Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Cosmic Encounter

Cosmic Encounter is an old game that has gone through many versions and publishers. The latest version is published by Fantasy Flight Games, and I think they did a good job.

The game is quite simple. Every player has 5 home planets and some spaceships. You win by establishing 5 foreign colonies on other players' home planets. On your turn, you make one or two attacks (called encounters). You don't choose your target. It is determined by a fate deck. Attacker and defender get to invite allies. If you join an encounter as an ally, you gain some benefits if your side wins. Spaceships that are lost go to the warp - a play mat at the centre of the table. Every time your turn comes around, you can retrieve one ship back from the warp (that's not much though).

What makes the game interesting is the various unique powers of each alien race. These powers vary greatly and will likely greatly impact how you play the game. They also have interesting interactions. In the game I played, I had the kamikaze power. Whenever I lose ships to the warp, I can drag along ships of other players. Han had a powerful ability - the strength of his race increases every time he has an encounter, win or lose. Chong Sean's ability was instead of adding his card strength to his number of ships in the encounter, he multiplied. That could make his fleet very powerful, but it also meant he needed at least two ships in an encounter to benefit from this unique ability.

Another aspect of the game is managing your hand of cards. There are encounter cards which you need for resolving encounters (battles). Some encounter cards are negotiate cards, which means you will lose no matter what, but you get to take cards from the main attacker's hand. It can be painful when you are doing well, but you suddenly realise the only encounter cards you have left are all negotiate cards. There are some flare cards, or special power cards. These are very handy, and you can keep using them, until you need to refresh your hand (when you run out of encounter cards). Then you have to discard them.

The start of the game.

Using the card holder from 10 Days in Europe to hold my cards. The red ones on the left are the normal encounter cards. The green one is the negotiate card, a special type of encounter card. The two on the right are flare cards - multi-use special power cards.

Han (yellow) and I (green) attacking one of Chong Sean's planets. Cards are played face-down and then revealed simultaneously.

As the game progressed, our forces dwindled. I had lost presence on 3 of my home planets, which caused me to lose my unique alien power.

The warp. It also doubles as a victory point track.

We played a 3-player game, which is probably the least interesting number of players. I suspect the game is best with 5. But at least I got to try the game, which I have been wanting to do for a while. With 3 players, there is very little diplomacy in the game. It lacks the fun of shifting alliances.

We were very aggressive in the early attacks, which caused our ships to dwindle quickly. Combined with poor cards towards the later part of the game, it became more like a game of pitiful survival than glorious space conquest. I think we played rather mindlessly. Well, at least I did. I just had too much fun dragging others into the warp with me. Then when I was left with very few ships not in the warp, it didn't seem so funny anymore. I think I have not been making good use of my special power.

I'd like to play Cosmic Encounter again, with 5 players. Or maybe with at least 4. I think there's much more to explore than what I've seen in my first game.

3 comments:

Cecrow said...

I'd like to try this one sometime myself. It's no Twilight Imperium, but there must be a reason it's a frequently reprinted classic.

Frank Conradie said...

It really is tons of fun with 5 players, with lots of table-talk, threats, pleading, and laughter. I wouldn't even want to play with less than 5, but then I'm lucky enough to have game evenings with exactly 5 players more often than not.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

I really should try this with 5 players. With 3, we didn't have many negotiations or threats.