This article starts with the general strategy of Gaia Project, then breaks down all 14 factions – their strengths and weaknesses, how to play with them, and how to play against them. And most importantly – what to think about during the game.
Admittingly, I am not an expert when it comes to Gaia Project strategy. Yes, I know that different factions demand different approaches, how to score points and manage my resources and I will do reasonably well against beginner players.
But when stacked against experienced players (for example, when I play on BoardGameArena or when I participate in monthly solo challenges on BoardGameGeek), I struggle to get a good result.
Therefore, the point of this article is twofold. There’s a lot of material on this topic, but it’s mostly scattered around in various forum threads, mostly on BoardGameGeek. First, I wanted to research the overall strategy and faction-specific strategy and have an overview of those in one place. Second, I wanted to share this with everyone else, so that you too can benefit and learn to get better in Gaia Project.
In Gaia Project, Rounds 1-3 are normally focused on opening and setting up a good engine. Later rounds revolve around scoring points (with round goals, boosters, advanced technologies, and QIC actions) and hitting endgame objectives.
What you should be aiming for in order to have a chance of winning:
- Build enough structures to form 3 federations.
- Advance to the fourth (or the top level) with at least two technology tracks.
- You should use some of the fed tokens for advanced technologies which usually net around 15 points per tech. Particularly lucrative are the pass-per-round tech and the instant scoring tech.
- You don’t need to win both final scoring objectives, as this would probably mean you have compromised too much in other areas. But you need to be close to the leader in both.
- ABC – Always Be Charging. Charging power is normally a good idea, particularly early on. Talking about charging – stay close to your neighbors. Not only does this give you more chance to charge, you can also upgrade to your trading stations cheaper.
How to score points?
At the end of the game you will score points for tech tracks and structures anyway, so you need to focus on points during the game: analyze advanced techs and round goals before you pick a faction.
Growing your economy by building mines and trading stations, developing a good power cycling engine, climbing economy tracks, and building scientific buildings (and taking economy techs) is definitely a way to get your resource generation to snowball.
But to compete with the big boys, you need to focus your priorities and time your actions. Decide on the research tracks and advanced technologies you want to pursue early on and then follow up with your gameplay strategy, trying to hit as many round goals as possible. Booster tiles that give points are a nice addition, as well – particularly in late rounds. Earlier, economic boosters may be more useful.
One of the problems I often face is that I lose momentum half-game through. The first couple of rounds are great, I expand nicely to the closest planets and get some techs, maybe even form a federation or two. But then the lack of planning stops me from continuing my expansions. I have not planned properly on which planets I want to expand my empire, therefore I’m now lacking in reach and resources to further my colonization.
The answer is obvious, of course. You need to have an outline of your expansion, planets, federations, and how to achieve it economically ready in your head by the time you place your first mine. Beginner players will often just go with the flow, while experience will allow you to see your plan in greater and greater detail.
With experience, you’ll also become a lot better at identifying good setups for certain factions and will pick a faction in accordance. Beginners like me will make their pick on a whim rather than a thorough analysis.
Gaia Project is not a game where you pick a faction and then try to extract the maximum out of it. It’s a game with a highly variable setup and some factions play better in some variations. Therefore, your task is to analyze the board, tech tiles, round scoring tiles, final scoring tiles, and boosters and then determine which factions the setup favors.
There are factions that do well on a wider range of setups, while certain niche factions are viable to play only in very rare scenarios.
Practice and practice some more
Gaia Project is a highly complex game and analyzing the setup and developing a strategy properly takes plenty of experience. While articles such as this one can help skip a few steps on your way to mastering it, the only way to truly do that is to play and play again.
With 14 factions and all the setup variables it may take 50, 100, or 200 games, and you will still learn something new and gain a fresh perspective with every game. But with a great solo mode and digital adaptations (special shout out to BoardGameArena), you can get the games behind your belt, even if you struggle to get opponents to play live games regularly.
Of course, a good live multiplayer game takes the cake, as it requires you to think on an even more advanced layer. Now you need to take into consideration each and every player involved. What are they doing and what they potentially can do in the future?
