It seems that there truly is no end to the Cosmic Encounter universe. Despite 50 races in the core game and half a dozen expansions bringing the total possible combinations of aliens in a single game to something in the realm of billions, the latest expansion brings 30 new aliens designed by the original creators of the game, Peter Olotka and Bill Eberle, with the help of Olotka’s son Greg. For those not in the know, “Eons” – the title of the expansion – is a reference to Eon Products, the company created by Olotka, Eberle, and two others (Ned Horn and Jack Kittredge) to publish the original version of Cosmic Encounter back in 1977. And this without Kickstarter!
Since then, Cosmic Encounter has seen numerous new editions and hundreds of unique aliens. Can a new expansion really add anything new?
Apparently that was a question asked by the designers, who decided to take upon themselves the challenge.
How It Plays
These people are notorious for the tagline “Fair isn’t fun,” so you can expect that these aliens are wild and off the charts with some exciting stuff.
Let’s assume that you’re at least familiar with the gameplay of Cosmic Encounter. In short: you’re trying to conquer 5 alien colonies by sending your ships to invade (or negotiate), and everyone has a unique power that breaks the game in some way, ranging from basic to ridiculous.
In this new box, there are are two major new concepts in addition to the 30 aliens.
Alliance Dials are a new component type that adds some uncertainty into the alliance phase. Rather than each player deciding who to ally with and how many ships to send, every potential ally takes a dial. This dial allows you to mark how many ships you are going to send, and if you’ll send them to offense or defense – so everyone has to reveal simultaneously. No last-minute bowing out of the conflict when the allies are stacked up on the other team – what you choose is what you have to do. Because Cosmic is a ridiculous contraption of wildly varying powers, the dials also have icons for alien powers that upend normal alliance routine, so you’re covered no matter what you’re playing.
An additional variant using the Alliance dials, called Foreign Aid, allows players to send a card from their hand to the main player of their choice. The main player can choose to reject the card or accept it, and if accepted the giving player gains a reward.
The other major concept is Essence. Essence comes in the form of sets of cards tied to a specific alien, and open up the possibilities for how those aliens can mess with the game. The Sheriff, for example, can give out Tickets for certain “infractions” that require the target to pay a fine. The Alien captures other player’s ships and attaches some hidden effect to them before sending them back into the galaxy.
A Star Conflict for the Ages
You might already know that I’m going to say that Cosmic Encounter is great, that you can never have too many aliens, and that you shouldn’t listen to the haters.
While Cosmic Encounter frequently tops lists of all-time favorites, its following isn’t quite as large as other well known games. I doubt that Cosmic Encounter or its expansions are anywhere near the top 10 in product sales for Fantasy Flight Games. Those who like the game seem to love the game, and those who dislike it, dislike it with passion.
For 40 years, Cosmic Encounter has confounded and infuriated. It is by no means a “balanced” game, nor is it trying to be. It’s a game of risk and luck and insanity and passion, a game that has seen a lot of love over the years. And while it’s not breaking any sales records (as far as I’m aware, anyway), I think it’s fantastic that the game keeps getting support from its publisher and creators.
This new set of aliens brings in a whole new wave of excitement and off-the-charts wildness. They are designed for the dedicated fans, who are always thirsty for more. The best thing I can do is just name a few of the aliens you might encounter:
After an encounter, Cloak gets to sneakily rearrange one card or ship on the table while everyone’s eyes are closed, and gains a free reward if no one can guess what he did. The Emperor demands tribute, deciding which are worthy (he gets to keep those) and which are unworthy (he sends one back to a player who is penalized for their unworthy tribute). Hunger just keeps taking cards from other people. A.I. accumulates tokens every turn which allow it to look at the cards in players hands and decks, growing more and more powerful over the course of the game. Tortoise skips his turns and collects cards in his “shell” (a safe, untouchable pile outside of his hand). When another player wins the game, the Tortoise gets to take all the cards from his shell and attempt to win the game by having as many encounters as possible until he runs out of cards.
Because, see, he’s turtling.
This is just a taste of the 30 powers. Like it or not, Cosmic Encounter aliens are all about doing something unique and interesting. They’re certainly more about finding the fun than finding the balance, but even powerful aliens have an inevitable weakness that can be sought out and taken advantage of, especially by savvy players willing to team up to make it happen. After 6 expansions (yes, this is number 6) with 20-30 aliens added each time, there are bound to be some duds. And there certainly have been – a few powers that are just uninteresting, or nearly identical copies to other aliens but with more disadvantages. With 195 total alien powers counting the base game, you’re hardly missing out of you remove a few from the cycle. And to my more pressing point, this expansion is chock-full of clever and creative powers that generally avoid retreading old ground.
If there’s one complaint – it’s a poor complaint, really – it’s just that these have reach a point of outlandishness that you better not include them if you’re introducing new players. The sheer absurdity of it all can really throw someone askew if they’re not sure what’s going on in the first place.
Let’s not forget the alliance dials, which I have to say – I love. For one, it makes the alliance process a bit simpler. This around-the-table stuff makes for tedious work, and it’s much more exciting for everyone to have to decide in advance where they’re going, without anyone seeing what anyone else is planning on doing. It makes the main player’s pleas for help all the more pitiful. I will say, there has been a bit of confusion with some of my players as to which side of the dial is for offense and which is for defense, so the design could have been a tiny bit better, but we get used to it.
If it’s not clear, I can highly recommend Cosmic Eons if you’re into the original. It’s not going to do anything for you if you hate Cosmic Encounter already, but if you’ve already embraced the infinite possibilities and general absurdity of the game, what you’ve got in this tiny little box is more goodness. My only regret is that I don’t play this game as much as I’d like.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee North America and Fantasy Flight Games for providing a review copy of Cosmic Eons.