Play the game that breaks its own rules
What is Cosmic Encounter? One of the best games in the world. The basic principles of playing Cosmic Encounter are rather simple: Each player starts in a home (stellar) system with 5 planets and 20 tokens, representing his fleet of starships, stationed on the planets. The goal is to establish new bases on 5 planets in other players' system. A base is any number of tokens on a single planet. A base is established by winning a challenge. During a challenge, one of your opponent's planets is selected to be attacked. Both the attacker and defender can call on other players (allies) to aid them in their efforts by committing tokens to either side. A challenge card (usually with a numeric value) is selected by the attacker and the defender from their hands and placed face down on the table. A challenge is resolved after revealing challenge cards and adding in the number of tokens to each side. Highest total wins, sending the opposed tokens into the warp. Usually...
Because from here it gets complicated: Each player has a totally unique alien power which lets him break a rule in a particular way to his benefit, something which may change the outcome of an attack totally. For example when the Loser is involved, the lower point total wins the attack, not the higher. Or the Mind reads the card the opponent plays before he has to play his own. Or... There are to many to go into much detail, but suffice it to say, that the Alien Powers are what make each game unique and fun to play..
The players may hold cards (flares and edicts) that also grant temporary or instantaneous powers, totally wreaking any battle plan. In effect, although the game is very clear, the result of any given action may not be. And with any new option, the field get's wider, and the game gets more unpredictable. This unpredictability is what makes the game so exciting! But this does not mean that the lucky player wins. Tactics and planning are essential.
The game Cosmic Encounter has gone through various incarnations since first published in 1977. First, there was the Eon Games version, then the Mayfair version, and now the Hasbro/Avalon Hill version released in association with Future Pasttimes (Eon) has been released.
The game was first published by a small company called Eon Games, and briefly distributed by West End Games and Games Workshop, before mayfair games picked up the license. It consisted of a base set and nine expansions that were published over the years. These versions are long out of print and had some problems with unclear rules.
The Mayfair version of 1991 cleaned up and clarified many rules, and got rid of some of the worst problems of the Eon version, such as the timing conflicts. There were three sets: Cosmic Encounter, More Cosmic Encounter and Simply Cosmic Encounter. CE, the basic set, contained 48 aliens (and their flares), 6 (home system) hexes (with reverse sides for different planets), the warp, tokens, a warp cone, and cards. MCE was an add-on, requiring CE, adding 54 more powers (and flares), Moons, Lucre, Special Destiny Cards, Comets and other fun bits that one could add or leave aside according to one's favorite style of play. It was true plug-and-play. SCE was an entry-level introductory set, containing only enough for four people to be introduced to the game: 8 aliens (Filch, Grief, Laser, Loser, Mind, Sorcerer, Warpish, and Zombie), 4 sets of hexes and tokens (in different colors than the original basic set), the warp, a warp cone and cards.
The current Hasbro/Avalon Hill release is heavy on plastics and game materials, which only enhance the look of the game, but not the gameplay. In fact, it has become somewhat unwieldy and bothersome to play. Additionally, this set only has 20 Alien powers and only supports 4-player games. AFAIK, there where plans for expansions, but those are on hold indefinitely. Recommended only if no other version is available. If there are, get the Mayfair release, pronto!
Cosmic Encounter is an excellent game that allows you to pass many enjoyable hours with your friends. Because of the various Alien Powers, it is never the same game, and remains fresh forever. And then, there are the huge amounts of optional rules, beginning with the variable home systems and not ending with adding moons, etc. If you are interested in the game, get the Mayfair edition. It is the most complete and best designed version. Both the basic set and the expansions are out of print, but you should find them in some back shelf of your local game store. The Eon set is so long out of print that it has collectors value, making it unreasonably expensive.
And as if the official additions were not enough, the internet holds countless inofficial optional rules and variants. It is an amazing game, easily learned and hours upon hours of fun. That should do for a recommendation...