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  • Writer's picturecraig duncton

Ark nova from Capstone Games

‘In Ark Nova you plan and build a modern, scientifically managed zoo. You build enclosures according to the animals’ way of life and support conservation projects to ensure the preservation of animal species.

Gathering diverse animals increases the attractiveness of your zoo, advancing you on the Appeal track and generating higher revenues. Likewise, careful stewardship of the animals allows you to support conservation projects, such as breeding programs, that leads to your advancement on the Conservation track and corresponding bonuses. These two tracks progress in opposite directions - if your counters meet, the game ends. Whoever achieves the best combination of appeal and conservation has built the most successful zoo and wins the game.

Association work in different zoo associations allows you to partner with zoos and universities around the world. Together, with specialist and sponsors, they will help you manage the various tasks needed to achieve your goals.’

3 words to describe this game: conservation, enclosures and animals


212 zoo cards (128 animal, 64 sponsor, 26 conservation project cards): love the artwork on these cards, great pictures of the animals

11 final scoring cards: easy to read and understand scoring condition for end of game. Each player receives two and then picks one at a point during the game

12 base conservation project cards: these are used to populate the initial conservation deck on the association board. Again very clear what combination of tags you need etc

20 double sided actions cards: love this action selection mechanism. You essentially have five actions you can take but each turn they will be at different strengths which will allow you to do certain actions. For example, at strength one and animal card will not allow you to play any animal cards but at strength 5 you can play 2 animal cards

1 game board - this sits central in the playing areas and contains the score tracks, break track and contains the central card deck

1 association board - these are the actions you can take when you play your association card - depending on the strength of the action at the time will denote which associations you can take. When items are depleted on this board, you have to wait for the tea break before they get replenished

8 player mats - thin cardboard placemats on which to place your tiles and tokens (could have been of a better quality but they function just fine)

90 standard enclosures in various sizes (28x 1 space, 24x 2 space, 15x 3 space, 13x 4 space, 10 x 5 space enclosures)

34 kiosk/pavilion tiles

12 special enclosures (4x petting zoo, 4 x reptile house, 4 x large bird aviary)

15 unique buildings

All the above are buildings you can build on your zoo. Some are special tiles that you can only play when you have upgraded your action card. Kiosks and pavilions offer bonuses.

20 partner zoos and 12 universities: cardboard chits that are placed on the association board and allow you to gain bonuses

9 bonus tiles: these are placed along the conservation score track and when you reach certain milestones you can choose a bonus.

20 x-tokens: being awarded these allows you to change the value of your action cards so you can make a 4 animal card into a 5 animal card using an x token

8 multiplier, 8 venom tokens, 8 constriction tokens: some cards have extra abilities that you can use to help you gain benefits or stop your opponent from doing something or apply a penalty.

1 tile for solo play - does what it says

1 break token - wooden token in shape of a cup that is moved up the break token

Components in 4 player colours (black, blue, red, yellow - 3 counters, 4 association workers, 25 player tokens): counters for the tracks, workers to use on the association board and player tokens to add to conserrvation cards etc to denote which ones you have worked on

Overall thoughts: At the moment, Ark Nova is hot and so we were keen to understand why and whether it truly was a good game or whether we too had been swept up in the must haves at the expense of a good game.

However I must say after playing this one a couple of times, I absolutely love it. There are so many elements to this game and so much to think about. One of my favourite things about this game is the action selection mechanism. I just love the idea that you take an action and then you have to move that card to the lowest strength position thus making it difficult to use for a few turns. Not difficult to use because you can’t use it but because it won’t allow you the same actions as when it’s say strength 4 or 5. I just think it’s a genius way of making people select different actions whilst still allowing you freedom of choice.

Another thing I love about this game is the puzzle of trying to fit enclosures onto your zoo aswell as the puzzle of fitting cards together and using associations to build a tableau that works together to gain you the most income and the most rewards.

Money is extremely tight in this game and you have to think carefully about what you want to do. It’s a brain burner but I love it - so much to think about and do.

I do have one minor complaint, the scoring at the end is a bit messy for my liking and I don’t feel like I can grasp properly where my counters need to be to give me the best score. I understand they have to cross each other but the taking one away from the other element just makes my brain hurt. Still I have so much fun playing the game that to me it’s irrelevant who wins in the end.

Component quality is fine and everything works how it should. Being picky, I might have liked better quality components but really they work just fine and that’s just personal opinion.

If you like animals, building zoos or thinky puzzle games that get the brain working then this one is for you!

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