Ark Nova: Marine Worlds Expansion Game Review

11 January 2024
Ark Nova took the board game world by storm, so the Marine Worlds expansion has been eagerly anticipated by many. But is it riding the wave or best leaving in the depths of the ocean? Our reviewer has the details.

Written by Jenny Cox

What is Ark Nova: Marine Worlds?

There was marginal ‘will they, won’t they?’ about whether Feuerland would release an expansion for Ark Nova, their wildly popular venture about creating a conservation zoo. It was more a matter of when it would hit the shelves. Now here it is. First impressions are Marine Worlds is in a slimmer box than perhaps expected. That’s actually quite considerate, considering the hippo-sized proportions of the original.

However, another first impression creates concern. There’s a lot of chat early on in the rulebook about replacement cards and components. Will this be an attempt to complicate or rewrite a perfectly solid game?

Reassuringly, no. The replacements are mainly there to accommodate the new icons introduced through the marine creatures, or, in the case of action cards, add greater depth. For example, switching out two standard action cards for two replacements opens up asymmetric play and bonus abilities, such as lowering the cost of new animals or building multiple enclosures of the same size. The extra university is another familiar feature with a satisfying upgrade. You’ll still gain an animal icon in your zoo, but also be allowed to deep-dive the deck for specific animal icons. It’s a subtle tinkering that fires up your engine that little bit quicker and mitigates against a slow-moving deck. The six new bonus tiles are also full of zing, whether it’s ignoring animal-card conditions or drawing fresh final-scoring cards.

Of course, the animals are what everyone’s here for. Slippery creatures including sharks, turtles and jellyfish make for more than just vivid photographs. These feature cool abilities unseen before – from Glide (enjoy an effect multiple times when discarding icons), Mark (claim a display card by way of a cute animal meeple) or Camouflage (ignore an animal-card condition). Around half of the pack features Reef Dwellers, which have a new icon: red coral. Each time one of these is played, it triggers the effects of other Reef Dwellers within your zoo, helping to reap multiple rewards. And because you can decide the order, there’s the opportunity to really cash in each time. Once again, the pace is picked up on achieving your goals.

Related Article: The best animal games

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What's Different about Ark Nova: Marine Worlds?

Marine animals naturally need a different type of enclosure: an aquarium. Building has caveats attached, namely only being allowed to have one large and one small per zoo, and often next to water and/or rock. One saving grace is that there’s no need to upgrade the Build action card in order to install an aquarium. An additional bonus is that upon building the first one, you are entitled to a one-off action that lets you move selected animals already in your zoo into the aquarium – allowing for the same switch-aroo functionality seen in the original.

Wave is another newcomer icon. Rather than being activated when playing a card, its benefit kicks in after the display is replenished and a Wave icon card appears. The bottom card is discarded, and a new card drawn. This churns through the deck at a faster pace (handy as Ark Nova does have a substantial stack), while also pushing cards towards the bottom of the display where fewer reputation points are needed to acquire them.

Is Ark Nova: Marine Worlds Worth Buying?

The litmus test for any expansion pack is A) Does it add further dimension and depth to the original? and B) Does it improve upon original rules and mechanics, that although worked well, are now even smoother? Ark Nova: Marine Worlds makes a splash in both departments, enhancing rather than complicating. Special mention must go to Feuerland about the solo-game tile. Although it’s now a mainstay feature of the base game, anyone with a pre-2023 version missed out, so including it in the expansion will save fans from paying for a replacement game unnecessarily. A true act of conservation.

Should you play Ark Nova: Marine Worlds?

It's a Must-Play game.

Ark Nova: Marine Worlds both broadens and enhances the game with a pool of fascinating animals too.

TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED: Wingspan European Expansion

Marine Worlds will whet the appetite of anyone who enjoys expansions that seamlessly complement their original, such as Wingspan’s debut add-on.

What's on the box?

Designer: Mathias Wigge

Publisher: Feuerland Spiele

Time: 90-150m

Players: 1-4

Age: 14+

Price: £39

What’s in the box?

  • 63 Zoo cards
  • 13 Final scoring cards
  • 3 Base conservation project cards
  • 40 Action cards
  • Replacement association board
  • 8 Special enclosures
  • 4 Unique buildings
  • 7 Universities
  • 7 Bonus tiles
  • Solo play tile
  • 3 Kiosk/Pavilion tiles
  • 3 Counters
  • 7 Animal player tokens

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