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The Perils of Expansion Sets

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#1 GrimJester



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Posted 29 August 2014 - 12:51 AM

I ordered Cosmic Dominion because I love this game so much, and I just can't help myself. The expansions are fun, they're beautiful, and for a fan, they're addictive. Unfortunately, I think there are three minor problems with using them all. I'll outline them, and then elaborate:

  1. The addition, or absence of an expansion element can cause unexpected problems.
  2. The addition of several powerful cards from these expansions makes predictions very difficult.
  3. The addition of each expansion increases the time required to teach the game to a beginner.

1. The addition, or absence of an expansion element can cause unexpected problems.


Anyone familiar with Cosmic knows that the interactions between aliens can bewilder the best of us. It's part of the game, but expansions can add to the confusion further.


Example 1: Let's say that you add the Joker alien race, but don't play with the Reward deck. The R token should be taken out because it's no longer applicable. Will you remember? Are you sure?

Example 2: The Remora's ability allows the player to draw a card from "The Deck" when another player does. Including the Reward deck weakens the strength of the Remora because players can easily choose their rewards from the Reward deck instead of the standard deck.


These are just two examples from the top of my head. I'm sure there are more. In no way do I think that Fantasy Flight put out a shabby product. It's the nature of this amazing game. I'm just saying that more expansions can increase the odds of these problems arising.


2. The addition of several powerful cards from these expansions makes predictions very difficult.


Yes, I'm talking about card counting. When that 40 is gone, and a couple of card zaps are gone, you can start formulating safer bets when it comes to strategy. Now there are so many powerful cards out there that you can't narrow the options down at any point. This makes the game much more random. Yes, Cosmic is a very random game, but there is strategy to it. I feel like the addition of this many "game changer" cards is making it far too wild to create a solid strategy toward the end game.


3. The addition of each expansion increases the time required to teach the game to a beginner.


I can see arguments against my first two points, but I can't see any way around this. Adding expansions increases the amount of time it takes to teach the game to a beginner. We have techs, stations, rewards (several types), hazards, and flag ships. If you're playing with the same group all of the time, it's not an issue. Add one new player, and it's a lot to absorb.


Learning rules isn't the only issue either. Knowing what to expect is also part of the learning curve. That comes with time, but will the player stick around to try again after being beaten down?

Do I play with all of the aliens? Yes, they're all shuffled together. Do I often play with at least half of the other expansion materials? No, I don't, because I can't teach a new player everything at once, and not expect them to be overwhelmed.


I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't buy the expansion, but I do think that the inclusion of expansions requires a little thought. Am I the only one who thinks this way?

Edited by GrimJester, 29 August 2014 - 12:54 AM.

#2 pgocosmic



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Posted 29 August 2014 - 06:07 AM

Great post. Here's some history and how I handle expansions with new players.


When we first designed Cosmic Encounter, we called it the Universe game. It had 6 aliens and was unpublished - for about 3 years. We got it licensed to Parker Brothers and it was named ENCOUNTER. Still 6 aliens. They canceled he contract. Still unpublished.


We finally figured out that there were more than six aliens. So when we created Eon Products our Cosmic Encounter game had 15 aliens. Finally published, DONE!


But players wanted more. More players and more aliens - so we started making expansion sets. The game wound up with nine expansions and stuff like reverse planet systems and moons and Flares.


At the time there were few (if any) games that had expansions. And there were no games like Cosmic Encounter.


The idea of expansion was and still is fan driven. For us it was a to of work and keeping everything in synch was and is a mind numbing process.


As for new players. Simple. I never play expansions or even Flares with new players.


As for cards that are in the now MASSIVE deck(s). When a card shows up in play that is not concurrent with the game set at that time, simply take it out of play and set it aside and draw another. Its far easier than pawing through the deck terying to remember what in or out.


As for using or not using different aspect of Cosmic...player preferences are totally varied. Any single player who thinks he or she can be the One True Judge of what is universally fun/not fun, good/bad in Cosmic is sadly delusional. They can only say for themselves. This goes double for players who try to make the good/bad alien list to serve the general public. 


As for expansion sets? If players want them...they will be made. If not they won't.  Don't forget about CosmicCon September 19-21 at the FFG Gaming Center.  We will all be there ready to be schooled by the Cosmic Fans who are far better at the game then us humble designers, right? http://cosmiccon.eventbee.com

Peter Olotka designer Cosmic Encounter

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#3 GrimJester



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Posted 29 August 2014 - 12:01 PM



Thanks for your reply, and thank you for designing an entertaining game with virtually unlimited replay value. It's the game equivalent of Willy Wonka's Everlasting Gobstopper.


I agree with your suggestions. I will continue to play using limited components when playing with new people. I will add components when the other players at the table desire it.


You are absolutely right that removing an invalid card from play is the only way to proceed. The countless possibilities that make the game fun also prevent the prediction of all possible "conflicts."


Please don't think that I am anti-expansions for Cosmic. I bought them all without much hesitation.


Unfortunately, I can't make CosmicCon. It sounds like fun though.


