Tabletop games Wargaming

Cosmic Encounter

Players 3-6+ (depending on edition)
Age range 12+
Playing time 20-120+ minutes
Random chance Medium
Skill(s) required Prediction, diplomacy, card management

Cosmic Encounter is a science fiction-themed strategy board game designed by "Future Pastimes" (collectively, Peter Olotka, Jack Kittredge and Bill Eberle, with Bill Norton) and originally published by Eon Games in 1977. In it, each player takes the role of a particular alien species, each with a unique power to break one of the rules of the game, trying to establish control over the universe, . In 1992, a new edition of Cosmic Encounter won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Boardgame of 1991 and placed 6th in the Deutscher Spiele Preis. The game was inducted into the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame in 1997.

Cosmic Encounter is a dynamic and social game, with players being encouraged to interact, argue, form alliances, make deals, double-cross, and occasionally work together to protect the common good. Most editions of the game are designed for three to six players, although official rules exist for playing with as many as eight players.


Cosmic Encounter is based on a fixed set of rules which are subsequently modified by other elements of the game.

Each player begins with a color-coded "home system" containing five planets, and twenty ships (formerly referred to as "tokens") representing starships that populate these planets as "colonies" (formerly known as "bases"). A central "Warp" is used to place defeated ships for all players. The object of the game is to establish five colonies on planets outside one's home system. Each player is dealt a hand of eight (or seven, depending on the edition) cards from the "cosmic deck," which includes three types of cards normally: Encounter cards (numbered Attack cards and Negotiate (formerly Compromise) cards), Reinforcement cards, and Artifact (formerly "Edict") cards.

On a player's turn, they retrieve one ship from the warp, and then draw a card from the "Destiny" deck, containing color-coded cards which indicate which player's system they must attack. Using a special "hyperspace gate" (formerly "hyperspace cone" or simply "cone") indicator, the player selects which opponent on which planet to attack, and then places from 1 to 4 ships on the gate. Both the attacker and defender can ask the other players individually to ally with their side, committing up to 4 ships to either side of the conflict.

Once allies have committed, the attacker and defender both select encounter cards from their hands to place face-down, then reveal them. If both cards are Attack cards, the total of the attack value and number of allied ships are added for both sides, and the side with the larger value wins with the defending player winning in case of ties. If the attacking side wins, the defender's colony is lost and all ships and allies' ships are sent to the warp, while the attacker and their allies gain colonies on that planet. If the defending side wins, the attacker and allies' ships are sent to the warp, and defending allies gain a bonus of either a ship from the warp or a new card from the deck for each ship risked. If one side plays a Negotiate card against a numbered card, they immediately lose, but they, though not their allies, get "compensation" from the victor such as by drawing cards from the victor's hand. If both players use Negotiate cards, they have one minute to make a deal, such as exchanging colonies or cards from their hands, while all allies are sent back to their owners' colonies (allies get nothing in this situation). If a deal can't be made, both players lose ships as a penalty. Play then proceeds to the next player.

To aid in timing, each turn is broken down into a number of phases, and cards and powers will typically indicate which phases the game elements can be played in. In particular, artifacts cards, which generate an immediate effect such as releasing all ships from the warp, may only be played during specific phases which will be listed on the card, while certain features of alien powers can only be triggered in specific phases.

The game becomes complex with the introduction of alien powers. These are typically drawn randomly at the start of the game and known to all players; however, variants exist where players can select their powers, use multiple powers simultaneously, or hide their powers until they are used. Each power gives the player a way to bend the core rules to their advantages, typically in one of the following ways:

A player's alien power is only active if they have three or more colonies in their home system, and if lost, can be regained by taking back a third colony.

More advanced optional game components can add further levels of complexity and unpredictability. No edition has all of the optional components. They include:

Many players have created their own "homemade" powers, and have posted these along with other various game extensions on the Internet.

Major variants include multiple-power games (in which players have multiple alien powers at once) and hidden-power games (in which powers are not revealed until their first use). Official variants include rules for adding a seventh or eighth player, and there has been a version providing enough components for a ten-player game (when combined with a previous release).


The original version of Cosmic Encounter had exactly six alien powers and was designed for up to six players. This edition was nearly published by Parker Brothers in the mid-1970s; when it was not, the designers founded Eon Games to publish it.

The first Eon edition was released in 1977. It allowed up to four players and included fifteen alien powers. Over the next five years, Eon released nine expansions, adding sixty more alien powers, components for a fifth and sixth player, and several new types of pieces, including "Flare" cards, money (Lucre), Moons, and special power planet systems. The artwork on these early editions included images painted by Dean Morrissey.

In 1986, the game was republished in the U.S. by West End Games. The game used the same deck of cards and number of players, and the same powers with five additional powers from Eon expansion sets #1 and #2. However, the cards and tokens were incompatible with the Eon edition. Meanwhile, in the UK, the game was published by Games Workshop. The GW edition supported six players, with powers from the Eon base set and some of the first three expansions.

In 1991, the game was licensed by Mayfair Games. Mayfair published Cosmic Encounter, an expansion called More Cosmic Encounter (1992), and a stripped-down introductory version of the game called Simply Cosmic (1995). The Mayfair edition revised some powers from the original Eon set, introduced many more, and significantly revised some of the existing components. It also introduced several new components. By combining the three Mayfair products, it is possible to play a 10-player game.

In 2000, Avalon Hill (by then a division of Hasbro) published a simplified version in one box with plastic pieces. This version was limited to 20 powers and four players.

On August 17, 2007, Fantasy Flight Games announced plans to reprint the game in 2008. Game designer Kevin Wilson gave demonstrations of the Fantasy Flight Cosmic Encounter version at Gen Con 2008, and the game was released in December. This edition included 50 aliens, flare cards, a new Technology variant, and support for 5 players. Since 2008, Fantasy Flight has released five expansion sets:

Online version

In 2003, original designer Peter Olotka and partners launched a new version called Cosmic Encounter Online that may be played over the internet. As of 2010, this version has 35 powers, including four new aliens and two more that are designed for online play (such as Dork, which blocks other players' screens).


Bruno Faidutti comments: "The box for Eon's first edition of Cosmic Encounter proclaimed 'the science-fiction game with everything.' And, indeed, long before today's collectible card games, live-action roleplaying games, and massively multi-player online RPGs, Cosmic Encounter was the game with everything."


Cosmic Encounter was the first commercial board game with a simple set of core rules and a specific set of modifications to those rules for each player. Future Pastimes employed this technique in some of their other designs, notably the Dune board game. Steve Jackson was influenced by Cosmic Encounter when he designed Illuminati in 1982 (each player has a special power as well as a special victory condition). This design element has become more widespread in boardgames since then; it is especially applicable to games where the players represent individual characters in a role-playing game-like situation (for example, Talisman and Arkham Horror, both originally published in the 1980s).

The possibility of an organic and completely different experience every time one plays was one of the influences in the design of the card game Magic: The Gathering. Magic designer Richard Garfield has often cited Cosmic Encounter as being influential in the design of Magic, the Gathering, going so far as to say, "[Magic's] most influential ancestor is a game for which I have no end of respect: Cosmic Encounter."