The WARP Reviews


From Jack Reda

Fantasy Flight Cosmic Encounter

It's my pleasure to finally review the latest edition of Cosmic Encounter, brought to us by Fantasy Flight Games (FFG). Most people in the CE community know that I'm a long time fan, and part of my brain has been partitioned off to CE- nevertheless, I am hopeful that anyone reading this review will find it to be objective. It's my goal to make a case to a wide range of gamers why they should love this game, and to ensure they go get it.

Why fans of the Eon version should get it:

The biggest reason is Flares. One of the things that separates Eon fans from Mayfair fans of CE is the treatment of Flares. I'm certainly of the mind that the "retain a Flare rather than automatically discards it" is what really made the cards awesome to begin with. This is a fantastic element to the game (it didn't even have to directly correspond to the alien powers- just having a class of card that you don't have to discard until you run out of challenge/encounter cards is pretty cool- the connection to the aliens is just bonus). I understand why Mayfair went the way they did... some of the Eon Flares (especially used in combination) were ridiculously powerful.

Over the past couple of decades, game balance has been a much more integral facet in boardgaming- and here's Cosmic Encounter, a game where the balance of power swings wildly in every direction. A game where each player can bend or break the rules in some way will wreak havoc on the whole notion of game balance, but Kevin Wilson and FFG have done an admirable job of putting together a pretty balanced set of components for this release- from the selection of powers (and their complexity ratings) to minor adjustments for some powers and flares.

Why fans of the Mayfair version should get it:

One of the great things about this release is that Kevin and FFG have put some effort into really listening to the core fanbase for the game. It's clear they wanted to put together something that will appeal to new players, but you also have a lot of people who already have a set (or two, or in my case 14), and how can you capture their imagination as well (and more importantly, get them to buy it)? By not dismissing what Mayfair brought to the game out of hand is a great move in my opinion.

I've played both the Eon and Mayfair version a lot, and while I never cared for the alien art, nor the treatment of Flares, I did like most everything else Mayfair did to try and improve CE. The timing icons, while dodgy at times, and not fully embraced by established players, have proved useful to me in teaching new players. FFG simplified this a little more with their timing strip that appears in many places (aliens powers, flare cards, etc)- and does help in not only guiding new people about when to do things or when effects take place, but it also helps with timing conflicts, a ubiquitous issue in CE.

The Destiny deck was another great move from Mayfair that FFG has retained- a brilliant improvement over the destiny "pile"- lending both flexibility and ease in expansion. I personally loved the introduction of Comets and Special Challenge cards (which are also easily omitted for those that don't want it in there), and FFG has implemented special challenged, but has placed the foundation for other interesting Destiny expansions (Hazards are mentioned, and I'll be thrilled to see this implemented).

I know that Moons are probably not at the top of the list of expansions for FFG's CE, but I think they are on the list nevertheless. I hope they will take a page from Mayfair's treatment- put the text ON the moons, and use the classifications to make the moon experience what players want it to be.

Why fans of the Avalon Hill version should get it:

First off, they kept all the changed terminology (Artifacts, Encounters, Negotiates), so it's easy to adapt. But the thing that most people liked about the AH version was the quality of the components (barring the wonkiness of trying to get the ships in the mothership contraption). FFG has some great artwork in all the components, and the stackable spaceships are pretty nifty. I still kinda miss tokens, because I'm used to multiple effects that make use of flipped over tokens, but it's a minor issue.

I also miss having a system to defend (especially the nice, unique planetary art in each system that AH used), but going with just planets does allow for a lot more flexibility. You can make for a shorter game by using only 4 planets per system, ala CE Online. We've also come up with a few other variants that take advantage of the planet layout.

What else is exciting?

New stuff!

FFG has put together 50 aliens for this set, which is a great number. AH only had 20, which I think contributed partially to why it didn't do so well. This is more than twice that number, and that's a lot of variety. It's also 2 more than Mayfair released initially.

The mix of aliens is very good... there's most of the classic ones older players would expect to see, but also a couple from Mayfair, a couple from CE Online, and more than a dozen that have never been published before (including one of my own homebrews, Fodder- so yes, I'm pretty stoked). Not having anything new was another stumble for the AH version... they just didn't do enough to rekindle the old fans of the game. Mayfair had a nice number of new aliens, which appealed to me quite a bit, and it's the same story here. I like most of the new aliens quite a bit too, in particular Citadel, Cudgel, Fido, and Hacker). I also like most of the changes to old powers, especially Dictator and Chosen. Finally, FFG added a couple aliens that have an alternate win condition built in, which makes for an interesting variation on how one plays the game... Tick-Tock and Masochist. This creates an even stronger social aspect to the game, as the other players have to remain aware of these two, and decide whether to work together just to foil them.

Then there's Tech. I remember many years ago reading about a Tech expansion, but it was never realized. Bryan Bowe created his own take, which is pretty clever- but FFG has finally delivered something that is a worthy addition to the CE universe. Tech is an easily added expansion, and adds a nice tactical element to the game. You have to manage your resources even more closely with Tech in the game, but it can pay off in an important way just when you need it. The random element of what cards are in your hand is still central to CE, but Tech counters that a little bit (so does, in my opinion, using an 8 card hand instead of just 7- it's a small adjustment, but it opens up more opportunities in the game, while simultaneously making hand management more critical, since it takes that much longer to get a new hand).

The thing I've always liked about CE is how easy it is to expand, and it's clear that Kevin and FFG think so too, since they have some foundations in place to expand. More aliens is a given, but there are hints here and there about new frontiers for the game, and that will always get my vote.

Thus the only thing left for me to say is Start the Clock For the First Expansion.

Review of 4 earlier versions of Cosmic Encounter (by Jack Reda)

Review of 6 international versions of Cosmic Encounter (by Jack Reda)

Miscellaneous Cosmic Encounter reviews on Board Game Geek

From Sarah Ryan

Avalon Hill Cosmic Encounter

Watch out 'Magic: The Gathering' (MTG) fans! The game that started it all back in the 1970's - Cosmic Encounter (CE), has returned! CE was originally released by EON, (and subsequently by others such as West End Games and Mayfair).

Now it is being re-released by Avalon Hill - under the same banner as MTG. The original creators of the game are behind the re-release of this game, so the rules will be the same as the original EON version (rules changed slightly under WEG and Mayfair etc).

In CE, players represent different races of alien beings seeking to gain control of the universe. As a player, you must defend your planetary system while sending your forces through space to encounter alien beings from other worlds. You may make alliances with other players, or do it all alone. You may "negotiate" deals and swap a base for a base etc. Aiding you in trying to win the game is your special alien power that is unique for that game. This all makes it a very unpredictable game.

Each player has a "home system" with 5 planets in it, each with 4 tokens on them. The object of the game is to establish bases on 5 foreign planets. The more you play CE, the more you realise that the rules do not begin to cover every situation that may arise. Debate over a rule or conflict in powers can not only bog down a game, they can turn friends into enemies (temporarily of course!).

This AH version of CE is a much-improved version compared to the other releases except for one main criticism that many players are giving - the colours are too bright. However, this is in an attempt to attract a wider audience. The other versions of the game had a black and white board with coloured alien art considered unattractive to some younger players. The improvements include stands for the powers, ships as tokens (instead of the plastic or cardboard tokens), and longer lasting components.

The game has already been released in the USA about a month ago, so will probably be another month or more before it hits Australian shores. There is also a cut-down online version of the game at (managed by one of the designers and his son), and a Delphi forum in which you can take part in discussions and talk to the designers and fellow players. A must get board game for the summer holidays!