Tabletop Game / Cosmic Encounter

Cosmic Encounter is a board/card game in which each player takes on the role of one (sometimes more) alien species. The goal of the game is to establish "bases" on planets in other player's home systems. Combat takes place through the use of tokens (representing ships and/or bases) and cards (which add to the power of the ships involved, or in some cases cause other effects). The game actively encourages "wheeling and dealing" between players to form temporary offensive and defensive alliances, or even resolve "combat" situations without actual combat (you can, for example, offer to exchange a base in your system for a base in your opponent's system).

One of the distinctive features of the game is that in addition to the base rules, each alien species has the ability to "break" the rules in some unique way. This adds an additional strategic layer to the game beyond the part-luck-part-strategy aspect of the battles themselves, because the powers of each potential pairing of opponents interact in a distinct way.

Originally designed by Future Pastimes, Cosmic Encounter has been around for a considerable time and gone through several different publishers: Eon Games in 1977, West End Games (in the US) and Games Workshop (in the UK) in 1986, Mayfair Games in 1991, Avalon Hill in 2000, and Fantasy Flight Games in 2008. Many of these publishers also published expansions to and/or variations on the base game. Most of these are distinct enough that expansions from one publisher are not compatible with the base game from another publisher (without some modifications), though people familiar with any version should be able to play any other after some explanation of the differences (especially in the case of rules which are present in some versions but not others). In particular, interactions between the powers may cause some races to be either wildly overpowered or effectively worthless if mismatched bases/expansions are used (though this is occasionally true of pairings even within a single publisher; Zombie's power is all but useless against Void, for example).

There is also an online version.


The game provides examples of:

  • Blessed with Suck: Some races' powers are more useful than others, though this partially depends on the playstyle of the player in question, and a race that's effectively terrible for one player may be terribly effective in the hands of another.
  • Descriptively-Named Species: All of them.
  • Easily Conquered World: The Xenophiles are a race of curious, super-friendly space hosts, so tolerant that they don't actually realize that their new "visitors" are actually hostile invaders. These aliens benefit from letting other players establish bases in their system.
  • Final Solution: while it's only implicit in play, the Flavor Text for some of the races indicate their long-term goal is complete elimination of the other races. In particular, this is true in most editions of Anti-Matter and Void.
  • Flavor Text: Each race-card comes with this.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: The Parasite can hop aboard any invading or defending team, even without an invitation. This allows them to win by piggybacking off of other players' work, who must either negotiate or lose their own encounters to thwart the Parasite.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Empath can force its enemies to negotiate/compromise instead of fighting.
  • Healing Factor: The Mutant can regenerate its limbs, redrawing any spent cards back to a full hand of 8. Many races' powers allow them to rescue defeated ships from the warp, and all players can get back at least 1 ship during the Regroup phase.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: The two main players in a battle where both sides play compromise cards have to reach a deal in a short time, or both sides lose all the ships involved. An Empath player can commit a single ship to a battle, force a compromise, and then use the disparity as a bludgeon: "Oh, you don't feel like giving me a base for nothing? Okay, I can live with losing a ship; hope you can live with losing four."
  • Humans Are Average / Humans Are Special: The Human race's unique power simply adds 4 (a relatively mild bonus) to their side's attack/defense total in an encounter. According to the flavor text, however, "exposing a human to Cosmic energy can unlock strange and awesome powers" - canceling out the +4 with a "Cosmic Zap" card results in the human's side automatically steamrolling the opponent. Naturally, the Human player can Zap themselves for just this purpose.
  • Instant-Win Condition: Some species have this as their power.
  • Interface Screw: A power for at least one race in the online version.
  • Massive Race Selection: The original game had 15 races, and nine(!) expansion sets bringing the total eventually up to a whopping 75(!). One of the later publishers was planning an expansion with yet another 35(!) but went out of business before the release. The Fantasy Flight edition released five expansions (so far), bringing the grand total to a staggering 165 alien races.
  • Metamorphosis: Several aliens have the power to swap for an entirely different alien midway through the game. The Chrysalis sheds its outer form once eight turns have passed; the Reincarnator changes form each time it loses in combat; and the Pentaform becomes a different alien for each stage of its life cycle (shifting back and forth as it gains and loses colonies).
  • Powers as Programs: Some species can steal or swap other races' powers.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Fury store up power with every ship they lose in battle, and can consume some or all of it to wreak merry hell on a future opponent.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers!: Every single race in the game, each in a different way.
  • The Trickster: The Cloak's player may call out a pause, force everyone else to look away, and then steal a card; move a ship; or make some other small change. If the others can't identify the change within 15 seconds, it remains in play.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Empath's ability to treat an opponent's Combat card as a Compromise card instead seems pretty weak at first glance.
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