I’ve just recently got into Ark Nova with its huge array of beautiful animal cards in which you are charged with curating a Zoo whilst supporting various eco-projects and, indeed, releasing some back into the wild. It reminded me of other card-stacked games with wildlife or ecological themes so I asked the Zatu bloggers to come up with some of the best.
Here's what they delivered on some Ecology based board games.
Ark Nova – Andy Broomhead
Ark Nova fits in comfortably when we think about saving the world with cards – this game has them to spare, with over 200 zoo cards alone coming in the jam-packed box.
This is a table hog for sure, but that’s not just focused on you grabbing as many animals as you can and jamming them together in whatever way you can. A good zoo is a centre of conservation, education and research, helping to protect and preserve species of wildlife from across the globe and helping more people to truly understand the magnificent creatures we share our planet with.
This comes through loud and clear in not only the plentiful cards, but the mechanisms in the game. You’re rewarded for research, praised for partnering with zoos on other continents, and actively encouraged to support conservation efforts for various different animals.
You can just sit down and play, taking whatever cards you can afford, though you run the risk of ending up with a zoo similar to my wife’s – a massive amount of reptiles, a playground and a couple of monkeys far away from everything else.
The rewarding element comes from the cards that give you complimentary effects, drawing in more African animals, supported by the habitats you’ve created, scoring big on a conservation project for an impressive diversity of species, whilst progressing research makes the game’s restrictions feel less overwhelming.
You can argue that luck of the draw plays a part in this game – and it does – but being presented with so many natural wonders in an almost endless deck of cards really opens up the possibilities for you as a player and offers a reminder of why conservation is so important to us too.
Wingspan – Andre Stern
Because Wingspan has been so hugely successful it makes people say ‘wow, there really is a game for every theme, isn’t there?’ Many people trying this with scepticism or through curiosity end up staying for the sheer quality of both art and gameplay.
In Wingspan, you’ll be curating your bird reserve, trying to use the right food to attract the most valuable winged tenants in order to score points based on their habitats, nest types and number of laid eggs. The research put into the theme is astounding. Each of the 170 unique bird cards is not only gorgeous, but educational as well, as they present you with information about the region the bird lives in, its scientific name, its wingspan – and those seemingly throwaway pieces of information are worked into bonus points at the end of the game as you may be scoring for any bird whose name contains the name of a colour, or who feeds only on berries, etc.
On top of the superb artwork and component quality – you’ll see how tactile the cards are - Wingspan has extraordinary gameplay. While there is a winner at the end, it is not ultra competitive, player interaction is minimum. It is an engine building game, where each bird you play to your tableau will be adding an effect to a chain that will be played out each time you activate it. So your turns start very short, but as you play the right cards at the right places, you’ll eventually be gaining resources, drawing new cards, laying eggs, all in one go. End game objectives are randomized too, so you’ll always have to adapt to the game, rather than relying on a strategy that works every time, which adds variety to different playthroughs.
For those into solo gaming, it has an extraordinary solo mode as well. Wingspan may not turn you into a real-world bird watcher, but you will be coming back to play it again.
Terraforming Mars - Neil Parker
A Red Card to a Red Landscape
Who would have thought it? Cultivating life on Mars through a huge mass of cards! But don’t let a game so heavily based on drawing and playing cards to terraform a planet put you off. The theme is secondary to the competitive gameplay.
In Terraforming Mars, players develop the landscape on Mars, cultivating habitation and green spaces, as well creating oceans and bringing the planet into the goldilocks zone. Whilst the players in this sense collaborate to save Mars from continued desolation, the reality is that they are competing to be the corporation to best dominate the political landscape and economic landscape.
The key feature of Terraforming Mars, no matter what map boards and expansion rules you use, is the sheer volume of cards in play. Cards are the key and there is a great variety in what they offer and each game can be so very different because the draw deck is random.
This can be frustrating being so random, meaning good, expensive cards can be revealed very early on and not get played. Still, in a card heavy game, you have a decent hand size limit, so you can hold cards back for use later in the game.
The volume and variety of cards is a major asset to the game. There are many options to think of, action chains to build and all of them help in some way develop the planet.
