Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Alien Strategy Series: Barbarian

First appearance: Fantasy Flight CE

Plain-English power: Ransacks opponent's hand, keeping what he wants, trashing the rest.

Loved by: Masochist. Love is probably too strong to describe Masochist's feelings about Barbarian, but it's all relative. Most aliens don't have much love for this guy.

Loathed by: Genius, Remora, and anyone that finally drew their own flare card.

Three ways to win as Barbarian:

- Commit big as the offense. You only get to use your power on your turn when attacking, so you should increase the odds as much as you can. Putting four ships in the gate will send a signal to the other players that you are confident you'll win, and it will attract more allies to your side and fewer to the defense's. Plus, the more ships you commit, the more cards you keep from the loser.

- Play the good cards early. Sometimes players are tempted to save their good attack cards for later in the game. When it's your turn, go for it. If you win, you'll get access to your opponent's hand, and if he or she has been saving some good cards, you'll get them.

- Ally with the defense when it's not your turn. You want to slow down other players from getting colonies, but you also want to keep adding good cards to your hand whenever you can. Then, when it's your turn, you have better cards to help you win, and other players have more incentive to ally with you.

Three ways to win against Barbarian:

- Unless you feel very confident that you can win as the defense against Barbarian, you might want to think about playing your negotiate. Barbarian loots your hand, but you get to collect your compensation after- so you may get back some of the good cards you had. Also be sure to consider playing all of your reinforcements onto Barbarian's side. No point in giving him any of those cards.

- Play your best attack card. If you don't, you may end up losing it anyway. Remember, you don't just lose the colony, you lose your hand. And even if you want to lose your hand, you don't want Barbarian to get the good card you didn't play.

- Barbarian is a great target for a plague. Even if he hasn't looted any player yet, a plague will weaken him and make it less likely he'll win on his turn.

Barbarian relies on getting some good cards on his turn. If you ally against him, you can shut him down for several encounter until his turn comes back around. Allying with the defense can also give you access to good cards in you're using the Reward deck. In those games, Barbarian will be even more keen on winning as the offense, so you must convince the other players to gang up on him.

At CE Online? No.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Power Selection Variants

A fun and easy twist on the game is to change up how you select the aliens for the game. The normal method is to deal out two and pick the one you like more. But there's plenty of other interesting methods for selecting your power. An idea called "Bid Drafting" was recently proposed and discussed on BoardGameGeek, which I recently tried out. It was a fun way to start the game and actually reminded me a little of Spice Harvest for Dune.

Some of the others I have enjoyed over the years include:

BOGGLE: This is a fun variation (especially in a set with over a lot of powers). Each player writes down the names of 5 powers that they would like to have, along with 5 powers that they don't want anyone to have. Read off the list. Any powers that are on more than one list are eliminated, and the powers that you wanted that are not on another list are yours. Each player may therefore have anywhere from 1 to 5 powers (If all of your choices are eliminated, you may pick one power at random). This allows for some creative thinking and allows powers that are otherwise fairly weak to be used to their utmost advantage.

DRAW STRAWS: Draw a number of powers equal to the number of players. Randomly choose a player to pick first. That player then takes all the powers and picks one for himself. He passes the powers to the next player clockwise, who repeats the process. The last player will get the least desired power. Then draw another set of powers and give them to the last player. He picks in the same manner as first player did, then passes counter clockwise. Powers should remain hidden until everyone has chosen both sets. This can be used for deciding between two powers, but more often it's used for double-power games.

PICK AND PASS: Each player draws three powers at random. One power they choose for themselves, the second one is thrown away, and the last one is passed to the player on their right. You may not look at the passed power until you have chosen your powers to pick and pass, etc. You must play the power passed to you.

TIDY BOWL: Deal 5 powers to each player. Put two powers "in" and the rest "out". All the "in" powers are shuffled together and dealt randomly.

More selection methods can be found on The Warp.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cosmic Express

About a year ago, a clever and amusing version of Dune came out called Dune Express (it uses a lot of dice and some simple components, and was the Golden Geek winner 2009 for Print & Play).

Now there's an "express" version of CE called Cosmic Express (also called Cosmic Dice) from Nathan Bryan.

The first version of Dune Express was decent, but what really made it come alive was a lot of upgraded fan-made components). Cosmic Express is also light on the production design, but if it does get jazzed up, it looks like a nice diversion. It takes at least 3 players, and if it's anything like real CE, 4 or 5 would be better (though if that's the case, you should all just break out the real CE and play that).

One of the best aspects of Cosmic Encounter is the variable player powers, and Cosmic Express does have that. Nathan has created power cards for over 50 aliens (those in the FFG's set, and a few new ones, like Conqueror and Psychic).

