Can you build the biggest galactic emipre?
Android, iOS, & Steam
# of Players
Gaia Project is an economic, territory control game brought to use digitally by Digidiced. This successor to Terra Mystica has players controlling one of 14 factions and attempting to expand their galactic empire by terraforming nearby planets. After six rounds, players tally up their points from a variety of different factors to see who wins. A digital game takes about 30 minutes.
Gaia Project feels like *exactly* what pops into my head when I think of “heavy board game.” It’s got the space exploration theme, economic mechanics, exploration, trading, etc… This game is absolutely wild laid out on a table in physical form. I’m noting my initial reaction here to be sure to set the stage in letting you know that Gaia Project is not my preferred type of game. This, unsurprisingly, happens every now and then as I’m reviewing these apps. I’ve tried different routes over the years including playing until my thumbs were numb until I “got” the game. More recently I’ve fallen into the approach of accepting defeat and moving on.
Okay, that’s being overdramatic, but the point is that I can learn a game, play a fair number of times, not *really* get all of the intricacies, but still write a review. That’s what I’m doing here. I suspect you won’t mind as most readers just want to know if the app is functional and has the features you want (spoiler: it is and and does), but I did want to preface things a bit in case you were expecting a classic Pixelated Cardboard 1,000 word explanation section.
With that out of the way, Gaia Project tasks players to pick a faction and plot their course to exert the most control over a mostly unexplored region of space. As you would expect, each faction has their own strengths and weaknesses to leverage or exploit. The main crux of the game is building your engine to make sure you can produce everything you need to terraform and expand your empire.
Rather than going into a deep dive into the game, I will explain the term important enough that they decided to name the game after it; Gaia Project. This is the act of using a specialized resource to convert an entirely uninhabitable planet into a slightly more habitable planet. Terraforming, inhabiting, and building on planets is a major point of emphasis here.
The game strolls along over six rounds and some final scoring takes place when it’s over. There are variable scoring goals which change from game to game, these give players something concrete to aim for throughout the game and the variability adds to the replay value. On that front, quite a few aspects of the game are variable, beyond the high number of factions, so each game will have a distinct feel and a big portion of the game is surveying the initial game board and formulating a plan based on how the current game is set up.
I’m going to stop my description there. Massive game, variable player powers and setup, economy building, etc… You know if this is a game you might enjoy or not. It isn’t one for me on first pass, but I've been intrigued enough to keep trying.
Barrier to Entry
Phew. This game is a beast. Personally, I wholeheartedly disagree with BGG’s assessment that Through the Ages is a heavier game than this.That minor quibble doesn’t change the fact that Gaia Project is one of the heaviest games to get the digital treatment. This makes teaching the game a huge lift for Digidiced. They clearly know this and provide a full tutorial, link to a YouTube video, as well as links to download the full rulebook and faction rules. On top of all of that, the game frequently offers pop ups while playing to help clarify things.
Even with all of that, this game is still a beast to learn. Between all of the above I was able to get an okay handle on the game, but it took a few times actually playing to really start to understand how it all comes together. I’m not convinced that I fully understand even now, but I’m getting there.
A huge footnote to this section is that this game is the successor to Terra Mystica and anybody who has played that (which is NOT me, to be clear) has a big leg up in learning Gaia Project.
Look and Feel
Gaia Project is a Digidiced game which brings the typical Digidiced layout. It has been revamped a bit for Gaia and remains as functional as always. The menus look more polished than in their previous games while maintaining the familiar layout. Overall, it is a nice balance of old and new, and works quite well all around.
Controls work via click-and-confirm. With so much going on, some of the click areas appear to be fairly small, but I have not had any issues getting incorrect tabs during my time with the game. Like other games with this much going on, there are sub-menus for things that don’t fit on the main gameplay screen. The game offers multiple viewing options for the main gameboard so you can find the one that fits you best. This all comes together to work quite well.
There is a much needed undo button, thankfully! This is crucial when learning the game.
One last note here, the Steam version has a slightly different interface than the mobile versions. I played on mobile and the screenshots reflect that, but the Steam version is set up a bit differently to better take advantage of the extra screen space. It’s always a plus in my book when a developer caters specifically to different platforms.
Digidiced has always had a solid list of online features but the games were often held back somewhat by slow connections. Not anymore, my friends! An entirely new backend was created for this game and boy can you tell. The connection time is speedy, it considerably shrinks the wait between clicking the notification and seeing your online game.
The only minor complaint in this space is that occasionally the game will load up to play an async turn and the game will still show it as being my opponent’s turn. Exiting to the main menu and hopping back into the game will fix this, and the quick load speeds make this a minor annoyance, but it is one of the only things I found to nitpick here, so I figure I should point it out.
Elsewhere, the same feature set is here. You can queue up to five async games at once, these each have a 48 hour timeout which can drop lower but gets somewhat refreshed each turn. That sounds more confusing than it is, it is the same system BoardGameArena uses and it works quite well, that’s probably all you need to care about. You can play a real-time game as well. The game features a ranking system, the familiar ELO system to be exact.
One new feature I almost forgot to call out was the ability to pre-plan your future turns. After you take your normal async turn, you can enter a mode which allows you to plan your next move. The thought here seems to be that sometimes you can forget your plan of attack in a game like this, so allowing players to essentially plan out multiple turns at once would help there. I suspect many will never use this feature but those who do will absolutely love it.
The game also offers local pass-and-play.
Single player games are played against one to three AI. Each of the AI can be one of four difficulty levels: Easy, medium, hard, and cheater. I’m glad somebody finally had the guts to call extremely difficult AIs cheaters, I’ve been doing that for years! I’m quite awful at this game so I am not the person to judge the quality of the AI here, but given the history of Digidiced’s games and their AI expert Tysen Streib, it’s a safe bet to say the AI will present a strong challenge to players of all skill levels.
The game offers a few different settings when starting a game. There’s a screenshot of those in this review for those who want more details.
The game tracks you record across online and offline play with breakdowns of how you’ve done against each different AI and different player counts. There are also a slew of achievements you can chase, most of them are straightforward “Win a game as _____ faction”, but it is still fun to see a list of goals.
Taking an action
The app has integrated tournaments as a feature that they are currently beta testing. Digital tournaments are becoming more common in this space, but oftentimes it requires external tracking of some sort and players must manually create their games to play. A few apps do have in-app tournament management, but not many. It’s great to see Digidiced has their eye on features like this, it will only continue to help strengthen their already robust digital tabletop library.
The Wrap Up
Gaia Project isn’t likely to be a game that lands in the middle ground for anyone. It’s clearly a game meant for a specific type of gamer and unabashedly leans into its weight and scoring tracks and variable setup/powers and economics and all of the rest. I simply don’t see many people playing this one and thinking “that was okay, I’d play again but I’m not crazy for it.” This is a really amazing approach to see game designers take. No attempts at olive branches for those on the fence, it’s something you will know going in that you’re going to love or you’re going to stay 10 feet away from now and forever.
As someone who falls into the latter, the best I can do in this review is convey that the app gets all of the peripherals right. Online play is fast, the AI is tough, the UX is commendable given the information overload the game requires, and the whole package looks really solid. If you don’t think this is a game for you, you’re probably right. If you are dying to get more Gaia Project in your life, this app is incredibly well done and should fit your needs perfectly.