Shapers of Gaia
Designed by Ian Cooper and Jan M Gonzalez, and published by WizKids, Shapers of Gaia has an excellent premise where the 2–3 players are the eponymous Shapers: scientists emerging from the vault where they were forced to live for millennia by human ecosystem destruction. Now they are coming out to bring back habitable biomes and introduce animals to Gaia...
Although it looks complicated, with many components and scoring possibilities, ultimately each turn a player either introduces an animal or restores one to three biomes (thus enabling more animals to be introduced). Players place animal tokens from their board, in a similar manner to Terra Mystica (Feuerland Spiele/Capstone) and its Gaia Project reskin. These then reveal new benefits to that player. Similarly each of the six Shapers have different benefits to be revealed, although none have different starting abilities. Each animal placed also gives a player a species card and these are used to build an engine of benefits as more animals are placed.
A biome gives a benefit both to the player who chooses it and their opponents, so there’s a strong emphasis towards placing animals, with restoring biomes being a secondary option for most of the game. Biome placement can grant you DNA tokens which are a potential source of prestige points but often you are just opening up the map for your opponent’s animals.
I like the theming and Aviv Or's artwork is appealing. It's refreshing too that the Shapers look like real scientists. For me, tho', the game is a little too straightforward, with insufficient divergence in Shaper abilities or scoring options, which means that strategies tend to be fixed from game to game. In our Board's Eye View plays, we also found that the first player had a strong advantage in two-player mode, tho' things were more balanced with three players. There are some tweaks which would balance things more, such as providing more starting resources to the second player or restricting the opening biomes to an even number. As things stand, three biomes are open, so the first player gets to introduce one more animal upfront which gives a game-long advantage. I’d also like to see more behaviour cards and a wider range of Shaper abilities to encourage more strategic depth. Overall it’s a game that will appeal to many but some might just prefer Gaia Project (Feuerland Spiele/Capstone).
(Review by Paul Moorshead)
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