|Designer(s)||Peter Olotka, Jack Kittredge, Bill Eberle, Bill Norton|
|Publisher(s)||Eon Products, Inc, West End Games, Games Workshop Mayfair Games, Avalon Hill, Fantasy Flight Games|
|Players||3–6+ (depending on edition)|
|Setup time||5–10 minutes|
|Playing time||20–120+ minutes|
|Skill(s) required||Prediction, diplomacy, card management|
Cosmic Encounter is a science fiction–themed strategy board game designed by "Future Pastimes" (collectively, Peter Olotka, Jack Kittredge and Bill Eberle, with Bill Norton) and originally published by Eon Games in 1977. In it, each player takes the role of a particular alien species, each with a unique power to break one of the rules of the game, trying to establish control over the universe. The game was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame in 1997.
Cosmic Encounter is a dynamic and social game, with players being encouraged to interact, argue, form alliances, make deals, double-cross, and occasionally work together to protect the common good. Most editions of the game are designed for three to five players, although official rules exist for playing with as many as eight players.
Cosmic Encounter is based on a fixed set of rules which are subsequently modified by other elements of the game.
Each player begins with a color-coded "home system" containing five planets, and twenty ships (formerly referred to as "tokens") representing starships that populate these planets as "colonies" (formerly known as "bases"). A central "warp" is used to place defeated ships for all players. The object of the game is to establish five colonies on planets outside one's home system. Each player is dealt a hand of eight (or seven, depending on the edition) cards from the "cosmic deck," which includes three types of cards: Encounter cards (numbered Attack cards) and Negotiate (formerly Compromise) cards), Reinforcement cards, and Artifact (formerly "Edict") cards.
The turn player is referred to as the "offense." On a player's turn, they retrieve one ship from the warp, and then draw a card from the "Destiny" deck, containing color-coded cards which indicate which player's system they must attack; the player who owns this system becomes the "defense." Using a special "hyperspace gate" (formerly "hyperspace cone" or simply "cone") indicator, the offense selects which opponent on which planet to attack, and then places from 1 to 4 ships on the gate; the defense simply defends with however many ships he has on the targeted planet. Both the offense and defense can ask the other players individually to ally with their side; each invited player may commit up to 4 ships to either side of the conflict.
Once allies have committed, the offense and defense both select encounter cards from their hands to place face-down, then reveal them. If both cards are Attack cards, the total of the attack value and number of allied ships are added for both sides, and the side with the larger value wins with the defending player winning in case of ties. All players involved in the encounter may play Reinforcement cards from their hands to add numerical bonuses to each side's forces. If the offense's side wins, the defense's colony is lost and all ships on the defense's side are sent to the warp, while the offense and their allies land their ships on that planet, establishing new colonies on it. If the defense's side wins, all ships on the offense's side are sent to the warp, and defensive allies gain a reward of either a ship from the warp or a new card from the deck for each ship risked. If both players use Negotiate cards, they have one minute to make a deal, such as exchanging colonies or cards from their hands, while all allies are sent back to their owners' colonies (allies get nothing in this situation). If a deal can't be made, both players lose three ships each as a penalty. If one side plays a Negotiate card against an Attack card, they immediately lose, but they, though not their allies, get "compensation" from the victor by drawing cards from the victor's hand equal to the number of ships they lost in the battle.
At the end of the offense's turn, they may have a second encounter if they successfully attacked or made a deal. If they can't, choose not to, or have already had two encounters this turn, then play proceeds to the next player.
The rules become more complex with the introduction of alien powers. These are typically drawn randomly at the start of the game and known to all players; however, variants exist where players can select their powers, use multiple powers simultaneously, or hide their powers until they are used. Each power gives the player a way to bend the core rules to their advantages, typically in one of the following ways:
- Continuous effects, such as the Macron, where each of its ships is valued as 4 ships during combat
- Combat resolution effects, such as the Void, where any ship that loses against it is removed from the game entirely instead of going to the warp
- Victory condition changes, such as Masochist, who wins if it loses all its ships
- Role-playing elements, such as the Sniveler, who, if in a losing position, may whine to the other players to gain benefits
A player's alien power is only active if they have three or more colonies in their home system, and if lost, can be regained by taking back a third colony.
