Shapers of Gaia
- Designers: Ian Cooper, Jan Gonzalez
- Publisher: Wizkids
- Players: 2-3
- Age: 14+
- Time: 60-90 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Wizkids
Shapers of Gaia is billed as “an eco-building game”. The Wizkids promo text goes: “Compete over resources and land to rejuvenate the world of Gaia! You are a Shaper, emerging from the Vault after millennia carrying the ingredients to restore Gaia and its ecosystem to its former glory! Work alongside the Caretaker robot to earn Prestige as you restore the ruined biomes of the land to their former splendor, repopulate species old and new, and give life to a rejuvenated ecosystem. Accumulate rare resources such as Nutrients and Energy to grow faster. But be careful! New biomes also provide resources to your rival factions. Use your unique abilities to come out on top as you compete with the other Shapers for resources and Prestige. Gain Prestige by arranging animals following their established behaviors, collecting DNA samples, and unlocking new Shaper abilities. Only the Shaper with the most Prestige (VP) at the end of the game will be allowed to permanently join the Caretaker as guardians of the rebirthed Gaia!”
Each player takes on the role of a Shaper – there are 6 different choices in the game, and each comes with different skills and abilities. They take the player board of their chosen Shaper, and then fill all the spaces with the 3 types of animals of their color. Each of the animal spaces corresponds to a special ability, printed next to the space. There is a separate resource board which is placed off to the side; the 5 different resource markers each start on the 1 space.
There are three basic resources (shards, spores and seeds) and two advanced resources (energy and nutrients). At any point in the game, you can choose to take on a Toxicity token to spend an advanced resource that you do not have. Each player’s figure is started on the central Vault space. The caretaker is placed on the specified starting water tile.
The board shows the planet, broken up into a hex grid of biomes. The central space is filled by the vault, and the six spaces around it have starting Biomes on it. The rest of the biome tiles are placed in a stack on the board. Each player is given a hand of 3 biome tiles. The three types of species card decks (predator, herbivore, scavenger) are shuffled and a display of 2 cards is made underneath each deck. The three animal behavior cards are randomized for side and then placed near the side of the board.
On a turn, a player takes one of two possible actions – Introduce an Animal or Restore Biomes. Turns go in order around the board until one of the two game-end conditions is met: the last biome tile is drawn from the stack made in setup OR a player has only one type of animal left on their player board.
Introduce an animal – First you must move to a Biome tile which does not already have an animal or to the central Vault. You can move 3 spaces on your turn, or you can spend 1 Energy to teleport to any biome space on the board. Then, choose an animal from your board, and spend the number of resources listed to the left of it on your player board. The resources must match the type of biome you are currently on. The biome tile may also list extra costs for placing an animal there. Once you have placed the animal token – the special ability linked to its space becomes active. Some of these abilities are one-time instant effects while other provide ongoing effects. Now you choose one of the species cards from the tableau that matches the type of animal you just placed; and you take that chosen card and place it in the row to the right of your player board that matches the basic resource you just played. There is a limit of 4 cards in any row, if you exceed this, discard one card, take 2 toxicity tokens and then place your new card at the end of the row. Finally, trigger the effects on all of the cards in the row you just placed in.
Restore Biomes – Choose 1 to 3 Biome tiles from your hand, placing them one at a time. First you place a biome tile so that it is adjacent to the Caretaker figure and at least one other tile. You can teleport the Caretaker to a legal place for 1 Energy. Place the Caretaker tile on your newly placed tile. If you place your tile on the outer ring of spaces, you pick up the DNA token which is on that space. Then, you must resolve one of the 2 actions depicted on the biome tile that you played. All your opponents may choose to resolve the action you did not choose. If you choose an action (i.e. a conversion action), you must be able to perform the conversion in order to choose it. Repeat this process up to three times total. At the end of your turn, draw biome tiles to restore your hand to three.
Again, the game continues until one of the two game-end conditions is met: the last biome tile is drawn from the stack made in setup OR a player has only one type of animal left on their player board.
The game now moves into the scoring phase. Place each collected DNA token onto a species card to the right of your board that has the matching icon on it. Any DNA tokens not placed on cards as well as any Toxicity tokens left over are placed on your player board, covering up the VP value of placed animals, starting from the bottom of your board and moving up.
Scoring is calculated as follows
- Gain points based on the criteria on each of the 3 Animal behavior cards
- Gain points for animals you introduced if you can see their VP value on your board
- Gain points for Vault spaces you have covered with your animals
- Remaining resources are worth points as indicated on the Resource track
- Each DNA token on a Species card scores points for the total number of that type found in its row.
- Score points for collected Prestige tokens
- Lose 5 points for each DNA or Toxicity token which could not be placed on your board
The player with the most points wins. No tiebreaker is listed.
My thoughts on the game
Well, it’s not often that I come across a game for 2-3 players only, so when COVID reared its ugly head (yet again) in the game group, this became a perfect fit for a week where we only had 3 players. I have been on a bit of a high with asymmetric games (due to another Wizkids title, Free Radicals) – so the idea of this one appealed to me. As we are not familiar enough with the different special abilities, we found it easy to simply shuffle up the boards and choose one at random for our starting games.
One issue we came across is that there isn’t a lot of documentation (well there isn’t any at all really) in the rules as to the differences, and no explanations/clarifications. We ended up having to toss one of the boards back in the box and play with a different one when we couldn’t get a consensus on how we should interpret the special abilities on that board.
The game itself plays fairly quickly. With only two options available on a turn, there isn’t as much to think about. In most cases, if we were able to play an animal, we did so – though there were a few times when it made sense to play a biome tile (or three) to either gain some needed resources OR to put down a necessary type of tile for a later play.
The whole process of playing an animal seems complicated at first (when reading the rules), but once you do it in the game, it is actually pretty simple. The interesting part of this, for me, was the triggering of the engine of cards for that particular line. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen as much as I would have liked. I suppose some of that might be due to the tiles I chose to build on; but no one in our games has really been able to generate an engine which consistently was triggered. In any event, you’ll take a penalty for having a line of cards more than 4 long; so the game kind of doesn’t want you to have that much of an engine anyways.
When you are placing biome tiles, there is an interesting give and take with the action. You can choose to play up to three tiles, but you might not always want to do so. First, while you get resources or conversions for each placement, you also give something to your opponents. Giving your opponents too much when it isn’t their turn can give them some advantages. Second, as you play more tiles, you give your opponents more places to play their animals (and you’ve just given them stuff as well!). If players choose to play 3 tiles at each opportunity, the game speed also really ratchets up – it is possible for a player to perhaps rush the endgame a bit by constantly working through the biome tile deck.
As I alluded to earlier, the rules are just adequate. We felt that there were a number of areas where the rules could have possibly given a bit more clarification, especially to the places where the boards are asymmetric. Further, the iconography isn’t super intuitive. Inexplicably, the icons for the resources are different on the player counters than on the hex tiles. Sure the background colors are pretty close, but why aren’t the shapes the same? Also, the wild resource icon isn’t explained anywhere in the rules or the player aids. We managed to figure it out (because we’re gamers), but we felt that this could have maybe been done better as well.
Shapers of Gaia offers a different asymmetric experience, though only for 2-3 players. Once you grok the game (and figure out the iconography), it plays quickly – maybe a bit too quickly. For me, I’ll stick to Free Radicals when I’m looking to scratch my Wizkids asymmetric itch.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it.
- Neutral. Dale, John P
- Not for me…