Board games are an awesome way of peering into another way of living. Even if it is gamified and abstracted, for a brief time sitting around the table everyone can don the farmer’s hat, the scientist’s lab coat, or the Monarch’s crown. Now with Devious Weasel’s latest release, you too can finally experience what it is like to be a two-mile tall, immortal frog-like creature that exists solely to gather the fragments from the Shards of Aeth, a shattered world. Or am I the only one with those fever dreams?
Descend From the Cosmic Sea Between Worlds and Get Eating
Cosmic Frog: World Eaters from Dimension Zero is a game of tile collection, combat, and theft, in which players take control of the titular amphibians and hop across the shattered remains of a planet, gobbling up diverse types of terrain in order to create the seeds of a new world. It’s not that simple though: the gods are mischievous and have each selected a champion frog to fulfill their wishes. So while you’re bounding about eating mountains and forests, you’ll have to watch your back. Your fellow world-eaters have no qualms about reaching into your gullet to steal the terrain they need.
Cosmic Frog has a beautifully absurd premise, and I absolutely adore it. When it comes to games as works of art, Cosmic Frog is a stellar example of what can be achieved when artistry meets design. The core gameplay isn’t that complicated and the way the art of the board, the cards, and the miniatures mesh with their functions in the gameplay is fantastic. It will take a bit of front-loaded reading to wrap your head around some of the more complex interactions, but it comes together in the first couple turns. Now, to the details!
How to Devour the Universe
The object in Cosmic Frog is to collect terrain tiles from a map to fill your own vault. Scoring comes from placing tiles in your vault in proper patterns and quantities to generate combos. It’s a nice little puzzle that allows you to understand at a glance what type of tile you need to go after next. Getting tiles into your vault is a little tricky, though. On a turn your frog can take a number of actions, but the main ones will be maneuvering around the shattered world and gobbling up tiles. When you gobble a tile, you take the highest tile on a space (they can stack three high, each level representing different formations and accompanied by unique art and token height) and place it in your gullet in order. The order matters as when it comes to regurgitating terrain into your vault out in the aether you must place them in reverse order, so planning is key.
Interaction comes from the intense competition for tiles, as the ever-diminishing stock of terrain tiles are gobbled and fought over and comets devastate the landscape (more on that later). The main driver of this conflict is to ‘retrieve’ highly desired tiles from another frog’s gullet. Planning these assaults is made complicated by the interesting turn order mechanic.
Turn order is done via a deck of cards. Each player receives the same number of activation cards, but the deck is shuffled, so the next player in a given round is a calculated mystery. There were many times when everyone around the table was intensely staring with bated breath to see who would emerge as the next active frog, and many a combat hinged on the ability to make a good escape after the deed was done. It may seem random, but since everyone can see how many cards have been drawn and how many are left, everyone can attempt to plan for potential outcomes.
Combat is a dice roll-off based on the type of frog mutation each player currently has, and that leads wonderfully into a hidden mechanic in Cosmic Frog. Each frog is given a hidden mutation at the start of the game that sets what dice it uses for combat in different situations and gives it a special ability. Players can choose when to reveal their mutation, leading to a tense game of bluffing in which players can try to ward off attacks with the promise of intense retribution at the hands of their gigantic war frog, if they actually have it that is. These can, and sometimes must, be altered when an Aether Flux card is drawn from the action deck, prompting each frog to change up its style as the game progresses. If the attacker in a combat wins, they can reach into their opponent’s gullet and take some tiles, but must place them in reverse order into their own gullet. Sometimes fights can span a game as two frogs attack each other over and over for coveted tiles. In one of our games this led to mutual destruction while the third frog calmly roamed about eating the scraps the other two ignored in their galactic battle.
Fights can also lead to bumping, which can be strategically employed to maneuver around the board. When fighting happens in the aether, the formless space around the tiles, getting bumped sends frogs into alternate dimensions where they must stockpile activation cards to pull themselves back into the correct dimension. While they’re out, their vault is vulnerable to raiders. Trying to balance protecting yourself from raiders with going after the next tile is difficult, and there is the potential to spiral if several frogs gang up on one to get their tiles, but no one has fallen behind irrevocably in our three-player games.
While each frog is chaotically bounding around the board, a comet can strike, destroying a grouping of tiles and sending any frog in their path spinning into the aether. Not only do these comets change the game state and therefore force quick thinking, they also act as a timer on the game and contribute to a variable endgame. When all the usable tiles are consumed or enough key tiles are destroyed by comets, the game ends and each frog’s storage contents are scored.
Glamourous Frogs from Beyond the Stars
I do want to take some time to address the component quality. There are six different frogs in three poses, a neoprene map, cards with wonderfully bizarre frog art, and exceptional counters. The cards are a decent quality but are clear and, in the case of the frog mutations, are accompanied by fantastic and psychedelic images of frogs hurtling through space. The neoprene mat is good quality, lies flat, and has important board spaces marked out including the outlines of where comets can land. Since the terrain tiles are of different thicknesses, setting up the board creates a 3D environment that your frogs hop across as they take actions. It’s fun to see a world of rolling hills slowly shrink as they’re consumed by players and falling comets.
Last Act of the Cosmic Ballet
I hope the general gist of Cosmic Frog is clear from the above description, but now for my concise review: I loved it. The two people I played it with loved it. But I believe that I had the best, or near best player count to enjoy Cosmic Frog. Anything more than four players may be pushing the limits of the activation system. But with my core gaming group, Cosmic Frog is not only a permanent member of our board game shelf, but is going to be a regular on the table for some time. The meeting of vision and gameplay is spectacular, the strategic planning and player interaction — boosted by the variable turn order and constantly changing world state — is deep but clear enough that everyone is aware of and pursuing their goal, and the art and components are beautiful.
This is my first taste of a Devious Weasel Games production and I honestly can’t wait to see what else they have up their sleeves. Cosmic Frog was a joy to play, visually stunning, and weird enough to entice even the most reserved of board gamers.
Cosmic Frog is strategic, pretty, and wacky. Perfect for 3-4 players in the mood to devour the world.