Cosmic Encounter! For those of us who encountered the game in our youth, the words have something of the ring of "Oklahoma!" The ebullient American spirit! The vast vistas of, um, outer space. The late nights in dorm rooms or at science fiction conventions studying cards and back-stabbing allies... A brilliant game then, and in its Internet version, a brilliant game still.
Originally published in the late 70s, Cosmic was a best-seller in the hobby games industry, and has been republished many times over the years. It's a relatively simple game of strategy in which each player attempts to conquer planets from the others, the first player to establish "bases" on five worlds outside his own system winning. The kicker is that each player has an "alien power," a special rule that applies only to him. This was, in fact, a major innovation in its day; Richard Garfield, designer of Magic: The Gathering terms it the first "exceptions game," a game in which simple basic rules are complicated by special rules that players may introduce. The idea was, indeed, key to Garfield's design for Magic.
Over the last few years, Future Pastimes (the original designers of the game) have been perfecting an Internet version, and now have a very smooth-playing game, with an excellent Flash tutorial for new players, that's playable in about 20 minutes and different every time. With a welcoming and friendly community of players.
15 Aliens Free
Cosmic is free to play--but free players only get access to six of the alien powers. For $25, you get access to 15 aliens, and for an additional $10, five more. Alternatively, you can become a subscriber (daily, monthly, yearly, and weekly deals), and get access to all 33 aliens (with more under development), plus ranking and league play. An unusual business model, but it gives you a slew of options for different budgets.
If you enjoy "quick-play" multiplayer online games, you owe it to yourself to check it out.