Yes, sometimes, we don’t play an RPG on a day. Sue is gone. Bill is gone. I decided to bring in Cosmic Encounter, by Fantasy Flight Games.
Bill said he had a concert to go to. I think it was the Neil Diamond farewell tour. You know, you gotta see the classics while you still can. Nothing against Neil, except for that awful POS Heartlight. You know, that little diddy that he wrote after watching ET.
Now, the song isn’t really bad. It is sappy and syrupy. But here is the deal. In 1982, I lived in Mount Vernon, Washington. At that time, there were really only three radio stations that we could listen to in the Skagit Valley. Two were FM stations from Bellingham, and the third was an AM station that was in the valley. On a good day, you could listen to music from some Seattle radio stations, but it was sketchy at best. It depended on the weather, height of clouds, and whether you were listening to a clock radio or a radio that had an external antenna.
So one of the FM radio stations was a butt rock station. It specialized in playing long playlists of Winger, Ratt, Survivor, Night Ranger, and other butt rock from the 1980’s, and the other station, KNWR was a computer run station from back east. It was an automated radio station, one of the first. It was also “adult contemporary” music. They got a small list, and I mean small list of songs that they ran over and over again. It changed out somewhat regularly, but during a single day, it seemed that you would hear heavy rotation of the same song. They liked to play songs from Kenny Rogers, Lionel Ritchie, Hall and Oates, Sheena Easton, Toto, Chicago (you know, the Peter Cetera love song Chicago, not the cool Chicago from the 1970’s) and of course Neil Diamond. Lots of Neil Diamond.
I believe that the Psychology Department at Western Washington University was using KNWR to experiment on the listening public, to determine if playing the same songs over and over again could induce psychosis in the general population. I swear hearing the same lineup of soft rock, and not classics, but songs like Ebony and Ivory by Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney 5 to 7 times a day couldn’t be a random element. It had to be purposeful.
Once again, I have nothing against many of the artists. But when you listen to the radio as a kid, and 3 different Air Supply songs are played in 30 minutes, you have to ask, “Who the fuck thought this was a good idea?”
Now, I don’t want to take anything away from the talent of the guys in Air Supply, Toto, Hall and Oates, Dan Fogelberg or any of the other groups. They wrote a good song. I can appreciate their talent, even though their music is not my cup of tea. I tend to lean more towards Bauhaus, the Clash, Dead can Dance, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and The Cure.
What Bill sees in Neil Diamond, I don’t know. But then, music is a personal thing. If a 22 year old male wants to go and sing along with Neil as he belts out classics like Song Sung Blue, Sweet Caroline, Cracklin Rose and America, good for Bill. I won’t think any less of him.
Sue is back in inbredland. Now, Mike keeps trying to talk up the people of inbredland. He was talking yesterday about how he was impressed by the people there. He saw people with tattoos, posts, and even an occasional hipster.
Looking online, I find some interesting pictures for Google searches for “southern hipster” such as:
I see the resemblance. However, they look a lot like extras from the movie Gator, with Burt Reynolds.
So I will say something about the movie Gator. Every scene in that movie has people sweating. It looks hot, and nasty, in every damn scene of the movie. I mean how do people live like that? More importantly, why do people live like that?
I mean, why would Sue want to go there? OK, I get that Sue is going there to support her daughter. Her daughter has some training, and Sue is there to take care of her daughter’s cat, or some such thing. But damn.
I need to be clear here. I don’t have anything really against the people there. I like to joke about inbredland. My family background is a bunch of people who were kicked out of northern Europe, from places which were undesirable at that time. Silesia – which has been either Poland or Germany, along with Ireland, Scotland, and some other countries. They came to America, and my mother’s side of the family settled in Oklahoma, and when the dust bowl came, my Grandfather Homer broke his brother Jethro out of jail to go and take the family to California to pick fruit (ala Grapes of Wrath).
I have no relatives that came over on the Mayflower. My relatives were hardscrabble fighters who found a way to get to this great country, and make a life for themselves. I don’t feel that I am superior to any other person. That doesn’t mean that I don’t find it amusing to refer to certain areas of the country as “inbredland”. It is all bluff and chuff on my part.
