Dale Yu: First Impressions of Cosmic Factory

Cosmic Factory

  • Designer: Kane Klenko
  • Publisher: Gigamic
  • Players: 2-6
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by Gigamic

Cosmic Factory is a real time race game where players work to make the best galaxy in front of them in accordance to a constantly changing set of rules.  When the game was pitched to me for review, I thought it sounded familiar – and once the game arrived, I discovered that this is a reboot of a game that I had reviewed a few years back called Mad City…

In Cosmic Factory, each player gets their own scoreboard and four scoring markers.  The 54 tiles are placed in the bag and shuffled. Five Kaos cards are drawn at random from the deck, and one will be revealed at the start of each of the five rounds of the game.  These cards all have rules or conditions on them which will be in effect for the round in which it is in play.

Players are working to make a 3×3 grid of tiles in front of them.  At the start of each round, the bag of tiles is passed around, and each player pulls out 9 tiles for the round.  When all players have drawn, there is a draft. You examine your 9 tiles and choose 3 to keep – place these facedown on the table.  Send the remainder to your neighbor. Then, from the 6 tiles you are given, keep 3, placed facedown on the table again, and place the final three face down in front of your neighbor.  Now, all players will have 9 facedown tiles in front of them – three of which they have never seen!

Then, the one minute sand timer is flipped over (or someone sets a timer on their phone) and all players simultaneously work on arranging their tiles as best as they can.  In general, you are trying to create color zones – that is contiguous areas of the same color – which contain as many planets as possible. You will score points based on these zones, with higher point scores going to areas with more planets in them.  You can orient the tiles however you want, but at the end of the round, you need to have your tiles in a 3×3 square grid.

When you are done working on your tiles, you can also choose to grab a bonus token – there is one token available for each of the three colors in the game.  If you take a bonus token, you are not allowed to touch your tiles any more. This is essentially a bet that you have a zone in that color which has more planets in it than any of your opponents.  If you are correct, you score +3 points in that color. If you are wrong, you score -2 points in that color.

At the end of the round, each player scores their three colors – there is a scoring rubric found on each player’s scoring board.  Keep track of the scores in each color separately – you have a scoring marker for each color. You also score your longest asteroid path with the star token – these are found on the tiles – you use your finger to trace the longest contiguous line you can, and you will score points depending on how many of the 9 tiles you draw your finger on.

Finally, look at the Kaos card for the round and see whether or not you score points based on the rule/criteria printed on the card.

Then, throw all the tiles back in the bag, replace the Kaos card and play another round.  At the end of the fifth round, the game moves into the final reckoning. Each player’s final score is the combination of the cumulative asteroid path score (the star marker) added to the lowest of the three colored tokens.  The player with the highest total wins.

My thoughts on the game

The original version of this game was not received well – due in part to an awful graphic design and weird iconography.   Just from opening Cosmic Factory for the first time, a serious upgrade in art and graphic design is immediately apparent…  The tiles are of the shiny coated (likely made in China) variety, but the art is bright and the planet icons are easy to see (unfortunately, the icons are not all the same size!)

Though it looks better, does it play better?  After my first few games, yes, I think it is fair to say that it works better than the original version.  Much of my thoughts of Mad City still apply here. To wit: Cosmic Factory is “a frenetic, fun, quick experience.  Games take between 15-20 minutes, and while each round is the same, the little 60 second puzzles of arranging the tiles are just right.  It seems like oftentimes the optimal arrangement is clearly evident from the draw, but it just depends on what you draw. You can certainly get hosed by an unlucky draw (where you get only tiles that have a few icons on them), but in a quick game, that doesn’t bother me.”

The icon distribution is better, and it seems like the variance in tile luck is greatly reduced from Mad City.  Sure, people will still some tiles that are better than others – but the draft helps mitigate that. You’re going to have three tiles each round that you probably specifically want, and then you’ll just have to make the best of it with what is given to you.

There is a little opportunity to hose your neighbor in the draft as you are giving them their last three tiles – but there is only so much that you can do because you’re keeping tiles from that same stack, and you’ll likely going to always keep the tiles that work best for you as opposed to giving tiles your opponent does not need…

Scoring is much simpler here, and I like the fact that each player has the scoring breakdown right in front of them on their own board.  It is pretty easy to see how each player is doing in each of the four scoring categories – in case that makes a difference in your tile passing.

The rules are fairly well laid out with lots of examples.  I do have a few quibbles – the asteroid scoring wasn’t super easy to understand, and the one example in the rules actually obscures the tile example illustration underneath – which didn’t really help clear anything up!  There is a QR code on the box which points to a rules video, but I’m old school and I’d really like all the rules to be present in the printed rule set, and not reliant upon anything which cannot be guaranteed (such as Internet connectivity).  Otherwise, everything is easy to find, as well as explanations for each of the 20 Kaos cards to resolve any questions that might arise from them.

And speaking of the Kaos cards, there are a bunch of them that really ratchet up the randomization/screw over your opponent feeling to the game.  I have thrown those out of my copy (seemingly half of the deck). Sure, YMMV, and everyone likes different things in their game, but I get no joy out of things such as “after drafting, give all your cards to your neighbor” OR “after arranging the tiles, each player removes two tiles from the left hand neighbor’s grid”.  Some might find that fun, but I am not one of them.

Cosmic Factory is a fun real-time game which is a lot more balanced than its original form.  Games will take 20 minutes or so once everyone knows the rules – because once players are familiar with the game, everyone can score simultaneously, and this greatly reduces the length of each of the five rounds.  This game is an enjoyable family-friendly filler/opener, and a vast improvement over Mad City.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Dan Blum: I agree that some of the cards are high-screwage, but it’s easy to leave them out if you don’t like them. Other than I generally think this is a fine real-time puzzle game. My only other gripe is that the asteroid path scoring is a bit too sharp – getting a path of nine is very chancy since it requires that your neighbor doesn’t hand you a tile with no path on it in the last batch, whereas a path of eight is difficult but more doable. Rather than have 6-8 worth 2 points and 9 worth 4 I think it would make more sense to have 6-7 worth 2, 8 worth 3, and 9 worth 4.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale (with the rando cards thrown out), Dan Blum
  • Neutral. Dale (with all the cards), John P
  • Not for me… James Nathan

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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