Ark Nova board game review: whip-smart strategy with an enchanting theme

The tight zoo-management board game is a charming chimaera of some of the best strategy games out there – but still very much its own beast

ark nova board game review: whip-smart strategy with an enchanting theme
(Image credit: Future)

T3 Verdict

Arguably the leader of the pack of 2022’s board game releases, Ark Nova blends a cute theme with multiple layers of smartly designed mechanics. It’s not flawless – odd components here and there could do with an upgrade and you’ll need to invest a couple of hours in most games. But it’s a charming play, one that inherits some DNA from some of the best strategy board games of recent years.

  • +Gorgeous components
  • +Deep, pleasing strategy
  • +Clever action card mechanics
  • -Animal powers can feel underwhelming
  • -Zoo mats are pretty flimsy
  • -Not as good a fit for casual gamers

Join our newsletter

All the best features, news, tips and great deals to help you live a better life through technology

Thank you for signing up to T3. You will receive a verification email shortly.

There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.

By submitting your information you agree to the Terms & Conditions (opens in new tab) and Privacy Policy (opens in new tab) and are aged 16 or over.

Given it’s one of the best new board games to hit the market in 2022, and most likely best board games to buy, this Ark Nova review was always going to be a fun one to write. Not only did the zoo-building strategy game win a recommendation at the 2022 Kennerspiel des Jahres (opens in new tab) but for months it was effectively extinct in the wild –both the initial printing and second printing were pounced on so fast that it was effectively impossible to get hold of. Fortunately, this situation has now been rectified and it’s widely available but this tells you something about how hotly anticipated this game has been.

So does Ark Nova warrant the hype and deserve a place on T3’s list of best board games? Well, for any board gamers that love clever mechanics and smart design, it’s likely to be a roaring success. And even if you like a more casual gaming experience, I’d argue its cute components and rich theme will still prove sufficient to ensnare your attention.

ark nova board game review: whip-smart strategy with an enchanting theme

(Image credit: Future)


There’s no getting around it: Ark Nova ain’t the cheapest board game out there. Even now the mad rush on the game has calmed down, you’ll need to budget somewhere from £50 to £60. But I would argue that in terms of scale, replayability and components, Feuerland’s game more than justifies this asking price. As a deckbuilder of a similar scope, Terraforming Mars will comfortably set you back £45 and that’s eight years old with, arguably, lower quality components, so it doesn’t feel like Ark Nova’s price is at all out of kilter with the rest of the market.

And this should give you a clear idea of the kind of gamer Ark Nova is aimed at. While its gorgeous artwork and cute animal theme may make it seem like classic family fare, you’re not going to be splashing that kind of cash on a gift for your tweenage niece or nephew. In fact, Feuerland recommends Ark Nova for 14+. And given the complexity of some of the game’s systems and the depth of strategy required, that feels just right to me. Teenager or adult, anyone who has the warm heart of David Attenborough and the cold, strategic mind of Napoleon is going to get a massive kick out of this.

ark nova board game review: whip-smart strategy with an enchanting theme

(Image credit: Future)


Ark Nova is sometimes described as a chimaera of Wingspan and Terraforming Mars. While there’s some truth to this – it definitely inherits genetic strains of power-based deckbuilding and hex-based tile-placement from each of them – it’s also very much its own beast.

Unbox Ark Nova and you’ll likely be greeted by one thought: the artwork and components are stunning. Every card features captivating artwork – I still descend into paroxysms of cute aggression every time I encounter the slumbering fennec fox or floofy alpaca. And while the images aren’t as unique as Wingspan’s inimitable avian illustrations, they do create the feeling of populating a vibrant, three-dimensional zoo.

First of all, rather than a rigidly ordered action phase, the actions available to you are dictated by five cards arranged from left to right. Cards allows you to draw new cards; Build to build new enclosures and buildings; Animals to play animals; Association to place workers to partner with zoos and universities and engage in conservation projects; and Sponsors to sponsor projects or gain money. Each gains in strength as it moves further to the right and once a card is used it is returned to the left and to the lowest power.

While this is a simple system, it has an enormous impact on what you play when, rewarding players who enjoy squeezing maximum efficiency out of their every move.

When building, each player populates their zoo mat with enclosures made up of differing numbers of hex tiles. And they come in several flavours: single-use enclosures for standard exhibits; petting zoos, aviaries and reptile houses that can house multiple fluffy, feathery and scaly friends; and large, unique building tiles that tie in to specific sponsorship projects.

