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Board Game Review: Ark Nova

game #4 of Katie's 100 board game challenge

By Katie KieslingPublished 3 months ago 5 min read

My new year started as such: Had a late lunch with my fiancé and his brother, then went to their mother's house to learn a new board game - Ark Nova. Yet this game is #4 on my list of games played for the new year. Why? Well ...

It took my fiancé 90-120 minutes to read the rules for Ark Nova. I got overwhelmed very quickly, asked a question, and got the "I just explained that" response ... so I proceeded to not ask any more questions, getting more and more stressed, plus decided to have an anxiety attack around the fact that dinner was fast approaching and I was going to be the one holding up the game and making it longer ... and knew that if I chose to sit out and not play, the boys would say "We don't have to play" (and I was right on that one!).

... Having depression and anxiety sucks. But we did end up playing Wingspan that day, which we had all fell in love with a few days earlier. So the evening wasn't COMPLETELY ruined by me.

The next day, I watched a 20-minute video on Ark Nova, going over all the rules ... I understood everything instantly! So, my fiancé and I tried again a few nights ago, just the two of us (after I watched the video a second time - needed a refresher, since there is SO MUCH to digest). Although we made a few mistakes along the way, I think we know what we're doing now, and it's really not too hard once you get going.


I love a little learning with my board games - I think that's one of the things that appealed to me so much about Wingspan. Ark Nova did their best to be as accurate as possible (although they did admit to A LITTLE fudging, for the sake of game mechanics), so we get to see the type of each animal, and where they come from in the world.

While I played with mostly Animal cards, and didn't seem to get too many Sponsor cards or Conservation cards - although, I would've loved to get and play more Conservation cards! - I think the non-Animal cards give a glimpse into how the world works together to research and conserve animal habitats.

Organized Boards

In a game with so many components, I really appreciate how well everything on the boards were labeled, and the thought that was put into the design. Even our individual player boards made note of what pieces we were supposed to start with! Whenever my fiancé and I got a little confused - for example, "When are we able to upgrade?" - the boards would typically give us clues. In fact, there was a detail directly on the board that the rulebook didn't seem to explain (or maybe just didn't explain well), about receiving X tokens whenever we triggered a break ... and fiancé and I both said we would've played differently had we seen that symbol earlier. (That was our bad though, not the board's.)

The one thing I will say, as I did play as a 2-player game ... the video I watched was more helpful about what we were supposed to block off/not use for our particular game.

Action Cards

Everyone gets five action cards - Animal action, Association action, Build action, Cards action, and Sponsor action. Everyone starts with their Animal action card on the first strength spot, but we all shuffle our own individual cards to determine where the other four cards go. The cards at different strength spots means different things - for example, you can't actually play any animals when your Animal action card is at the first strength spot, but if you can move it up you have the chance to play one (or even TWO, if it's at the fifth strength spot). After you take an action, that card gets moved to the first strength spot, and everything else shifts to the right, moving it up in strength.

These action cards are probably my favourite part of the game. I love the fact that we don't all start with cards in the same spots, and how strategic we have to be in order to make the cards work in our favour. There was a personal challenge, for me, to not get things TOO HIGH up in strength, as I didn't want to feel like I was wasting the potential of the card - for example, when the Association action card is at 3, you can partner with a university ... and at one point, I had it at 4, and really needed to partner with a university, but didn't want to take the action, even though I knew I couldn't move the card back down unless I just used it. (C'est la vie!)


As with all of my reviews, the things mentioned above just touch on things that stood out for me - there is WAY TOO MUCH to discuss here! (Someone could probably write a whole book on Ark Nova ...)

This is the lowest score I've given so far - and hopefully I won't have to give one lower this year (I don't plan on playing any bad games, lol). I need to give Ark Nova a 7 out of 10. For the most part, I know what I'm doing now, but there's still so much going on in this game ... and I think, from here on out, any game that has a 20-page rulebook automatically loses 2 points from me. Something that can be explained in 20 minutes should not need to take almost 2 hours to read.

That all said, I will play this game again and again, and am looking forward to introducing it to some new people! (Although, this is a game that I can't easily teach my mom or sister-in-law, which is how I determine how good a game is sometimes ... they are okay with higher strategy games, but this one might break them both, with all the components being overwhelming.)

... I wanna end this on a positive note. Great job design team, love the artwork and organization!

table top

About the Creator

Katie Kiesling

* 29, she/her, Canadian

* Reader, writer, lover of language

* Board game enthusiast, and wannabe board game designer

* Fiancée currently, Wife in May 2023

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