Moreover, a good live game will also ignite a strategy discussion as you play and after you’re done, further deepening your understanding of what happened.
Faction by Faction
The 14 factions are the real stars of the game. They are similar enough so that you can jump in a game with any one of them, yet different enough that each requires you to approach things differently. Some will be better in some setups, others in others. It’s up to us, players, to determine which one works at any given time and how to play it.
By each faction, you will first find a colored rectangle. This is the copied text from the rulebook just to remind you which faction is wich. The images may also help. Then, there are the rough notes/strategy.
Planet Type: Terra
Ability: During the Gaia phase, move the power tokens in your Gaia area to area II of your power cycle instead of to area I.
Planetary Institute: During the Gaia phase, when you move power tokens from your Gaia area to area II of your power cycle, you may gain resources as if you were spending that much power to take free actions.
Example: During the Gaia phase, you move four power from the Gaia area to area II, allowing you to gain one ore and one credit.
Terrans are all about gaiaforming. Ideally, they want to have a monopoly on the purple (transdimensional) planets. Therefore, end goals and tech tiles that discourage others from gaiaforming are preferable in the setup. Less competition for gaiaforming there is, the higher the Terran chances of winning.
Obviously, you want to set up your game plan so that you have enough reach to get to a new transdim planet every round. One gaiaformer is usually more than enough, particularly in the first half of the game. Also, further gaiaformers reduce your power gain per gaiaformer (but if you get all of them out, you get more power, on the other hand).
They don’t care too much about who their neighbors are, as they can sustain themselves perfectly fine on just blue, green, and purple planets. Ideally, they prefer facing the likes of Nevlas and Hadsch Hallas, and want to avoid other strong gaiaforming factions, such as Itars or Ivits.
3vp per Gaia planets is a mandatory tech to go for and 4 power charging tech also comes in handy to help you get those power tokens released from Gaia phase into bowl 3 quickly. You need to get your Planetary Institute built in round 1, and ideally also a Research Lab.
But other than the mandatory gaiaforming each round, the Terrans are quite flexible and you can play them expansionistic, scientifically, or economically focused. Whatever the circumstances demand.
Planet Type: Terra
Ability: When you take the “Build a Mine” action, you may build a mine on a planet colonized by an opponent (including the Lost Planet). Place your mine next to the opponent’s structure.
You do not have to pay for terraforming, but you must still pay the mine’s cost. This mine counts as a normal mine in all ways except the following: this mine cannot be upgraded, and it does not count for any effects that relate to how many planet types or Gaia planets you have colonized.
Planetary Institute: Each time you build a mine on a planet colonized by an opponent, gain two knowledge.
With Lantids, you want to have your Planetary Institute built before you start spamming mines on colonized planets. But be wary, as they’re not upgradable and you’ll be stuck with them for the rest of the game. Heck, you can even run out of them by the later stages if you’re not careful.
Lantid’s special mines have to be well placed for several reasons: to secure a strategic position for further expansion, to maximize power leach, to minimize satellites, and to get your next set of 4 science. Hence, Lantids are very situational and difficult to play well.
For this reason, most players don’t consider them particularly powerful and they are mostly regarded as a niche race. Particularly with Terrans on the other side of the player board, most players will rather pick those.
Planet Type: Desert
Ability: You place a third starting mine after all other starting mines have been placed.
Planetary Institute: You can form federations with a total power value of six instead of seven. You gain one Q.I.C. as income instead of one power token.
Compared to the factions above, Xenos is a much more versatile faction. Their 3rd starting mine gives them a lot of flexibility. It helps if they go down the expansionistic route, which may be a good course if one of the final scoring tiles is the number of sectors. QIC’s help with spreading out, thus you can neglect the navigation track.
If they decide to build tall(er), they can complete 4 feds with just 9 buildings (you need the appropriate tech tile, of course). On the other hand, their extra QIC income also makes it possible to go tech-heavy. For example, they can buy a tech tile for 4QIC even very early on.