Zoo planning is one of Ark Nova’s real highlights. The hex tiles are pleasingly chunky and fitting them together in the optimum configuration is a delightfully tactile experience. No matter how many times you play, your zoo evolves organically as your needs do. While you might envision yourself becoming king of the carnivores or the reptile regent, the realities of zoo ownership can quickly lead you down other paths and this means by the end of the game no two zoos you’ve built will be quite alike.

ark nova board game review: whip-smart strategy with an enchanting theme

(Image credit: Future)

To begin with, you’ll mostly acquire animals, score sponsorship opportunities or conservation projects by drawing cards blind from the deck. But after you’ve upgraded your Cards action and as your zoo gains reputation points from partner universities, covering the map and releasing animals into the wild, you’ll increasingly be able to draft a wider range of cards from the common pool.

This allows you to get the drop on your opponents and nab the most desirable and charismatic creatures before they get a chance. Naturally, how much you enjoy this kind of mechanic is going to depend on your feelings about drafting in games. Personally, watching my opponents wince when I swoop in on a card they’ve been eagerly anticipating is half the joy of competitive games but not everybody is as sociopathic a gamer as I am.

To stick a critter into your zoo, you’ll play one of the cards from your ever-evolving hand. But first you need to meet certain conditions: you’ll need a free enclosure that meets the species’ space requirement, while some require you to have a partner zoo on a specific continent or require your zoo to contain a number of a specific type of animal. Again, this means you’ll often have a chain of priorities at any one time – first building the right size enclosure, then partnering with a zoo then placing the animal – which really rewards careful optimisation.

There are a few niggles here though. The one exception to the generally high production values are the zoo mats themselves: as in Terraforming Mars, they’re constructed from a flimsy, lightweight card that feels destined to get damaged. Given the game generally has such high production values, this seems like an odd misstep on Feuerland’s part.

Also, despite a gameplay loop built around filling empty enclosures with your unique menagerie, Ark Nova doesn’t feature any components to actually show this. When an enclosure is filled, you simply flip the tile to show it is now occupied or, in the case of aviaries, reptile houses and petting zoos, place a cube on one of the remaining spaces. I can’t help but feel that adding some animal meeples for this purpose would have really helped bring zoos to life – especially as the game already divides its critters up into seven handy categories. 

Given the top quality of the rest of the components though, neither of these is a dealbreaker. It might just be a good opportunity for some third-party upgrades for those who love to add custom components to their games.

ark nova board game review: whip-smart strategy with an enchanting theme

(Image credit: Future)

Once you’ve finally played your latest animal acquisition, you take your reward: appeal or, if you’re very lucky, conservation points. However, there are additional biological bonuses up for grabs. Each animal comes with a power that provides you with all manner of immediate bonuses, whether that’s reordering your action deck, drawing new cards or even stealing from, envenoming or constricting your opponents.

Used judiciously, these abilities can allow you to chain together some clever combos – being granted a second animal placement action, only to place a herding herbivore into the same enclosure I just filled will never not bring a smile to my face. However, this ain’t Wingspan: a lot of the powers can feel samey pretty quickly and the lack of innovation often means those moments where they genuinely turn the tide of gameplay feel few and far between.

Refreshingly, victory isn’t about who can line their pockets the fastest or force their zoo chock-full of the most fauna. Instead, success is down to increasing your zoo’s appeal points by introducing the most charismatic creatures and netting conservation points through conservation projects. The latter come in many forms: you might have to specialise in Asian animals or rack up a bunch of reptiles. You may even need to release some of your megafauna into the wild and sacrifice some of your existing appeal for the greater prize of ecological altruism.

Objective cards augment this, providing you with additional conservation points at the end of the game, should you complete their conditions. And, believe me, these are no pushover – you might need to exhibit a number of lower-scoring, smaller animals or build as many space-hungry special enclosures as you can.

Balancing these various objectives are perhaps the smartest part of Ark Nova’s gameplay loop. You’re often forced to prioritise between hitting certain objectives and exhibiting creatures with steep requirements, many of which may help you achieve other goals. This tension, coupled with the fact every game contains a different combination of conservation and objective cards, always makes each playthrough of Ark Nova feel fresh and engaging.

ark nova board game review: whip-smart strategy with an enchanting theme

(Image credit: Future)


Ultimately, there’s a reason Ark Nova has been one of the hottest board games of 2022. It offers a captivating theme akin to zoo-building computer games like Planet Zoo or Zoo Tycoon, while its components are – for the most part – both pleasingly tactile and delightfully designed.

And this beauty is much more than skin deep. Tactically speaking, it offers a rich and rewarding play, with more than enough variability to keep each playthrough fresh and confounding. Novel systems like its variable-power Action cards also mean it feels distinct from most other titles you can buy and should see you reaching for it on the shelf time and again.

