Ark Nova: Marine Worlds review— Waterworlds

In my opinion, there are three things that a good expansion can do: be a physical game patch to fix some issues that play testing hadn’t revealed before printing, add modality to make the game more versatile, or simply add content for those that have played the base game to death. Ark Nova: Marine Worlds does the last without having any negative effects on the game, which is quite impressive considering the sheer volume of cards in the base game that could easily have had broken interactions with anything introduced without care. The additions generally fall under one of three categories: new cards, new action cards, and general quality of life improvements.

The majority of the new cards tie into the new aquarium mechanic, which functions similar to reptile house in the main game- the 2 and 5 size aquariums are special enclosures that don’t require an upgraded build. The vast majority of the animals that go into them are fish that are understandably exclusive, but a couple have the option to go into a regular enclosure, which then works the same as any other hybrid animal from the base game. Some of the fish have a reef dweller ability that’ll trigger each time a reef dweller is played into your zoo, which aren’t exactly super powerful on their own but can become quite the payoff if you make a point to specialize in the reefbois, leading to an interesting addition to player interaction. While you’re only slightly rewarded for grabbing one, it does behoove the table to deny a player their eighth. Add in multiple new ways to ditch cards from your hand for fun and profit, and hate drafting is much more valid than it ever was in the base game. I was initially worried that adding so many new cards to an already large deck would make pursuing strategies that required specific animal types impossible, but most of the new cards have the wave icon, which has you move the market an additional time and add a new card every time it’s revealed, which means you’ll definitely be seeing more cards in any given game than you did in the base game.

Few people are going to be writing home about the quality of life tweaks, but they’re certainly appreciated. Most of them are iconography changes or numbers tweaks to balance some scoring cards, which was probably necessary, especially with the dump of new cards and icons into the game. My favorite is pretty damn minor, the addition of player-specific animeeples that replace your cubes in the specific use of conservation projects. It’s kinda nothing, but now you’ve got cats, fish, monkeys, and penguins that you move around instead of boring cubes, and I don’t want to be your friend if you don’t like that. There’s also new specific tokens for each of the tracks instead of the wood hexes, but that’s less hype. The big addition that I’d lump in this category is the animal university, which sits on the association board as a wild, but when taken becomes a specific animal icon from the supply along with letting you dig through the deck until you see an animal with that icon to add to your hand. Not only does this enable icon specific strategies that easily fell apart if the deck wasn’t agreeable before, but it also adds a hot ticket item to games with animal icon specific conservation goals. It would easily be my favorite mechanical addition if it wasn’t for the new special action card draft.

Setup with Marine Worlds has an extra step: deal everyone 3 of the new special action cards and draft them, choosing 2 of the 3 you end up with to replace the basic versions. They don’t do anything particularly insane, they’re just nice additions to the basic abilities of the cards. Stuff like selling a boost token when you activate your sponsors card, or mildly more efficient card acquisition. This sort of build your own asymmetry is growing more popular (see Kutnà Hora), and I’m a huge fan. The draft happens after you’ve seen the zoo map, action, and conservation setup, which lets you decide which parts of the game are most important for you to focus on in order to succeed. This is quite explicitly not a module for newcomers, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend having anyone make these decisions until they had several plays under their belt, but it feels nice to be making strategic decisions that shake up the foundational gameplay elements before the game even starts.

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Nick grew up reading fantasy novels and board game rules for fun, so he accepted he was a dork at an early age. When he's not busy researching the intricacies of a hobby he'll never pick up, Nick can be caught attempting to either cook an edible meal or befriend local crows.



Ark Nova

Review Guidelines

Marine Worlds is my Platonic ideal of a board game expansion: I already know I love Ark Nova, I've just played it so much that some minor quibbles have started to irritate me, and I know certain strategies are stronger than others, and Marine Worlds shakes things up while smoothing those rough edges.

Nick Dubs

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

See below for our list of partners and affiliates:


To Top