Arche Nova from Tierra del Fuego games is considered the top title in the current year. The test reveals why this is so: the finely interlocked mechanical mix invites you to experiment and optimize. Only when you understand it, does the strategic board game pick up speed. Until then, it takes some time, because Arche Nova first requires immersing yourself in the game idea, concept and topic. Especially with the latter, however, there is also a problem.

The premise of the board game Arche Nova, published in this country by the Verlag Feuerland Spiele, sounds like a shallow game of beautiful building: players build a modern, scientifically managed zoo. They create enclosures, offer animals a new home and support species protection projects all over the world. There are around 250 cards in the board game box - the number symbolizes the complexity that unfolds the deeper the player delves into the concept of the board game.  

Arche Nova: Between connoisseur and expert

The Arche Nova box is heavy. Once you have popped out all the punched sheets and put the material with the rest of the box on the table, it looks overwhelming at first. For the price of around 65 euros there is a lot of cardboard and wood. Plastic has at least been largely avoided, even if the enclosed plastic sorting system does not quite conform to the basic theme of the board game - after all, it comes in handy with the muddle of tiles and meeples.

The introduction to Arche Nova takes time, the instructions are solidly worked out, but makes the so important immersion in the board game concept unnecessarily difficult. You like to persevere, after all, the expectations are high with all the advance praise - and indeed: the basic rules are in place, you are happily tinkering and optimizing.

Arche Nova has a tremendous presence on the table, but this is primarily due to the material and structure of the game, not necessarily the implementation of the theme: animals, species protection, zoo - that literally screams for colorful, pretty and loving attention to detail.

Ark Nova review board game

Just type in "feeding giraffe" in "iStock" and you have the motif for this card. Too simple? Photo: Volkman

The grandiose cover of the box does not match what is on offer. The game plan is large, but at best practical; the placement tiles are designed to be more image-intensive, but no real highlights. The cards are a ray of hope: Fortunately, there are many of them, because the look is right, even if you don't win a design award with polished stock photos these days, even if the mass of cards included with the enormous work and excuse expenses.

Arche Nova seems to want to strike a middle ground - fortunately, Tierra del Fuego is not quite as shabby as the look of a terraforming Mars. However, Arche Nova is not really charming on the table. Possibly for good reason after all: the interlocking mechanics demand an overview from the players. That works better with a sober look than with candy-colored picture fireworks.

Tough entry and poor appearance? How can a board game with these attributes generate such hype around itself? The simple answer: It has to be playful and convincing.

Ark Nova game test board game

Meeple, tokens, cards - there is at least a lot going on on the board. Photo: Volkmann

It is important to get involved in attraction, reputation and species protection on the scoring bars. Players build their own zoo, but also keep an eye on the cards in hand, from which there are science projects, sponsors and animals. Depending on the category, the cards have different effects. Animals grant victory points and special effects, sponsors ensure permanent bonuses. The scientific projects earn points on the species protection bar. That sounds simple and basically it is. Because the action system around cards and strength ranks has details, but the ranking order changes after a move, this creates a nice flow of the game that encourages pondering. In principle, the respective moves are dealt with quickly: As an active player, you don't do much. Instead of quantity, the actions are about class.

Choose, but choose wisely

When it is a player's turn, he chooses his action from the five action cards in front of him with the respective strength. It is important to plan ahead, because the row of cards continues to slide. As simple as the action phase may be, it is the actual start of the board game Arche Nova: Because everything is somehow connected on several levels, you have to invest a lot of brainpower to get the most out of your action.

Housing animals is subject to requirements, which in turn can sometimes not be met immediately, but only in the course of the next moves. Because that is foreseeable, you have to plan. Arche Nova is a chunk and not suitable for casual gamers, even connoisseurs are sometimes faced with challenges. A zoo board game that isn't also a family game? That is at least seldom in the scene, which makes Arche Nova a specialty despite its thematic weaknesses.

Test to Ark Nova board game

In the process, the cards in the middle are revealed. Photo: Volkmann

The board game also mixes elements that you might know from other titles: the action selection from the simplified Civilization board game from Fantasy Flight Games or Asmodee Germany, while the card handling is from Frixelius' Terraforming Mars. Similarities to the latter in particular are visible on a strategic level, but in the end Arche Nova turns out to be the better of the two board games. Placement game fans will be satisfied by the small puzzle part on their own zoo board, in particular due to the asymmetrical structure of the tableaus. The differences are only at the level of detail, but have a noticeable effect. Starting with other zoos in later games therefore necessarily leads to tactical adjustments. In any case, it increases the replay value enormously.