There are missteps here and there. Animal powers definitely offer fewer interesting game-changing moments than some other deck builders. And the zoo mats are insubstantial enough that I’m sure many gamers will replace them the second the inevitable upgrades hit the market. But that doesn’t detract from the fact Ark Nova is a joy to play and will likely prove to be the leader of the pack of the year’s board games.


As we’ve indicated above, Ark Nova shares more than a few strands of DNA with Terraforming Mars. Another strategy-heavy deckbuilder with tile placement mechanics, it’s thematically rich, allowing you to compete with other players to transform Mars into a lush, populated world. It’s also marginally cheaper at £47.99, so is definitely worth a look if you don’t mind its slightly poorer quality components.

Conversely, if Ark Nova’s critter theme makes you squee but you’re not a fan of sinking two hours into a game, Cascadia is a great, streamlined animal placement puzzler. Creating the perfect environment and plopping down bears, foxes, deer, hawks and salmon into their new ecosystems is an addictive little loop and the animals’ various scoring patterns ensure it’s still thinky enough to satisfy more cerebral contestants.

News Related


Free Game of the Week: Star Wars Squadrons

If you like the words Star Wars and free, you’ll want to get Star Wars: Squadrons. It’s free until tomorrow morning at Epic Games. After crunching the numbers in spreadsheets ... Read more »

Warner Bros. Boss Wants A Harry Potter TV Show

Warner Bros. TV has "a lot of interest" in a Harry Potter series. Read more »

ZTE Voyage 40 Pro+ launched with Dimensity 810

ZTE is once again not welcome in the United States. However, this time around, the company can keep doing its business elsewhere. That said, the company is back with a ... Read more »

Ben Affleck Calls Netflix An "Assembly Line"

Affleck and Matt Damon are forming a new production company that will reportedly offer more competitive compensation for talent onscreen and off. Read more »

Samsung announces new GDDR6W memory, rivals HBM2

In context: As manufacturers continue to squeeze every last drop of performance out of current GDDR6 and GDDR6X memory modules, Samsung has announced a new and improved entry to the ... Read more »

The 2023 Ferrari Daytona SP3 Is Like a Rock. Or a Rocket.

The noise: overwhelming. The speed: mind-bending. But the car shares something in common with, well, a rock. Read more »

Review: The Philips Hue Festavia Lights Are Expensive, But Perfect for Christmas Trees and Holiday Decorating

This year, the Philips Hue line added string lights for the first time, marking the debut of the only string light product able to integrate with the Philips Hue ecosystem. ... Read more »

Assassin’s Creed Blade & Sorcery Mod Lets You Become Ezio Auditore

If you’ve ever wanted to experience the glory of an Assassin’s Creed game in first-person, a new mod is here to make all your dreams come true. A modder for ... Read more »

Honda’s Next Electric SUV Will Also Run on Hydrogen

Honda While we already know Honda is getting ready to release its first all-electric SUV in 2024 with the Honda Prologue, it looks like that’s not the only SUV that’ll ... Read more »

New Cupra stores open in Melbourne and Brisbane, taking Australian garage count to nine

Cupra retail garages expand to cover most Australian states and territories, with Tasmania and the NT now the only absences Read more »

Todd Howard Talks Elder Scrolls 6, Starfield, Sale To Xbox, And Meaning Of Life

The Bethesda higher-up discusses a number of big topics in a wide-ranging interview. Read more »

Sylvester Stallone Mob Drama Tulsa King Greenlit For Season 2

Three episodes into Season 1, Stallone will dig deeper into his mobster role in another upcoming season. Read more »

Epson will stop selling laser printers by 2026, but why?

In brief: Epson recently announced a significant shift in its printing strategy, doubling down on inkjet technology while vowing to pull out of the laser printer market. The Japanese electronics ... Read more »

Look Out for These USPS Shipping Scam Messages

Phishing attacks and other scams are ever-present, but over the past few weeks, fake shipping notices sent over text or email have been on the rise. Don’t fall for them. ... Read more »

DoorDash to Lay Off 1,250 Employees

The food delivery service is the latest tech company to cut staff. Read more »

2022 Chevrolet Camaro SS Review : A Well-Kept Secret

Photo: D.Rufiange 2022 Chevrolet Camaro SS, front •    Auto123 reviews the 2022 Chevrolet Camaro SS. •    This sports car has reached a certain state of maturity and near-perfection, just as ... Read more »

Warhammer 40k Darktide review in progress – Chaos-touched

Our full Warhammer 40k Darktide review is due later this week, but here are our thoughts so far on Vermintide's successor, another co-op FPS from Fatshark Read more »

San Francisco green lights SFPD rule allowing robotic lethal-force

A hot potato: The San Francisco Police Department now has the authority to use lethal robotic force against violent criminals under new city rules. Only three of the 11 Board ... Read more »