Your Planetary Institute is quite powerful, but you need to time its construction right. Too early and you may destroy your economy, while the late build will leave you behind on tracks and advanced techs since you won’t have your fed tokens yet and your QIC income.
Xenos benefits from useful tech on the bottom/top of the AI track. The AI track is the only one that doesn’t give ongoing advantages so it’s likely to be less contested and with your starting step, the Xenos are an ideal faction to go up the AI track.
Planet Type: Desert
Ability: If you would ever gain Q.I.C., gain that much ore instead; once you have upgraded to the indicated academy, this effect no longer applies. To make a Gaia Planet habitable, pay one ore instead of one Q.I.C. Each time you build a mine on a Gaia Planet, gain two additional VP.
Planetary Institute: When you upgrade to the planetary institute, immediately gain the Gleens’ federation token (gaining the resources shown as normal). Gaining this tile counts as forming a federation. The Gleens’ planetary institute itself can still be part of a federation on the board.
Gleens is another highly situational faction. Their starting lack of QIC makes their initial expansion highly vulnerable. Moreover, they start with one less ore, making the opening even harder for them. But they can expand to Gaia planets more easily.
Ideally, they would try to capitalize on favorable Gaia planet scoring tiles in addition to a Gaia scoring technology tile. If unopposed, they can rack up some serious points, but again, this plan is very fragile if there’s competition.
If the scoring conditions are too favorable for this plan, you can be sure other gaiaforming factions will be in the game as well.
Planetary institute with the extra fed token is useful, particularly combined with fed scoring tiles. Also, it can help snatch an early advanced tech.
So, overall Gleens is not a particularly strong faction and one would be hard-pressed to name situations where they would be picked before Xenos.
Planet Type: Swamp
Ability: The Brainstone counts as one power token (when starting a Gaia Project, building satellites, etc)., but you can spend it as if it were three power.
Planetary Institute: Each time you would charge power from “Passive Action: Charge Power”, you gain one power token. You can choose to gain power before or after charging.
The Taklons are one of the more versatile and just overall strong factions in Gaia Project. You should abuse their brainstone to the maximum. Cycle it as often as possible and try to use it every round, even if it’s just for 3 gold or 1 ore. If it’s in bowl 2, you should definitely burn a power token to get to bowl 3. Conveniently, your Planetary Institute will help you recover the lost power tokens.
As long as the Taklons can charge, they are dangerous. Evidently, the counterstrategy for them is not to allow them the charge – avoid upgrading structures in their vicinity. Particularly in the early rounds, when their economic snowball is in the crucial process of picking pace.
While the strong power cycle allows Taklons to be economically fairly self-sufficient, they suffer a bit with range and science. A common strategy to compensate for this deficit is to go up the science track (go all the way, if you take this route) and a QIC academy is also useful. And affordable, since you don’t need to build your Planetary Institute right away.
If the opponents refuse to give charge or the science track is contested, perhaps you could alternatively invest in the navigation track. Just to make sure you can settle near them and keep your power charging cycle going.
When deciding whether to pick Taklons, also consider if the factions chosen by others use the planet types that are likely to expand to your vicinity. As strong as the Taklons are, if all other player gang up on them, refusing to give charge, their game can be over in round one.
Planet Type: Swamp
Planetary Institute: Once per round, as an action, you can swap your Planetary Institute with one of your mines on the game board (this can help you form a new federation). This has no impact on existing federations, even if their power value becomes less than seven. The swap does not count as a build or upgrade action; no VP or power can be gained from it.
Ambas is an excellent expansionistic faction. They depend on the navigation track combined with the terraforming track. It’s welcomed if useful technologies, such as 4 coins, or 4 power per large structures are at the bottom of those tracks.
They are very good at early expansion and federation forming. So, if the round goals favor this, they can score a lot of points early on. Their special ability makes it possible for them to form 4 or even 5 federations. If you can score these with an advanced tech or a round goal, even better.
They usually fall behind in the tech race, so make sure to focus your research on two or three tracks. Lack of coin income can also be an issue, therefore the aforementioned 4c technology can come in handy, as can the 4c power action. Conversely, playing against Ambas, you can try to limit their coin income by taking the 4c action yourself.