I never gave Dune Express a try, but I may have to take a look at the Cosmic version.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Power of the Day Returns

Gerald Katz is back to posting an alien power each day, now on BoardGameGeek. These posts originally appeared on over the course of many years.

The one thing I have particularly enjoyed is watching the evolution of some of the homebrew aliens. Comments from other players sometimes inform the development, and also changes to the game itself have contributed to how the aliens have been created.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Nova Cards

I recently issued a plea on the CE newsgroup for information about Mayfair's never-released expansion for Cosmic Encounter that tantalized players for a long time, was play tested, and on the verge of release when.... it wasn't. Nova cards.

Responding the most popular complaint about its edition of CE, the one-shot flares, Mayfair cooked up a new card that would behave like the classic Eon flare (play it, but don't discard it). There would be one Nova card for each alien in the game. That was about all the information that was ever released.

Now, it's more than a decade later, and I've always wanted to know what the content of the Nova deck was going to be. I felt there was no reason to keep the data secret anymore... people worked hard on creating it- it deserved to be shared and discussed. I didn't really get the information I wanted, but close. Gerald Katz explained that the Nova cards were essentially going to be a new version of his Pulsar cards (also known as Immunity cards). Gerald has been posting Pulsars for every CE alien (including many homebrews) for years- which to me says that it's even more all right for someone who had access to the "official" rules for Novas to just send that stuff to me, but I digress).

Nova cards, like Flares, have two headings: Con and Pro. The Con heading is an immunity to the effects of the power listed on the card. It partially or completely nullifies that power, ala Cosmic Zap to some degree, but often only to the benefit of the card holder. The Pro heading was only used if you held your own power's Nova, giving your power a boost like a Super Flare (but a different effect than the Flare).

For example, if you held the Anti-Matter Nova, all allies' ships add to the encounter total (his allies as well as yours). Conversely, if Anti-Matter held his own Nova, the effect is his opponent's allies add to the encounter total instead of subtracting.

In an article on the newsgroup, Gerald explained that he almost ditched the idea since they were too close to flares, but when Mayfair's one-shots came out, he decided they were a great way to reintroduce a retained card to the game.

That brings us to the FFG edition, which does have the classic Eon style of retained flares. Would it be too weird to have a second flare-like card in the game? One of the unfortunate things about flares is that you rarely ever get your hands on your own Super. I didn't want to see a game where you had two cards for your alien power and even less chance of seeing one of them. I was on the fence about it, but then I thought about the Reward deck. What if you added a Nova card for each power in the game and shuffled them into the Reward deck? No extra Novas were added- only powers in the game, meaning each one that did come up would be relevant. The Reward deck is smaller than the encounter deck, so you had a better chance of getting a Nova for a power being used into the game. It might still be hard to get your own Nova, but now you have the added tension of having a player acquire your Nova and becoming somewhat immune to your power.

It's no secret that I am a big fan of the Reward deck. I like that makes people think twice as the defense about inviting players to ally (and think carefully about whom to invite). It makes other players think hard about which main player to ally with. And it makes the offense have to worry about whether or not he invites certain players on offense, because if he doesn't invite them, the defense just might. Plus, before the Reward deck, if you did ally with the defense, and drew cards from the deck as your reward, you stood an excellent chance of drawing cards you didn't want. The odds of getting something good are a little better in the Reward deck (no guarantee, which is how it should be).

If you mixed in 3-6 more cards, it doesn't have a huge effect on the Reward deck distribution, but it does make you a little bit more keen on accessing it. And, the Rift cards take on an even bigger role in the game when you know someone has a Nova in his or her hand, and you want to target it for compensation. If the dozen or so games I've played with Cosmic Incursion, I haven't felt much of a need to hold onto my Rift cards as a deterrent. I just play them and get the ships out of the warp. If I had a Nova in my hand, I would be more inclined to keep a Rift if I could afford to.

Culling info from old newsgroup posts by Gerald, and noodling up my own info on the new aliens, I have created my own set of Nova cards and add them to my Reward deck when playing. The first game was about a week ago, and it was very well received. We got three of the six Novas into play. Only one of the flares for the powers in the game was played, and as a Wild, not a Super. There was also a desperate move by one player to take his Nova out of another player's hand through compensation, and it took him two tries to do it. The cost in ships was pretty high (7), but it ultimately led to his sharing a win with only one other player in a six player game.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


The concept for Hazards has been around since the late 80's (I first read about them on Aaron Fuegi's site). Hazards were a separate deck of cards that the offensive player had to draw from at the start of every encounter (before retrieving a ship from the warp). The cards typically affected the offensive player, but sometimes anyone was targeted. Most of the effects were not good. I'm going to credit Matt Stone with the idea (if I'm wrong, I'm sure he'll set me straight).

