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Cosmic Encounter

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Build a galactic empire…In the depths of space, the alien races of the Cosmos vie with each other for control of the universe. Alliances form and shift from moment to moment, while cataclysmic battles send starships screaming into the warp.This classic game of alien politics returns from the warp once more!In Cosmic Encounter, each player becomes the leader of one of dozens of…
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Golden Pear


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • It's a classic for a reason.
  • Gameplay is pacy and absorbing, with comical fluff-text on each alien card.
  • It's always expanding.
  • It's got a great community.

Might Not Like

  • Even with its modular rules, it can daunt newbies at first.
  • Getting stick with a duff alien race against a galaxy of awesome ones can suck.
  • A bad hand of low-number attack cards will leave you praying for Negotiation.
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Build a galactic empire...

In the depths of space, the alien races of the Cosmos vie with each other for control of the universe. Alliances form and shift from moment to moment, while cataclysmic battles send starships screaming into the warp.
This classic game of alien politics returns from the warp once more!

In Cosmic Encounter, each player becomes the leader of one of dozens of alien races, each with its own unique power. On a player's turn, he or she becomes the offense. The offense encounters another player on a planet by moving a group of his or her ships through the hyperspace gate to that planet. Both sides can invite allies and play cards to try and tip the encounter in their favor.

The object of the game is to establish colonies in other players' planetary systems. The winner(s) are the first player(s) to have five colonies on any planets outside his or her home system. These colonies may all be in one system or scattered over multiple systems. The players must use force, cunning, and diplomacy to ensure their victory. And, because alliances are a key part of the game, multiple players can win together!

Player Count: 3-5
Time: 60-120 Minutes
Age: 12+

Cosmic Encounter’s legacy stretches back decades, yet it’s the modern iteration published by Fantasy Flight Games that has our attention today. The pedigree of Fantasy Flight is well upheld in Cosmic Encounter’s presentation, featuring chunky, robust game pieces with a good tactile feel. In your box you’ll find five star systems, five bags of spaceships, decks of aliens to play as and plenty of cards to mess with your fellow players along the way.

Galactic gameplay

The end goal of Cosmic Encounter for all players is to assert their dominance over the known universe by establishing colonies on foreign planets. You and between two and four opponents will be taking on this task, through a timeless blend of offensive strategy, shrewd negotiation and strategic moxie.

A central galactic map, also serving as the dreaded Warp to which felled spacecraft are banished, has a handy counter showing which players are closest to the goal of five foreign colonies, achieved by force or friendship. Pleasingly, more than one, or even all, players can win Cosmic Encounter at once if the game leads to it.

The gameplay follows a simple flow of events, helpfully referred to and illustrated on every card and element involved therein – everything you need to know in this game can be seen at a glance. You begin by setting up your turn, retrieving a number of spaceships lost to the Warp in prior turns, before drawing a card that denotes your next act. These cards are colour coded, and signify who is to receive your next (wait for it…) Cosmic Encounter.

For example, let’s say you’re playing as the red star system, and you draw a yellow card. That signifies that this turn’s Encounter will be taking place in the yellow star system. You’ll then choose a handful of your spaceships – not too many that your star systems back home are under-defended – and plonk them on the deliciously dramatic-looking Hyperspace Gate game boardlet.

A typical turn

The Gate has a wonderfully accusatory pointy end that you’ll then swing at the chosen planet in the yellow system, and the Encounter truly begins. The yellow player will place a collection of yellow ships at the defending world, then ask for defence from other players, who are free to contribute starship tokens to aid the beleaguered planet at their discretion. Thereafter, you too have the chance to ask for reinforcements, although be wary that doing so invites your rivals to join you in setting up shop on a foreign world – thus advancing their victory conditions – if it all goes successfully.

With that resolved, you browse your hand of cards for an Attack or Negotiate card. The former features a number that signifies attack power to be added to the number of starships on the Hyperspace Gate – the number on the card, plus the number of attacking spaceship tokens, equals the final attack value against the defending player. You’ll want that number as high as possible, unless you’re instead choosing the more dicey Negotiate card instead – more on that shortly.

