Gaia Project Review & Ultimate Board Game Guide

They say you can’t build your castle on quicksand and expect it not to sink. Tell that to the inhabitants of the Terra Mystica galaxy – they’ll just terraform the quicksand. Welcome to the constantly-evolving star system of Terra Mystic and our ultimate Gaia Project review.

Gaia Project
  • The follow-up to the critically and commercially acclaimed terra...
  • A board game of colonizing the galaxy for one to four players
  • Take command of fourteen factions, each with its own unique...

Brief Overview of Gaia Project

Gaia Project 3-Player Board Game

Gaia Project is a massive space colonization and engine-building board game for one-to-four players. Taking control of one of 14 possible factions, the job of each player is to expand their control of the Terra Mystica galaxy by colonizing as many planets as possible, building and upgrading structures, and advancing your race’s technological abilities.

The problem is that most planets are not habitable to your faction. So you’ll have to convert them to meet your environmental needs, providing you have the resources available.

It’s a battle to out-grow, out-produce, and out-maneuver your opponents and score as many victory points as possible.

Unboxing Gaia Project

Gaia Project box and components

Inside Gaia Project you’ll find:

  • 10 map tiles
  • 1 research board
  • 7 double-sided faction boards
  • 1 scoring board
  • 16 scoring tiles
  • 10 round boosters 
  • 51 tech tiles
  • 6 space stations
  • 67 tokens
  • 25 cards
  • 4 player aids
  • 1 turn order card
  • Player pieces (in each player color):
    • 18 structures
    • 35 other pieces
  • 110 plastic markers

I’ll kick off with the actual artwork of the game, which is simply beautiful. The box itself showcases perfectly the clash between the dusty, dark metal of the space ships and the lush, colorful landscapes of the planets you’re trying to colonize. This is displayed throughout on all the components, giving it an awesome retro feel.

On opening the box, it’ll hit home just how big Gaia Project really is. There’s hundreds of little, brightly-colored plastic cubes and structures, and one small pink gem – the Brainstone!

The main takeaway here is that you will need a lot of room to play Gaia Project. Along with all the individual pieces, you get ten double-sided map tiles, with which you can build a bespoke map for each game. This is great for replayability, and its expansiveness makes it look very impressive when you’ve got a game going out on the table.

Otherwise, I found the rulebook a little clunky to read. But this was more just a matter of it being hard to navigate than hard to understand. Play through a round of turns and you should all have gotten the hang of the mechanics.

How to Play Gaia Project

Gaia Project pieces and setup examples

Setup

To begin, create your Terra Mystica galaxy using the ten interchangeable map tiles.

Then place the research board next to it, with research tiles randomly placed on various technologies, and set up the scoring board and round boosters, both of which are randomized, too.

Players then choose factions and take the corresponding faction board, which details all your faction’s abilities and outlines your starting resources and power levels.

Finally, place your first structures to determine the starting positions of your faction.

The Objective

Your goal is to score the most victory points (VPs), which can be done by:

  • achieving the round objectives, randomly chosen at the start of the game (eg. get 2 VPs if you build a mine this round).
  • achieving either of the two ‘final scoring’ objectives. The number of VPs you score is based on who did best at each one (eg. building the most satellites, or colonizing the most planets).
  • federating colonized planets
  • researching new technologies

Colonizing Planets

Gaia Project is largely geared around players colonizing planets around them to their faction. Before doing so, a planet must be made habitable to your faction, as, of the ten different types of planets in this galaxy, only one – the type that your species originate from – is habitable to you.

To make it habitable, you must pay to ‘terraform’ it. The amount of time and resources this takes will depend on how similar it is to your home planet and how technologically advanced your faction is.

Once a planet has been made habitable, you can colonize it by paying to build a mine there. It can then be used to generate resources or be federated with other planets to score VPs.

Turns

The game takes place over six rounds, with four phases in each round.

Phase one: Income

Each player generates resources (such as power tokens or ore) from your various structures, technologies, and round boosters.

Phase two: Gaia

Move power tokens in your Gaia area into the charge cycle (explained later).

Phase three: Actions

This is the bulk of the game. In turns, players take a single action and continue to do so until everyone has passed. There is a whole bunch of things you can do – not including your faction’s special actions – such as:

  • Build a mine (this colonizes a planet).
  • Upgrade a structure, allowing you to acquire technologies and other abilities.
  • Start a Gaia Project – this prepares a Transdim planet for colonization. I’ll explain this below.
  • Federate adjacent planets, granting you various rewards and VPs. You can build satellites to link non-adjacent planets. 
  • Do research to advance your technologies and unlock various effects.
  • Use your faction’s special actions.

Of course, these nearly all cost power, ore, or knowledge!

Phase four: Clean-Up

Reset the board for the next round.

Building Your Engine

Throughout the game, players will be expanding their faction’s stature by terraforming planets to become habitable, colonizing and then federating them. You’ll be aiming to improve your various stats to enhance your efficiency at doing so – in particular, terraforming, navigation, artificial intelligence, gaiaforming, economy, and research. At the same time, you can upgrade your mines to Trading Stations, Planetary Institutes, Research Labs, and Academies for various other bonuses.

