The Average Gamer

Friday Night Unplugged #25: Cosmic Encounter

This week on Friday Night Unplugged we checked out Cosmic Encounter, a 3-5 player game of strategy and good old alliances by Fantasy Flight Games. Let’s jump straight in.

Cosmic Encounter Banner

The Basics:

In Cosmic Encounter each player takes on the role of a randomly chosen alien race. They each start with five planets and have four ships of their colour on each planet making up their home system. The aim is for the players to invade their opponents’ planets and establish colonies on them. The first player to five foreign (i.e. non-home system) colonies wins the game.

Going clockwise round the table players take their turns as encounters with other players as follows.

  • Regroup: The regroup step allows the current player, called The Offence, to return a ship previously lost to the warp back to a planet they control.
  • Destiny: The Offence draws a card from the destiny deck. The colour named on the destiny card is the planet system The Offence will be invading.
Coloured planets and ships denote each players systems/colonies

Coloured planets and ships denote each players systems/colonies

  • Launch: The player takes the special marker and points it at a planet in the named colours system, the chosen planet will be the one under attack. Then The Offence may choose up to four ships from any of their colonies and place them on the marker. This is the base score for The Offence. The number of ships on the marked planet owned by the defending player is The Defence’s base score.
  • Alliance: Both The Offence and The Defence can ask other players for alliance. First The Offence states which (if any) players they would like as an ally and then The Defence does the same. If a player chooses then to ally with The Offence they may also place up to four ships along with The Offence’s attacking ships. If they ally with The Defence then they place them next to the planet under attack.
  • Planning: Each player starts with a hand of encounter cards split into three types. Encounters have score modifiers on them. Flares can be used in certain phases to change the game and Negotiate cards can be used in the planning phase. During this planning phase each player selects one encounter or negotiate card from their hand and places it face down in front of them in secret.
  • Reveal: Once each player has picked a card they both reveal them, adding their scores together as follows: owned ships + allied ships + modifier. Whichever side has the highest score wins the encounter. If one player plays a negotiate card then the other player automatically wins. If both players play a negotiate card the match is a draw and the players have one minute to negotiate a deal of their choice.
The yellow player allied with the green offense's attack on the blue player.

The yellow player allied with the green offense’s attack on the blue player.

  • If The Offence wins the encounter then any ships on the marker, including the allied ships, are placed on The Defence’s planet and any ships owned by The Defence on that planet go to the warp. The Offence and any allies increase their foreign colony score by 1. The Offence may have a second encounter for the turn, starting with the Destiny phase.
  • If The Defence wins, any ships attacking including allied ships are placed in the warp. Any defending allies get a special bonus where they must draw a new encounter card or return one of their ships from the warp for each ship sent to the warp this encounter.

And that’s how each Encounter goes, rotating around the board until someone wins. To mix things up a little, each alien race has a special power they can use. Some control the scores of battle, who is allied to who or just plain bend the rules of encounters to their advantage. Alongside these, optional decks such as the Technology deck can bring extra variance to experienced players.

What is it:

Cosmic Encounter is a game for 3-5 players. It comes with a thick glossy rulebook which, for a Fantasy Flight game, is actually pretty easy to understand and full of pictures demonstrating what they mean. The planet tokens are sturdy and the stackable ships are a great feature. The cards are well printed but they take a lot of shuffling and, as with most FFG games, the deck edges will start to scuff quickly. Games can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the number of players and the speed of play.

Cosmic Encounter setup for a 3 player game.

Cosmic Encounter setup for a 3 player game.

What we think:

Here at Friday Night Unplugged HQ we love Cosmic Encounter. Its ability to play differently each setup, thanks to the huge variety of alien races to draw from and the different flare and technology cards, is always something we look for in a collection staple. The various mechanics from the Destiny deck prevents players from just ganging up on someone and the launch phase places limits on how many ships you can send in the first place.

Cosmic Encounter really isn’t a game to read about. A play report on paper would just show ships going backwards and forwards and it really has to be played for you to appreciate the depth of decisions.

Lets take the midgame for example. By this point you have a few colonies spread out amongst your opponents’ systems and the number of your ships left defending your own system is getting slimmer. Do you go for an all-out offence and risk losing another of your own planets in retaliation, stopping you from being able to use your alien power? Or do you attempt to defend the planets you still own and work to bring back ships from the warp?

If you’re then asked to become an ally do you go with The Offence and risk losing more ships to the void or do you side with The Defence and try to pull any previously lost ships? Do either of them have enough cards in hand to potentially have a winning score?

Alien cards like Anti-matter turn scoring on its head to add extra depth to decision making.

Alien cards like Anti-matter turn scoring on its head to add extra depth to decision making.

In Cosmic Encounter, choice is at the very core of the system and it makes for a game that we believe may be the best Fantasy Flight game we have ever played. The rulebook is smooth and simple to understand, setup is blissfully easy and gameplay doesn’t drag as the game goes on. None of us here have any issues recommending you pick up Cosmic Encounter as soon as you can and even Richard Garfield who created Magic: The Gathering and the original Netrunner heralds Cosmic Encounter as one of his biggest inspirations in the creation of Magic the Gathering itself.

Buy Cosmic Encounter at Amazon for just under £40.

Next Week:

Next week here on Friday Night Unplugged we’ll be looking at the latest expansions for two games we’ve previously loved and covered. Creation and Control for Android: Netrunner and Von Drakk Manor for Super Dungeon Explore. Come back then to see if these latest expansions are worth your hard-earned cash.