In "Cosmic Encounter," players assume the roles of alien civilizations competing for galactic dominance -- and, granted, that sounds a bit like every other sci-fi strategy game out there. But "Cosmic Encounter" was a trend setter, first hitting the market in 1977 and influencing numerous designs in its wake.
Here's how it all goes down: In the course of the game, players shuffle around starship tokens, planets and cards that represent different encounters, reinforcements and useful artifacts across multiple game phases. Players also engage in the politics of their galactic ambitions, forming alliances and making deals. In this, a game of "Cosmic Encounter" tends to be a far more social affair than many competitive board games.
While each player starts the game with equal abilities and powers, a random "alien power" activates for each player upon gaining three planetary colonies. Each power bends or breaks the rules in the player's favor, such as allowing a player to win the game by losing all their ships, or allowing unlimited ship movement. This game feature ensures that no game of "Cosmic Encounter" is entirely alike, which helps explain the game's continued popularity 38 years and several publishers later.