I have been all over the country. I like where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, since we tend to not have cockroaches, high humidity, high temperatures, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc. We do get a lot of rain (at least west of the Cascade mountains), and we tend to have fairly temperate weather. The politics generally agree with me also. The housing is getting overly expensive. While that doesn’t affect my wife and I, I worry that my children will have good housing options.
So where was I? I was talking about Sue going and helping her daughter out with her daughter’s cat. You see, when Sue goes away, Mike gets kind of lost. Well, Mike doesn’t really get lost, we simply interpret anything he says in a way which makes it sound like Mike is lost. I am not sure what exactly is going on with Mike, but we generally tease him mercilessly and make him miss Sue even more.
Mike was not in the best of sorts yesterday. He was complaining about having to wake up super early to get Sue off to the airport. Mike evidently sees any day where he wakes up before 10 AM as being ungodly early. We don’t know what time he actually woke up. He was all bleary eyed and drowsy. That isn’t too much different than a normal day for Mike.
Collin and Shari brought their daughter to Dice Age. We all tried to get their daughter to regret that decision. I won’t name her, since she is under 18, and probably shouldn’t be discussed on the Internet. Nothing bad happened, but in keeping with the normal discussion nothing is off limits.
It didn’t take long, but the daughter soon walked away to paint minis, or at least that was her official reason. She probably just wanted to get away from all of us and our strangeness. She was polite, but we could tell, it was important to not be associated with us. That is OK,
So we met at Dice Age Game Emporium and found several things. One is that beer now is served at noon, instead of 5. That caused some consternation as everyone (but me) got some sort of beer or hard cider. One of the players, who will remain nameless, but her name rhymes with Hairy, managed to snarfle down Mike’s drink, in addition to hers. So Mike had to get another one. I am not sure what happened for sure, but it involved moving tables, then moving tables again. This is another example of how Sue needs to be here for Mike, since Sue would have shepherded the bottles to make sure that in the table move, “Hairy” would not have snagged the wrong bottle.
But that has nothing to do with the game. We played… Cosmic Encounter. This game has been around since about 1977, and has been through five different publishers. I played the second publishing by West End Games version in the mid 1980’s. I skipped the Mayfair edition, which was supposed to be pretty good. I also skipped the Avalon Hill version, which just about killed the game permanently. A few years ago, I picked up the base game by Fantasy Flight, and played it a couple of times.
Cosmic Encounter is a game that you need the right mix of people to make it fun. If you have players who are willing to be nasty, dicks and horrible awful people, ganging up on each other and preying on the weak, the game is a lot of fun.
If some of the players are not dicks, or want to be friends, then this game is pretty bleah.
The game involves trying to destroy enough of your enemies that you can take over five planets that are not yours. The play involves randomly deciding who you are going to attack. assigning some level of resources, then asking for help attacking the other player. The defending player then asks for help. This can be pretty straightforward, or you can barter things to go with the help. Then when people commit their ships (resources) to the fight or defense, or not either, then the two players directly involved in the fight then lay down a card that defines how much they are going to support to it. This card is played upside down, with only the player who played it knowing at first what it is.
Each player has a race, which is different, that gives them some form of stupid power that makes the game pretty awful.
Here are a couple of cards to see the power. The power is the paragraph(s) that are in the white box near the bottom of the card.
The card also includes a yellow box, saying that the card is mandatory, or optional. Mandatory means that you have to play it, even if it would create a victory condition for another player. Optional means… well, optional.
The bottom of the card includes one or more orange boxes to show what phase of the game on each encounter that you can play this.
There are three levels of play that are denoted by the color of the lights in the upper right and left corners of the card. These are green for beginner, yellow for intermediate and red for advanced play. It is recommended that you play all players with the same level.
Like all Fantasy Flight games, you get a good box of stuff, but if you spend lots of extra money, you can get the expansions which add new play to the game. Each expansion includes 15 to 30 new aliens, and more cards to add to the game play. The base game also only comes with enough pieces for 5 players. There are three expansions which add pieces to allow up to 8 players total, one new player for each of the expansions added.
