Reviewed by Andrea “Liga” Ligabue
GAIA PROJECT (Z-Man Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 60-150 minutes; $99.99)
For centuries, your civilization has yearned to take to the stars and explore unknown worlds. Now you finally have the technology to take your first steps into the cosmos. In Gaja Project, you will lead one space civilization in the struggle of galaxy colonization, competing with other races to be the new dominant power – without fighting, without spaceships – just by expanding, colonizing and managing your resources.
Gaia Project is actually one of the most anticipated sci-fi games in the last years. Is Gaia Project something new or it is just a remake of the great Terra Mystica? Designers Jen Drogemuller and Helga Ostentag and the publisher themselves say it is “in the line” and it is placed in the Terra Mystica galaxy. (In this review, I’ll treat the game as “new” but, of course, there are a lot of similarities.)
Every player selects one of the 14 factions (actually one of the 7 two-sided boards) that displays everything you need to know including the environmental needs. On your board, your mines, trading stations, research labs, academies and planetary institute are placed. According to a well known mechanism during the game, you will get more abilities/resources as long as you place your structures on the map, revealing what was covered. You also have a track for Credit, Ore, Knowledge and the Power Cycle. During the game you will be able to acquire Q.I.C. (quantum intelligence cubes).
The main map is prepared using sector tiles, a big hex made of 19 small hexes. The map will display planets in 9 different colors: one color for each race and the transdim and gaia planets. Every player will put two mines, one on each of two different planets of his color and than will take one of the available round boosters. On the research board, you will track for your progress in Terraforming, Navigation, Artificial Intelligence, Gaia Project, Economy and Science.
The game will last for 6 rounds. Each round will have a random scoring tile with two final scoring tiles for the end of the game. Everything in the game set-up is designed to make every game different: the map, the factions, the end-round scoring, the disposition of the tech tiles and the final scoring tiles. You really have to play more than one game before starting to get an idea of what’s really is going on and many sessions to really explore the game: that’s not bad at all!
Every round has 4 phases: income, gaia, actions and clean-up.
In the income phase, each player gets resources according to their board, round booster and technology levels: how to manage your resources and power is really important and you have to build and develop your civilization with care. There are 7 different Kind of planets: one of each of the 7 faction’s colors, transdim planets and gaia planets. Transdim planets can be transformed in gaia planets using terraforming units and after colonized. In the gaia phase, the gaiaformer will convert transdim planets into gaia planets.
Then the action phase, where the game is actually played, begins.
During your turn, you can take a single action and free actions as well and the round will last until all players pass. Usually you will play many turns each round before passing. When you pass you will get one of the free available round boosters and you will put your round booster back.
Everything starts from a Mine, the first structure you can build on a planet. To be able to build a Mine, the planet needs to be empty, accessible and habitable. The accessibility is related to the distance you are able to move from one already colonized planet and you can improve it by researching Navigation or using Q.I.C. Planets of your color you can colonize for free: you need to terraform planets of other colors spending ore according to your level in Terraforming.
A Mine can be upgraded into a Trading Station and a Trading Station into a Research Lab or a Planetary Institute (an Academy). When making an upgrade, the upgraded structure is placed back on your board. The cost of Trading Stations is lower if you are building close to other factions’ structures. Your Planetary Institute will activate something unique to your faction and Lab and Academy will also give you a tech tile. Of course the structures you have on the map will give you the main part of your resources production in the next round.
With different planets colonized, a federation may be formed, connecting planets using satellites (small cubes). Built satellites use power and a federation will give you a federation tile, usually a really good boost in victory points and/or resources.
By using knowledge, you can research in one of the six areas: every area has 5 levels and you will also get 4 points at the end of the game for each level above the 3rd. Rising from level 2 to level 3 will give you power and getting to level five rewards you with an advanced technology tile.
Throughout the game, some special actions will be available from your round booster, tech tiles or on your board.
During your turn you can take one or more free actions to change power in resources or get some one-shot boosts to your terraforming ability. How to use and manage your power is one of the main recipes to victory since free actions are something important to develop quickly. Clean up involves some “clean up” duties including removing markers from “Special Actions” and advancing to the next round.
With the end of the 6th round, the game is over and there is end game scoring. The two final scoring tiles will give from 0 to 18 points according to your position and this is something you need to care about. These scoring tiles include tasks like “owning structures that are part of federations” or “colonize the most different planet types”. You will score for researching (4 points for each level above the 3rd) and for resources (1 VP every 3 credits, knowledge and ore). These points are added to those gotten during the game for building federations, round scoring tiles and some technologies.
Gaia Project is a deep and complex game. You have to take into account many things. There are many possibilities and rules not touched in this review including how the power cycle works and the details involved in colonization of transdim and gaia planets. During the game you will need ore to build structures and terraform, credits to build structures and knowledge to research. Above all, you need to manage your power to take free actions and boost your advances. You need to keep an eye on what other players are doing and on the final score tiles. Technology tiles are an important part in your strategies as is choosing the right round booster. There is not a strong direct player vs player interaction but everything in the game is a race with other players and so your strategies need to change according to what other players are doing turn after turn.
I like colonization games and sci-fi games and I really love it when the German style of play meets up with the American style. This has resulted in well themed games with strong mechanisms and not (too much) randomness such as Eclipse, Scythe and Terraforming Mars. Gaia Project fits into this niche nicely.
All of the Gaia Project games I have played I have enjoyed. The different factions are all interesting and I still need to explore the many possibilities the game presents. See you in the Galaxy! – – – – – – – – – Andrea “Liga” Ligbaue
Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.
Other Winter 2018 GA Report Articles