More advanced optional game components can add further levels of complexity and unpredictability. Various editions have included varying numbers of these optional components. They include:
- Flares: Cards that grant a limited version of an alien power, or, if used by the player that possesses that power, a significant boost to their own power.
- Lucre: In-game currency that allows more control of resources (such as buying more cards for one's hand or ships back from the warp). Multiple alien powers affect Lucre.
- Moons: Colonies on moons do not count towards victory conditions, but occupying one grants access to its special ability. Moon abilities can be powerful (such as retaining an alien power when it would normally be lost), while others are best described as "silly" (such as forcing the owner to speak in rhyme).
- Special planetary systems: Added in an expansion to the Eon Productions version of Cosmic Encounter and kept in the Mayfair version, the special systems have additional rules in regards to the player's initial setup, colonies, and victory conditions.
- Technologies: An array of boosts and special abilities, which must be researched for several turns before they can be put into play. The power of technology cards varies wildly, with more powerful technologies requiring more turns to research. For example, the Xenon Lasers tech costs two ships, and its owner may change encounter totals by one point, while the Omega Missile tech costs eight ships, and destroys a planet.
- Rewards: A deck of powerful cards that can only be drawn by victorious defensive allies. Reward cards include "kickers," multipliers for encounter cards, and "rifts," booby traps that free ships from the warp, or send ships there if they are ever taken from another player's hand.
Many players have created their own "homemade" powers, and have posted these along with other various game extensions on the Internet.
Major fan-made variants include multiple-power games (in which players have multiple alien powers at once) and hidden-power games (in which powers are not revealed until their first use). Official variants include rules for adding a seventh or eighth player, and there has been a version providing enough components for a ten-player game (when combined with a previous release).
The original version of Cosmic Encounter had exactly six alien powers and was designed for up to six players. This edition was nearly published by Parker Brothers in the mid-1970s; when it was not, the designers founded Eon Productions, Inc. to publish it.
The first Eon edition was released in 1977. It allowed up to four players and included fifteen alien powers. Over the next five years, Eon released nine expansions, adding sixty more alien powers, components for a fifth and sixth player, and several new types of pieces, including "Flare" cards, money (Lucre), Moons, and special power planet systems. The artwork on these early editions included images painted by Dean Morrissey. Eon published three versions of the base game, differing only in box size and cover art.
In 1986, the game was republished in the U.S. by West End Games. The game used the same deck of cards and number of players, and the same powers with five additional powers from Eon expansion sets #1 and #2. However, the cards and tokens were incompatible with the Eon edition. Meanwhile, in the UK, the game was published by Games Workshop. The GW edition supported six players, with powers from the Eon base set and some of the first three expansions.
In 1991, the game was licensed by Mayfair Games. Mayfair published Cosmic Encounter, an expansion called More Cosmic Encounter (1992), and a stripped-down introductory version of the game called Simply Cosmic (1995). The Mayfair edition revised some powers from the original Eon set, introduced many more, and significantly revised some of the existing components. It also introduced several new components. By combining the three Mayfair products, it is possible to play a 10-player game.
In 2000, Avalon Hill (by then a division of Hasbro) published a simplified version in one box with plastic pieces. While the production quality was high, this version was limited to 20 powers and four players and received no expansions.
On August 17, 2007, Fantasy Flight Games announced plans to reprint the game in 2008. Game designer Kevin Wilson gave demonstrations of Fantasy Flight's Cosmic Encounter version at Gen Con 2008, and the game was released in December. This edition included 50 aliens, flare cards, a new Technology variant, and support for 5 players. Since 2008, Fantasy Flight has released six expansion sets:
|Expansion||Release Date||Aliens||Extra Player||Special Cards||Also Included|
|Cosmic Incursion||February 2010||20||orange||Reward deck|
|Cosmic Conflict||February 2011||20||black||Hazard deck||Cosmic Quakes|
|Cosmic Alliance||March 2012||20||white||Additional cards for playing with seven or more players||Rules for team play|
|Cosmic Storm||August 2013||25||(none)||Space station cards||Space station tokens|
|Cosmic Dominion||August 2014||30||(none)||Reward deck (can be combined with the reward deck from Incursion or used on its own)||Ship markers for variants|
|Cosmic Eons||December 2016||30||(none)||Essence Cards||Hidden alliance dials|
Each set of aliens includes their alien sheets and flare cards, along with any special tokens certain aliens may need. Extra players include 20 ships, 5 planets, and destiny cards of the corresponding colors.
