W. Eric Martin
I noted in early July 2011 on BGG News that Cosmic Encounter co-designer Peter Olotka is going to work with players to design CE "Expansion Set 5" on the game's Facebook page.
Lots of details on this process still need to be worked out, and Olotka expects that everything won't be in place for a couple of months, but here's what I can tell you now: Cosmic Encounter publisher Fantasy Flight Games and FFG designer/developer Kevin Wilson is starting development work soon on expansion set #3 with publication expected sometime in 2012. Expansion set #4 will likely appear in 2013, which puts the release date for expansion set #5 at no earlier than 2014 – which Olotka says, "from a player involvement perspective...gives us lots of room to add and revise content, and it allows players who are not yet on Cosmic Facebook to come in over the next couple of years and still participate".
CE fans already make lots of material on their own – aliens, artifacts, lucre, endgame rules, etc. – and Olotka thought this would be a fun experiment that plays into the nature of the game, even if it did take the original designers time to discover that nature themselves. "The first time that we played with the aliens we created, we had situations that you never could have expected," he says. The funny thing is "we played from 1972-1976 with only six aliens. We just didn't think about making more. There were no games like it when we first came up with the concept." It was only after Parker Brothers cancelled a contract that Olotka and his fellow designers were inspired to design more aliens.
One aspect of expansion #5 that needs to be settled before design work can begin is what the set will be about. "You need limitations on the expansions," says Olotka. "An outline, parameters to work within – then we make stuff."
I mentioned the mantra of Magic: The Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater – "Restrictions breed creativity." – to Olotka, and he said that they actually had restrictions along these lines when they started to design Cosmic Encounter: The game would be science fiction, it would allow for joint victories, and so on. Working within those guidelines led to the game as we know it today. (MTG creator Richard Garfield has often credited Cosmic Encounter as an inspiration for his industry-changing card game.)
While the focus of the expansion is being determined, Olotka will also develop a system for how people can get involved on Facebook – as creators, editors, organizers, playtesters – and figure out how best to organize that creativity so that people aren't talking over one another and can focus on each thing being offered. "In the spirit of Cosmic, we'll break the rules and bend Facebook to do what we want to do," he says. Olotka also wants to integrate the BGG community into the creative process, even for those who shy away from Facebook, and that's something else to work out in the months ahead.
Once the design of the expansion is finished, the material will then go to Kevin Wilson for development, about whom Olotka has nothing but praise. He was the one who convinced FFG's Christian Petersen to license CE, says Olotka. "He's done such a good job with this, and in particular making the different phases of the game transparent, putting notes on the bottom of the alien card: 'This power works in this way.'" Olotka didn't like the fussiness at first, but "as I played the game more with more new people I realized it was great."
Among those new people playing CE on the Fantasy Flight version of the game is Olotka's seven-year-old granddaughter, who he says started playing at age five. At one point he mentioned to her the possibility of combining alien powers and he says that for the rest of the day she kept asking, "Well, what if you combine this one and that one?"
As for the two other games that Fantasy Flight licensed from Olotka and his designing partners – Borderlands and the "Wheels within Wheels" game system from Dune, which is being integrated with Petersen's Twilight Imperium universe – Olotka says they're progressing well, but details of the games and their release dates are in the hands of FFG.