Cosmic Encounter: Please don’t ally everyone, every time

Cosmic Encounter is one of the most fun games I’ve ever played. However, many report having a dreadful first experience with it. They find it overly random and that only the highest attack cards matter. They see themselves tied at 4 colonies and luck deciding who wins. To them, the game seems pointless and over too quick.

If this has happened to you, there’s a chance you’ve been allying too often. In this article I’ll explain why one must be careful with alliances and the effect too many of them have in the game.

ALLIES GET MORE

In Cosmic Encounter allies get more out of alliances than main players. They offer a bonus in combat and, in exchange, they might get a colony or a handful of cards. This is not an atrocious rate, but it’s heavily tilted towards one side.

Consider the following. Both offensive allies and the attacking player stand to gain one colony if they ally. They both risk losing some ships. But the main player spends a card, half of their turn and uses his power while the ally doesn’t.

Both matter. One more card in your hand means one more chance to win. Not having to spend a turn means you get to your goal faster and with less meddling from other players. The same of true of defense. As a main player, defense gets you nothing. However, defensive allies get extra cards or ships from the Warp.

Compare alliances to reinforcements. A +3 or +5 is rather good card. However, it’s clearly worth less than a colony. Would you give a colony to another player in exchange of a reinforcement card? If you wouldn’t, think twice about allying that person.

ALLIES ACCELERATE THE GAME

Alliances reduce the number of turns required to win the game. Without alliances or special powers, a player needs a minimum of five encounters to win. With them, it’s possible to win without ever taking a turn. Alliances should not be considered simply on terms of who benefits the most but also on the effect they have on the wider game.

Powers like Virus and Trader, which are stronger in the early game, benefit the most from alliances. Powers that gain advantage over time, like Fungus or Void would rather have everyone on their own until they are in a position to win. Knowing where your alien falls in that balance is an important skill.

Allies also accelerate the game by putting more players into a winning position. If one player sticks out, the rest of the table can work to prevent them from winning. If three players can win, it’s going to be very difficult for the other two to stop them.

OVERUSE OF ALLIANCES LEAD TO UNSTABLE END-GAMES

Games in which alliances are common are more volatile than games in which alliances are rare. This has its own strategic benefits but also increases the level of risk players take during the course of the game.

A common sign of alliances being overused is a large amount of players tying at four colonies. While not a bad situation on its surface, the truth of the matter is that it gives you a very high chance of losing. It’s very difficult for one player to defend against the whole table and that player might be you.

After all, the destiny deck is random. You may end up attacking your partner or being left out the winning alliance. You are leaving your chances to win to factors beyond your control, which makes for a poor strategy.

WHY ALLY THEN?

After reading this article one might wonder what’s the point of alliances. Why should I ally if it’s such an unequal trade?

The first reason that alliances are always available. There’s no cost to alliances and no requirements to fulfill. As long as players are willing, you have an ally. It’s hard to overstate how powerful “free” is in games and alliances are no exception.

The combat bonus given by alliances is also significant. The most common attack cards in the game range from 06 to 10. Hence, an ally with four ships can turn a defeat into a victory. It’s also very difficult to defeat an opponent backed by two or more allies, at least without significant expense.

Second, some aliens have ally-based powers. A power like Seeker or Cavalry offers significantly more to an encounter than the average alien and is well worth the cost of a colony.

Finally, Cosmic Encounter is a game where several players can win at the same time. In fact, it is rather difficult to win alone! And if there’s going to be a winning alliance, it better be yours.

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