Tag Archives: Board Games

Buy it or Leave it: Cosmic Encounter

Every board game should have an element of randomness so that no two rounds may be alike.  The degree of randomness employed by Cosmic Encounter is so amazing that it rivals even Betrayal at House on the Hill.

Put simply, you take the role of an alien race and set off to colonize your opponents’ planets while trying desperately to guard your own as well.  The randomness comes in from the fifty different alien species in the game.  Each species is quite unique in terms of appearance (complimented with stellar artwork), biography, and skill.  This uniqueness plays so strongly that each round is as different as the last.

The best part is how these aliens work off each other.  For more advanced aliens, a lot of strategizing comes into play as you try to outwit your opponent.  Some aliens can even counteract other aliens’ powers which makes the game that more interesting.

Unlike other board games, such as Settlers of Catan, where you can actively attempt to screw another player over, Cosmic Encounter makes it so you have no choice whatsoever who you can attack.  Destiny cards, another element of randomness in the game, are flipped over near the beginning of your turn.  These destiny cards will more often than not display a species color.  Whoever is playing that color, say blue or green, you have to attack them and them only.  This is only excused if you have an alien race that says otherwise.

Once the attacking and defending race have been established, both sides can call upon allies to help them out.  This is another fun aspect of the game.  Alliances can break and form very easily.  What your actions were in the previous round can affect who will join you and who will stop you from conquering the galaxy.  Even so, this is definitely a friendly game that will leave no traces of bitterness when it’s through.


After alliances are forged, the attacking and defending characters play their encounter cards which usually have numbers on them.  These numbers are then added up with the ships all the players have on each side and the player with the most points wins the game.  Negotiate cards also add to the fun as well and create a “Gambler’s Dilemma.”  If both players use a negotiate cards then both can work out a reasonable deal.  However, if one player plays a number card and the other a negotiate card then the player with the negotiate card loses (which can add some trickery to the game if you decide to lie what cards you have).

In my opinion, the game works best with all five players.  Like the Resistance, Cosmic Encounter thrives on human interactions and whereas other board games can start to feel bloated or slow with five players, Cosmic Encounter is full of energy.

Buy it? Buy it if you’re looking for a low instruction, high interactive game.  If you’re also looking for a game that has a high degree of playability (i.e. randomness) then this is the way to go.

Leave it? Leave it if you’re looking for a more strategic game.  This also takes at least an hour to play so if you’re looking for something shorter then move on.

Buy It or Leave It? Snake Oil

I had a problem.  If my roommates and I had five or more friends over at our apartment, we would be highly limited to the games we could play.  The only board games we could do were Resistance, Cards Against Humanity (CAH), and Once Upon a Time.  I wanted to expand our repertoire before I got sick and tired of these games.

So one day, my girlfriend pointed out a board game at the toy store called Snake Oil.  I read the description and I was immediately hooked.

Snake Oil is similar to Apples to Apples (AA).  Okay, so one player is the buyer; the buyer draws a random card from the buyer’s deck and plays that role (like Caveman or Castaway).  The other players, the salesmen, look at their six cards and combine two of them together to create a product for the buyer.  Then, each salesman will show the buyer their combination and talk about why they should buy their product.  The buyer will choose the best product and the salesman will keep the buyer card.  At the end of the game, the salesman with the most buyer cards is the winner.

You want to look sharp when you are cheering on the players, right?  But you don't have the time to shave your legs??  Well with the new Razor Underwear, you can keep your legs constantly shaved while still looking good!

You want to look sharp when you are cheering on the players, right? But you don’t have the time to shave your legs?? Well with the new Razor Underwear, you can keep your legs constantly shaved while still looking good!

Like AA and CAH, part of the fun comes from the card combinations and how wacky they could be.  However, most of the enjoyment originates from the salesmen.  They have to take their nonsensical invention and turn it into a special, you-just-gotta-have-it product.  As such, this game sets itself apart from AA and CAH in that the salesmen play actual roles in the game instead of just sitting in the sidelines.  I have seen many product combinations that would have been a bust had it not been for their silver tongued salesman.

However, again like AA and CAH, Snake Oil can wear on you if played too long.  As such, it’s best to play this game in short rounds, either through time or the number of complete rounds you take.

I also think the game suffers from some boring nouns (such as “stool”).  This is a family game so you can’t go too risqué but I still think they could have extended their vocabulary to more unique nouns including animals.  I know I have been stuck with cards that were pretty meh and I was just burning through them hoping to get something good.  This has tempted me to combine some of the cards from AA or CAH with this game to create a more dynamic and hilarious setting.