There was a list of effects that corresponded to a standard deck of playing cards, so you could use those and look up what happens (like Eon's moons). Actually, there were two lists, so you could vary which deck to use, or use them both to double your pleasure (or pain, as the case may be).

Below are some examples of card effects.

4 of Clubs.
COME ON SEVEN, COME ELEVEN. WILL YOU GET LUCKY OR WILL YOU CRAP OUT? ROLL THE DICE AND HOPE YOUR TOKENS DON'T HAVE SNAKE EYES. If you have 11 or more tokens in the warp, take 7 out to bases; if you have 11 or more tokens out of the warp, put 7 in.

King of Spades. SO YOU THINK YOU CAN RULE THE GALAXY? YOU HAVE BEEN THE OPPRESSOR, DESTROYING WEAK AND DEFENSELESS PLANETS. NOW SEE WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE OPPRESSED. If you have a base on another player's system and he has none on yours, vacate a home base and he occupies it. Your tokens disperse. You must give a base to each player these conditions apply to, and must vacate a different base for each player.

I found the concept of Hazards to be pretty awesome- I loved having a way to alter the course of an encounter in a small and random way. However, after a few games with the original Hazards, my group found them to be a little too brutal. And having them every encounter was also "too much of a muchness".

I created a new deck that had a lot of the effects toned down. I also tried to create scenarios where something would happen unless the offensive player did something specific. So it became less about an event that has happened and now you're suffering the consequences, and more about a "hazardous" situation you found yourself in, but you could get out of it or simply give in to it.

Here are some examples of version 2:

3 of Clubs. Your Alien Powers have been selected by "The Powers That Be" for spontaneous reincarnation, unless you demonstrate your worth by winning this next challenge. You must defeat your opponent (a deal will not sufficiently impress them) in this challenge, or replace your powers with random ones from the unused power deck.

8 of Clubs. You made an error when making reservations with the Hyperspace cone. You informed them that there would be 12 tokens on your side. If you do not have exactly 12 tokens on your side by the time you are ready to play challenge cards, you must forfeit your turn.

3 of Diamonds. Your tokens will not suffer another humiliating defeat alone. If you lose this challenge, the player on your left must lose an equal number of tokens (in addition to any normal losses).

9 of Hearts. The Black Market pays well for arms. You may trade any Reinforcements you hold for random Flares from the unused Flare deck.

I also wanted to change the frequency of Hazards, and put their use more in control by the offensive player. The new rule was you only drew from the Hazard deck when you wished to make a second encounter on your turn. Thus, you could avoid them altogether by giving up your second encounter.

When Fantasy Flight released the new edition of Cosmic Encounter, there was mention of Hazards in the rule book; one destiny card from each color had a special icon in the top left corner that refers to a future expansion.

Hazards were not part of Cosmic Incursion, but they should hopefully make their debut officially in CE with the release of the 2nd expansion.

A separate deck of cards seems likely, but who knows what the effects will be? The frequency of the Hazard deck has already been set (about one in every four encounters or so).

Since the fairly popular concept of "reverse cone challenges" has not been used, it may be an effect that will appear in the Hazard deck. It would be very easy to implement.

"Ally rewards are reversed for this encounter. Defensive allies land on the defensive planet if their side wins the encounter, coexisting with any ships already there. Offensive allies gain rewards of cards from the deck, ships from the warp, or cards from the reward deck if their side wins."

I'm hoping that there's a nice mix of encounter effects and conditional effects. What do you think?

Monday, April 5, 2010

Alien Strategy Series: Remora

First appearance: Fantasy Flight CE

Plain-English power: Gets Cards or Ships when other players do

Loved by: Hacker, Barbarian, and Mutant.

Loathed by: Warpish and Mutant. With Mutant, it's a love-hate thing.

Three ways to win as Remora:

- Make judicious use of a negotiate card. When your hand starts to get big, it becomes a target for compensation. Players are more likely to play a negotiate against you, so you increase the odds of getting into a deal situation.

- Invite a lot of defensive allies. Sure they'll get rewards if you win, but then so will you.

- Ally with the defense, and commit big. You can afford to risk the ships, since you have a good avenue for getting ships out of the warp faster than anyone else.

Three ways to win against Remora:

- Single Remora out when deciding whom not to invite on the defense. If your side wins, Remora will be collecting rewards anyway, so there's no need to double his gains.

- Make judicious use of a negotiate card. If you are on defense against Remora, and he won't be able to win the game on his turn, then this is the best time to surrender and get cards from him. It gets the negotiate out of your hand, and the opportunity to get some decent cards out of Remora's hand.

- Cosmic Quake. If Remora is holding a huge pile of cards, then one of the best moves you can make is to run through the rest of the encounter deck. When the deck is exhausted, all players must discard their hands and start with new ones. It levels the field for you against Remora.

At CE Online? No.