If you like a competitive game, with great variety each time, where your actions can build and create as well as interact and impact on your opponents, then Terraforming Mars is a must play game and you can imagine you are doing good work for the future of humanity.
Evolution – New World - Favouritefoe
Saving the world with a deck of cards sounds like a tall order. Luckily for us, the cards in Evolution New World are HUGE, and they have some pretty world (or at least species) altering powers!
The premise is simple – take a basic lizard and add cool traits to it so that it becomes stronger, faster, and more resilient to opponents’ predators. But souping up these salamanders will be for nothing if you can’t feed them and give them the shelter they need. So it’s basically evolve or go extinct!
Hand management in this game is key. And each card is multi-use, so every round you must decide whether to add lizards or add traits to your existing species. But there are two traits on each card, and you can only add one of them. So it’s Darwinian decision making and it’s all on you! What’s cool is that predators can only feed on other animals sharing some of their basic traits. And as you can see your opponents’ species evolving, you can try to protect your own by diversifying. There are also some traits that you play on opponents’ species. Beware, however, as some can come back to bite you!
The artwork in this game is gorgeous and the wooden tokens are lovely. There is a long list of traits which can feel a little overwhelming to begin with. But there’s a handy reference guide, a player aid, and after a few games they quickly become familiar. If I had to chose a world saving game, Evolution New World would definitely be on my list!
(NB: Published by Crow Games, this title is a follow up to Evolution – The Origin of Species (distinct from the Evolution series that includes Oceans)).
Earth – Kirsty Hewitt
Nature is my favourite theme for a game and engine building is one of my favourite mechanisms. So I was really excited when I found out about Earth. It helped that the artwork throughout was gorgeous!
With a big stack of nature themed cards you are trying to build a tableau and score points. Every round you pick one of four different actions to carry out. All the other players then get to take a less powerful version of the action you have selected. This means that there is always something to do on every player’s turn. As the game progresses you also get to activate card abilities of the same colour as the action selected. You might start off by getting some soil (currency). But by the end of the game, you will have a large range of abilities to use each turn.
All the cards in the deck can influence the points you score. Some are flora which only have a point value. Some flora allow you to add growth or sprouts for more points. Other cards, such as terrain cards, will score you points if you meet their conditions. For example some cards need to have other cards around them in your tableau to score. There are also animal cards which score when you meet certain criteria.
There is so much replayability in Earth. From the massive stack of cards you work through during the game, to the island and climate cards you start with. There are a lot of options. I have played this a number of times in quick succession and have had different cards come up every time. While the stack of cards can seem overwhelming at first, I love the variety it provides!
Cascadia – Pete Bartlam
Cascadia is a region in Western North America stretching along the coast from the US states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho up through the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Yukon Territory. It’s temperate, mountain and forest scenery is home to abundant wildlife, in our case specifically: Grizzly Bear, Roosevelt Elk, Chinook Salmon, Red-Tailed Hawk and Red Fox and also, apparently, home to designer Randy Flynn and most of the design team members. This fact shines through in how lovingly the whole package is crafted. It’s the game that gives me most pleasure on opening.
Cascadia has, not stacks of cards, but towers of tiles beautifully depicted by Beth Sobel. It’s essentially a tile-laying puzzle and token placing game where you have to create acceptable habitats for the five fauna to thrive. There’s five types of terrain: Mountains, Forests, Prairies, Wetlands and Rivers. Each terrain supports wildlife tokens as depicted on them. Generally the tiles have two different terrains and support two or three different creatures. The exceptions are the Keystone Tiles that shows only one terrain and can support just one animal and gain you a Nature Token if you populate it.
Game turns are quick and each player has 20. You select 1 tile from the choice of 4 and usually the animal token alongside it – but if you have a Nature Token you can cash that in to take a different token. You then place your tile trying to match to others in your layout – each player has their own – and separately place your animal token. You score for the largest connected region of each terrain and for various creature combinations as depicted on the Wildlife scoring cards.
There are 21 different Wildlife scoring cards so you can create all sorts of scenic splendour to beautify the environment.
So, can we save the World with stacks of cards? I don’t know but at least they’re not plastic! 😊