31 July 2018
Creating a universe gets fiddly
Cosmogenesis is a worker placement and drafting hybrid, where players create their own stellar systems by colliding asteroids and comets with gas giants and planets. Luckily, scientific knowledge is not a pre-requirement for the game. It attempts, by its own account, to (semi-)faithfully reflect the scientific processes of the universe, without overtaxing players with complex physics and biology – and, to some extent, it succeeds in doing so.
While it is incredibly thematic throughout and the creation of planets is absolutely Cosmogenesis’s signature mechanic, it also provides the biggest hindrance to the game. There are small rule changes depending on the type of collisions, which affect the outcome in very particular ways, making understanding them its own challenge. You can give gas giants rings, make planets bigger in size, create moons, atmosphere and even life in a single round, and all have different requirements and pre-requisites. There is a player aide that outlines the actions possible each turn but, while it shows the ‘dos’, it also ignores the ‘don’ts’, which, in reality, are more important. Add to that special ability tokens, a separate mechanic for evolving life and various point giving cards, with their own set of symbols and rules, and now you are truly lost in space.
When you finally get your head around the minutia, Cosmogenesis becomes really fluid and adaptable, and can ultimately be quite fun. Players begin by choosing one item from the space market to add to their system, and then can spend an optional action to change objects to better fit with their given objectives. Rinse and repeat, until you run out of tokens for six rounds. Cosmogenesis, as it turns out, is a very straightforward game, hiding under the layer of too many types of collisions and transformations.
Throughout the game, players will earn the most points by completing sets of planetary and stellar objectives. The former affects the planets and the moons orbiting them, asking for a very specific set of conditions to be met. For example, planets have to be of the correct size, with or without an atmosphere, orbited by moons of equally specific dimensions. Satisfying the requirements of planetary objectives is the main drive of the game. They show players exactly what they need to build to earn points – otherwise they are, quite literally, creating objects in a vacuum. Stellar objectives offset this slightly by giving points for the whole the system, and they are more generic and easier to achieve.
However, new objectives appear every round, making it hard to pre-plan for them, and it is all too easy to waste a turn doing something that won’t earn any points by the end of the game. This becomes especially prominent in the last round, where players have to pick up a planetary objective that might be impossible to complete in time for the game’s end. This means the last round usually becomes a scram for anything that will earn some last-minute points, leaving the game to finish on a unsatisfying low note.
Despite all the explosive collisions, Cosmogenesis is missing a spark. It has such a fascinating planet creation mechanic, equally fitting with the theme, yet small missteps in the gameplay keep it from being a game that you immediately want to play again. It is entertaining and enjoyable, but it pales in comparison to too many other board games that in principle do the same thing but better – even if they can’t create life.
A game with a great potential that unfortunately falls a little flat. Cosmogenesis' fascinating stellar creation mechanic gets lost under the weight of muddled options and pre-requisites.
Buy a copy here
Designer: Yves Tourigny
Artist: Tim Barton
Time: 60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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