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Ark Nova Review!

  • Posted on
  • By Katie Williams
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Ark Nova Review!

What does Katie think of the animal filled Ark Nova? Let's find out!

Hey Everyone! Katie here. Today, I’m flying solo to review Ark Nova, a game about building the best zoo and promoting animal conservation! I have a reputation for being obsessed with animal-themed games, so I feel that I am well koala-ified to review this game!  Is this review going to contain unnecessary animal puns? I’d be lion if I said no! In fact, I’m going to do it on porpoise!


The Backstory


In Ark Nova, each player is operating a zoological organization.   Each player will build enclosures and attractions, populate their zoo with animals, attract sponsors, form associations with worldwide zoos, and release animals back to the wild!


The Gameplay


This game has a lot going on, so I’m not going to give a complete rules overview. Instead, I’m going to focus on the four most r-elephant aspects of this game.


Action Selection


In this game, there are five different actions a player can take on their turn: card draw, playing animal cards, building enclosures/attractions, taking association actions, and playing sponsor cards.  Each action has an associated action card and each begins the game in a numbered slot below each player’s board.


When a player selects an action to do, they check to see the slot number where their action card resides.  This number is the strength of the action.  Higher strength allows players more options.  After the action, the card is placed in the lowest strength spot and the other cards are shifted one higher.  For folks that have played it, this action selection mechanism is similar to that of the game Civilization: A New Dawn.


Each action card also has an upgraded side.  This gives an even cooler version of the action to take!




There is a HUGE stack of animal and sponsor cards! These give scoring opportunities.  More interestingly, most have special abilities that are very thematic.   My favorite is that of the marsupials: POUCH!  This ability allows a player to tuck a different card from hand behind the marsupial card for additional scoring.  


Most cards also use tags.   Located in the upper right corner, these icons can trigger discounts, allow other cards to be played, or other cool effects.  This mechanism is reminiscent of the game Terraforming Mars. 


Building Enclosures 


Players will build different sized enclosures into their zoo; each animal played will require a minimum sized enclosure.   When an enclosure is placed in a zoo, it may cover rewards like money, card draw, etc.


Scoring and Game End Mechanism


In this game, players gain points in two ways.  The first is by increasing appeal.  This is usually gained by playing animal cards.  The other is conservation points, usually acquired by releasing animals back into their habitats.  


The points are not gained on a single track, however.  Conservation points are tracked on an interior, clockwise track.   Appeal points are tracked on an exterior, counterclockwise track.   


The game end will be triggered when a player’s two score markers pass each. other.  This is similar to the scoring in the game Rajas of the Ganges.





Animals!  So many animals!!  The action selection and game end mechanisms are also very smart.  I wish these were in more games.   




This game is fairly complex and has a fairly long rules teach.   While that isn’t a negative for me personally, it can definitely be a hurdle for some folks.   


Some of the iconography isn’t immediately clear on the cards; However, there is a reference guide to help players.  


Final Thoughts 


I very much enjoy this game and recommend this game to anyone who enjoys a heavier, card-based game and animal themes!  This game will be nesting on my game shelf permanently!


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