Cosmic Colonies: Orbits Within Orbits

  • Designer: Scott Almes
  • Artists: Matt Bain, Matt Paquette, Tristam Rossin
  • Publisher: Floodgate Games
  • Release Date: July 2020

Disclaimer: This game was provided to us for review by Floodgate Games.

Luke: Cosmic Colonies is a game that, for some time now, existed in my periphery vision. I heard about it occasionally in conversation, saw it from a distance at CuseCon this past fall, and saw that its Kickstarter was pretty successful. It wasn’t that I didn’t have an interest in it, I just never found myself so enticed as to do more research on it until recently.

Phil: And I’m really glad you finally got around to it, as this game is fantastic.

Luke: The premise is innocent enough; players are attempting to mine their own patches of land in space, gathering as many of those precious minerals as possible. Players score more points the less of a given terrain is still showing on their board at the end of the game, as well as for collected sets and secret goal cards.

Phil: Each round is composed of 2 identical phases in which everyone plays a card simultaneously, resolving all effects in initiative order. Assuming you are playing with the advanced variant, which we highly recommend, whether you play a card for the 1st or 2nd phase of a round will determine some of the bonus effects the card provides.

Luke: Cards are numbered between 1 and 20, establishing its initiative order, and will provide benefits for 1 of the 2 actions players can take.

Phil: Those actions being gathering resources or spending them on new tiles. Resources are limited each round according to player count, meaning you’ll have to be quick to get the stuff you need. Similarly, there’s only 1 tile of each type in a 2-player game, so you’ll want to buy strategically so you don’t get outmaneuvered.

Luke: Tiles are placed on your board similarly to games like Barenpark; the first tile can be placed anywhere, but each subsequent card must be placed adjacent to it. They can be rotated and flipped however you wish, but they can’t stick out of the borders of your board.

Phil: Of course, card effects can change this, but you can’t always rely on that. Only so many cards are used each game, again according to player count, so each game will feel unique based on what cards make their way into the pool of options.

Luke: But the biggest hook is that, after players have spent their 2 cards, those cards are then passed to their neighbor, changing up the options everyone has, meaning that you’ll have to constantly be adjusting your strategies based on what cards you currently have and what cards you think you’ll get.

Phil: In 2-player games, cards are passed to a central board, delaying them for a round so that players aren’t just passing options directly back and forth. It’s a smart workaround that makes for a much more dynamic experience.

Luke: The game is certainly best at 3 or 4 players, but for the purposes of this review, Cosmic Colonies is a very strong 2-player offering as well. Some rounds can feel like an intense fight as you and your opponent war over certain resources, which always feel just limited enough to make the game tense.

Phil: And as is par for the course for Scott Almes, the solo mode is sleek, smart, and a ton of fun. It’s biggest boon is how easy it is to learn, utilizing a significant amount of the core game’s DNA to make up a satisfying experience.

Luke: A difficult thing to do considering how much Cosmic Colonies relies on its social interaction.

Phil: Another significant detail worth mentioning is how malleable the game experience is. There’s a standard set of cards vs. an advanced set, adding unique elements to each card depending on when its played. There’s a regular scoring sheet and then an advanced mode on the back that rewards players for being more efficient with their tile placements. And there’s a mini-expansion that adds 5 more cards to the card pool and a neat new way of scoring.

Luke: Cosmic Colonies is the epitome of “play it how you want” in a way that never feels overwhelming. There are plenty of options, but each makes slight rules changes while making the gameplay feel significantly shaken up.

Phil: If I have 1 complaint, it would be the component quality. The player boards are nice enough, being a thin plastic, but light reflects off of them in a distracting way, making it hard to read at times.

Luke: And the cards feel a bit thin, especially considering how often they’re getting handled and passed around the table. I’ll likely have to sleeve them soon enough.

Phil: So this is a game that’s staying on your shelf? An impressive seal of approval for you.

Luke: Cosmic Colonies has earned its spot on my shelf of 30 titles alongside Sagrada; it’s a game I look forward to revisiting time and again.

Verdict: While best at 3 or 4 players, Cosmic Colonies is a fantastic game no matter how many folks you can cram around the table. Its core mechanic feels clever and makes you think around your opponents, there’s plenty of variability game to game, and it’s a ton of fun for new and experienced gamers alike. Definitely take the time to check this one out.

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