Cosmic Encounter – First Impressions

cosmic encounter

I toyed with the idea of calling this Cosmic Encounter post something else since really these are not my “first impressions”. Cosmic Encounter was originally published in 1977 (the same year I was published, for those interested) by Eon. It has since seen versions from West End Games, Mayfair Games, Avalon Hill, and now Fantasy Flight Games.

I am most familiar with the Mayfair Games version of Cosmic Encounter and was introduced to it by Scott sometime in the early 90’s. I think Scott might have played the Eon version as well but I don’t think I ever had the pleasure.

While the Mayfair Games version was quite good it had its issues, which Avalon Hill decided to try to fix by releasing the most watered down, neutered and in all ways lame version of the game (this is only my opinion… well mine and a ton of other people). There are apparently still people who play this version but personally I never wasted my time trying it.

Besides Scott’s version I also played a copy of Cosmic (complete with More Cosmic) owned by another friend, Tom. This was a very popular game in our group when we were all in college, until we started playing a lot of Magic and Magic timing started getting interjected into Cosmic Encounter. It was then that things kind of went up in smoke. Essentially the game was great to a point but the rules were a bit of a mess and since we played with three alien powers each there were constant rules issues.

Toward the end of last year Fantasy Flight release a new version of Cosmic and at first I was very skeptical. After the mess that Avalon Hill made of the game I had little hope of anyone bringing the game back to its former glory, while at the same time clearing up the problems we had with the Mayfair version. I have to admit; it wasn’t until I saw that the redesign was being done (or rather had been done since I don’t think I really looked into the game until after it was released) by Kevin Wilson, that I became interested.

Kevin Wilson is the designer behind Descent (a game I really didn’t like much but found interesting nonetheless), Arkham Horror’s new version, and Android. Kevin seems to me to be a man of passion but not someone that will let that passion supersede good game design. As I said, it was my respect for Kevin Wilson that made me interested in Cosmic Encounter.

Matt, my next-door neighbor and a member of my gaming circle, was also a big fan of Cosmic back in the day (bigger than myself really) and he received a copy of the new game as a gift for his birthday. This suited me fine as most games just end up living at my house anyway and I was anxious to try it out.

After a few plays of the new Cosmic Encounter I have to say that I like it quite a bit. The rules have been cleaned up and there are very few we had any questions about. The changes that have been made make the game more interesting and in my opinion limit the need for multiple alien powers.

The two biggest changes to the game are the introduction of Technology cards (these can be researched throughout the game and give you either a one-shot power or some special ability or other) and the alteration of Flare cards so that they go back to your hand after being used. This creates a situation where Flares essentially give a player an extra power to be used each turn without having to have everyone play multiple alien powers. I actually found I liked this better than the multiple powers, as there was less chance of broken combinations ruining games.

The other major changes are more subtle. For example, the deck is so much smaller than before that players can actually count on what cards other players could have (there is only one 40 attack card and a couple other high cards in the 20 range so if you have seen these go by you can better know what to expect) and the chance of a player getting their own Flare and being able to use their Super is vastly increased. I almost never bothered reading the Supers in the Mayfair version, as it was such a long shot to be able to get your Flare. On the other hand in the first two games we played we saw three players get their own Flares.

It is my opinion that Fantasy Flight and Kevin Wilson have done exactly what they needed to do. They have recaptured the idea of Cosmic Encounter but slimmed it down to a point where the game is understandable and less unwieldy. There are of course expansions coming but hopefully these will be handled just as well and the deck will not grow to be as cumbersome as the old Mayfair deck.

Some people will certainly choose to stay with their Mayfair version and honestly if that version is working for you this version offers very little. The only really new aspect is the tech deck but I don’t feel this is enough for a replacement if you are satisfied with your current version. On the other hand if you feel the version you are playing is too simple (Avalon Hill) or too fiddly (Mayfair or Eon) then you might want to check out the Fantasy Flight version. I am not one to get too much into components but I should say the Fantasy Flight components are much nicer than most that have come before as well.

I’ll have more on the actual play of the game in my review but I hope this gives you an idea of the differences in versions and lets you know that I am a fan of Cosmic and I like the new version. Feel free to share your Cosmic experiences below!

    ojiepat Says:

    My impressions on this version(I too have just played the Mayfair version previously):

    1: I like that there is no reason to play with multiple powers. I could never see the combos before, not knowing the powers as well as other people. Now I just have to decide between 2 powers and play one of them.

    2: I like the changes to the deck for the most part, but also with only 2 card zaps, if you get one of them, you can be guaranteed being able to play a flare that will win you the game, because you can card zap the other card zap. This might be a little too powerful.

    3: Tech is pretty cool, but there are a few that might be a little too powerful, primarily the “get a base in another system” one. This should be restricted so it can’t be the game winning base.

    4: While I like that the game is quicker, it’s also much harder to slow someone down now. I think this will just turn into a case of not inviting people on offense much and the game will end up slowing down on it’s own. time will tell on this point.

    These are my first impressions, I hope to play more games to get a better feel for it over all. My opinion is that it is a much better game than the Mayfair one for me, but time will tell how it shakes out over time.



    As Josh mentioned, I’ve got a pretty good amount of experience playing Cosmic.

    I played the old Eon version a few times during my younger years, it belonged to my parents and came out now and then.

    Then the Mayfair version, of which I played plenty. Mostly with three alien powers, because one (and even two) was simply not enough.

    I’d probably agree that playing Cosmic Encounters started to be less fun when we started trying to shore up soft spots in the rules by taking hints from timing in Magic: the Gathering. Magic’s great, and the rules are so ridiculously complex they do basically account for almost all eventualities, but they also took me years of play to figure out.

    Probably the main enjoyment I get from (occasionally) playing Cosmic these days is pulling off some neat combo between multiple powers and/or cards. It’s not often that the game’s tempo and mid-/late-game are such that it’s fun for all involved, but there are still some magic moments to be had by seeing unexpected combos come together.

    It might be nice to play the new version and have a smoother play experience, but I wonder if they can capture the same kind of magic that made Cosmic Encounter so unique. At least it will be a huge improvement over the Avalon Hill edition.