Generally speaking, Taklons are a tad stronger than Ambas, but the latter is unparalleled if the game setup favors expansive factions with many federations.
Planet Type: Oxide
Ability: – Planetary Institute: You can spend credits instead of power to take free actions that allow you to gain resources.
Example: You can spend 3 credits to take the free action that allows you to gain one ore.
Hadsch Hallas is probably the most robust faction of them all. They are superb in economy, which makes them highly flexible in going whichever way the scoring demands. It’s no wonder the manual recommends them for your first game.
Although the Planetary Institute is powerful, you shouldn’t rush to build it right from the start. Your resources are better spent elsewhere (go for the Research Lab + 2 mines opening, for example) so that you have a good foundation and a steady income of coins. Their main focus should be on the economic track.
The main benefit of the Planetary Institute is the ability to generate QIC cubes on the fly. This makes it very easy to re-score your federation tokens and use other QIC actions – you can even neglect navigation on this account.
Compared to other factions, they don’t have one great strength or field of focus that they would have to pursue every game. On the other hand, they also don’t have any particular weaknesses. They are not easy to stop as they can easily change the gears and go for a different playstyle, if necessary.
Planet Type: Oxide
Ability: During setup, do not place mines. Instead, after all other players have placed mines (including the Xenos’ third mine), place your planetary institute on any red planet.
You can have only one federation during the whole game, but unlike other factions, you will be able to grow that federation to gain new federation tokens. After you have formed a federation, to take the “Form a Federation” action again, you must connect planets to that federation instead of forming a new federation.
The power values of the structures on those planets must bring the total power value of that federation to at least to 7X, where Xis the number of federation tokens you own plus one (not including the federation token from level 5 of “Terraforming”). All other rules for forming a federation apply, including building satellites and gaining federation tokens. To build a satellite during this action, you must spend one Q.I.C. instead of discarding one power.
Planetary Institute: As a special action, place a space station on an accessible space that does not contain a planet or another space station. The accessibility of a space follows the same rules as the “Build a Mine” action. Like planets, a space station can be connected with satellites; each space station counts as having a power value of one for its federation.
A space station is not a structure, so placing one does not allow opponents to charge power. A space station does not count as a colonized planet, but it can be used as a “starting point” when determining the accessibility of a planet (i.e., range can be counted from a space station). Your opponents can place satellites in a space containing a space station.
Ivits’ one-fed approach has its pros and cons. While it’s easier (and highly satisfying) to expand your federation, they are not very mobile, and other players can isolate them easily (denying them power charging and cheaper trading stations). Ideally, you want to start on tile 7 near the center of the map, giving you several options to expand toward other players.
On the other hand, you are very flexible when expanding by building either wide or tall, and as an end result, 4 federation tokens are typically what you will end up with. Therefore, advanced tech granting points for fed tokens is desirable, as are end goals for structures in federations or total structures.
The Ivits are very powerful in 2 or 3-player games, particularly with a large map. In games where the space is more restricted, they struggle more.
Planet Type: Volcanic
Ability: – Planetary Institute: The first time you build a mine on each planet type, gain 3 knowledge. (YOU do not gain knowledge for planet types you colonized before upgrading to your planetary institute).
Geodens are all about the Terraforming and Navigation tracks, which allows them to collect their 3 knowledge for each plane type (including the Lost planet). However, this linearity also makes them vulnerable if they have competition on those tracks.
Still, they are considered somewhat weaker than Bal Tak’s and several factors have to align to pick Geodens before them: final scoring per planet type, scoring suitable for the lost planet (sectors or structures), strong technologies under navigation and terraforming, achievable 1 knowledge per planet type advanced technology, and so on.
Planet Type: Volcanic
Ability: You cannot advance in the “Navigation” research area, even if you take the tech tile below the “Navigation” research area. If you do take that tech tile, no advancement occurs.
