Ark Nova is a game centred around the development of your zoo by placing animals in enclosures, partnering with sponsors, managing your reputation, and supporting conservation projects. These mechanics are relatively simple by themselves, but they link together and interact in such a way that you will need to balance all of them and invest in them at the right time to claim the victory. I have played Ark Nova many times, and in this short post, I will attempt to share some of the things I try and do in the game and when I aim to have them done by.
These tips will focus on the early game, as Ark Nova has such a huge pack of cards that your strategy will quickly become specific to the individual game. However, there are some tips that I can give you to aim for in the early game, though some of these strategies may be easier than others as every game of Ark Nova is likely to be wildly different. Note that I am keeping the tips to just the base game to keep them accessible to all players.
Tip 1: Move Up 2 On The Conservation Track As Early As Possible
It is always a good idea to try to move up on the conservation track, as the flipping of one of your cards to side 2, the pink side, will significantly upgrade it. There are a multitude of ways to achieve this, from reputation moves on animals and sponsors to sponsoring a conservation project. I would personally attempt to achieve the moves through sponsoring a base conservation project, as I will explain next.
Tip 2: Sponsor A Conservation Project
It is always a good idea to sponsor a conservation project at a low level early in the game, ideally one that you aren’t planning on concentrating on later in the game. It is moderately luck based as to how early you will be able to get this done, as your hand size of 3 and limited money will give you little flexibility for early strategy, so don’t aim for this to the detriment of everything else.
That said, the sponsoring of conservation projects in Ark Nova is highly important as it not only gives you moves on the conservation track, but also allows you to gain bonuses from the left of your game mat which can be incredibly helpful especially at the start and middle of the game. If I am playing on Map A then I usually go for the bonus giving a move up the conservation track in each income phase. This is because, especially at the start of the game when people are heading to the break a lot, you will gain a lot of conservation track moves, which will be worth a lot of points over the course of the game.
The conservation track moves are worth more than the money (in my opinion) as they can give you extra bonuses as you pass the tiles and each is worth at least 3 moves on the appeal track (beige).
Tip 3: Break Lots During The Early Game
Simply put, you are poor at the start of the game and this will continue for a while. This means that you will need to break as much as possible in the early game to generate enough money to place animals. The easiest way to do this is by working your sponsors card up, then using it to get some money, which simultaneously moves the game more quickly towards the break.
Tip 4: Don’t Place Large Animals At The Start Of The Game
Money is really tight at the start of Ark Nova, so you need to be very careful about how you spend it. This means that it is more efficient to place small animals as your 25 starting money allows you to build the enclosure and animal. This means that you can move up the appeal track slightly, which increases your money by a lot at the start of the game. I would normally wait until at least 4 turns in before going for a large animal as it will usually take about 20 money to build and place an animal that takes up 4 space and about 25 money to build and place an animal that takes up 5 space. As you usually have about 10 appeal after the first few rounds, this will still take 2 goes to build up enough money.
Tip 5 – Flip The Association Card
While flipping any cards as quickly as you can is a good idea, there are some cards in Ark Nova which unlock specific actions that you tend to use earlier than others. I have found that it is generally a good idea to flip your association card with the first card upgrade you achieve as this allows you to make donations to animal welfare programs, significantly boosting you up the green conservation track relative to other players. The bonuses from upgrading the other cards, such accessing the higher reaches of the reputation track (from cards), are more useful later in the game as, while they give you more bonuses from the upgraded actions themselves, you will most likely not see as much benefit from them as you do from association.
Tip 6 – Increase Hand Size
One thing you will likely get annoyed with at the start of Ark Nova is your limited hand size. This makes it hard to plan any large moves or search for cards to fit your strategy, as the starting hand size of 3 is very restrictive, given the high frequency of breaks near the start of the game. This is why it is a good plan to work the association action up to 4 and take the reputation and increased hand size as soon as possible, as this not only helps you retain more cards, but also stops the other players from being able to build up cards. This is also a good thing to aim for, as one way to take it to the break is with the cards action, which will force your hand count up higher than you may have liked.
Overall, Ark Nova is a very diverse game where there are a multitude of strategies and goals for you to work towards. The large deck of cards and unique card movement mechanic means that there is always something for you to be thinking about and planning. Hopefully this has suggested some of the basic strategies you can employ, and sets you up for many enjoyable hours playing Ark Nova.