Friday, February 27, 2009

End of debate: the best homebrew ever

It's the first one mentioned in this list.

Pure genius. The debate is over. I fully expect it to appear in the first Fantasy Flight Games expansion.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

CE alien survey #20: VOID

First appearance: Eon base set.

Plain-English power: Win and throw your enemy's ships out of the game permanently.

Loved by: Guys who like being intimidating; evil people; masochists (and Masochist).

Loathed by: Aliens who otherwise don't mind losing (Warrior, Hacker); aliens whose ships are precious (Macron, Amoeba).

Three ways to win as Void:
  1. Be patient. Opponents will probably save their best cards for you, so try to bait them out before you play your best cards. You'll probably be ahead in ship count anyway.
  2. Others will likely be wary about allying against you, so they might just come to your side if you ask. Don't give away free stuff, though.
  3. Don't worry too much about losing your ships to the Warp. Once you start winning a few encounters, you'll pretty much always have an advantage in ships.
Three ways to win against Void:
  1. Be careful with your ships. Give serious thought to using fewer ships than you normally would against most other aliens.
  2. Winning against Void is dependent on the cards in your hand, since you'll probably risk few ships (as will your allies). Save your best cards for him, if possible.
  3. Avoid using the Mobius Tubes unless you really need it, since Void will probably have the most ships in the Warp.
At CE Online? Yes. Also, be warned that Void will eradicate your ships when he uses the Plague.

Anything else? While Void in previous versions could remove a player from the game by eradicating too many ships, CE Online and the FFG edition prevent a player from losing so many ships that they become unable to win.
— Submitted by Toomai Glittershine

A look at the DNA of a CE turn

This is one of the greatest, most awe-inspiring things I've seen in quite some time: a chart that lists every possible thing that could happen in a given turn of Cosmic Encounter. It's so thorough that it goes way past the actual concept of "thorough" and begins to loop back around toward the idea of "over the top." I especially like how it makes CE seem to have a more vertical learning curve than Arkham Horror.

It's a must-see, trust me. Bang that link.

BGG's official Top Geek is a CE fan

This week's Geek of the Week at is none other than Jack Reda, well-known in these parts as the creator of the massive The Warp database. It's a well-deserved honor; Jack has uploaded dozens and dozens of useful files and images to the site, not only for Cosmic Encounter but many other games as well.

The GotW format allows users to pepper the current honoree with all sorts of goofy questions, so if there's something you've always wanted to ask Jack, this is your big chance.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Equal time: Let's talk about GOOD homebrews

After touching on some of the negatives I'm seeing lately in the world of Cosmic Encounter homebrewed-alien creation — namely, it's not 1996 any more; let's see something new — it seems only fair to acknowledge that there really are a lot of quality fan-created aliens out there. No further proof is needed than just a cursory glance at the new Fantasy Flight Games edition, which features a number of fan-created aliens that are now official elements of the game. It's not like Kevin Wilson and the gang at FFG had some some of mandate where they had to use these newcomers; there's a lot of other already-published aliens they could have picked.

Anyway, I can think of two good places to start, both internet discussions. I'm sure there's probably quite a few of these types of conversations out there, but these are the two that I can find quickly:

BGG thread from 2004:

and a current BGG discussion.

(That second one is pretty interesting; a few people have essentially posted short lists of their favorite homebrews.)

So what do you think? Is Fido really all that and a side of fries? (he seems to appear on every one of these sorts of lists). Are there any real losers in those discussions? And what are some that should be added?

Like everyone else, I've got my favorites, but I'll hold off for now. Actually, anyone who can remember the old "Homebrew Hall of Fame" series at this site's old location already knows a few of my personal picks.

How to spot a bad homebrew alien

Following up on the discussion below, here's a funny recent article spewed forth from The Warp: "Anatomy of a Bad Homebrew."

My favorite part:
... when you have an alien with a name like "GROCERY CLERK", or "NICOTINE PATCH", or "FLINTSTONE", you are probably straying too far off course.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Homebrew aliens: Has it all been done before?

Unlike many Cosmic Encounter players, I'm not a big reader of other players' homebrewed aliens. And I never really have been, even back in the days when there were far fewer of them. Currently, for example, there's a number of active internet discussions regarding homebrews (such as here, here, here, and here), and I've barely glanced at any of them.

