40 years ago, Cosmic Encounter entered the fold with its wacky take on area control, cutthroat negotiation, and outrageous special powers. Since then, multiple editions have been released as well as seven expansions. Today, I see this game split the room among players. Some find it to be no better than Munchkin, while people with sense know it’s a timeless classic that has been often imitated, but nothing has come close to replacing it. I’m squarely in the latter group.
Since I already own a lot of content for Cosmic Encounter, another big box was actually off-putting at first, but I decided to take the plunge. Can they still be improving a game 40 years after its release?
Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic Odyssey is a big box expansion for Cosmic Encounter that includes several expansion variants, new aliens, and a campaign mode. The game still plays between three and five players (expansions allow for more) and takes about 90 minutes for a session.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty on how Cosmic Encounter plays because there are much better resources for that are out there.
In short, players are racing to get their ships on five foreign planets. On a player’s turn, they will reveal the top card of the destiny deck. Most of the time, that card tells them which player they must attack that turn. They can send up to four of their ships to battle and both sides can request allies who can contribute up to four ships each to whichever side they join. Then, each player will play and simultaneously reveal an encounter card, either showing an additional strength value or a negotiate card. The highest total value of ships and encounter cards wins the battle. If the attackers win, they and their allies place their ships on the defender’s colony. In either case, the losing side’s ships are all sent to the warp. This relatively straightforward concept is turned on its head by every player having a game breaking alien power and crazy powerful cards to play from their hand.
This expansion adds four new variants to the base game. Array objectives provide new ways for players to score and win the game. Evolutions provide additional abilities for players based on how many ships they have on the evolution cards, but can also punish players for not having enough ships on the cards. Double aliens provide rules for players to have two aliens per game. Foreign aid allows players to offer a card to their allies instead of just committing ships.
Most notably, this expansion adds a campaign mode. The regular campaign is played over four games. Each game has a randomly drawn set of variants and means to choose aliens. Each game adds one or more aliens to players’ coalitions, which can be swapped interchangeably between games. Based on how well a player does in each game, various rewards are provided. First place gets nothing, while others may draw privilege cards, envoy cards, unused flares, reward cards, and more. The finale involves the resolution of master cards that were drawn throughout the campaign as well as wrench cards that will change the rules of the last game.
The new aliens are ridiculous and some are hilarious. A couple of my favorites are Silencer and Throwback. The former hands out silence tokens, restricting other players’ communication. The latter gets to correct players who use modern terminology and gain rewards from those challenges. Throwback comes complete with the art and graphic design style from the original game for the alien sheet and its flare card. Absurdly charming.
From the new variants, my favorite is the evolution cards. It gives players an additional place to put ships and gain a benefit. Between the four evolution cards in play each game, there is a solid layer of strategy added to each game as you try to manage ship placement. Don’t get it twisted, this is still Cosmic Encounter, so you’ll never have full control of your destiny. Another variant I really enjoy is double aliens, which just adds more crazy powers and makes each player feel even more unique from their opponents.
In terms of new-to-me variants, I had never tried moons, and I really enjoyed playing with that. This adds (usually) one-time events that occur when a player colonizes a moon. These are secretly selected at the start of the game, so only the owner of the moon knows what will be revealed. This variant adds an exciting twist, and the amount of different moon cards this comes with is impressive.
The campaign itself is a great way to play if you have a consistent group who can commit to four games. However, the genius here goes beyond the campaign itself. You see, one issue I’ve always found with Cosmic Encounter and its various expansions is that it can be overwhelming to decide which variants to play with each game. This creates a super clean and efficient system for doing just that. The campaign book also provides instructions for each variant, all in one book. Furthermore, this box gives you a way to try just about every variant you could ever want to play with, but you don’t have to commit to buying full expansions. It’s the best of all worlds.
From my brief research, I learned that Cosmic Odyssey was designed by a Cosmic Encounter super fan. Not his first foray into game design by any means as Jack Reda was notably part of the team that designed Cosmic Encounter Dominion. I bring this backstory up because I really feel the love that went into this project. The campaign, the new aliens, and the new variants are gleaming with the somewhat indescribable feel of Cosmic Encounter.
This is easily my favorite Cosmic Encounter expansion. It is so thoughtfully crafted as a way to get more plays out of all of the fun variants that have been created for the game. Variety is the lifeblood of Cosmic Encounter and one of its biggest strengths. Cosmic Odyssey has reinvigorated Comic Encounter for me. For the last few years, it has been a once-a-year play for me, but now I can see it coming out a lot more regularly. This is an easy recommendation for anyone’s first Cosmic Encounter expansion and might be the only one you ever really need.
• New and fun aliens
• Clean and easy campaign mode
• Includes nearly every variant from previous expansions
• Easy variant selection will keep the game coming back to the table with new ways to play each time