Doing good things makes you feel good, it's a fact of life. But we board gamers know that doing good may also mean losing the edge in some circumstances, making it less appealing and causing us to be horrible people over the tabletop (or is that just me?). Cosmic Incursion, by Fantasy Flight Games, makes doing good that little bit more rewarding.
If you've ever had a Fantasy Flight expansion, you'll know that they know exactly what they're doing! It's the first expansion for Cosmic Encounter and introduces a new player, new aliens, a new event, and a sweet new deck of cards!
The Cosmic Incursion Expansion, designed by Kevin Wilson, introduces a whole new set of cards; the reward deck. This deck is what it says on the tin, a deck designed specifically to be the rewards gained through normal play. Usually, rewards would be taken from the standard play deck or through collecting ships from the warp. This deck is chock full of goodies, new artefacts, new cards and new encounter cards!
Personally, I always hated collecting rewards from the standard deck as I never seemed to get much more than negotiates to clog my hand up. The reward deck gives so much more! Rift cards that allow you to release ships from the warp, kickers which multiply your attack or compensation, encounter cards of varying values and crooked deals! We found the kickers to be the most valuable cards, but were very reluctant to use them against certain aliens... The Loser is the key one; there is nothing worse that multiplying a 23 x 3 in a grand spectacle of power, only for the winner to lose!
The reward deck increases the chances of the defence getting allies, which is exactly what is needed in standard Cosmic Encounter play. No one wants to defend someone else's planet! You'd much rather be on the offence's side and potentially get a colony. We found Cosmic Incursion immediately removes this issue; the possibility of a kicker or a rift is too fantastic an opportunity to pass up!
On top of this, it also makes giving out compensation for attacking during a negotiate more satisfying. If those claiming compensation get greedy and take reward cards from your hand, they may take a rift card which is not nice when it's stolen, doing the exact opposite of what they'd want! The new event is exactly what the game needed as well; a Cosmic Quake! (It sounds worse than it is...) If the destiny deck is ever emptied, a Cosmic Quake occurs; all hands are discarded, all decks are refreshed and discards reshuffled in, and then all players get new hands of eight. Perfect for some, frustrating if you've got an incredible hand full of rewards!
In terms of playing with six people, you'd immediately think it's going to become messy. Six people playing a board game in itself sounds overwhelming, but Cosmic Encounter is a game that lends itself better to a higher player count. In any one encounter you'd have an offence, an offensive ally, a defence and a defensive ally. This leaves two players to sit back and watch, but they're not out of the battle!
Some alien species allow for joining into battles through other means, whereas some artefact cards allow for those on the sidelines to interfere in other ways. The main fear among some is knowing more players means more colours, which is usually where mistakes occur in terms of knowing whose where. If you're the one person in the country who wants to use the orange counters, fear not! They are vibrant and are easily identifiable against the red and yellow.
Onto the meat of the expansion! The main reason people would buy any Cosmic Encounter expansion is for the addition of more alien races. Kick off with the knowledge that aliens come in three difficulties; green, yellow and red. Green is supposed to be the simplest to make use of and understand, red is supposed to be more situational/tactical and be harder to master, and yellow is somewhere in between. As a group, we have always recommended players start with green aliens when being introduced to Cosmic, however in Cosmic Incursion we have scrapped that rule. The colours should indicate complexity, but someone's understanding of one alien over another is set for them. There is no guarantee that a green alien will fit everyone, and we've had some red aliens that are very easy to make use of!
As for the aliens themselves, there are some absolutely incredible additions in this! Some of the more notable ones we found were the Plant who 'Grafts' another alien's power for a turn, the Ghoul who gets rewarded for destroying ships, the Leviathan who attacks using a whole planet, and the Symbiote who gets to play with double the number of ships! (It's worth remembering you'd need one less player than max for The Symbiote). And some of the flares are just unbelievable! From doubling your attack to playing guessing games to straight up destroying your own planet out of spite, these can easily change the flow of any encounter!
The aliens integrate beautifully into the main game. You do have the standard warnings on some aliens, warning not to use certain powers against certain aliens, but other than that you get some fantastic interactions amongst alien powers! My favourite is the Gambler against the Magician. The Magician gets the opposition to play two cards and then steals one, and The Gambler can bluff a card as being what it's not, keeping it unreleased throughout the encounter. The Magician will get the card they steal, but the Gambler will need to remember which card was which, and bluff accurately. It can get messy; I've seen the Gambler shocked at which card they reveal, and I've seen the Magician more shocked when they steal an eight and an eight is bluffed and revealed.
Component Quality and Replay-ability
The components are brilliant. The alien cards are well illustrated, nicely detailed and the lore is always a lovely touch (although some of the aliens' descriptions can be quite gruesome!). The orange counters are of identical quality to those from the base game and the cards are an identical match to those from the core. The reward deck is slightly off colour which is completely intentional and helps players know which card is which when playing them without needing to check the back.
The replay-ability of this game is endless. Don't misunderstand, the game is what the game is; a battle for cosmic domination. But no two games will ever be the same, it's not possible! Even with the same aliens as a previous game, the cards drawn, actions taken and destinies pulled will change the flow of the game. The 20 new aliens in Cosmic Incursion add new possibilities and dangers, and will take a lot to master entirely.
Player Interaction and Engagement
This game is heavy on player interaction. Everything is discussed, explained, bluffed, argued and disputed. It's the point of the game! There is a never a silent moment throughout any game of Cosmic, and the addition of the reward deck means that there is more scope for discussion and diplomacy among players, but also more encouragement to actually support the defence.
Engagement is the fickle element of the game. If you're already a Cosmic Encounter fan, you're sailing. You'll love the expansion, focus will be entirely on the game and you'll be aware of everything! If you're not so much a fan, you'll learn quickly that the game is unforgiving for not paying attention. If you aren't aware of everyone's alien powers at all times you're going to mess up! In the same way as remembering who has done what... Handing out compensation and losing a Card Zap but forgetting about it will definitely bite you on the bottom, especially now the reward deck's Rift Cards are now in play!
Finals Thoughts on Cosmic Incursion
A lot of game expansions add in lots of new mechanics, complicate things and lengthen the game massively. Cosmic Incursion instead adds more meat onto the bone, not extending play too much but giving it far more depth and variety. The new aliens are superb, but the true winner of this expansion is the reward deck and the potential for a sixth player.
If you're looking to add more depth your Cosmic Encounter experience, I'd seriously recommend this expansion as the first one you get. It's the first released but also adds enough weight into the game so it plays better but isn't so much to put players off.
Other expansions will may add more, but this one is enough to spark interest and keep the game fresh but the same time length. So, what are you waiting for? There are alien species to annihilate and a cosmos to dominate!