Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic Eons
Designed by Future Pastimes
A long-ish time ago, in a galaxy so nearby that we’re actually in it right now… Cosmic Encounter was made by a few friends who had grown tired of the earthbound and often pedestrian pleasures of the likes of Risk, and wanted a game with some more dynamism. Designed around the mid-1970s and released the same year as Star Wars, the game’s enduring, if consistently under-exposed, appeal is directly tied to this sense of restlessness, of wanting to endlessly expand the scope of its own cosmos.
After bouncing between publishers for years, Cosmic has been produced for the last near-decade by Fantasy Flight, who have marked the game’s 40th anniversary with a sixth expansion release, Cosmic Eons, designed by some of its original creators. There would be a sense of a circle being closed, except that Eons feels like it’s just looking forward to the next forty years.
The key to the game’s expandability is its straightforward core ruleset. Three to eight players each get their own “home system” of five planets populated with some little plastic ships, with the goal being to establish five “colonies” of your own ships on other players’ planets. On their turn, a player randomly “encounters” an opponent, sends some ships to invade, and then each side can invite other players to help attack or defend. The two main players then each play a card from their hand. These can either bolster their forces, or extend a diplomatic olive branch to negotiate a mutually beneficial arrangement. Such negotiations can result in shared victories, very much derided by more aggressive players.
The game’s variability comes from the vast range of alien species that players can choose to play as. Each one adds, alters or breaks a rule, giving the alien’s player their own distinct power. Eons adds thirty new aliens, bringing the game’s total to around two hundred. Highlights of the set include the Sheriff, who can issue penalties for various infractions (like “excessive force” when a player beats their opponent badly), and the Evil Twin, who can designate another player as their patsy, forcing losses onto them.
At this point, each new addition adds a multitude of possible interactions between different aliens, meaning there’s a lot of play left in the game as it currently stands. But don’t expect the universe to stop expanding any time soon.
The Whale Husband – Mac, Windows
For a problem that, by its nature, consists of utter tedium, writer’s block can certainly be portrayed as a compelling struggle. Externalising such a particularly contained experience can do unexpected things to characters and settings. Like the unnerving and eventually hellish interior of Barton Fink’s hotel, the banal design of Bucket Detective’s creepy social clubhouse hides some unpleasant secrets.
The author, in this instance, is the sexually frustrated and thoroughly unpleasant David Davids who is attempting to write a trashy crime novel called Bucket Detective. The impediment to his doing so isn’t, however, a lack of inspiration or motivation. Rather, it’s just plain old idiocy. David has no talent for writing, or even a desire for talent. He just wants money, fame, and a bunch of literary groupies.
Taking the advice of a friend, he visits the mysterious house to seek aid in achieving his goals. Guiding David through its corridors and stairwells, it quickly transpires to the player that any help he gets will be coming from a demented cult that’s sure to ask for a lot in return. You are given enough control to back out before taking things too far, but of the multiple endings available, the “happy” ones are, in their own way, even more upsetting than the negative ones.
Though quite densely packed with amusing puzzles and absurd dark humour, One of Bucket Detective’s overriding traits is its ability to conjure an eerie sadness, while diligently avoiding any sense of tragic catharsis. Even its few body-horror elements are more dispiriting than disgusting. If discordant tones are your jam, you may find the game something of an earworm. Just don’t let it burrow too deep.
LIKE A BOSS: Dark Link
Using a Bizarro version of your protagonist as a villain is pretty much the height of laziness, but Dark Link never felt like an entirely lame shortcut. His appearance marked one of the high points of the much-reviled Zelda II. Even better was his menacing turn in Ocarina of Time’s Water Temple, where Link’s actual reflection gained a sinister independence in one of the series’ more hallucinatory encounters. He could, though, be easily subdued with a giant hammer, somewhat muddying any of his metaphorical significance.