As a free action, you can move a Gaiaformer from a Gaiaformer space on your faction board to your Gaia area to gain one Q.I.C. Gaiaformers in your Gaia area are not available until the next Gaia phase. In the next Gaia phase, move any Gaiaformer in your Gaia area back to its Gaiaformer space.
Planetary Institute: You can now advance in the “Navigation” research area.
Bal T’aks should prioritize their QIC income. This means advancing on the gaiaforming track as soon as possible and then using those gaiaformers to farm QIC every single round. The extra QIC will grant you the much-needed flexibility as you can invest them in getting tech tiles, navigation, ore, or scoring points as you please. The QIC booster comes in handy, as well as the 1 ore + 1 QIC tech tile.
Ideally, you want a good advanced tech tile on top of the gaiaforming track (3vp per mine is always nice) and an early federation (with an academy – don’t bother with your Planetary Institute, you can ignore the navigation track altogether). Other than that, Bal T’aks is a fairly balanced faction, and after they establish their QIC income, they can transition to other areas as needed or dictated by the future desired advanced tech tiles.
Planet Type: Titanium
Ability: – Planetary Institute: As an action, you can “downgrade” a research lab into a trading station and immediately advance one level in a research area of your choice. This counts as an “Upgrade to a Trading Station” action. You can later upgrade the trading station back into a research lab, including gaining a new tech tile.
Firaks’ ability is particularly strong and satisfying as it allows you to hoard tech tiles and advance on tech tracks easily. On the other hand, constant downgrading means it’s harder and slower to form federations (They are one of the factions that have a hard time completing the third federation.) and you also give a lot of power charge to your opponents this way (so be wary of the location).
Moreover, the constant use of your PI ability makes you very predictable and therefore harder to adjust to Round scoring goals. If these are aligned with your actions – great. If not, you’ll have a hard time adapting.
Their standard opening is constructing a Planetary Institute and a Research Lab, so that you can tap into your ability right from Round 1, but there are alternatives, such as getting out two Research Labs in Round one, and waiting with your Institute until Round 2. Economy is their preferred tech route and they can transition to other tracks as needed, with terraforming track usually being the next priority.
Planet Type: Titanium
Ability: The positions of your planetary institute and academies are swapped on your faction board, as is the income you gain for trading stations and research labs. As with the other factions, upgrading to an academy or a research lab allows you to gain a tech tile.
Once per round, as an action, you can advance your lowest-level token in a research area (without paying knowledge). If multiple of your tokens are tied for the lowest level, choose which of the tied tokens to advance. To advance to level 5 this way, you must still flip a federation token as normal. Remember, only one player can reach level 5 of each research area.
Planetary Institute: The power value of your structures on gray planets (your home type) is increased by one (in addition to any other effects that increase their power value).
Bescods (or Mad Androids, as they are also known) are a peculiar faction. Their swapped buildings make them very fun and unique to play, although this unconventionality also makes them a bit more challenging to adapt. Interestingly, players on forums suggested various strategies and openings with them, pointing in the direction that they are one of the most unexplored factions in Gaia Project.
Their main strength is probably science (although they start with just 1 knowledge). Therefore you should consider them if favorable technologies are below or above this track. 3 points per federation or 2 points per technology advance are useful, for example. Next, navigation is also pretty much mandatory if you want to spread out to the planets of your color in time.
Therefore, a prerequisite for Bescods is the proximity of their home planets. To fully take advantage of their home planet’s ability, you need as many as possible. Talking about this ability – you don’t need to rush your Planetary Institute in round 1. Build it when you plan to form your federations.
Since they can form more federations than most other factions (4-5), federation scoring (structures in federations end game scoring condition is also nice) is preferable, as are the big buildings round scoring tiles.
A good way to counter the Bescods is quite obvious – take away their home planets. Just don’t go out of your way too far with this – you might hurt yourself more than them.
Planet Type: Ice
Ability: As a free action, you can move one power token from area III of your power cycle to your Gaia area to gain one knowledge (these power tokens follow the normal Gaia phase rules). This does not count as spending power.