Self-service checkouts are covered in poop bacteria: study

Be sure to wash your hands after using self-checkout. Getty Images Attention! Cleanup needed on self-checkout counter “number 2” Self-service checkouts may be an efficient way to shop but with ... Read more »

Kindle Scribe review: not enough of what we want

More of a sticky note than a scribe Read more »

Fortnite Football Club Outfits Coming to the Item Shop This Week

Today, Epic Games announced that certain Fortnite Icon Series outfits (LeBron James, Chloe Kim) will get new Fortnite Football Club (FFC) versions. Though, it is important to note that these ... Read more »

Sonic Frontiers Update Roadmap Revealed Including New Playable Characters & Story Content

Today Sega announced that the adventure of its latest 3D Sonic game Sonic Frontiers is far from over. The developer provided a fairly detailed roadmap including three updates to be ... Read more »

Warhammer 40K: Darktide Review – Flawed But Oozing Potential

Warhammer 40K: Darktide on PC Fatshark studios, the creator of the latest Warhammer fantasy coop experience, is a unique game development team best known for their fresh take on the ... Read more »

Realme GT Neo 3T global version starts Android 13 testing

Chinese mobile phone brand, Realme recently announced the launch of the Realme GT Neo 3T Android 13 Beta open test plan in India. The firmware version number is RMX3371_11.A.08. Users ... Read more »

Google was sued by 130,000 publishers in the UK for abusing online advertising dominance

Google and its parent company Alphabet were sued by 130,000 website and mobile app publishers in the UK today. The lawsuit is accusing Google of abusing its dominant position in ... Read more »

Modern Warfare 2 And Warzone 2 Double XP Now Live For PlayStation Users

Everyone else can enjoy the double XP event starting December 1. Read more »

IPhone 14 Series Will Face A Massive Shortage This Holiday Season

The demand for iPhones has been quite great this year. The global economic crisis has had reasonable amount of impact on a lot of tech companies. By the third quarter ... Read more »

Final Fantasy 16 Will Be Showcased at The Game Awards

Today the organizers of The Game Awards took to Twitter to announce that we can expect news about Final Fantasy XVI. Producer Naoki Yoshida himself (whom you may also know ... Read more »

Our 2022 Ford Bronco Badlands Sasquatch Has Finally Arrived for a Long-Term Stay

Introduction It was with arms wide open that we welcomed a 2022 Ford Bronco Badlands Sasquatch for a 40,000-mile test. To say we were excited for it to arrive is ... Read more »

iQOO Neo 7 SE: Full specifications confirmed by China Telecom

iQOO is doing the final preparations for the reveal of the iQOO 11 series and the iQOO Neo 7 SE in China. Ahead of the launch, the SE variant was ... Read more »

Respawn Releases Apex Legends Version 2.12 Patch Notes

The patch includes bug fixes and other tweaks for Catalyst and the Broken Moon map. Read more »

Review Flexispot EHD2 Standing Desk

Now and then, you get an offer you can’t refuse. Recently, this came in the form of a standing desk. Now, Andrew has looked at plenty of products from Flexispot, ... Read more »

Palm and PalmPilot applications live on thanks to the Internet Archive

Recap: The Internet Archive is promoting a new trip down (tech) memory lane by bringing hundreds of Palm OS applications to the web for your emulation pleasure. Reliving the past ... Read more »

South Dakota Bans TikTok From Government Devices

Gov. Kristi Noem calls the social media app a "growing national security threat." Read more »

Apple Releases iOS 16.1.2. What's Included in the Update

It includes some security updates and more. Read more »

Top 10 Cards From Flesh and Blood TCG: Dynasty

The Flesh and Blood TCG has taken the International market by storm by offering players a new way to enjoy card games by pitting class-based characters against one another in ... Read more »

Sharkoon RGB Wave Chassis Launched

Sharkoon introduces its latest gaming case – the Sharkoon RGB Wave. The chassis features an eye-catching 3D wave front panel design that elevates RGB illumination coming from the three pre-installed ... Read more »

How to Add Bullet Points in Word

To add bullet points in Word, press Ctrl+Shift+L (Windows) or Command+Shift+L (Mac). Or, click the “Bullets” button in the ribbon’s “Home” tab. You can start a preformatted bullet list by ... Read more »

No, “Web5” Is Not a Thing

Block You’ve probably heard of Web3: a vague term for decentralization that doesn’t really mean anything specific, but sounds cool. Some projects and companies have tried to build hype by ... Read more »

Final Fantasy XVI Has Been Rated In Brazil, Might See A Release Date Soon

This gives more legitimacy to rumors claiming that a release date trailer and preorders will come soon. Read more »
Breaking thailand news, thai news, thailand news Verified News Story Network