Yet I'm a huge fan of the game. I maintain the only actively updated CE news site on the interwebs, for crying out loud! And I like variable-power games in general, so it should stand to reason that I would like discussing new powers, right? But I can barely focus when I begin reading a homebrewed-alien discussion, and I almost never stick around to the end. Why? Sadly, I'm a big believer in the following:

It's all been done before.

That's right: there's basically very, very few original ideas that are left to explore. The pod-moving alien someone scribbled down on a napkin and then posted to That's just the wild flare from some other homebrew first posted to the old CE newsgroup in 1995. That math-based creation you've got tucked away in your old Eon box? Sorry, it's too similar to alien X or Y from Eon Expansion #7. That flash of inspiration you had while playing Human or Fodder or Hacker for the first time? Bzzzzt! That was published way back in Encounter Magazine. Or ...
  • ... it's too much like this wild flare;
  • ... or that super flare;
  • ... or it's just a weak version of this alien;
  • ... or a stronger version of that one.
I'm finding, also, that even the really unique ... uh, I'll say "attempts" ... at completely off-the-wall aliens fall far, far short of being anything I'd ever include in my game. These aliens might manage to not be similar to any existing alien, but most of them also manage to be virtually unplayable. Usually, it's a case of ...
  • ... it's too specialized and can only be used maybe once per game;
  • ... or only you understand it;
  • ... or it requires 20 minutes to explain and needs to be reproduced in 4-point type to fit on even the huge FFG alien sheets;
  • ... or it flat-out breaks the game;
  • ... or it's just not any damn fun.
Circling back to my original thesis, if I may: the more homebrew items that I come across, the more I'm convinced that there's just not a lot of original ideas left out there, as least as far as the basic mechanics of the game are concerned. Here's what I'm talking about:

Anyone looking to author, say, an ally-based alien (just to use one traditional and easily-understood CE mechanism) needs to take a look at the long history of such powers, which dates back all the way to the original Eon box and includes numerous aliens, both official and unofficial. Have all the angles been covered? That's a legitimate question, and one that can only be answered by studying the relevant official aliens (Parasite, Crystal, Magnet, Observer, and their friends ... even Philanthropist would need to be examined) and also attempting to research the literally hundreds of homebrews that are accessible on the Information Superhighway (most easily, probably, at The Warp's excellent database). Even if our hypothetical homebrew author's new idea still seems original enough, there's always the specter of flares to make him think twice and want to go play Fireball Island instead. Because without researching a metric butt-load of flares — many of which include some sort of "use as an ally" mechanism — our author can't really be sure that his idea wasn't first conceived and published to the webs in like 1992.*

Here's a case in point: the author of this thread at posts 11 homebrewed creations and pretty quickly gets the feedback he was asking for. Within one page, a number of questions have been raised ... and within three pages, his ideas have been riddled with enough lead to open a pencil factory. Or, as one user puts it, none too gently (spelling and grammar errors left intact):
Unfortunately most of these aliens you suggested are EXACT copies of already existing one's on The Warp or are way to close or are close but inferior, and therefore are pointless to add to The Warp since they already exist and would just clutter things up with spam. And unintentionally plagiarized spam at that.

I'll type the names of your version and the one's that have existed in the Warp or in Eon/Mayfair for years to clarify.

Hitchhiker = Jack Reda's Stowaway; Strategist = Eon's Worm; Quarker = Jack Reda's Ninja; Colossal = A worse version Cendric Chin's Terminator; Aegis = FFG's Observer; Mechanism = Jack Reda's Engineer; Fanatic = FFG's Kamikaze
Egads. That's pretty harsh, and it's not exactly how I would have phrased it**, but it does get to the gist of what I'm arguing here. Maybe not literally, but in a very basic sense, there's no new alien ideas remaining out there. Or, at best, very few ...

