Game Length: 60 minutes
Best enjoyed: With beer, pretzels and 4-5 friends
Cosmic Encounter is a Beer-and-Pretzels style game – that is, it is a game with a lot of randomness and opportunities for direct player interaction that is typically best enjoyed with friends who are more concerned with the journey than the destination, usually along with snacks and (sometimes alcoholic) beverages. It was originally published in 1977 but has seen a re-release in 2008 by Fantasy Flight Games.
The goal of Cosmic Encounter is to be the first to establish five colonies on other players’ worlds. This is done by invading and defeating them in combat during an encounter. However, it’s not so cut and dry – before invading, the attacker and defender may call on allies. If the attacker wins, her allies also get to place their ships on the planet, giving them one of the five required colonies to win. If the defender wins, his allies get an extra Encounter Card, which offers them more tactical options on future turns. This allows each player to be involved in the game even when it’s not their turn, which keeps players engaged.
One of Cosmic Encounter‘s strengths is the sheer variety included in the game. Each player will be given an alien race at the start of the game, and these aliens have special game-changing powers. With 50 aliens included in the base game, each of which can drastically change the way the game is played, there is a lot of scope for interesting situations to emerge. Flare cards grant one-time power boosts during the game and expansions add more content still, and variants (such as starting the game with your alien race hidden) can increase the suspense for players and allow the game to be customised to the tastes of the group.
However, Cosmic Encounter‘s variety cuts both ways. It can be difficult to know from the outset of a game whether it will take 30 minutes or 2 hours, and the luck of the draw can sometimes prevent you from participating in the game – either because you don’t draw powerful enough Encounter Cards to win a battle, you get one of the less powerful races or you lose your homeworlds and therefore your alien’s power early in the game. Being stuck in a game where you have been almost unable to participate for an hour is not a pleasant experience, and these situations will happen from time to time in Cosmic Encounter.
The game can also be anticlimactic – because victory occurs when one or more players reach 5 colonies, players will often get stuck on 4 colonies, with the lower-scoring players doing everything to prevent the leading player from achieving victory, until a group of players on 4 colonies each bands together to share victory.
Despite these drawbacks, Cosmic Encounter is still a memorable game thanks to the opportunities it grants for interaction on each player’s turn, and the surprises caused by playing the right card at a crucial moment. If you can forgive the occasional anticlimactic experience, you will find a lot to enjoy in Cosmic Encounter, as it is a game that has a great potential to create lasting memories.