The game play starts out with one player turning over a destiny card. That destiny card defines what that player must do. This is good, as it balances the game out to make sure that people don’t be total dicks against one player, rather, the game determines who you are going to be dickish to.
The game table essentially looks like this at the start of the game:
Each player has four ships on each of five planes of the same color. In the middle is the Warp, which is where you track victory points for each player, and also stack your destroyed ships.
Oh sorry, that isn’t the Warp, that is some nasty shithole of a craptastic fucking ballsack.
This is what the Warp looks like.
At the start of the game, there are no ships in the Warp.
Each player starts out with a handful of 8 cards. These cards include Negotiate cards, Encounter / Attack cards, Artifact cards, and some other cards.
These cards are held in the player’s hands, and used in the fight for the planet. The player only draws up to 8 cards when some specific things happen. The first one is when the player plays all of their encounter and reinforcement cards, leaving only artifacts or negotiate cards, they can dispose of their hand, and draw 8 cards immediately. Alternately, if they use their last card (and have no cards in their hand), they can only draw 8 new cards when they need to draw a card, as in they are involved in a battle. This causes some wonkyness in the game play, but it is OK, and makes for some fun interaction.
When the turn starts, the offense player first takes one ship of their color from the void, then chooses a destiny card, which decides what planet color they are going to attack.
They don’t get to choose the poor unfortunate planet, unless the card they draw instructs them to choose. This helps balance the game a lot. The offensive player assigns the number of ships that they want to contribute to the fight, 1 to 4 ships. The defensive player already has the number of defending ships on the planet. Then the offensive player states who, if any players they would like help from. The defensive player then states who, if any players they would like help from. The potential allies only tell what they are going to do, if anything, one at a time, going from the defensive payer, clockwise. The allies can only help an offensive or defensive player, not both.
So why, would you want to be an ally?
Funny you should ask.
If you are an ally of the offensive player, and the offensive player wins the encounter, you can place one or more of your ships on the planet, which gives you a colony, and a victory point. However, if the offensive player loses, then you lose your ships to the Void without compensation.
If you are an ally of the defensive player, and the defensive player wins the encounter, then for each ally gets to pull either a card from the deck, or retrieve one ship from the void of their color for ship that was offered as an ally.
If the encounter is resolved with a Negotiate card, then the allies of the offense and defense return their ships to their colonies and the game continues.
I am kind of mashing the explanation of this up, since the game is pretty simple, but there are a lot of moving parts. Bear with me, this is a pretty cool game.
So, we now know why people would want to consider being allies, because if you are an ally of the defense, and the defense wins, you get a boon, cards from the deck and ships back from the Warp. If you are an ally of the defense and the defense loses, your ships return home. If you are an ally of the offense and the offense wins, you get a colony on the planet, which equals victory points. If you are an ally of the offense and the offense loses, you lose your ships.
The offense and defense player can decide that they want help from anyone, from specific players or no one. This is important, as this can be used to block players from winning positions through alliances.
So the offensive player has determined which planet to attack. This means that if the defensive player has four planets, three with 5 ships each, and one with 2 ships, the offensive player probably wants to go for the one with the fewest resources, to make the attack easier. The offense and defense define who they would like help from. The other players decide if they want to help either player, and to what level (one to four ships for each ally). then the Planning stage starts.
The Planning stage is where the offense and defense players decide which card they have in their hand they want to play. This could be a Negotiate card, or an attack card. The attack card range in numbers from 0 to 40. They are seriously unbalanced, where there are a couple of zeros, a 30, a 40, and a bunch of small value cards. Since the hand is randomly drawn, you get some really wild results.
Both cards are played upside down.
This is important, since all of the players have alien powers. I played one game where my alien power was to swap the two player’s cards. In my case, I had a couple of 0 point cards, so I played my 0 card, then used my alien power to swap them from offense to defense, before the reveal. This didn’t help, at all, because I was hoping for a good card, instead I got a negotiate card.
