|Cosmic Encounter Online|
November 25, 2003 | Ken Newquist
When the Cosmic Encounter board game was released in 1972, even the original Apple hadn't been invented yet. The game enjoyed a long and expansive run, adding fans, new editions and increasingly complex rules over the years. The new Flash-driven online version builds on that history, creating a game that veterans will enjoy, and beginners should have little trouble picking up.
The premise of the game is simple enough. There are four players, each of whom controls a different alien faction. Each faction begins with a solar system, which contains four planets, and 16 ships evenly divided between those worlds. The goal is to invade other players’ solar systems and land colonies on four planets outside of your own. The first person to succeed wins the game.
Players attack opponents by boarding up to four of their ships onto a "mothership", which is then sent to assault another player's world. The defending player doesn't get to choose how many ships defend a world -- all of the ships on a given planet automatically rally against invaders. Both the defense and offense are augmented by "encounter pods". These pods come in varying values, from as little as -1 to as much as 40. The pod values are added to the number of ships committed by the player; the player with the higher total wins the fight.
The attacking and defending players can choose to invite other players to help them --players who join the attacker get colonies of their own should he or she win the combat, while those who successfully aid the defender get additional ships and/or pods. The cost of failure is the same in both cases -- the losers' ships (including those of allies) get dumped into the "the Warp", where they remain until a certain threshold is reached, and then everyone's ships are returned to them.
Those are the basic rules, and in most games, players would be expected to abide by them. But Cosmic Encounter is not like most games -- its rules are meant to be broken. Each of the game's 21 playable alien factions has a different special power which allows it to break the rules in a unique way. For example the Calculator has the power to equalize -- after pods are revealed during an attack, it can "equalizes" them, reducing the value of the greater pod to that of the lesser. The Laser has the power to blind -- opponents facing the alien don't get to pick their encounter pods, instead one is randomly chosen for them. The Machine is relentless with its power to continue, which allows it to attack after every successful encounter, rather than the two assaults everyone else gets.
The last component of the game is artifact pods. Like aliens, artifacts come in different varieties -- some neutralize opponents' powers, others spread diseases, wiping out enemy ships and pods, while still others release ships form the Warp prematurely.