In 2018, a special 42nd anniversary edition was released by Fantasy Flight, with new box art, translucent ships, a new alien (the Demon), and a few other minor features. The new edition is still compatible with Fantasy Flight's expansions.
A standalone two-player adaptation of the game was announced in January 2020 (with an expected release date in April). Titled Cosmic Encounter Duel, it still features a race to colonize five planets through attacks and negotiations. However, it replaces the standard game's multiplayer alliance system with virtual allies called Envoys, and increases the degree of hidden information in an encounter through methods such as giving the players rotating dials with which to secretly choose their fleet strengths.
In 2003, original designer Peter Olotka and partners launched a new version called Cosmic Encounter Online that may be played over the internet. As of 2010[update], this version has 35 powers, including four new aliens and two more that are designed for online play (such as Dork, which blocks other players' screens).
Cosmic Encounter Online has since been shut down. It has been superseded by Cosmic Encounter Connector, released in 2015 and available through Tabletop Simulator.
First Eon edition (1977) and subsequent expansion sets (1978–1982)
In the May 1978 edition of Dragon (Issue 14), Tony Watson found the game to be "highly playable, fanciful, and very fun." Watson liked the professional quality of the game components, and admired the complex player strategies that were not immediately apparent upon reading the rules. He concluded, "Cosmic Encounter is a new type of SF game... and it hits it mark quite squarely. From both a physical and design point of view it is a very good game."
In the June–July 1978 edition of White Dwarf (Issue 7), Fred Hemmings found the game "simple to learn, and yet at the same time is so full of good ideas and potential player skill." Hemmings admired the "beautifully produced" game components, but wished that there was more than one winning objective — although he did note that using the two available expansions resulted in 35 alien races to choose from, giving a potential for more than a million combinations. He gave the game an overall rating of 8 out of 10, saying, "What makes this game is the aliens —they vary from good to excellent, and so does the game."
In the September 1978 edition of Dragon (Issue 18), Dave Minch questioned the science fiction angle of Cosmic Encounter, saying it was "nothing more than hype." When Minch delved below the SF "patina", he found a game that "combines several elements of classic, abstract games. There are cards which introduce both chance and strategy of play, as in poker or bridge. There are chips representing the bases which you must build to win the game, giving the positional and matching requirements of pit-and-pebble games, as well as a betting flavor like poker." Minch concluded with a recommendation, saying, "This is a simple game both to learn and to play. Best of all, it’s fun and pretty much open-ended."
In the inaugural edition of Ares Magazine (March 1980), Greg Costikyan rated the game 9 out of 9, saying, "The result is a weird, constantly mutating, and gripping game that does not lose its appeal even after innumerable playings. The addition of any of the four expansion sets makes Cosmic Encounter even more fascinating."
In the March 1981 edition of The Space Gamer (No. 37) Steve Jackson gave a thumbs up, saying, "I like Cosmic Encounter. It's totally original, and a lot of fun. I recommend it without reservation to gamers".
In the October 1981 edition of The Space Gamer (No. 44), Forrest Johnson thought the continued publication of expansion sets (six to that point in time) was perhaps an indication that the game was losing replay value: "Expansion sets 1 and 2 would be more valuable to a new player; Eon Products is approaching the point of diminishing returns. But sets 6 and 7 still have a lot of value for CE enthusiasts."
West End Games and Games Workshop editions (1986)
In the March 1986 edition of White Dwarf (Issue 75), Tim Wilson gave the re-issued game an overall rating of 8 out of 10, saying, "Cosmic Encounter is an easy, light-hearted game with plenty of scope for devious strategy and backstabbing... The earlier version of this game [published by Eon] proved too scarce and expensive for it to become well-known: try it now, and see why it was worth re-releasing."
Mayfair Games edition (1991) and subsequent expansion set (1993)
In the November 1991 edition of Dragon (Issue 175), Allen Varney gave an ebullient review, saying, "This brilliantly interactive and spectacularly fun 1977 design is my very favorite game, bar none." Varney questioned the high price of the Mayfair Games re-issue, but concluded, "You definitely will get $35 of fun out of this box. I’ve played the original Cosmic Encounter game (from the late Eon Products) over a hundred times; every game was wildly different."
