Long answer: Cosmic Encounter (CE) is hard to describe. It's a board game, it's a
card game, it's a power game, it's a beuracratic game, and yet
at the same time it is none of these things.
It's not a role-playing-game, though ever single RPG'er that I've taught CE to has loved it.
It is initially a simple game, but then the players are given powers that let them bend, change or break the rules. It was the inspiration for Richard Garfield's famous game 'Magic: The Gathering,' but unlike M:TG, you only need to buy it once.
Well, sort of. CE has been published by a number of gaming companies in a number of countries, and geeks like me like to get them all.
It's fun, basically. That's it.