Gaia Project is a space colonisation and development game where various races compete to develop and grow through competing for the most desirable planets and producing various resources. To aid the expansion there are various technologies which can be researched; Terraforming, navigation, artificial intelligence, gaiaforming, economy and research - each leading to advanced technologies and special bonuses. Furthermore, each race has specific special abilities which add to a rich diversity of possible actions as they expand into the universe.
Generally speaking, a game is going to take a couple of hours, maybe a bit more with four players, and it is best with three or four players. It is in the same family as Terra Mystica, drawing on some of the same principles and to my mind it takes some of the mechanics of Terra Mystica up a few notches.
Gaia Project is an economic engine driven space game of expansion and development, but to simply say this says nothing about the incredibly rich and diverse game play and the many challenging decisions that will need to be made as each player strives towards victory.
In Gaia Project gameplay is all about expansion, be it the economy, to the stars or researching new technology and so on. Ultimately, there is an absolute mass going on, from special abilities of each of many races, specific objectives for each round, other special powers that may change from round to round, and the generation of various resources which in turn allow further expansion.
I'm not going to write a turn by turn description because there is so much in the way of potential actions that it would be meaningless. But to summarise, Gaia Project is played over a set number of turns, and each turn players can, one by one, take as many different actions as they have the resources for, and as the game progresses they will likely be able to afford more actions per turn or more expensive actions.
Important things to consider, and this is by no means a complete list, are:
- Generate the Various Resources – These are needed for pretty much all of the below.
- Terraform Planets – Needed so they can be expanded onto and colonised. Some planets are more valuable and some more expensive to colonise.
- Play to the Abilities and Special Powers of your Chosen Race – Because why would you not and do remember that you choose Races after initial set-up, where there are some random factors which might be worth considering in the choice.
- Advance the Various Technologies – For the benefits these provide.
- Colonise Planets and Place or Upgrade Buildings – For the resources these generate, to potentially block an opponent, and for the general benefits of expansion such as being able to form a federation.
- Manipulate Turn Order – Being the first to pass in any round gives the benefit of being first to pick a bonus ability for the next round, and the first to take a turn in that round.
- Play to the Special Objectives of Each Round – Because these generate victory points.
- Collect Victory Points – Gaia Project is a victory point game, play to generate these.
There are of course many different ways of doing this and some may be more efficient than others. Gameplay is incredibly rich and diverse, and even though there is no combat it can be very interactive as players compete for the most desirable planets and any placement on the board can lead to other interaction events.
Gaia Project has all the expected high production values and components. The game looks fantastic. There is an absolute mass of components and it is worth mentioning that you will need a large table to set the game up and play. I guess I could be super picky and want wooden or metal playing pieces, but the components and boards are far more than merely adequate.
I particularly like the modular game board which is double-sided and allows for more variety in play and the general clarity of printed components. On the rule book, it is on the whole very well written and well presented, and there are game aids to assist players.
Expansions and Revisions
None. I'm going to say something not everyone will agree with. I almost omitted this section because there were no new elements to review, then I decided I would not. I'm pleased to see a game that has not needed to be revised to fix potential problems or weaknesses, or simply because an improvement has been discovered. It is good to see a game that has been sufficiently play-tested not to need this.
I'm also pleased that there are no expansions, and I can say that in Gaia Project there is so much variety packed into the box that none are needed. This strikes me as very solid in both development and play-testing, and even though it is not the cheapest game on the planet, it's far easier on my wallet than needing to buy a plethora of extra stuff.
Final Thoughts on Gaia Project
Ultimately, Gaia Project is a victory point game based around developing an economic engine and associated technology tree. In many ways it is very similar to Terra Mystica, and to be honest has taken some learning from Terra Mystica and applied that learning to create an extremely strong game.
If it has a weakness it is that in Gaia Project there is no combat. The closest it gets is competing to be the first to get to a planet and/or blocking the expansion of an opponent. Does this matter? To me, no not really. Gaia Project is about growth, not combat, and there are so many different means of growth that combat really is not needed, and of course, it is perfectly possible to block expansion and growth forcing opponents to potentially make expensive decisions or reconsider. Furthermore, pretty much every action any player takes on the game board has an effect on other players and their position, so the lack of combat does not take away from player interaction.
Because there is so much going on, and so many potential decisions, the game can initially feel confusing. Ultimately, the rules are fairly simple, it's not a hard game to learn, but it is certainly a game that can take some mastering. To my mind this is where the challenge should be, making a decision on the balance from the many possibilities available rather than learning a mechanic. Gaia Project gets this right.
In Gaia Project you really are playing a thriving civilisation intent on expanding to the stars, there will always be plenty of resources to hand, though never enough for everything and this leads to some challenging decision making. It is these decisions, about expanding the economy, expanding to new planets, expanding research and more that are the heart of Gaia Project, and it is a very beautiful, vibrant and beating heart.