This meant that I automatically lost the encounter. My 0 card would have “won” the encounter, but since I swapped them before knowing what they were, I negotiated, which was bad for me.
I will get back to the negotiate card in a second.
So if Blue is the offense, and places 4 ships to attack orange, with 3 ships, and no one wants to be allies, the Blue has an advantage on the attack, since they have more ships than the defense.
Then say, Orange plays a 12 card, and Blue plays the best card they have, a 7 card, when the cards are flipped, things don’t look so good for blue anymore. Since they have 4 ships, plus a 7 card, for 11 total points on the encounter. Orange has a total of 3 ships and 12 points on the card, so they have 15 total points for the encounter, which means that they will win, unless someone plays a reinforcement card to even things up.
In this case, orange prevails, and Blue sends 4 ships to the void, weakening the blue player.
Now, if Blue, the offensive player had won, they could press the attack, and turn over another destiny card to attack another time. Since Blue lost, they don’t get to do any more attacks.
If any other players had helped out the offense or defense, then the number of ships that the offensive allies had contributed to the encounter would add to the total of the offense score, and the number of ships that the defensive allies had contributed to the encounter would add to the total of the defense score, which may have been enough to change the encounter results.
If one of the players plays a Negotiate card, then that player loses the encounter, however, the losing player gets to take one card from the hand of the winning player for each ship lost. This is all great and fine, but if the winning player has 2 cards, and the loser lost three ships, the loser only gets 2 cards, and the winner gets to draw a new hand really soon.
Pretty simple, right. Doesn’t sound like much of a game. Resource management. Worker placement, a wonky randomizing element.
The best part of the game is that each player has a unique alien power. Sometimes, you might play an alien that every time he loses ships, he gets to select what other player also loses ships. You may play an alien that has a power that revives all of their lost ships as zombies…
There are also flair cards, which allow the players to maybe have some super powers, or a good major power that can change the game play. Here is an example of a flair card.
There are ten flair cards in the deck. The flair cards are randomly drawn. Each specific alien has one flair card matching their alien, plus some other random cards. If you are the alien race that matches the flair card, you get to use the Super Power – and put it back in your hand when you play it. If you aren’t the same race as the flair card, you get to use it with the yellow text box, and once you use it, you put it into the discard pile.
The super power seems overpowered, and it really is. As long as you can keep it in your hand, you can keep cycling it in and out of play, however if you ever need to discard your hand, or if it is the last card in your hand that you play, leaving you with no cards in your hand, you must place it in the discard pile, hopefully getting it again sometime later in the game when the discard pile is shuffled up again.
There are also artifact cards, which can be really horrible and change things just as things look peachy for one of the players. Here are some examples of artifact cards.
So what about Saturday’s game?
Well, the first time we played it, I lost miserably. I love this game, but I usually suck royally at it. You know that a game is good for you when you can enjoy losing. It didn’t take long and the other players were figuring out how to screw each other and get victory points, while keeping me at exactly 0 victory points. It was kind of brutal, but like I said, I love this game. I don’t mind losing.
As I told everyone after only one player won, everyone who didn’t win lost, and we could all get worked up about ranking the losers, but in the desire to keep everyone happy, we just all need to know that we all lost, and are losers. I don’t remember who won the first game, it might have been Collin. All I know is that I was one of the four losers.
The second game was different. I played the zombie alien race, which allowed me to never lose any ships to the warp. It ended up being pretty tight at the end. There were a bunch of players with 3 and 4 victory points each. In the end, it just was a game of keeping Collin from winning. Shari got into it, and punished Collin brutally.
It was fun. This game is pretty wonky, and needs the right group to play. If you need fair game play, and some sort of balanced game with no backstabbing, this is not the game for you. It ultimately ends up being close to Flux in that the cards make for a lot of chaos in the game. I don’t care for Flux, because Flux is all about how can you just have a game that resets every turn.
Cosmic Encounter is more of a wonky party game. It is a good game for friends, but like the Paranoia card game, probably wouldn’t be a good game at a convention. There is too much likelihood that you are going to get someone who acts like they have a stick up their ass, and gets whiny and snivelly when the other players come and beat on him.