Your opponent chooses an Attack or Negotiate card from their hand to defend the star system with, and both players put their cards face down on the table for a succulently tense moment of simultaneous reveal. At the time of revelation, tot up the number of attacking ships and the Attack card number versus the sum of the defending player’s same ships and card, adding reinforcement cards from your hand and being likewise countered by your rival’s for added hilarity as you each try and urge your numbers higher.

Biggest number wins – successful offence occupies the planet alongside the defender, while successful defence rebuffs the assault, sends the offending ships to the Warp in the centre of the board, and sometimes gets to claims compensation from the aggressor. The politics and bluffing in this alone shows you why Cosmic Encounter was the template for the Game of Thrones board game spin-off!

Those Negotiate cards we mentioned? Ingenious. If a defender Negotiates versus an attacker, or vice versa, they can claim compensation for their diplomacy being met with violence. Yet if both players choose to Negotiate, they have to do just that – talk over the terms of the aggressor player’s settlement on the defending world, replete with a gorgeously enforced one minute rule for such talks to go ahead, lest both involved players get penalised. We can’t begin to tell you how many arguments a tight time limit has avoided.

And of course, this is before we get to Wild or Tech cards…

Mischief and miscreants

Even with such fine mechanics in place, with rules that allow you to swap out technical elements for simpler games if needs be, the real stars of Cosmic Encounter are its alien races. Distributed randomly, you’ve no option of picking a favourite, and must adapt your play-style to each alien per game session, whose names helpfully describe their behaviour.

Each alien also essentially breaks the game in one of many intriguing ways, ranging from the Macron’s ability to treat its ships as multiples to the loser’s ability to declare a lost battle a victory, or the cover-boy Parasite’s ability to latch onto alien attacks against other players uninvited. Each alien race is printed on a large card that’s superbly impactful, together with outlandish art and a marker by its image from green through amber to red.

That denotes the complexity of an alien’s special skill set, and pleasingly the game recommends that you can stick to green aliens for your first few games as you learn the ropes, before graduating up amber and red species.

The true ingenuity of Cosmic Encounter rests here. Though turns proceed as normal, your randomly selected alien race will have an ability that will interject somewhere along the gameplay flow, either at your discretion or as a mandatory action. This gives you your own personal rule set to play by in conjunction with the main game, which is much more fun than it might first sound.

An anecdote by way of example – your humble reviewer’s most memorable game. The shuffling of the alien decks bequeathed him the Tick Tock race, a mechanical species patiently awaiting the end of the universe. The power of this robotic race meant that actions taken in the game gave the Tick Tock points towards their end-goal, that being the cessation of existence – and meaning that they had a unique win condition, alongside winning via standard play.

It’s no surprise the Tick Tock were wiped out of the galaxy as a matter of urgency once rival players caught on, yet a more canny player may have been able to misdirect rivals into arguing long enough to have them bickering into oblivion.

Expansions abound

A final word on expansions – basically, there are many, but they’re not essential to play. Cosmic Encounter is beautifully complex yet accessible alone, yet each expansion offers a new series of quirks, rules (all optional, of course), sometimes a new colour of player and often new peculiar aliens to enjoy.

Special mention goes to Cosmic Storm, a recent-ish expansion proffering planet-protecting space stations and alien species like the duplicitous Swindler and the adorable Squee – the latter planning to overthrow galactic order by being too adorable to attack.

Cosmic Encounter – Final transmission

Cosmic Encounter is a finely honed, ever expanding experience that, even if you don’t add it to your collection (and in earnest, you should), should be played and enjoyed at least once in your board gaming lifetime.

Its fusion of bluffing, strategy, wits and hijinks make it a grin-inducer every time, and few board games can match the tense delights of a double-negotiate play on the final round as you and your final foe have one minute to discuss who rules the galaxy.

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!

Zatu Score


  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • It's a classic for a reason.
  • Gameplay is pacy and absorbing, with comical fluff-text on each alien card.
  • It's always expanding.
  • It's got a great community.

Might not like

  • Even with its modular rules, it can daunt newbies at first.
  • Getting stick with a duff alien race against a galaxy of awesome ones can suck.
  • A bad hand of low-number attack cards will leave you praying for Negotiation.