Why can't I find this game?

by Debbie Ginsberg

Cosmic Encounters

It's 11 p.m., sometime in October 1989. Our homework is only half done, but it's a Wednesday and who needs to go to classes on Thursday, anyway? The six of us sprawl, as only college students can, comfortably on the institutional carpet, with our cookie dough and soda cans arrayed around us. In the center of our circle we've laid a game space of seven black hexagonal boards, one in front of each player, one in the center.

At least three of us shout simultaneously, "I'm blue!"

Fifteen minutes later, the color fight is resolved ("gah, red again"), and we have our special alien powers. We're ready to begin some serious Cosmic Encountering. We flip the first two disks of the Destiny Pile and the challenges begin.

It's just another typical night in Brown University's King House.

It was a house known for a great sense of play. Nearly every night, we'd haul out all kinds of board, card, video, and role-playing games. We had poker nights, drinking DnD sessions, endless Tetris tournaments, and more games of Junta than all banana republics in the 1980s. Yet Cosmic was the game we always came back to, over and over.

While a few companies have since developed their own versions, we played Eon's, published from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. The game consisted of one main set and 9 expansions. We found the game was the greatest fun when we had most of the expansion sets, but we didn't need them all.

The basic premise of Cosmic Encounter is that players each represent separate alien races that are trying to colonize the other players' solar systems. Planets are colonized through a series of card-based challenges. Other players could join the challenges by allying with the offensive or defensive players. The winner of the game is the first player to colonize 5 planets in other systems.

A good game at its core, but what made Cosmic Encounter incredibly addictive was the rules were never the same. Each alien race (and we generally each played two or more at a time) gave us special powers. Some powers let us add to our card totals, some let us change the rules so that low totals won, and some alien powers kept us out of the dreaded middle hex, the Warp. One power even let players change the win conditions! Moreover, special cards added to the game's shear sense of randomness. My favorite let its holder steal cards from deck for as long as that player was not caught. We soon learned to use special combinations of alien powers with particular cards to devastating effect.

Eon stopped publishing Cosmic in the early 1980s. Since then, West End, Mayfair, and Avalon games have published new versions, but these new games aren't quite the same. The alien powers and special cards often have different functions; some of the best powers and cards were removed all together. The new versions added new powers, some of which were fun, others not as interesting.

The later producers also changed the art. The original art was probably lost, but as bad as that art was, its cheesiness was part of the whole Cosmic Encounter atmosphere. Better art suggested that the game was trying to take it self more seriously. What's the point in that?

During college, I was occasionally able to take our copy of the game home to my friends. I soon had them addicted, too. But after I graduated, without my own set, I wasn't able to continue to spread the Cosmic virus. The original Eon game and expansions were (and remain) almost impossible to find. But I'll keep an eye out on eBay and other venues and with enough time, patience, money, and luck, I'll soon have a full set of the original, best Cosmic Encounter. And then, watch out universe! The aliens are coming and we'll send you all to the Warp!

But only if I'm blue.

You can read more about Cosmic Encounter here: http://www.arglebargle.com/mage/ce.html.

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