Updated: Sep 10, 2019
This weekend we played Cosmic Encounter for the first time in probably half a decade. I’ve been wanting to get this back to the table for while now but have encountered hostility from my regular game group. Fortunately the Game Night Crew had never played so I unleashed the chaos on them instead!
For those who don’t know Cosmic Encounter is a game that really shouldn’t work. The basic gameplay mechanic is, play a card and the player who plays the highest card wins. However, with the introduction of Alien Powers the dynamic shifts and this simple mechanism becomes a buffet of trash talk and doublethink.
In our second game we had four aliens, the Symbiote who begins the game with 40 ships rather than 20. The Vacuum who has the power to suck off other players… Sorry, the power to suck other players ships off their planets whenever the Vacuum would lose ships. The Neighbour, who can add all of his ships in a system into a battle and me, the Sorcerer.
The Sorcerer has a brilliant power, he can swap his played card with his opponent immediately before they are revealed. This messes with everybody at the table. If you play a high attack card you might end up giving it to me. Perhaps you play a negotiate card instead, if one player plays a negotiate and the other plays an attack card the attack wins. So you might play one hoping I swap, but what if I don’t?
Midgame and I had suitably confused everybody…I was a whirlwind of unpredictability. I’m sitting on 3 foreign colonies and looking for my fourth (five foreign colonies is the winning condition). I draw my destiny card which indicates who I should attack: Blue, the Neighbour. His early-game strength in numbers had caused the Vacuum player to systematically destroy the blue ships whenever the opportunity arose and by this point his worlds had been decimated leaving just a single ship on each colony. This is a precarious position to be in. I play a negotiate and swap…
So does the Neighbour. At this point we must negotiate a deal in one minute or each of us would lose 3 ships to the warp. I realise I’m in a very strong negotiating position. If the Neighbour doesn’t agree to my terms they would lose 3 colonies.
I stonewalled. There was no way they wanted to give me my fourth colony but they would struggle to come back from losing 3 of their home colonies and their alien power to boot. I just had to hold out and I could get everything I wanted.
45 seconds passed and I was almost cackling with glee. I was incredibly tempted to block any deal at all, sure it hurt me a little but the opportunity to decimate my friend was, well... it was delicious.
At this point you may be questioning if I’m a nice person, but a little bit of history. The Neighbour player was my friend Dave. Dave and I have been playing games together since 2002 and in that time he has handed my ass to me on no fewer than one thousand occasions. He once beat me in a game of Warhammer with his first shot of the game. I finally had a chance to retaliate.
This was for every downed Tie Fighter, every innocent Stormtrooper, every orphan who lost their father to a unrealistically accurate photon torpedo hit on a Death Star. This was revenge for my Vampire Lord, Tony the Toothless, for the harmless Medusa his dungeon delving halfling thief stabbed in the back, for the time his Cylon treachery doomed the Galactica and the time he put the robber on my land… This was my time!
55 seconds and the angel on my shoulder finally offered a deal allowing each of us to gain a colony. I could have demanded a colony, offering nothing in return. I should have, but… It was a sweet sweet victory and I remained virtuous, pious almost in my graciousness. Some people would not have been so kind!
A turn later I would win, alongside the Symbiote who was convinced I would find a way to screw him too, even if we were on the same side. That’s the power of Cosmic Encounter, you never know who enemy truly is until it’s too late.