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How to Play: Cosmic Encounter

How to Play Cosmic Encounter

Cosmic Encounter is a game of politics, alliances, betrayals and keeping your head down. In Cosmic Encounter, players take on the roles of various alien species in the universe. Each turn, a player has an encounter with another player, running into another player’s home planet and either tries to attack it and establish a colony, or try to negotiate a deal.

To set the game up, each player places all their planets in front of them and sets four ships onto each planet. Shuffle the flare cards up and deal two to each player. Players then find the corresponding alien cards (the gigantic ones) and select one to play with, discarding the other. Then take all the flare cards of the aliens chosen and add more flares at random until you have 10 flares in total, and shuffle these into the encounter deck. Deal eight encounter cards to each player.

Playing Cosmic Encounter

Each round in Cosmic Encounter is broken up into seven phases:

  1. Regroup - The player whose turn it is gets a ship back from the warp (the graveyard, if you will) if they have one in it.
  2. Destiny - The player whose turn it is draws a card from the destiny deck. This determines who they have an encounter with, for example if they draw a red card they have an encounter with the red player in the red player’s home system. If they draw their own colour, they can either ignore it and draw another, or have an encounter with another player’s foreign colony on their own home system.
  3. Launch - The offensive player points the hyperspace cone at a target planet, and puts up to four of their ships on it. These may come from any of their colonies, including foreign colonies.
  4. Alliance - The two main players (the player whose turn it is, and the player they have an encounter with) can invite other players to join them. The offence invites players first. Allies are allowed to contribute up to four ships to either offence or defence.
  5. Planning - The two main players now choose an encounter card and play it face-down.
  6. Reveal - The players flip over their chosen cards. Main players and allies may subsequently add reinforcement cards to boost their total attack values.
  7. Resolution - Depending on what cards were played, the encounter resolves in different ways:
    1. If both players played an attack card, they fight. Simply add the number on the cards to the number of ships they brought to the fight (including allies) to find their attack value, and the higher number wins the fight. In the event of a draw, the defense wins. All ships on the losing side go to the warp.
    2. If both players played a negotiate card, they have one minute to negotiate an agreement. They can exchange cards, or could even offer the other player to establish one colony on their system. A deal must be made, with each side gaining and giving something, in order for a negotiation to be successful. If the negotiation fails, both players lose three ships to the warp.
    3. If an attack card and negotiate card is played, the negotiating side automatically loses and sends their ships to the warp (along with any allies). For each ship they lose (not including ally ships), they get to take one card from the other player’s hand without looking, as compensation.
    4. If two morphs are played (unlikely, but possible if you play the game with expansions), both sides lose and send three ships to the warp each.
    5. If the offence wins, all offensive ships form new colonies on the planet that was attacked.
    6. If the defence wins, the planet is protected and allies return to their existing colonies (players get to choose which colonies they return to). For each ship contributed to the fight, allies may draw one card from the encounter deck OR take one ship back from the warp. They can choose to mix and match these.

If the encounter was successful, that player may choose to go again (just once). The game ends when any player manages to establish five foreign colonies. It is possible for multiple players to share victory.

If a player ever runs out of encounter cards when they need them, they discard any extra cards (such as flare cards or artefact cards) and redraw cards until they have eight cards in their hand. If the attacking player does this (if he doesn’t have any encounter cards when he needs to play them), he draws a new hand but the encounter ends immediately and the next player takes their turn. Besides drawing new cards due to abilities and allying with the defending player, this is the only way players redraw cards.

If any of the decks run out, simply shuffle the discard piles up to form new decks. If a player needs to draw new cards from the encounter deck and there are no cards in the discard pile, a cosmic quake happens. All players discard their hands, and these cards are shuffled up to form the new encounter deck. Then eight cards are dealt to each player.

That’s the basic concept of Cosmic Encounter, but what makes this game really pop and has made it become a mainstay of board gaming are the various bells and whistles it comes with, such as alien powers, flare cards and artefact cards.

Alien powers are unique to each player, and can drastically effect how the game works for that player. Alien powers are colour coded at the top of each card: the green cards are the easiest to use, while yellow cards are intermediate and red cards are more challenging to use effectively. If at any point, a player has fewer than three colonies in their home system, they temporarily lose their alien’s power until they again have at least three colonies.

Flare cards are special cards that players can play. These cards are played at different times, depending on the card. Flares have two abilities: the wild ability and the super ability. The wild is used if the player using it is not the same alien as the flare, while the super is used if his alien species matches the flare. Once you use a flare card, you put it back into your hand. Flares can only be used once per turn.

Artefacts are similar, and can have various effects and are played at various parts of a round. However, unlike flare cards, you discard these after playing them.


It might seem daunting at first, especially since each round is broken up into seven steps, but the game is far more intuitive than it lets on. It’s best to go through each round step-by-step, recapping what happens in each phase as you do so. By the fourth round, most players should already have the hang of it. That being said, I’ve found that the most difficult thing to teach are artefact cards and flare cards, as players aren’t really sure when they can play them. You could easily remove artefact cards from the game the first time you play it, but flare cards are quite unavoidable so they may slow the game down a little.

Cosmic Encounter is a brilliant game, and has become a favourite after just a few plays. The quirks of the game allow for some ridiculous situations, crazy come backs and horrible betrayals. Welcome to the universe, let’s see what destiny has in store for you!