We've talked about the alliance mechanism, but it seems fair to say that the same problems would apply to basically any standard CE operation. Card movement, card alteration, hand manipulation, Negotiate cards, Attack cards (and Attack cards of certain values), Destiny, ship movement, the Warp, the other powers in the game, artifacts, and on and on. All of those areas have dozens of already-established aliens, both official and homebrew. When I find myself reading a homebrewed-alien thread — whether at, BoardgameGeek, the CE forums, or anywhere else CE is discussed — I usually don't get very far before I begin (much like our friend who is quoted above) mentally checking off problems, something like this:
Too similar to Trader ... that's just the Virus flare ... a weak Pacifist ... that one causes too much book-keeping ... that one looks like it's written in Aramaic ... that one just sucks.
It's like I can't help it. And it certainly doesn't make me want to stop what I'm doing, dress these aliens up in Photoshop, print them out, and actually use them. I've already got Philanthropist, Sorcerer, Reserve, Fido, Dictator, and Hacker; I really don't need minor variations of them.

Now, just to be clear, I won't go so far as to say that every angle, literally, of every CE mechanic has been covered. For one thing, it's impossible to prove one way or the other — in fact, I'll even agree that the existence of brand-spanking new aliens in the FFG box at least partially damages my theory. For another, I suspect that the real cream of the crop of homebrew authors (and, frankly, beyond Jack Reda***, that's a pretty short list) can still come up with some interesting variations. But they will be diamonds in the rough, and there will be acres of chaff to wade through to get to this sort of nourishing wheat.

So where does that leave the concept of homebrewed aliens? Am I saying that the entire idea is not even worth the effort? Not exactly. What I suspect is going to happen — and we're already seeing some of this — is that a different type of homebrew is going to begin to grab most of the spotlight.

Frankly, the CE system does not need a 200th variation on collecting compensation; what could be of benefit, though, are entirely new concepts: Tech-based aliens, "planet-manipulation" powers that take advantage of the independent planets in the FFG edition, aliens that play off the Hazard Deck concept that the FFG rulebook practically admits will be in the first expansion, and — last, but perhaps more important — alternate-win aliens that are as clever as Masochist and Tick-Tock, which are already claiming a large part of the attention currently being lavished upon the new FFG aliens. Some of these concepts have even been featured at this very site, which was one of the first to say, "Hey, look how cool these planet-based powers can be!"

If I was a homebrew writer — and, for the record, I most assuredly am not, at least as far as aliens are concerned — those are the areas I'd be looking at. I'd want to be the first guy to write an uber-cool Hazard-based alien rather than the 99th guy to write a "new" Trader. And as a fan of the game, I can guarantee that aliens based upon those new concepts are the only ones that I'll actually be paying much attention to as CE prepares to enter its fifth decade.

It's probably a safe bet that a couple of completely new aliens will be published for the first time in the upcoming CE expansion set, much as Remora made its debut in the recent big box. I'll be very interested to see those aliens and to guess why they were considered good enough — and different enough — to be worthy of publication.

I can't help but think, though, that those aliens will definitely be the exception to the rule. The cosmos is already pretty much filled up, as far as I can tell.

* To say nothing of Moons, which should also be researched. There's a number of good Moons out there, and many of them essentially have an "alien power."

**And can I just add, quickly, that I really can't stand the "So-And-So's Alien" vernacular? It's from the heyday of the CE newsgroup in the mid-1990s, and some of those guys have a hard time rembering that not every current CE player was involved with the game a dozen years ago. I don't mind giving credit for an alien creation, but let's not get too crazy about it.

***Who, BTW, the first two images in this article are shamelessly stolen from.

More good alien debates at BGG

Earlier, we highlighted a solid BoardgameGeek discussion (and poll) concerning the aliens that were making first-time appearances in the Fantasy Flight Games edition of Cosmic Encounter. Happily, we can now make this a sort of 2-for-1 deal. This discussion (and poll) looks at another interesting, alien-centric topic: namely, which of the classic Eon aliens should be included in any future expansions?

CE alien survey #19: OBSERVER

First appearance: Fantasy Flight Games.

Plain-English power: You can't die as an ally; as a main player, your allies can't die either.

Loved by: Those who fight for their friends.

Loathed by: Aliens such as Warpish and Healer.

