gamers. Occasionally, us gamers want to play with our family and normal friends, and it’s hard to get them to the table when you explain that the amazing space empires game is going to require a week of reading and video watching to understand. On top of that, us more serious gamers also want something that keeps US engaged- I’m not looking forward to another playthrough of Cash n’ Guns- it’s too light and it’s not particularly strategic. Regular folks love it, but then, regular folks play it a few times and then get to go home- you have the game FOREVER! I want something that engages my brain AND gets new people interested and excited in board gaming. It doesn’t hurt that Cosmic Encounter isn’t just the same old formula, but is instead something that I’ve never really played before.
So, I really liked this game. I can’t wait to play it again. It’ll be fun with your family, it’ll be fun with serious gamers. It’s just a good, fun game. It’s not unreasonably priced (about $55), and it’s something that is going to be in your collection probably till you die. There’s a thought- if you buy this game, you’ll probably keep it till you die. More than likely, your copy of Cosmic Encounter will outlive you.
Oh, and Dr. Richard Garfield said this about the game: “[Magic’s] most influential ancestor is a game for which I have no end of respect: Cosmic Encounter.”
What’re you waiting for?
SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!