The Stars Our Destination--A Double-Take Review of Gaia Project


The different races of the galaxy are looking to expand their reach, and nothing can get in their way--except other races. Gaia Project is a game for 1-4 players, each taking a race from the galaxy and spreading out, scoring VPs, and working their engine. It's a science fiction sibling of Terra Mystica, with a practically identical core, but numerous changes. Is Gaia Project the final frontier, or a space mutiny? Let's find out!



The Setup

The galaxy boards are modular, so you set them up in different configurations depending on number of players. 

Place the Research board off to the side, shuffle up the 9 Tech tiles, and place them randomly on the spaces on that board. You always use the same 9 tiles, but every game will be different. Randomly take 6 of the 15 Advanced Tech tiles and place one at the top of each track on the Research board. Sort and set aside the Federation tokens, and randomly place one at the space at the top of the Terraforming track. 

Then set out the Scoring board. You'll place 1 of the 10 available scoring tiles on each of the 6 turn spaces on the board. Then place 2 of the 6 available Final Scoring tiles on those spaces on the Scoring board. 

Finally, randomly choose as many Round Boosters as there are players in the game. (The game comes with 10 of these.)

As you can see, Gaia Project comes with a LOT of variability. There are so many different configurations that you'll almost never be playing the exact same game. 

After that it's just a matter of players choosing one of the 14(!) available Factions, gathering all of their pieces, and placing things on the player boards. 


The Gameplay

You play over six turns, each broken into four phases.  

Phase I: Income--Everyone gets income from the triggers on their Faction boards, Tech tiles, the Research board, and Round Boosters. The income is in the form of three main currencies: Ore, Knowledge, and Credits. You can also gain Power, and Power movement.  

Phase II: Gaia--If you have Power tokens in the Gaia section of your Faction board, you move them to bowl 1, and then place a Gaia planet token down where you have a Gaiaformer. (This Phase doesn't happen all that often.)

Phase III: Actions--I'll come back and go over each of these. 

Phase IV: Cleanup

Okay, the actions. The universe is your playground, and you have 8 major things you can do 

Build a Mine on a Planet: First you have to pay the base cost of 2 Credits and 1 Ore.

The planet has to be empty and within range. At the start of the game your range is 1 space away from any of your other structures. You can increase this range through various means. 

There are 10 different planet types. Each Faction has one planet type they can colonize for free. Any other type will have to be terraformed, and depending on the type of planet, and your Faction, it will take a different number of "steps" to terraform different planet types. You can pay Ore to terraform, which you can make cheaper by upgrading on the Research board. There are also certain actions that give you a free terraforming step. 

Start a Gaia Project: There's one planet type (Transdim) that you can't build directly on. You'll have to terraform it into a Gaia planet using a Gaiaformer. One of the steps on that section of the Research board gives you access to a Gaiaformer. You have to have access to the planet, as you do to place a mine. After you pay the necessary Power to the Gaia Project part of your power bowl, you'll place the Gaiaformer on a Transdim planet. It will become a Gaia planet during the Gaia phase of the next turn. 

Upgrade Existing Structures: Once you have a Mine down, you can upgrade it into a different structure. Mines can only be upgraded to Trading Stations. Trading Stations can be upgraded to a Planetary Institute or Research Lab. And a Research Lab can be upgraded to an Academy. Underneath every structure is an income item of some kind that'll pay off at the beginning of the next turn. 

Additionally, if you upgrade to a Research Lab or an Academy, you get a Tech tile. Yay, tech trees! There are six different Tech tracks, and each one has a Tech tile under it. There are also three "wild" Tech tiles under the other six tiles. When you upgrade to those buildings, you can pick any one Tech tile you want (though you can only ever have one of each Tech tile). If you pick a tile directly under a Tech track, you move up one space on that track. If you pick one of the three "wild" ones, you can go up one space on any track you want. 

Form a Federation: Each building is worth a certain power value. You can form a Federation with a group of buildings worth seven points. When you do that, you get a special Federation token. You have to turn in one of those tokens in order to get to the very top spot of the tech tracks. You can make as many Federations as you want during the game, but each building can only be a part of one Federation. 

Progress a Research: You spend four Knowledge to advance on level on a Tech branch. You'll gain a one-time, or ongoing bonus. Only one person can be at the very top level of a Tech branch. 

Take a Power or QIC Action: Underneath the Research board are spaces where you can pay Power to take actions. These include getting 2 Ore, 7 Credits, 1 Terraforming action, among others. There are also three spots that let you use QICs (green cubes) for powerful effects. Only one person can take each of these per turn. 

Take a Special Action: Various spots on player boards, tiles, Round Boosters, and other places give you actions you can take. 

Pass: When you pass, you turn in your old Round Booster and get a new one. 

There's a box on the righthand side of each player board that details free actions you can take before or after regular actions. These are generally in the form of turning X into Y in order to pay for something. 