Three ways to win as Observer:
  1. Always ally. Even if you're sure your side will lose, ally with four ships anyway. Who knows, you may win despite what you think.
  2. Be careful about inviting others. Sure, you'll get plus-4 from them, but they get free rewards with no risk.
  3. If you're feeling daring, invite allies when you know you'll lose (but no one else does). They won't die, but they also won't be allied with the other side.
Three ways to win against Observer:
  1. Win potential allies over. This may be difficult, since allying with Observer has no risks, but try to convince the other players that allying with you gives them the better reward.
  2. Avoid inviting Observer if you think you'll win. Plus-4 is great, but don't give things away with no risk.
  3. Force Field.
At CE Online? No.

Anything else? Observer was originally named Safety; the design is credited to longtime CE player Cedric Chin.

— Submitted by Toomai Glittershine

Monday, February 9, 2009

CE alien survey #18: TRIPLER

First appearance: Cosmic Encounter Online.

Plain-English power: Your Attack card triples if 10 or less; reduced to 1/3 if more than 10.

Loved by: Statisticians; players willing to settle for so-so cards; "win-inversion" powers (Anti-Matter, Loser, Spiff).

Loathed by: Filch.**

Three ways to win as Tripler:
  1. More than two-thirds of the Attack cards benefit you. Normally, Attacks average around 10; in your hand, the average is more like 15.
  2. Because the modes are 6, 8, 4, and 10, you have a plethora of Attack 18, 24, 12, and 30s. Negotiate to sue for cards others would normally be happy to be rid of.
  3. Don't be afraid to play the high cards (20 through 40) when you have an overwhelming ship advantage. You'd rather see them in the discard pile than sitting alone in your hand, waiting for someone to steal them via compensation.
Three ways to win against Tripler:
  1. Because high cards are bad for Tripler, he'll likely leave them until last in his hand. Negotiate for cards when Tripler's hand is small and you may get a nice surprise!
  2. As a mandatory power, Tripler is "always on," so save a Cosmic Zap for when he really needs to pull out a win. Make that Attack 10 just an Attack 10.
  3. If you have to strike a deal with Tripler, consider this: giving him your Attack 10 would be worth him giving you any Attack card greater than 10. In most cases, 8s and 10s for Tripler are guaranteed victories (except against Virus and the win-inverters). Use them as offers instead of the usual "colony for colony" lameness, and see if he warms to your proposal!
At CE Online? That's where it comes from.

Anything else? Math powers, while great at forcing opponents to think differently about their cards, can tend to burn brains in their complexity and make for less-enjoyable games. Tripler is a good example of a simple math power that doesn't cause too much analysis paralysis.

— Submitted by Zach Gaskins

** Also loathed by CE Online veteran AP. Be sure to ask him about Tripler sometime.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

CE Online: When combos strike!

One of my favorite moments at Cosmic Encounter Online is playing a quality pre-set combination that ends up working exactly as advertised.

Case in point: the image above. That's all four of the players losing power during a game of "Survivor: CE," a combo designed by Sleepy Weasel. The combination of Dictator, Machine, Vacuum, and Sapient is supposed to send ships to the warp, and it doesn't get much more warp-a-licious than all four aliens losing their power at once. It also helped that the Mobius Tubes didn't come up once that I can remember (they might have been hoarded, too ... I forgot to ask).

Anyway, this game was a complete blast, even though I went from a winning position of 3 bases down to a miserable 0 bases in the space of about four encounters. Now that is Cosmic Encounter, baby!

Well done, Sleepy Weasel.

Friday, February 6, 2009

CE alien survey #17: DICTATOR

First appearance: Eon expansion #1.

Plain-English power: You determine who attacks whom.

Loved by: Control freaks; those who like being involved in every encounter; fans of horned lizards.

Loathed by: Those who do not take direction well; certain "advantage" aliens, who will likely find themselves sent to far-off planets where their advantages mean little.

Three ways to win as Dictator:
  1. The current encounter is yesterday's news. Why? Because you were thinking about it during the last encounter. With Dictator, it's always possible to be one step ahead of your foes; take advantage of this rare gift. You control the action; think ahead.
  2. Probably moreso than any other power, Dictator is the ultimate pay-attention alien. Barring some unforeseen Cosmic weirdness, you will literally be involved in every encounter of the game. Focus! If you're too busy trying to watch Lost or Battlestar Galactica, then play another alien.
  3. Play your foes off against each other. Are there two players tied for first place? Make sure they see a lot of each other. Two players who are likely to ally? Make sure one of them ends up being the defensive player. One power with a decided advantage over another? Find him a tougher foe.