Varney again gave a very positive review of the Mayfair edition in the December 1993 edition of Dragon (Issue 200), but questioned some of the new rules in Mayfair's expansion set, saying the set "offers many terrific powers (and some terribly unbalanced ones) plus new cards and forgettable rules additions like Lucre and Moons."
Cosmic Encounter was chosen for inclusion in the 2007 book Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Bruno Faidutti commented, "The box for Eon's first edition of Cosmic Encounter proclaimed 'the science-fiction game for everyone.' And, indeed, long before today's collectible card games, live-action roleplaying games, and massively multi-player online RPGs, Cosmic Encounter was the game for everyone."
- Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine #109 (Nov., 2005)
Cosmic Encounter was one of the first commercial board games with a simple set of core rules and a specific set of modifications to those rules for each player. Future Pastimes employed this technique in some of their other designs, notably the Dune board game. Steve Jackson was influenced by Cosmic Encounter when he designed Illuminati in 1982 (each player has a special power as well as a special victory condition). This design element has become more widespread in boardgames since then; it is especially applicable to games where the players represent individual characters in a role-playing game-like situation (for example, Talisman and Arkham Horror, both originally published in the 1980s).
The possibility of an organic and completely different experience every time one plays was one of the influences in the design of the card game Magic: The Gathering. Magic designer Richard Garfield has often cited Cosmic Encounter as being influential in the design of Magic, the Gathering, going so far as to say, "[Magic's] most influential ancestor is a game for which I have no end of respect: Cosmic Encounter."
- "Origins Award Winners (1996)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-12-21. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- "Fantasy Flight Games to republish classic Eon games" (PDF). Fantasy Flight Games. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-14. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
- "Cosmic Encounter, coming in November". Boardgame News. Archived from the original on 2008-08-21. Retrieved 2008-08-02.
- Watson, Tony (May 1978). "Something a Little Different: Cosmic Encounter". Dragon. TSR, Inc. (14): 11.
- Hemmings, Fred (June–July 1978). "Open Box". White Dwarf. Games Workshop (7): 18.
- Minch, Dave (September 1978). "Reviews". Dragon. TSR, Inc. (18): 8.
- Costikyan, Greg (March 1980). "A Galaxy of Games". Ares Magazine. Simulations Publications, Inc. (1): 30–31.
- Jackson, Steve (March 1981). "Featured Review: Cosmic Encounter". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (37): 4–5.
- Johnson, Forrest (October 1981). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (44): 32.
- Wilson, Tim (March 1986). "Open Box". White Dwarf. Games Workshop (75): 5.
- Varney, Allen (November 1991). "Roleplaying Reviews". Dragon. TSR, Inc. (175): 85.
- Varney, Allen (December 1993). "Social Board Games". Dragon. TSR, Inc. (200): 120.
- "Origins Award Winners (1991)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2008-03-15. Retrieved 2007-11-02.
- Faidutti, Bruno (2007). "Cosmic Encounter". In Lowder, James (ed.). Hobby Games: The 100 Best. Green Ronin Publishing. pp. 66–68. ISBN 978-1-932442-96-0.
- Woods, Stuart (2009). Eurogames: The Design, Culture and Play of Modern European Board Games. McFarland. ISBN 0786467975.
- W. Eric Martin. "Peter Olotka on Cosmic Encounter and D*ne". Boardgame news.
We stole heavily from Cosmic Encounter when we designed Dune; the idea of having these well-defined and different powers, we applied it to Darkover, to Dune, and to Cosmic Encounter.
- Steve Jackson. "Illuminati Designer Article".
- Game design workshop: a playcentric approach to creating innovative games
- Cosmic Encounter's Facebook  page
- Cosmic Encounter Online Cosmic Encounter Online
- Fantasy Flight Games' Cosmic Encounter page
- Cosmic Encounter Library showing the complete version history along with photos and components as well as general CE information.
- TheDiceTower.com Interview with game designer Peter Olotka, June 13, 2005
- GameSpy.com Interview with game designer Peter Olotka, January 2002
- Cosmic Encounter at BoardGameGeek