If you’ve been following the latest board game news in the past year, you’ve most likely come across Ark Nova. Since its announcement in 2021, this game has captured the attention of the board game community and has remained a hot topic even a year after its release. In fact, it’s still holding a top spot on BGG’s Hotness list, which is a testament to its popularity and staying power.
It’s rare to see a board game generate such massive positive hype and public perception, but Ark Nova has managed to do just that. The game has rapidly climbed the charts since its release and is currently ranked as the fourth best board game of all time. And it’s not just the rankings that speak to its success – players and critics alike have praised the game for its innovative mechanics, engaging gameplay, and stunning artwork.
If you haven’t had a chance to try Ark Nova yet, now is the time to jump on board and see what all the fuss is about. With its unique blend of resource management and action selection mechanics, diverse collection of animals, and boards that changes every game, Ark Nova offers endless possibilities for gameplay and strategy.
The objective of the game is to create different enclosures, collect exotic and endangered animals from around the world, and hire staff and sponsors to reap the most benefits from your endeavors. Players compete with each other to earn the most points by creating a diverse and thriving zoo. So gather your friends and family, and get ready to experience the excitement and thrill of building the best zoo in the world.
If you’re unfamiliar with the game and hear the title “Ark Nova” for the first time, you might assume it’s a sci-fi or civilization game due to the Latin-sounding name. However, the game is actually all about collecting and preserving animals. So why is it called Ark Nova?
The name is likely a reference to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark, where all animals were saved from a great flood. “Ark” is a nod to this story, while “Nova” means “New” in Latin. Together, the name “Ark Nova” means “New Ark” and can be interpreted as a metaphor for wildlife preservation and conservation projects – a new way to protect and care for animals in the modern world.
Ark Nova is a complex Euro-style board game designed for one to four players and released in 2022. While it’s possible to play with up to four players, the game’s high complexity makes it best suited for three players or fewer, with two players being the optimal player count. Each round of the game can take anywhere from 90 to 150 minutes to play, making it a longer game than most board games.
In Ark Nova, players are given the opportunity to design and build their own zoo from scratch. Each player is provided with a map of their own zoo, with multiple maps to choose from, each with varying buildings and compositions. This allows players to switch things up each time they play, adding to the game’s replayability.
At the start of the game, the zoo is nothing more than an empty lot, with waterbeds and mountains around the place and maybe a few buildings. It’s up to the players to use their resources and strategic skills to fill the map up in the best way possible.
From constructing enclosures for their animals to hiring staff and building attractions for visitors, players must carefully manage their resources and make smart decisions to create the most impressive and thriving zoo.
In Ark Nova, players have two ways to score points: appeal and conservation. Throughout the game, players take various actions that allow them to gain points in these two tracks. The appeal and conservation markers for each player are on opposite sides of the same track, moving toward each other as the game progresses. As players gain points, their markers move closer and closer until they eventually collide, triggering the end of the game.
This unique scoring system adds an extra layer of strategy to the game, as players must balance their focus between appealing to visitors and conserving the animals in their zoo. It’s best to have a zoo that’s beautiful and popular, while prioritizing the well-being of its animals and contributing to conservation projects.
With a deck of over 250 unique cards, you never have to worry about playing the same game twice. Although it’s a hassle shuffling such a deck and keeping it from spilling all over the game, the high level of replayability it grants makes it worthwhile.
How to Play
Because of the high complexity and many details of the rules, we’ll just take a quick look at how the game flows. At the beginning of a game of Ark Nova, each of the players is handed five action cards. These cards are the same for all players and all actions revolve around these five cards.
Players must place these five cards under their zoo map, under the track numbered one to five. During setup, players place the “Animals” card in the first position and fill the remaining positions with the other cards randomly. The strength of the actions is based on their position on this track. The further up an action card is, the better its action will become.
On each turn, players must choose one of these five action cards, and resolve its effect based on its position on the track. At the end of the turn, the card is removed from the track, sliding all cards to the left, and placed at the first position of the track. This means the more you repeat an action in a row, the fewer benefits you’ll get from it.
The first of these actions is the “Build” action allowing players to construct different enclosures in their zoo, which are used to store animals in them. In order to preserve bigger animals, players need bigger enclosures, and more money. Enclosures cannot be placed on water or rocks, but they can and should be placed around them.
Other than ordinary enclosures, there’s an aviary, a reptile exhibit, and more to store animals more optimally. There are also some instant benefits on the zoo map you can acquire by building over them.
The next action is the “Cards” action, which is a card that gives you more cards. With this action, players can draw a number of cards from the deck according to the position on the track. These cards are in three distinct types; animal cards, sponsor cards, and conservation projects. The three remaining actions are related to these cards.
The “Animal” action allows players to place animals in their hands in enclosures in their zoo. Each animal has a set of requirements and prerequisites in order to place them. Things like enclosure size, being next to water or mountains, research capability, other animals, etc. If all of the animal’s needs are met, players can then choose an enclosure to store that animal in and gain the benefits granted by the animal.
The ”Sponsor” action allows players to play blue cards from their hands which give them a variety of benefits, from more income to research opportunities. Lastly, the “Association” action allows players to participate in and complete different conservation projects to gain points and other instant advantages.
And that’s the gist of the game. One by one, players add cards to their hands and try to play them in the best manner and order, and gradually the zoos are built. There are a lot more details and iconography in the game, and they’re neatly presented in the game’s rulebook and icon overview.
Ark Nova is a big and high-detail-looking game and when it’s laid out on the table, it can feel a bit overwhelming. But the more you look at it, the more you get familiar with different icons and aspects of the game. The theme of the game also helps you understand the process of the game much better.
The pace of the game is very quick, players don’t waste too much time pondering over their actions, and turns flow seamlessly one after another. The most time is spent during the “Break” phase, which is a standby phase where players gain income and some slots are replenished.
While Ark Nova is primarily a strategy game with a lot of depth and competitiveness, luck also plays a significant role in the game. With a huge deck of 255 unique cards, the game offers a high level of replayability, but it also means that finding a certain type of card can be challenging. Sometimes players waste actions drawing cards that have no use for them, while other times, a player may draw a card at the end of the game that accidentally gives them a heap of points and changes the outcome of the game.
This element of luck adds an extra layer of excitement and unpredictability to the game, keeping players on their toes and ensuring that no two games are ever the same. While luck can sometimes be frustrating, it also means that players must be adaptable and flexible in their strategies, ready to adjust their plans at a moment’s notice.
This is why I wouldn’t play Ark Nova like other games. Ark Nova is not your typical competitive game. While it’s important to make strategic decisions and compete against your opponents, it offers so much more than just winning. It’s a game that allows you to unleash your creativity and build a zoo that’s uniquely yours. Imagine having the freedom to design your zoo in any way you like, despite certain limitations you must overcome. It’s a truly rewarding experience that satisfies players in ways that winning alone cannot.
As we wrap up our journey through the world of Ark Nova, it’s clear that this game is more than just a board game – it’s an experience. From the moment you open the box and lay eyes on the stunning artwork, to the final moments of gameplay where you’re on the edge of your seat, Ark Nova delivers an immersive and unforgettable adventure. With its unique mechanics and strategic challenges, this game will keep you coming back for more and is sure to become a beloved addition to your collection. So what are you waiting for? Let the adventure begin!