Terra Mystica vs Gaia Project

Terra Mystica vs Gaia Project

Terra Mystica is one of my top ten games of all time.  I’ve played it and played it over the years.  When I heard that they were retheming Terra Mystica in space (Gaia Project), I was very interested, but also apprehensive.

Would it just be a straight retheme or would there be significant differences?  Could they really improve on what I perceived to be a near-perfect Euro?  Would there be an inevitable disappointment that either it didn’t really add anything significant or was actually worse because they made changes that I wasn’t keen on?

Well, following its release at Essen, Gaia Project has been played by our gaming group at almost every opportunity.  Terra Mystica is a group favourite, so everyone wants to try it.  First up, let me tell you: they did it.  I don’t know how they managed it, but it’s better.  It looks like you can improve on perfection after all.

So today I’d like to talk about the differences between Terra Mystica and Gaia Project and why I think Gaia Project is a better game.  Is it good enough to purchase if you already own Terra Mystica though?  Let’s have a look…

The first thing that strikes you about Gaia Project is that all the wooden components of Terra Mystica seem to have turned to plastic.  I guess it fits the sci-fi theme more, and the building models are good.  There’s just something about wood that says quality though.  It doesn’t bother me personally; the plastic isn’t cheap plastic, but it’s still plastic and I know some people are always going to prefer wood.

When you start playing Gaia Project, it does feel very similar to Terra Mystica.  The faction boards are laid out in a very similar way.  The buildings are essentially the same (they’ve just been renamed) and the upgrade paths between them are the same as well.

However, as soon as you look at the main board, you realise something that makes a pretty big difference.  All the planets you’re trying to terraform are separated by lots of… space.  The kind of space that requires a spaceship to traverse!

The board is modular, which is great by the way – it means that the layout of all the planets is radically different each time you play.  However, the vast majority of planets aren’t adjacent to other planets so you can’t do a couple of easy terraforming actions at the start like you can in Terra Mystica.

There is a new resource known as the quantum intelligence cube.

In order to reach nearby planets you have to increase your navigation range (think shipping), which is pretty crucial.  To help out with this though, there is a new resource known as the quantum intelligence cube (QIC).  QICs can been used for several things, but spending one allows you to temporarily increase your navigation range by 2.

The other resources are broadly the same (although ‘workers’ are now ‘ore’), but the priests from Terra Mystica have gone.  They have been replaced by ‘knowledge’.  You have to spend knowledge, as an action, to advance on one of the tech tracks.  Tech tracks?  Yes, and this is where the biggest difference between Terra Mystica and Gaia Project really comes into play.

The spade (terraforming) and shipping (navigation) tracks on each of the faction boards in Terra Mystica have been moved onto a central tech board for Gaia Project.  This tech board also contains tracks that provide several types of resource income (knowledge, money, power, QICs, etc), but also has an eponymous Gaia Project track.  More on that in a bit.

The favour tiles from Terra Mystica have now been integrated into the tech board.  The locations are variable, but most of the tech (favour) tiles are now linked with one of the tech tracks.  Whenever you gain a tech tile, by building the appropriate building, you advance on the matching tech track.

The favour tiles have been integrated into the tech board.

It’s absolutely great!  Since the allocation of the tech tiles varies each game, you have some tricky decisions to make.  Taking one tech tile might be more beneficial to you right now, but the tech track it’s linked to might not fit with your current strategy.  So maybe you would be better taking a different one?  It adds another layer of strategy and provides for a lot of variability.

So what is a Gaia Project then?  Well, there’s one kind of planet (the Gaia planet), which anyone can build on.  It doesn’t need terraforming, you just have to spend a QIC.  However, there are also these purple planets that no one can build on (initially at least).

In order to build on a purple planet you have to stick a Gaiaformer on it first and the only way to get one of those is to advance on the Gaia Project track.  Nothing happens immediately though.  You have to wait until the start of the next round and then all the purple planets with Gaiaformers on turn into Gaia planets.  Hey presto!  Your Gaia Project is complete!

Quite a lot of scoring is connected to these Gaia planets, so you really want to get in on the Gaia Project action.  After a couple of games, you’ll quickly realise why the game is called Gaia Project.

Quite a lot of scoring is connected to Gaia planets.

Scoring generally is very similar to Terra Mystica.  There are variable scoring tiles each round, but the end-game scoring is now variable as well (it’s not just largest connected area).  You also get a lot of points for advancing on the tech tracks, a bit like you would on the cult tracks in Terra Mystica.

Turn order for the next round is the order players pass in, so this fixes one of the problems with the Terra Mystica base game (although the Fire & Ice expansion did fix this as well).  Originally, turn order would proceed clockwise from the first person who passed, so sitting on the right of a new player (who would typically pass first every round) was a major disadvantage.

The last significant change is to power.  The power bowls are roughly the same, but there are now several actions available that allow you to take power from the supply and permanently add it into your bowls!  If you’re familiar with Terra Mystica, you’ll realise that’s pretty important.

Burning power is even more powerful than before.

Burning power was a great way to quickly gain more power to spend, but it removed power from your bowls so you ran the risk of running out if you weren’t careful.  However, being able to add power back into your bowls means that burning power is even more powerful (if you’ll pardon the pun) than before.

So overall, Gaia Project is still, at its heart, Terra Mystica in space.  However, there is enough new stuff and, more importantly, it all integrates so well, that I prefer it to Terra Mystica.  The decisions are more interesting and the whole thing feels more coherent.

The new factions are as varied as the old ones were and offer lots of different strategic possibilities once you’ve learnt how to play them.  Every time I play, I want to try out one of the new factions – and there are just so many of them (14 in fact)!

So if I owned Terra Mystica (I do), would I purchase Gaia Project as well?  In a heartbeat!  I feel a little disingenuous saying that because I haven’t actually bought it, but the only reason for that is because my gaming group already has two copies between us so I just don’t need to.

If no one in my group had a copy though, I would go out and buy it tomorrow.  Well, having said that, I don’t think it’s quite hit retail yet, but I would pre-order it for sure!  It’s fantastic!

Have you had a chance to try it yet?  How do you feel it compares to Terra Mystica?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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