So those new aliens ... what did you think?

Now is your chance to directly tell Cosmic Encounter developer Kevin Wilson what you thought of the 14 first-time-published aliens that were included in the new Fantasy Flight version of the game. He's also seeking input on what CE players would like to see in upcoming expansions.

So drop what you're doing, head on over to this BGG thread, and sound off.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

CE alien survey #16: CITADEL

First appearance: Fantasy Flight Games.

Plain-English power: Attack cards can be placed as fortifications on planets.

Loved by: Turtle/porcupine strategists; those who like solidifying their conquests. Spiff says "Bring it on!"

Loathed by: Space Invaders, win-inverters such as Loser and Anti-Matter (because Citadel's power is optional), and Virus & Chosen (Citadel can compete with their totals ).

Three ways to win as Citadel:
  1. Citadel's slightly-less obvious gimmick is shedding low Attack cards quickly and getting some use out of them. Fortify with the lowest cards, use high Attacks in encounters. When you meet in the middle, it's time to draw a fresh hand!
  2. Protect what you conquer! Once you get a foreign colony, slap down an Attack of reasonable power (8 to 10). Your power comes from the fact that you'll rarely lose a foreign colony you take (except against the Shadow). This has the added advantage of granting a bargaining chip for being invited to ally on defense (i.e. "I'll only activate my citadels if you invite me!") This is a doubly-potent advantage once you have your Flare (and can then turn the citadels inward to attack the planet).
  3. Protect your home! With some notable exceptions (Warpish, Masochist), you want every battle against your home system to fail miserably. More opponents in the Warp means less flexibility for them, and reduced ability to ally against you when you're going for the win.
Three ways to win against Citadel:
  1. While Citadel's fortifications are powerful, they don't move. Simply size up which planet has the lowest total defense (ships plus fortifications) and strike.
  2. You don't want Citadel to get its Flare and start turning its defense satellites into orbital death rays. Man the Card Zap harpoons!
  3. Citadels go away if they fail to defend. Plus, they only add to the total. Spiff charges headlong into them with excellent results!
At CE Online? No.

Anything else? Citadel is a great implementation of a "planet improvement" mechanic. It plays very much like an "arrow tower" or "bunker" structure from an RTS game.

— Submitted by Zach Gaskins

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Cosmic Encounter: top 100, baby!

I'll be the first to admit that I think BoardgameGeek's rating system leaves a metric ton of stuff to be desired. But, still, it's been pretty cool to see the Fantasy Flight Games edition of Cosmic Encounter work its way up over the past few weeks from about #1,300 to its current spot of #97.

Top 100, yo. That's what I'm talking 'bout!

Monday, February 2, 2009

No offense, but you're not invited, pal

Repeating an experiment first performed in January of 2007, I will not be inviting any allies in any games I play at Cosmic Encounter Online this month. Not on offense ... not on defense ... not on purpose ... not by accident ... no allies, bro.**

The results will be there for all to see, thanks to CE Online's statistics feature; I suspect I'll do about as well as I did last time (which is to say: about the same as always).

**One exception: defending against an offensive player going FTW might result in alliance invitations; to not do so is to risk playing kingmaker

CE alien survey #15: AMOEBA

First appearance: Eon base set.

Plain-English power: Your ships move in and out of encounters (even above the limit of 4 or down to 0).

Loved by: Players who want to be flexible or escape from a no-win scenario.

Loathed by: Anyone without reinforcements.

Three ways to win as Amoeba:
  1. Be cautious about oozing more ships in. When you have a great encounter card, or something else up your sleeve as a backup ... that's when it's safest to do it. Holding a Mobius Tubes is a great time to ooze all over the place.
  2. Start by attacking with four ships. It helps you to get allies when you want them, and you can always ooze down to one or none if you aren't confident. Oozing out of a situation that doesn't look promising is half of your power.
  3. Always keep track of how many ships you can afford to lose. If you go in too big and lose, you could lose your power altogether. You're your own reinforcements.