Passive Actions

When a player builds a structure or colonizes a planet adjacent to one of yours, you’ll be given the option to spend VPs in return for power tokens. This can be an incredibly effective way to generate power tokens if used in the right way.

But remember, it works the other way around, too!

Final Scoring

At the end of the sixth round, final scoring takes place. On top of the Victory Points players earn throughout the game, you earn points based on how you rank in the final scoring tile objectives. You also earn points for how much research you undertook, and how many resources you have.

Whoever has the most VPs wins.

Your First Game of Gaia Project

Gaia Project tokens and player board

Power

To perform actions you will often need to have power. You acquire power by putting power tokens in your Gaia area and then charging them. 

To charge power tokens, you put them in the first of three spaces of your power cycle. You then subsequently move them through the power cycle each time a charge power effect is activated (for example, if someone builds a mine in a system adjacent to yours).

The maximum number of power tokens you can have on your board is determined on your faction sheet.

Transdim and Gaia Planets

These are two other types of planets that players can colonize. Transdim planets cannot be built on. Instead, to be made useful, you must transform them into a Gaia planet by actioning a Gaia Project. Once it has become a Gaia planet, it can be made habitable and will also then only be able to be colonized by your faction.

Federating Planets

When you federate planets you can receive big payouts and VPs. To do so, you have to meet the following conditions:

  • They must have a combined power value of 11 (power values are determined by the structures on the planet).
  • They must be connected, either by being adjacent or by building a satellite.
  • They can’t be directly adjacent to another of your federations.

Choosing where and how to form your federations is where a bulk of the strategy comes in.

Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Loads of factions with different abilities
  • Focus on engine-building and area control
  • Randomized scoring conditions and map tiles make for super replayability
  • It looks impressive

Cons:

  • Not everyone will like that there’s no combat
  • Will take some learning to play well

Gaia Project is an ultra-strategic engine-building and area control space/sci-fi game. You are constantly having to make forecasting decisions on how best to invest your power and resources for maximum outcome. Almost every aspect of the game has you thinking several turns in advance – like the power charge cycle, Gaia Projects, technology tree, and terraforming.

And this doesn’t even take into account how best to manage your opponents. This is an incredibly interactive experience, with players racing to block each other’s’ expansion, leeching power tokens off neighboring factions, or shifting the balance of play.

Endless Replayability

There is also endless replayability here with 14 different factions to play, all with their own special abilities that will need entirely different strategies to win. I had such a great time learning how each one could be used, and seeing how different combinations fare.

The randomized map and scoring conditions, too, can completely mix up the gameplay. In one game, for example, colonizing Gaia planets may take center stage. While in another game, they might be insignificant as players focus instead on colonizing as many different types of planets as possible.

No Combat

One thing to keep in mind is that Gaia Project has no combat, which I found to be quite refreshing. It was fun to focus exclusively on engine-building and out-maneuvering my opponents, rather than an escalating arms race or tit-for-tat skirmishes on the peripheries of my galactic empire.

This is quite a defining factor for a space colonization game, and certainly won’t be for everyone. Not to mention, the idea that an imperialistic ‘scramble for the Terra Mystica galaxy’ could take place without the slightest of hostilities seems a little farfetched if global history is anything to go by. But maybe that’s just a human race thing!

A Bit of A Learning Curve

Where I think Gaia Project presents a challenge is with introducing new players. It’s not hard to get a handle on the rules, but it can take some time to learn how to play well. The likelihood is that green players will get left behind and this could dampen their experience somewhat. But if you’ve got a crew of gamers ready to learn, it’ll be worth putting in the minutes.

Gaia Project Review (TL;DR)

Gaia Project is an engine-building and space colonization game with an emphasis on expansion, research, and economy, rather than military might.

It’s a game of super strategic decision making and foresight, as you grow your inventory, plan your next imperial planet grab, and try to block your opponents’ galactic plans.

With multiple different scoring conditions, interchangeable map tiles, and 14 different factions to try out, you’ll get days of table time before anything gets samey. And not a laser blaster in sight.

Conclusion: Verdict?

It’s not for the faint-hearted. Gaia Project is an expansive space colonization game that will give even the most hardcore of gamers some serious strategic meat to chew on. From resource management, area control, out-maneuvering, and engine-building, there’s plenty to think about. And without any combat mechanism, it won’t simply be a matter of who has the biggest guns.

But the strategic complexity shouldn’t put less experienced gamers off. Gaia Project is very easy to learn – it just might take a few play-throughs before you can truly master it. That’s part of the fun, though!

With tons of different map combinations, 14 different factions to play, and numerous scoring conditions, exploring Gaia Project can feel as endless as exploring space itself. But you’ll never play the same game twice – and each one will be a story to tell.

Gaia Project
  • The follow-up to the critically and commercially acclaimed terra...
  • A board game of colonizing the galaxy for one to four players
  • Take command of fourteen factions, each with its own unique...

We hope you enjoyed our Gaia Project review and would love to hear your thoughts on the game. Drop a comment below!

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Stats at a glance

Players: 1-4

Ages: 12 +

Crazy!

60-150 Mins

Publisher: Z-Man Games

Published: 2017