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Cosmic Encounter

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

Cosmic Encounter has been through numerous versions and expansions under the aegis of a succession of publishers. The original version was published by its designers in 1977. Eon later published expansions, and the game was republished in the 1980s by West End Games in the US and Games Workshop in the UK. Mayfair took over the licence in the 1990s, publishing a core game and expansions, as well as a back-to-basics simplified version (Simply Cosmic). In 2000, Avalon Hill/Hasbro published an edition. Ten years ago, Fantasy Flight Games released their version. FFG have subsequently published several expansions.

Though there are differences between editions, the underlying game remains essentially the same. Players each control a planetary system with 20 ships (themelessly referred to as tokens in the original version). To win, they need to have bases in five planets outside their own system. An attacking player places ships in the ‘cone’ (denoted as a hyperspace gate in later versions). Other players can choose to ally themselves with either the attacker or defender by adding their ships. Players have a hand of cards. The cards will either denote an attack value to add to their force of ships or it will spell out a special effect. A key effect is what in the original version is termed ‘Compromise’. If both the attacker and defender play Compromise cards, then they have to try to agree a deal that enables a base to be established in return for some compensation, which could be a reciprocal base. If the parties fail to reach an agreement, both lose ships. If just one player plays a Compromise card, they lose the encounter but the player who was willing to compromise takes ‘consolation’ in the form of cards taken from the opponent’s hand.

If this was all there was to Cosmic Encounter, it would be reasonably interesting but routine. What stood out about this game was its introduction of asymmetric powers. Players each represent an alien race that has a special power that overrides the rules of the game. This may now be commonplace in board games but it is hard to overstate how revolutionary this was in the 1970s. This really was quite literally a game changer. The fun of the game was in the way the different individual powers interacted with each other. The original game came with 15 alien races but even the original publishers eventually added 60 more. More was not always better, however. There are many keen adherents of this game who bemoan the fact that it has suffered over the years from expansionitis: complaining that expansions have layered complexity and imbalance on a game that was more elegant in its simpler form. On the other hand, if there was no demand for yet more variety, FFG wouldn’t be on their sixth expansion...

The edition shown here on Board's Eye View is the Eon original: the very first edition from 1977. I confess I don't actually have the FFG version and I haven’t played all the FFG expansions. It would be good to see the extent to which, 40 years on, they have moved this already innovative game to new levels.

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