Ark Nova Review
Who Doesn’t Love Animals?
Theme can be so important when it comes to board games as it enables us to engage in what we are playing and enhances the level of escapism that board games can provide. Sometimes a game comes along where the themes and mechanisms that underpin the game work so well together that even if they are complex and appear unwieldy at first that once you understand what you are doing it comes together to make sense. I believe Ark Nova is one of the best examples I can think of here, where you are both trying to build a zoo that provides both appeal and conservation to try to win the game.
How Exactly Do You Build A Zoo?
In Ark Nova, one to four players will each be building up their own personal zoo from a number of possible map options, building enclosures and populating them with animals before potentially releasing them into the wild. The game features two scoring tracks, one related to the appeal of your zoo and one covering your conservation, and the game will end when one player’s two markers pass. Additionally to these there are two other tracks to be aware of, a reputation track which improves the animals you may be able to take from a central boards and can grant you certain one of benefits when you pass certain points and a break track which moves when you take certain actions or play certain cards, and once this hit the final space will allow players to gain more income, discard cards and replenish the association board along with some other potential benefits.
There are five possible actions you can take in the game and as you play actions they will decrease or increase in strength allowing you to take more powerful actions depending on their value. For example, take the build action at strength one and you can only build a one size enclosure, at strength five you can build a size five enclosure or perhaps an aviary or reptile house if you’ve upgraded your card. These actions are building, associating, sponsoring, drawing cards, or playing animals into your zoo.
Building enables you to place different types of enclosures on your zoo map, which can be followed up with the animals action to play animals into your zoo. Sponsorship action enables you to either break to gain money and move the break marker or play sponsor cards which will have an impact on your zoo giving you perhaps additional end game scoring, a special enclosure for your board, or a bonus at each break. Drawing cards allows you to refill your hand, and often discard cards that you don’t want.
With association, you place one or more of your workers onto a separate associate board to increase your reputation, partner with a continent to help to reduce the cost of playing animals from that region, partner with a university to increase you hand limit or gain additional research icons or reputation or support conservation projects.
If You Build It, The Animals Will Come
The art on the cards are all photographic, which I love but this might not appeal to everyone, while the rest of the art on the boards and cards is clear, although there are a lot of symbols which you will need to learn. The game comes with a huge deck of cards, and for me this is one of the best parts of the game as it means you can’t just adopt a winning strategy and play it every game as you really don’t know what is going to come out. The number of cards can lead to some frustration though, say you’ve built a petting zoo but then you can’t find the animals you want to fill it.
This is a long and complex game, your first game might take up to three hours or even more but once you’ve mastered it I think you can get it down to half that time and I have played it at four players in under two hours. However I think it is also a very approachable game that is worth taking the time to learn. I’ve played this game at all player counts, including the solo mode in the box and except for taking longer with more players the benefit of more players is you get the opportunity to cycle a lot more cards in the deck and can benefit more from other sponsor cards.
I own a large number of games, some may say too many, but after my time with Ark Nova I think it is right up there with the best games I’ve ever played. Even if you don’t win, which I never do at Ark Nova, you can feel a sense of satisfaction at the zoo you have built in front of you. In board games, I’m more than happy to lose if I still feel I’ve achieved something and Ark Nova does this better than most. With the Marine Worlds expansion just coming out as I write this, I believe my love for this game is going to grow. Before this expansion I would score Ark Nova a 10/10, so is it possible for me to increase that score further?
There is just so much to love about Ark Nova, from its action selection system to building up your zoo, to the huge deck of cards and number of maps offering a large amount of replayability. Yes its long and yes it is more complex than many other games but it is deserving of your time and rewards the effort you put into it.
This blog was written by Jacob Dunkley