Then, after everyone has passed, you clean up and get ready for a new turn. After six turns, you do final scoring. 

You get 1 VP for every 3 Credits, Knowledge, and Ore you have in total. 

You get VPs for each level of 3, 4, or 5 you've reached or passed on the Research board--4 VPs for each level. 

Finally, you look at the Final Scoring markers, determine who is in the winning positions for those criteria, and hand out 18, 12, and 6 VPs for those spots. 

The winner is the player who has the most VPs--no tiebreaker. 


The Verdict

Firestone--Of course, one of the major questions is: Do I need Gaia Project  if I know and love Terra Mystica? The answer? Maybe. There are a couple of things that TM has over GP. First, the Factions are more thematic in TM. I can picture a dwarf, or a giant, or a halfling, and their powers make sense. But in GP, there's no real connection to the Faction and its power. Why are the space-chickens better at diplomacy? Dunno. Why are the stoner yetis better at getting rid of Power? I mean, I don't even know their real names! But the Factions are a small thing, really. 

Related to that: Some people prefer fantasy to science fiction. My kids, for example. That might color your opinion. 

Third, and I'm not entirely sure about this, but Terra Mystica seems more harsh. Tighter, I guess. Again, it's just a gut feeling after many games of TM and eight games of GP. 

But in practically every other way I can think of, GP is superior to TM. It scales very well, all the way down to 2 players. TM definitely didn't. The variablility of the Tech tiles is huge, too. And the dumb cult track, which made zero sense in TM, is now a Research board that makes absolute sense here. 

If you already own TM, I think it would be worth considering getting the "2.0 version." If you don't own either, unless you REALLY like fantasy over science fiction, I'd go with Gaia Project all day. 

Jeremiah--I don't have the extensive history with Terra Mystica that some folks do, but what I can say is this... Everyone that I've talked to has said that Gaia Project is superior than TM in many, many ways, scalability, and streamlined gameplay top that list. I can also tell you that GP is a ridiculously solid game. To use the phrase the hip kids are using, it's a point salad. The ways to score points change from round to round, but there are alternate ways to score depending on how you decide to play or the abilities of your Faction. This is a gamer's game. Even with it being a bit more streamlined than TM, there is still a lot to process, and your strategy will likely need some adjusting on the fly as you play. 

Firestone--The components are terrific. The artwork is evocative. The plastic is chunky. The game is able to convey complex information using only symbols. If there's one dig, it's that it's a table hog. You'll have boards, tokens, and tiles spread out all over the place. That's a small price to pay.  

Jeremiah--It is a total table space hog. The footprint, even with 2 players, is pretty massive. But everything Firestone said about the components and artwork is totally true. Some of the tokens actually feel like bakelite instead of just plastic pieces. They feel really nice on the boards.

Firestone--Because this is such a meaty game, you simply can't play this with nongamers. Not the family, either. This is a gamer's game through and through. That's no problem for someone with a regular game group, but something to consider if you don't. As good as it is, it might be tough to get to the table. 

Jeremiah--This for me is really the only issue with GP. It's a great, deep, intricately designed game, with amazingly high re-playability, but the first thing I told my wife after I played it was, "You would hate it." I don't have a "regular" gaming group, so when we decide what to play it's often determined by: what I have to review soon, who's there, what level of depth they're up for, and how much time we actually have. I had to put a date on a calendar and block out a good chunk of time to learn and play GP. So for me it's great, and I'd love to play it 7-8 times over the next couple months, but that's probably just not going to happen...

Firestone--This is an EXPENSIVE game. Do I think it's overpriced? Yes. But not by much--probably $20. Most games come with a standard MSRP now of $60. Given the amount of stuff in the game--boards, plastic, tokens, tiles, and an included Automa for a solo game, I think it probably should have come in at $80. But I was willing to overpay for this game. In fact, there are at least five copies in my game group, because every time someone plays, they go out and overpay too. 

Jeremiah--I probably wouldn't have acquired my copy had I not hit the jackpot at a local flea market and had some store creds to spend. It's hefty, but while the price is high, I don't feel like I got a subpar, or poorly produced, game because of it.

Firestone's Final Verdict--I'm eight games in, playing a different Faction each time, and I think I'm prepared to say this is the best Euro I've ever played. Somehow this meaty, heavy, hours-long game has become a staple at my game group. We want to explore it. We want to plumb its depths. And I SUUUUUUUUUUUCK at this game. But even losing is a joy. Gaia Project is amazing. 

Jeremiah's Final Verdict--Gaia Project is a gamer's game. If you love a Euro style game with plenty of meat on the bone, there is no doubt in my mind that you will love it! Just know that you're not playing this game with Grandma after Thanksgiving dinner. While my personal gaming circle will make this a hard one to get on the table, the fact is Gaia Project is a great, great game.

What about you? Have you played Gaia Project? What are your thoughts? Does it fire Terra Mystica? Let us know! And thanks for reading!