A.C. Donovan, Cosmic Encounter Player

#4 MarkHB



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Posted 29 August 2014 - 10:06 PM

My first intro to CE was back in the Eon era; my friends at college who were a year or two older were already into the game, and I got thrown into their method of playing: all 9 expansions, all the add-ons in play except the reverse hexes (that was where they decided there was "too much"), and everyone had 3 hidden powers.  It didn't take long for me to become addicted

#5 Oatmeal



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Posted 02 September 2014 - 04:12 AM

Hmmm... as for point 1, I think all aliens work fine across expansions with or without their related elements. Joker can still use his Retreat token if you're not using the Rewards deck, why not? Retreat is pretty easy to explain/remember what it does. Remora works fine but is indeed pretty weak with Rewards which is unfortunate since he's a fine concept for an alien otherwise. Hopefully he can be errataed in the new FAQ.


As for deck-diluting, I think the decision to leave the Cosmic deck untouched with no new cards added in is great? Sure, Kickers and Artifacts in the Rewards decks (especially Dominions) are very powerful, but they are also blue backed, Kickers are announced in advance, and most of the powerful cards in the Special Rewards deck have hard or soft counters so I don't agree that there is much strategy loss by adding the more powerful cards to the Rewards deck. Just hasn't been my experience.


For your final point, (new players), yeah. I used to use the Special Rewards deck with newbies all the time since it really only had Kickers and Rifts to explain and you could hold off on those explanations till someone drew a Special Rewards card. But a more complex Special Rewards deck in Dominion I will probably be leaving it out of newbie games. Oh well!

Edited by Oatmeal, 02 September 2014 - 04:13 AM.

#6 jasonfalcon



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Posted 02 September 2014 - 10:38 AM

Thanks for your post. Yeah that is the beauty of this game as Mr. Olotka stated. We can alter and change the game to best fit our circumstances. For example I will never play with the Grumpus even if it is randomly drawn. If its flare is drawn and added in that's ok but I will always give a player another alien they can work with if that one is drawn. 


I never teach with flares first time either. I think the best way to teach is to give the players a preset hand. Play through once without alien powers and then let them play legitimately.



I wish there were more opportunities to create fan made aliens like a layout we could use provided by fantasy flight games where we could print out our own cards or add our own aliens using their format. I would love a photoshop copy of their alien layouts with all of the layers. I could make some pretty cool aliens. Maybe even with a new colored light in the corner (orange) for custom made.  I would bet many fans would be willing to even pay a price to print off some of their own custom aliens to use in the game. Almost everyone I have known always comes up with new aliens after playing 3 or 4 times. They always tell me when the play it "wouldn't it be cool if there was alien that could do this?"

#7 The Warp

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Posted 03 September 2014 - 01:51 PM

I don't feel there is any serious issue with adding in any or all expansions, even if you're only using parts of an expansion.  For example, the Joker's Retreat token can easily be used if you aren't using the Reward deck.  If you have Joker, then chances are you have the rules for Retreats, which were in the same expansion.  But even if you don't use it, it's not a big deal.  Joker is formidable without it. 


The variety of flares alone in the base game make "predictions" difficult.  Cards that are added from the expansions make the action more unpredictable, but also create more possibilities.  I am not convinced that using any form of prediction strategy is terribly reliable.  After the 40 and a few zaps, there are still hundreds of things that can happen that you might not have predicted.  Dealing with it is part of the game.


The best way to experience Cosmic Encounter is playing multiple games.  You then add in something new to the next game, because there's less to explain up front. 


I always teach flares, and I've never had someone just not be able to get it.  Their inclusion enriches the game incredibly.  Kids can understand them.


I taught Cosmic to nearly 80 people at GenCon.  The mechanics are pretty simple.

#8 Gumshoe_nr1



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Posted 05 September 2014 - 02:20 AM

The points you rise is not anything new.
It applies to all games with expansions. How about teaching Magic, now theres like 10k cards?
But for some respond to your concern.



Remora - I always played that "the deck" applies to "the deck" is drawn from i.e. If opponent draws from reward deck, so does remora (an any other alien that NOT specifically target the cosmic deck). The same is true for discard pile (which is specifically explained in the new Dominion rules).
Joker. If there are ONLY new player I can see a problem here, but If someone that owns the game AND dominion expansion are in the group, I see this as a minor, minor problem. I have teach CE for 15+ years and not once have I had any problem with the line "okay, remove that card" or "remove that token" - because its from a expansion we are not using.
Or "I have removed the flare cards BUT if any of you get a card that says "flare" alert me/draw again.


2. Several powerful card, does indeed exist trough the expansions. I myself (considered by many friends a "cardcounter") has absolutely no problem, but from a game design perspective it is ALWAYS a difficult choice. How big should a deck be? if I want 1/20 chance of something, should I make 20 cards total or 100? Same probability, different outcome/harder counting.
From a gameplay/teaching perspective I NEVER introduce new player to a game with expansions.



3. For me, expansions are just that, expansions. Made for expanding gameplay, that you are familiar with.
In the specific case of CE I always have the whole "stack" of aliens to draw from, but "reserve" myself as a game leader/teacher to players, to have a "veto". It has never failed.
I normally introduce both reward and flares after one play.

Hope you continue to enjoy CE and Dominion, I have had a blast the past year with all the ideas and playtesting!

Edited by Gumshoe_nr1, 05 September 2014 - 03:23 AM.

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