Negotiating your fate can be fun. Finding yourself on the cusp of complete destruction with nothing but a few seconds and some fast talk between you and your ultimate end can be the most exhilarating moments of your life. Clarification: In real life that sucks. It would be terrifying, I assume, but not something that the majority of us have to deal with. However, in the sense of escapism adventure, manipulation comes all to natural to humans. Humanity knows war. Humanity knows manipulation. Humanity knows the lust for power and conquest. Thankfully, these otherwise horrible tastes can be practiced amicably (for the most part) at a table with some plastic bits and chunks of cardboard
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Cosmic Encounter is, at first glance, a glorified game of war. Players sit at the table, placed behind their own personal galaxy with the goal of colonizing 5 planets outside of their home. A fate deck decides just who fights who each turn, then the warring parties call for allies in other players and compare a numbers from cards selected from their hands adding together their own and their allies ships to the totals. Highest number wins. Losers ships go to the center of the board where they must be retrieved at a later time and the winners take over the planet if they were attacking or ward off the attackers if they were defending. It seems overly simplistic, but the beauty of this game comes in the form of the alien cards. Each player will be assigned on of a number of potential alien races that they will embody for the session. These aliens have unique abilities that let them bend the rules of the game, even changing win conditions in some situations. Each decision you make needs to be calculated because the vast number of variables that come up each game make you all too susceptible to the inevitable betrayal.

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The crux of this game lies in the negotiation tactics. Convincing the other players to help you or help someone else or help no one. Sure you’re going to be going toe to toe with someone at the table, and sometimes that’s only the fault of fate. There are terms for negotiation and there are “nicer” attacks you can take, but ultimately it’s just as much about maneuvering the other players ships as it about maneuvering your own. Getting five colonies on your own is nearly impossible. It is absolutely vital to weigh your powers against your opponents, using them when necessary and helping them when it benefits you. Deals can be made, lies can be sown and no game is the same.

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Now, the fate aspect of the game may be a turnoff for some. You don’t choose who you attack on your turn (with some exceptions). So you may have been allied up with someone and fate tells you to go attack their colony. You’re given some avenues to avoid conflict, but not many. This is far less a game about strategic placement of troops than some may like. Rather, it is a game of strategic diplomacy. Mechanically optimal moves will only work if all at the table make mechanically optimal moves. And that isn’t going to happen, it pretty much CAN’T in some circumstances. Some alien powers legitimately let you cheat as long as you don’t get caught!

Pros
This is one of the most fun games I’ve ever played.
So much variety in alien powers and a ton of extra content in expansions.
Offers a richly diplomatic based gameplay.
Cons
If you’re not into diplomatic type games, this isn’t for you.
Randomly drawn cards determine your target.
Not great at lower player counts.

In conclusion, I should note that Cosmic Encounter is one of my favorite games. I am not great at one on one strategy that solely focuses on making the correct move against a single opponent. This lets me do something I enjoy far more, negotiate my fate! I am practically forced to either fast talk my way out of a sticky situation, bluff my way through a terrible attack or quickly convince someone to let me help them in order to gain footing later on in the game. It’s a war game that packs so much variety that no two games are going to be the same. The alien powers change the game in dramatic ways without changing the core feel of the game. It’s consistently inconsistent in the best way possible and consistent in the mechanics and the fun.