- Designers: Frank Brooks, Bill Eberle, Peter Olotka, and Greg Olotka
- Artists: Sebastian Koziner, Jean-Baptiste Reynaud, and Regis Torres
- Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
- Release Date: June 2020
Luke: Cosmic Encounter has been revered since the ’80’s as a board game classic, embodying the philosophy that a game doesn’t have to be balanced to be a ton of fun. Leaning into the chaos of party games while providing a strict game system, the franchise has been re-released… what is it, 4 times now?
Phil: And with a ton of expansions under its belt, the series is one of the more recognizable titles you can find on a person’s shelf.
Luke: So when the 2-player variant was announced some time back, it wasn’t a huge surprise, although I went into this venture a little skeptically. I wasn’t a huge fan of the original, largely because of how long it takes to play and how there can be games where a player just doesn’t get to participate in all that much due to the whims of the cards.
Phil: It’s definitely an odd pick beyond the obvious bran recognition. How would they translate such a social title to bring about the same excitement with only 2 participants?
Luke: Each game starts with, predictably, players getting a random alien race, each with their own abilities. While some of the powers echo those of yester-year, all of these are unique and provide their own flavor.
Phil: Honestly, I like this art style much more than that of the original. There’s a cartoony look that lends itself to the goofiness of the game.
Luke: Players will start with 5 of their ships in the Warp (essentially a discard pile), 6 cards in hand, and a planet to fight over.
Phil: Each round, a card from one of the 3 fate decks is flipped, determining what happens that turn. After the first round, which forces players to encounter a planet, the bottom of the drawn card will dictate which deck to draw from next.
Luke: The pink deck is all about fighting over the planets, aka victory points, the yellow deck provides resources, and the blue deck is like an event deck, composed of a little of everything.
Phil: Most of the time, a planet will be on the line, as is the nature of the game. At the start of each duel, players will secret send between 0 and 4 ships to the planet, which should sound familiar to fans of the game. Then, players will have the chance to flip any Envoys they have favor with face-up.
Luke: Cards that represent the alien races of the original game, each Envy introduces a mandatory rule that, once flipped face-up, must be followed for the rest of the game. While you don’t know what any of them are at the beginning, if players get access to them, they can cause a ton of mischief.
Phil: After this, players will secretly choose a tactic and a combat card to use. Combat cards are what you have come to expect, valued between -2 and 42. Each player has their own deck now, so you know you’ll have access to 1 of every card over the course of the game.
Luke: Tactics, on the other hand, are flimsy standees that will interact with the ships before the fight. Most tactics will either attack the opponent’s ships or defend their own, with 1 allowing you to pass this action to recover tactics. If all of a player’s ships are removed from the planet prior to the combat, then the fight is over, meaning that this can have some impact over how you’ll plan.
Phil: After tactics and combat cards are revealed, the numbers are totaled, and whoever has the stronger attack value wins, claiming the planet for themselves. The loser returns what ships they still have on the planet to their supply, and play continues until a player runs out of ships (losing) or controls 5 planets (winning).
Luke: While Duel has a lot of the randomness of the original game, it also feels orderly. Maybe a little toooooooo orderly.
Phil: I thought you hated the more chaotic feel of the original. Make up your mind!
Luke: I do, but at least Cosmic Encounter has some personality of its own. Duel feels like a facsimile, an awkward attempt to recapture the magic that already exists and people are still invested in today.
In order to make this system work for only 2-players, a number of changes needed to be made to make the system feel more competitive and fair so you don’t just have a ton of blow-out, one-sided sessions. In the process, though, the game now feels homogenized, with every game feeling very similar.
Phil: The alien powers can help, but they rarely feel particularly involving beyond the art and style. And there are still those aliens that just feel better than others; in a multiplayer bonanza, that’s not all that big a deal, but when there are only 2 aliens to duke it out, the game just feels lopsided.
Luke: There’s something to be said for the new combat system, and it can feel clever occasionally, but there are way better combat games that I’d rather take the time to play, like Unmatched.
Phil: No matter how you slice it, I don’t think this is a game any one person is going to really fall in love with.
Verdict: If you loved the original Cosmic Encounter, this will feel to orderly and organized, with the chaos of social interactions and the big turnaround moments missing in action. If you weren’t a fan of the original, Duel still feels like a watered-down back-and-forth that can better be found in titles like Unmatched. No matter how you slice it, this should be an easy pass for most people.