But to answer my problem from above, this game has certainly offered a new experience for us to play and I like it.  I’m glad I bought it cause I like it and so do my friends.

Buy it? Buy it if you want more party games and are looking for something light on rules and short on time.  Buy if you are also a fan of CAH or AA.

Or Leave it? Definitely leave it if you want a more involved, strategic game.  This game is meant to be played with fun and not for the sake of winning.  Also, if you don’t care for AA or CAH you might want to leave this one alone as well.  However, I still recommend you try it out anyway cause I think it’s different enough to really be its own entity.

Friends, Board Games, and Wil Wheaton

About two years ago, I was worried about my social life, what person isn’t?  For me though, I was worried about technology’s increasing strength on my life.  It was serving more as a barrier than as a passageway towards interacting with my friends.  Desperately, I was trying to figure out a way I could interact with my friends without the use of video games, TV, or cell phones.  The answer to my problem was actually solved, funny enough, by one of my friends (we’ll call him “Mr. Pink”).

One day, Mr. Pink was talking to me about this great board game that we should try out called Ticket to Ride.  A game about building trains to connect between cities on a real-world map.  At first, I wasn’t convinced.  He then showed me a video on Youtube called Tabletop which was hosted by former Star Trek actor, Wil Wheaton.  On Wil’s show, he invites several semi-famous actors, writers, and so forth to play a board game with him.  Each episode the board game and the guests are different.  The episodes are high quality, nicely edited, and highlight the basis of the board game very well through both explaining the rules and playing the game.

Not Pictured: Felicia Day

Not Pictured: Felicia Day

I was convinced.  Almost immediately after I saw the episode, Mr. Pink and I got in my car and we drove over to our board game store.  We bought Marklin Ticket to Ride, where you play on a German map, and we played the game that night with our two other friends.

As I was playing the game, I realized that I had found the solution to my problem.  Board games.  They are non-electronic, they take a few hours to play, and they offer a (mostly) positive interactive environment for us to be in.  This was it.

Soon after, my roommates and I religiously watched Wil’s Tabletop and after every episode we would discuss if we should get the game or not.  Our board game collection is now filled with games, most of which were recommended by Wil.  You name it, we got all the greats; Pandemic, Settlers of Catan, Betrayal at House on the Hill, the list goes on.  Our bookcase can barely contain them all.  Our collection has given us the opportunity to pick games that suit our current mood and I love it!

My favorite thing to do now is to invite some random friends, who probably haven’t met each other before, and play board games with them.  Let me tell you, getting a diverse group of people together and them playing off of each other as much as they play off of the board is a satisfying experience.  Sometimes, they even bring their own games with them and that thrills me as well.


For those kinds of situations, Pandemic does a great job setting the mood.  Everyone works together to stop the looming diseases.  This really builds up the players’ trust towards one another and can break down reservations the players may have.  People take on roles that fit them and they interact, they inform, and they suggest strategies to partake in.  This builds and builds as the going gets tough and we might tooth and claw to suppress the diseases from spreading.  Even if we lose, we still have fun.  From there, it’s really up to the players what they want to play (though I like to encourage Betrayal due to its rather weird nature).  Overall, it can be a fun time.

Wil and his show was a definite influence in my social life.  And last March, I was able to tell it to him in person.  He was going to show up, along with other Star Trek actors, at a local comic convention.   When I heard this, I knew now was the best time to meet him in person and autograph a board game while I was at it.  But what board game??  Ticket to Ride seemed like the best choice since it was our first board game but the box was unfortunately too large for my backpack.  I decided to go for Powergrid, a board game that my roommates and I love to play.

I was a little nervous when I finally met the man himself.  I briefly told him that he got my friends and into board gaming and then I gave him the box for him to sign.  His eyes immediately lit up and he said, “Isn’t this a great game?  I love this game a lot!  The first goes last rule is a great mechanic.”  We talked briefly about the board game, he then signed it and I was soon on my way.  I have to say, that was probably my best encounter with a celebrity (though I haven’t had that many encounters yet).  He was kind, earnest, and he gave the time to talk to me even though there were many people before me and just as many afterwards.  Needless to say, it was a great experience, and I’m glad I got to meet the man that helped me find a new way to connect to my friends.

powergrid box