Ark Nova, a game about building a zoo, was a game I had heard quite a bit about. I had walked into my local friendly game stores, saw it sitting on the new games shelf, and then passed it by. How could a game with a giant picture of animals in a bubble be a game I would love?
Then I got a message from Misty Mountain Games about the last copy sitting on the shelf. He wasn’t certain when there would be copies coming back in. I broke down and said sure, I will grab it. I stopped by, bought the last copy, and now here I am.
- Players: 1-4
- Playtime (with Setup): First time – 3 hours, Repeated Play 2 hours. About 45 minutes per experienced player
- Publisher: Feuerland Spiele and Capstone Games (US)
- Designer: Mathias Wigge
Ark Nova is predominantly cards for components. All of the cards are good material and after my copy has seen several plays I don’t see any signs of wear or tear on the cards. This is a game I would recommend that you sleeve if only to make shuffling the main deck of cards a bit less difficult. For a game that relies on its cards, the graphical presentation is very well put together. Both the art is well placed, but also all of the details such as cost, type of card, requirements, and effects are all laid out clearly.
The game and association boards are standard gameboard material. I do question the need to make the main game board so large as it only serves as a way to manage a few tracks and keep the game area organized. Due to the design, the game becomes a table hog. The players will spend most of their turns doing things within their own play areas. The player areas need quite a bit of space as well.
All of the tokens in the game are either punch board card stock or wooden cubes/meeples. These are all fine and what you would expect in a modern board game. While it would be cool to have little tigers, elephants, snakes, and other critters depicted on our zoo tiles or as meeples it isn’t required and would make this game likely hog even more space than it currently does.
Ark Nova Gameplay
Ark Nova is best described as an action selection, card drafting, and worker placement game. This game brilliantly combines all of those mechanics into a fairly complex, challenging to learn, but very rewarding game.
To accomplish this, at the bottom of your player board is a river of five upgradable actions. Based on the position of the action will determine the strength of the action. Ideally, this means you want to wait until the action is in the five-strength space, but you will find yourself wanting to do several actions well before they reach the five spot.
Actions range from constructing additional buildings in your zoo, adding animals to your zoo, taking association actions, gaining sponsors, or gaining more cards. Do you take that build action early so you can get the 3-space enclosure so that you can play your Eurasian Lynx on your next turn or do you wait for one more turn so that you can build an even bigger enclosure? These decisions are key to your success and you constantly find yourself contemplating whether you made the correct one.
Ark Nova Scoring and Winning the Game
Ark Nova implements one of the most unique triggers for the end game and final scoring mechanisms that we have seen. On the exterior of the main game board is two tracks. The first track measures how attractive your park is to visitors. This is your park’s Appeal. The second track is the Conservation track and starts on the opposite side of the board from the Appeal marker. At the end of any player’s turn if these two makers ever are on the same spot or pass each other this triggers the game’s end. Each player takes one more turn, except the person that triggered the end, and you move on to scoring.
Scoring entails a few steps to wrap up end-game scoring. This includes scoring any final scoring cards (often on sponsors) cards. Once this is done, the distance between the appeal marker and the conservation marker is counted. If they passed each other, then this will be a player’s score in positive points. However, if a player has failed to get their conservation and appeal counters to cross then that will result in a negative score. You certainly can’t ignore conservation projects just to make your zoo the most appealing!
Ark Nova Theme and Immersion
Ark Nova is a game where players build a zoo, work on conservation projects, and try to do their small part to make the world better for the animals. The game adopts this theme heavily in so many ways. This game has a theme in nearly every aspect whether it is the cards that represent the various animals, the tiles that represent various pens you are adding to your zoo, or the conservation projects that you are trying to complete to get those precious conservation points.
When you are playing the game you really do feel like you are managing a zoo. Building partnerships with international zoos, managing your finances, and collecting exciting animals for your zoo’s exhibits build that immersion. That immersion in the creation of your zoo almost outweighs the need to win or lose at this game. When final scores are tallied I still sit back and look at this awesome thing I created during the game.
Ark Nova is a brilliant game and rapidly becoming one of my favorites. For a game that hadn’t garnered my attention before it was released, I am very grateful to have it in my collection. Rating this based on the BoardGameGeek scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best, I have this currently rated at an 8.5.
While I love the puzzle of this game, this game has a couple of dings against it. While an experienced group of three to four players can play this in under three hours. Your first few plays will be long (four hours or so). In addition, this game features a massive deck of animals. You may sit down and want to play a strong reptile strategy, but due to the nature of the deck, your initial hand of cards, and the luck of the draw you see few if any reptiles during the course of the game.
Even with these dings against it, I find Ark Nova’s replay value high as you must play the game, and the cards, as they are dealt to you. Making your decisions have to work each time without going in with a preset notion that you will play this strategy or that. This will really lead to players not finding a single game-breaking strategy simply because the odds they see the correct pattern of cards in a given play is low.
If you like big, complex, and yet graphically beautiful Euro-Style games then you should definitely check out Ark Nova. I am very glad that I did!
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