I enjoyed Populous on the Sega Genesis and the Fallout video game series, so I thought Shapers of Gaia was going to be right up my alley, but somehow it just missed for me. In Shapers of Gaia, you emerge from a vault to “Restore Biomes and help repopulate Gaia’s species from the past, present, and future.” I wish I had stayed in the Vault.
Shapers of Gaia is a world building, resource management game with some engine building elements for 2-3 players that plays best with three people.
Each player selects one of the six shapers, each with unique abilities. The shapers use the “Caretaker robot” to help rebuild Gaia and the shaper with the most Victory Points (VP) at the end of the game wins.
On your turn you choose to either Restore Biomes or Introduce an Animal
Restore Biomes: When restoring Biomes you use the caretaker robot, which is shared by all players. In order to restore a biome you place 1-3 tiles, from your hand, adjacent to the caretaker and move the caretaker onto the new biome tile or spend one energy resource to teleport the Caretaker and place the biome tile anywhere that you would like.
There are five Biome types: water, crystal, forest, mushroom, and temple. When you place a new biome you must select one of the actions on the biome tile to resolve, your opponents may then choose the other action. These actions usually reward you with one of the five resource types. Occasionally, the actions require you to spend an advance resource and if you don’t have the resource you must collect a toxicity token, which is a negative token at the end of the game, and yes there are ways to discard toxicity.
Introduce an Animal: When introducing animals, you move your individual Shaper up to three Biome tiles. You must spend the resource specified on the biome tile to place your chosen Animal from your shaper board. Placing animals activates Shaper abilities and upgrades, some are an instant action, while others remain active for the remainder of the game. Next, you choose a species card from the display that matches the type of animal you introduced and place it in front of you at the end of the ecosystem row that matches the basic resource you spent, you can only have four species in each ecosystem. Finally, you activate the entire row’s species effects in any order you choose. Each species card is double sided and you must choose which side you are going to use for the entire game when placing it in your ecosystem.
The end game begins when a player has only one animal type remaining or the last biome tile is drawn from the face down stack, the current round finishes and then each player takes one more turn. Scoring is then explained in detail in the rules, and too complicated for this review, but suffice it to say points are scored based on animals that you introduced points are affected by Behavior cards that add variability to the game, DNA collected when placing biomes can positively or negatively affect your score, toxicity negatively affects your score, and unused resources increase your score.
Our first play was a disaster that ruined Shapers of Gaia for me. There are rules written inside other rules so when looking for clarification of how to use a special species card or when to take toxicity, for example, you need to re-read the whole rulebook to find where it was not intuitively written.
The second play had less frustration, but not dramatically increased fun. My son went on a restoring Biome spree that almost initiated the end game in 4 turns, we forced him to reverse time and introduce animals so that we could play longer. I kind of wish we let him end it there as I would have won, but instead he made a comeback. Also, it would have ended this game sooner.
There is a nice balance needed between placing biomes to earn the resources needed to place animals and introducing animals which creates the engine building to earn more resources. When a biome is placed there is a nice mechanic that allows the opposing players to also earn a bonus, but it did not take long to recognize that you can force your opponents to earn a bonus that they do not want. Additionally, each shaper has its own special abilities that are earned when placing animals, but no lore or story to explain why each shaper has the abilities they have. Maybe there are great strategies you can learn for each shaper, but I will not be spending the time to learn those.
I truly wanted to like Shapers of Gaia, but it took me months to get anyone to agree to play the second time with me. In screenwriting there is a concept called “Double Mumbo Jumbo.” The audience will go with you on one fantasy jump (time travel, bullet time, aliens live next door, etc.) but you will lose them on the subsequent fantasy jumps (the time travel only occurs when the aliens next door shoot a bullet and you are eating broccoli.). This game suffered from double mumbo jumbo in many ways:
- There were too many rules to remember for a relatively simple game
- Spending resources that don’t make sense to the theme, for example, I spent 5 shards to create a predator and the predator gave me a spore and allowed me to convert an energy token into a seeds and a shard.
- It was a blend of too many game types: Worker placement, engine building, Set collection, and point salad.
Hard pass for me.
Final Score: 1.5 Stars – A convoluted game with minimal player engagement and excessive accounting prevents it from even being a light game that you can chat during.
• The Art and Components are nice
• I like the small player count, only for 2-3 people
• The variety of special abilities of each shaper allows players to find a favorite shaper and develop a specific strategy for them.
• The theme is not utilized as well as it should have been.
• The rulebook is not written in an intuitive manner which leads to re-reading the rules.
• There is a lot of moving resources up and down on the resource track and makes you feel like an accountant who needs to audit both your and your opponent’s tracks.
• Not enough variability with Behavior cards, as there are only 2 per animal type.