Planetary Institute: You can spend power tokens in area III of your power cycle as if they were each two power. Otherwise, they count as one power token (when starting a Gaia Project, building satellites, etc). When paying for a power action with an odd power cost (1, 3, 5, etc)., the unspent power is lost.
Building your Planetary Institute early on is virtually mandatory and it allows you to compete for power actions easily. Particularly the 2 ore actions power should be your goal immediately after you build your Institute – that is if other players will allow you to do that.
Nevlas’ game revolves around abusing power charging and spending. The 4 power charge tech tile is crucial and you want it to be aligned with your desired tech track. All that power charge should ideally be spent mostly on knowledge – either by power actions, your special ability, or even converting them into QIC cubes and gaining tech tiles that way.
All in all, Nevlas are a very flexible and fun faction to play. Msiing an ore or coin? No problem, as they are cheap to convert from power tokens (just make sure you are effective and don’t leave the leftover odd token). One trap that you can easily fall into with Nevlas is to charge too much and lose more points than you can possibly win back.
So it’s important to not have to rely completely on passive charging but to also have your own means. Hence the 4 power charge tech and the highly desirable economy track should be a priority when starting out with Nevlas. You’ll also be in a prime position to take the advanced tech tile atop this track fairly early, so if this one aligns, it can bring in some big points throughout the rest of the game (i.e. 3vp per mine).
Planet Type: Ice
Ability: Each time you discard a power token from area II of your power cycle to move another power token to area III, place the discarded power token in your Gaia area instead of returning it to the supply.
Planetary Institute: During the Gaia phase, you can discard 4 power tokens from your Gaia area to immediately gain a tech tile (standard or advanced). The rules for Gaining a Tech Tile are explained on page 13. You may do this as many times as you can afford to.
Itars are one of the top factions in the game, especially when there are just two or three players. Their gaiaforming/tech gain cycle is satisfying to execute and extremely powerful once you get it going.
I’m not saying they can’t be beaten, but the best way usually is to hope white planets are setup in bad spots so no one chooses Itars in the first place. If they do get picked, you need to deny them the power charge, pick factions that have planet colors next to theirs, compete heavily in the gaiaforming area, and steal crucial advanced technologies from them. Quite a task.
The Itars can score in a plethora of ways. Their Planetary Institute alone is worth maybe 30-40 points. It helps them race ahead on the research tracks, do well with terraforming, and rock it in the science department.
Plus, they’re loaded with resources, thanks to extra ore and a killer academy. They’re heavy into tech and pretty quick at expanding too. With their resource flow, they have no problem scoring high in later round goals, which nicely complements their high science scores from tracks.
Most other factions have weak spots you can poke, like denying them power early on or slowing them down on certain tracks, but the Itars are very resilient to countering. They don’t even need an early power boost, as long as they’ve got some neighbors. Plus, just having them around makes the Nevlas and Firaks look like second choices, since the Itars usually outperform them, no matter what the setup is.
Probably their only downside is that they are quite challenging to play. You have to coordinate many factors, particularly critical is your power charge/burn cycle as you need it for gaiaforming. When to charge, when to burn? Do you have enough tokens? How to get more?
And then, of course, choosing the right tech tile. If you’re not careful, you can easily block yourself into a corner – wanting to advance on a track but having no tech tiles left for that track.
If you’re wondering what to do with all the information in this article, let me comfort you. You don’t have to remember it all. That’s also why I didn’t go into more detail regarding the openings with each faction. This would be far beyond what this article intends to do, and besides, my Gaia Project playing skill is not at the level to be able to do that credibly.
The intention of the article is that you start thinking differently about the Gaia Project strategy. It gives you basic guidelines for the overall approach and faction-specific approaches. Hopefully, you will learn to think in more detail about the set-up plantes, boosters, round goals, and technologies. How they interact, why they favor different factions, which faction to pick, and how to plan your gameplay round-by-round in ever-greater detail.
That’s because Gaia Project is a game with too many variables to learn the strategy for it letter by letter. Rather, you need to mold your thinking so that fit within the molds of the game. Only then can you (and me, hopefully) become a better Gaia Project player. And, of course, practice as much as you can!
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