Encountering the Cosmos
There are some games that, when introduced, alter the gaming world often creating an entire new genre of games. Clue, Monopoly, Scrabble, Risk, Dungeons & Dragons each were ground breaking games. Another of these ‘foundation games’ was introduced in 1977 and its influence cannot be exaggerated - Cosmic Encounter.
Cosmic Encounter was designed by Future Pastimes (a team of three people) and was originally to be published by Parker Brothers. For some reason, Parker Bros. eventually declined to publish the game and it was offered to Eon. The components were simple card stock and chits; expansions arrived in plastic bags and the game was only sold in hobby shops - certainly not the recipe for success. There is a saying that sometimes ‘the whole is greater than the some of its parts’ and for Cosmic Encounter this was true - it was phenomenal.
Why? What was so special, so unusual about the game? Consider that at the time it was published, in every game, players were equal and everyone played by the same set of rules. Cosmic Encounter introduced the concept of ‘special powers’ - each player could ‘break the rule’ is a specific (and limited) way. In addition to this, there was a tremendous amount of player interaction as all players could request allies in a confrontation and it was possible for multiple players to win. Simple rules, tremendous variety, quick to play - nothing like Cosmic Encounter had ever been published before.
The influence of the design has been acknowledged by many designers including Bruno Faidutti, Steve Jackson and Richard Garfield who has often claimed CE was the inspiration for Magic. Eventually the game would accumulate more than 20 gaming awards and received a ‘recommendation’ from Consumer Reports magazine. (Consumer Reports generally tested consumer products such as refrigerators, televisions and cars - games did not normally appear on their radar.) An ‘serious’ version of the game was published as Dune (Avalon Hill).
Since its original inception the game has seen a variety of publishers; the list includes (but is not limited to): Eon, Games Workshop, Descartes, Grow Jogo, Tsukuda Hobby, West End Games, Mayfair, Avalon Hill and most recently, Fantasy Flight. Each company altered the game, in most cases the changes were slight, but others made major modifications that split the CE world resulting in debates that lasted for years.
When Eon published the game there fifteen aliens (special powers) included with the game. Most publishers followed with a few more until Mayfair entered the market. Mayfair introduced a substantial number of new aliens and made significant rule changes. For the first time, which rules were being used at a tournament became an issue. Mayfair then introduced a large expansion (and a very simplified version) which resulted in a very complex game. Even today the Mayfair version remains controversial, CE players will sit on one side of the fence or the other - you either love the Mayfair version or you hate it.
By 2000, Hasbro had purchased both Parker Brothers and Avalon Hill. Wanting to rectify the Parker Brother’s mistake of declining to publish Cosmic Encounter, they got the rights and published it under the Avalon Hill label. The components are probably the best in any published version of the game. The Avalon Hill reversed the Mayfair trend, returning closer to the original Eon version. There were only 20 aliens included in the game and many of the later additions to the game were eliminated. Some thought that they had stripped it down too far and expected an expansion to rectify this however, no expansion was ever published.
In 2008, Fantasy Flight Games entered the fray. The FFG version is possibly the best of all of the versions to see publication. The rules have been straightened out and many of the ‘controversial’ inclusions by Mayfair are either repaired or eliminated. The base game includes 50 aliens and many of the concepts introduced in the original Eon game. They have continued to issue expansions and the ‘alien count’ is now at 165.
Most long term CE players have incorporated aliens from other games or even the plethora of homegrown aliens available on the internet. Not every alien combination will work with every version but most are usable which expands the possibilities in the game. As crazy as it may seem, my Cosmic Encounter box includes the components and aliens from the Avalon Hill version, many aliens from the Mayfair versions, some aliens printed from internet sites and the rules, cards, etc. from the Fantasy Flight version.
For those who have never played Cosmic Encounter, to me, the feel is very similar to playing, King of Tokyo and I believe if you enjoy KoT, you will enjoy this old classic.