Arche Nova hits those players who have already played several introductory games with force. Then the successful symbolism replaces the exquisite knowledge of the rules, the flow of the game emerges, everyone is tacting. The latter for itself. Arche Nova is not particularly interactive. You have to like that. The rather superficial card interactions are also a level that the board game would not necessarily have needed. In the end, however, it is quite satisfactory to assemble a working engine from card combos.


Number of players: 1 to 4
Age: from 14 years
Playing time: 110 to 180 minutes
Difficulty: medium
Long-term motivation: high
Genre: Strategic Board Game
Sub-genre: Euro board game
Core mechanisms: card management, placement game, engine

Authors: Mathias Wigge
Illustrations: Dennis Lohausen, Loïc Billiau, Steffen Bieker
Publisher: Feuerland Spiele
Official Website: Link
Year of publication: 2021
Language: German
Cost: 65 Euro 


Arche Nova sometimes leaves players at a loss at the beginning, strategies do not want to be developed, the process stalls - and then, after a few rounds or, better still, a few games, unlimited fun sets in. This is a curse and a blessing at the same time, because this complex board game is designed to land multiple times on the table. In the fast-paced board game scene, which is now packed with releases, this is a challenge in itself. Fortunately, Arche Nova also plays great with two people, but it is better with three. For four people, the board game about species protection gets out of hand, especially when there is extensive pondering. The downtime is sometimes annoying because the game time drifts into the endless.

If you don't have anyone and are interested in Arche Nova - be it because of the topic, the concept or the genre - you can tackle the Tierra del Fuego title as a very good solo game on your own. In any case, this is not a shortcoming, on the contrary. Modern board games become more attractive through solo parts. Some critics may be bothered by this in the course of the definition of a parlor game, but today a parlor game also includes the exchange within a community as a social group - you become part of something, although you play it alone. 

Arche Nova is undoubtedly one of the best board games of the current year. The mix of Civilization, Terraforming Mars and Rajas of the Ganges is popular, feels playfully round, but does not achieve the brilliance of games à la Gaia Projekt. The strength of Arche Nova lies in the interlocking of the mechanics and in the diversity of the individual games: each game is different, unique - playful and therefore tactical. Although the zoo board game merely rearranges known mechanisms into a complete work, it feels new. Only five cards virtually control the complex moves - this contrast of few options and a lot of effect is terrific. With every move, Arche Nova becomes more profound - and sometimes even to some extent interactive. For example, if you snatch a card from an opponent's display. Otherwise one usually takes little notice of what the other zoo managers are up to.  

One could be disturbed by the rampant jumble of materials in combination with the few options for action: (too) many cards meet (too) few options for action. Coupled with the noticeable happiness factor, the strategic component sometimes suffers. It's no different with Terraforming Mars, where countless extensions had been readjusted and a very good board game was perfected - even if the large number of add-ons watered down the game. For Arche Nova there is therefore justified hope for extensions to rework the basic elements. 

Arche Nova is a highlight of the past SPIEL'21 in Essen. It's not perfect overall, but it's close at least on a mechanical level. There is still criticism: the presence is powerful, but staid; The constant comparison of symbols is a necessity that by no means pleases everyone; and the playing time is marginal for the result determination, which is irrelevant at the end. Ark Nova lives through the course of the game, not through winning or losing. It draws on its sometimes brilliant connections and the need to constantly plan ahead. The fact that interaction between the players is almost obsolete can be seen as a drawback, but that does not spoil personal gaming fun. Do you even look at the opposing tableaus in the course of the game? At most out of curiosity - not because it is absolutely necessary. Is that a shame? Yes and no, after all, Arche Nova is predestined to be a great solo board game at the same time.

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Tierra del Fuego Games 31012 Arche Nova, ages 14+ Tierra del Fuego Games 31012 Arche Nova, from 14 years * Currently no reviews 49,99 EURAmazon Prime

Last updated on 26.05.2023/XNUMX/XNUMX / Affiliate Links / Images from the Amazon Product Advertising API. * = Affiliate links. Images from Amazon PA API