I've never played the original Cosmic Encounter. To some this is a crime so horrific that it immediately removes my eligibility to review games. It was never because I didn't want to play it, more than I didn't think it would get the table time in my group. Enter Cosmic Encounter Duel, could this be the perfect answer to my quest?
Cosmic Encounter Fuel
Two player games are usually smaller affairs with smaller boxes and less components. Cosmic Encounter Duel, while smaller than Cosmic Encounter, packs quite a lot into it's smaller box size. You have 20 translucent ships for each player, a ton of cards and more punchboard than I was expecting.
The most contentious of these cardboard pieces are the tactic standees. These are used in duels to determine whether you remove some of your opponents ships, defend your own, or recover some of your used tactics. These have a top and a bottom half, the idea being you choose one secretly and then reveal at the same time. The problem is that they are just badly done with a tiny support piece. It makes them very unstable and apt to fall over. It's a strange decision when you could have achieved the same effect with cards.
Getting that negative out of the way the rest of the components are great throughout. I love the stacking ships, and the artwork. I'm sure some of the artwork is reused from Cosmic Encounter, but there is so much of it that you will forgive them.
The rule book initially appears very strangely laid out, with not much detail about anything other than duels. But then you play the game and discover the gameplay is driven by the destiny cards and mainly revolves around duels.
Cosmic Encounter OOOO
Destiny cards come in three flavours. Discovery cards bring out more planets for you to duel over. Event cards bring some sort of challenge to negotiate and finally Refresh cards allow you to gain some resources back. You start the game by drawing a discovery card follow its instructions and at the bottom it tells you which deck to draw from next.
It's a smooth system that feels like it belongs in a narrative game. Cosmic Encounter Duel is not a narrative game other than the narrative you and your friend (opponent) create, as you via for domination. Those are my favourite kind as you create different memorable stories each time you play.
Victory comes from gaining control of 5 planets, or forcing your opponent into not having any ships in their supply when they need to draw them. There are also a couple of aliens that give you a special way to win the game, although usually this is quite difficult.
Cosmic Encounters of the Third Kind
Speaking of aliens, Cosmic Encounter Duel has a ton of them. There are the aliens you choose from to play as for the game. There is such a big deck of these, like loads. You could go a huge amount of games without playing the same alien. The other aliens appear as envoys. You will deal three envoys face down at the start of each game. Some rewards in the game allow you to gain more loyalty with an envoy, giving you another game breaking power.
The game is a big tug of war between the two of you. There are times when you will want to win a battle and times when you won't. The plan cards are you main source of clout, which wins the battle, but range from -2 - 42. At first you think such a variance in numbers will lead to easy to predict outcomes but there is so much going on that it is rarely that simple.
That doesn't mean it's random. You might be caught of guard by an effect once or twice, but then you will remember that power and be prepared for it. My friend had an ability that potentially gave him an easy way to win the game, but knowing this I upped my aggression. Because the destiny cards tell you what deck to draw from next you have a good idea of how to play.
Cosmic Encounter Duel
Duels are the main chunk of gameplay here and as such there is a strict multi step procedure to them. It's not as bad as it first seems though and once you have experienced some of the game changing powers you realise why these steps need to be in place. It would have been nice to have them on a player aid card, but they are on the back of the rule book which isn't too bad.
The game plays in 30-60 minutes and apart from the minor tactic stand annoyance is a blast throughout. Decisions come thick and fast throughout the game, and despite the elements of the unknown, you never feel like luck has defeated you. Instead you will rue decisions you made in the game that seemed small at the time but ended up costing more than you anticipated.
I went into Cosmic Encounter Duel with only a vague idea of what the main game involved. How close Duel is to Cosmic Encounter I don't know but I do know that Cosmic Encounter Duel is right up there as one of my favourite two player games. Which means for me Cosmic Encounter has a lot to live up to.