Ark Nova Marine Worlds board game.

Ark Nova – Marine Worlds Review

Ark Nova Marine Worlds board game.

Name: Ark Nova – Marine Worlds

Year of Release: 2023

Player Count: 1 – 4

Playing Time: 90 – 150 Minutes

Designer: Matthia Wigge

Publisher: Capstone Games

Primary Mechanisms: Set Collection, Tile Placement, Open Drafting

Weight (According to 3.67


Since I was given Ark Nova as a Christmas gift in 2022, I’ve played the game (either in person or using Board Game Arena) exactly 30 times. The only two games that I’ve played more in that same time period is Caper : Europe and Rolling Realms, both of which are much lighter and faster to play. All of this to say that I am a huge fan of the game, so I was naturally excited when an expansion was announced and then was elated when my sister got it for me as a Christmas gift in 2023.

First things first, I would not recommend Ark Nova: Marine Worlds as something a brand-new player to Ark Nova needs. (If you are one of these brand-new players, check out our written review here and our videos here and here.) I’ll discuss this more later on in the review, but I think to get the most out of the expansion, players will need to have a firm grasp on the base model of the game. That being said, if you are already a fan of Ark Nova, I think there are going to be a lot of pieces of Marine Worlds you’re going to enjoy. Read on to find out what Marine Worlds has to offer!

Ark Nova -Marine Worlds new cards.
A selection of some of the new Sea Animal cards.

Sea Animals & Special Enclosures 

Obviously with a name like Marine Worlds, the expansion had to add something of an aquatic nature.  This addition comes in the form of new Sea Animal Cards.  While these cards overall look is similar to the standard Animal Cards found in Ark Nova, there are a few new icons that players need to be aware of.  First, some Sea Animals have a Reef Dweller icon on the right side, that allows players to perform this action when the card is played.  But not only do players trigger the current card’s action, but they also get to perform every other Reef Dweller’s actions in their zoo.  This can lead to a massive number of actions in one turn.  The downside is that this is one more thing that players have to keep up with during their turn and hope they don’t forget to trigger anything.  I find this is one of the main reasons why Marine Worlds is not suitable for new players because there is just too much to keep up with and can easily overwhelm new players.

Two aquarium sizes in Ark Nova Marine Worlds.
A view of the two Aquarium sizes in Marine Worlds.

The second main difference in the Sea Animal Cards is that (most) of them have to be put into a new Special Enclosure, the Aquarium.  Unlike the other Special Enclosures from the base game, the Aquariums come in two sizes: one that covers two spaces, and one that covers five spaces.  I really like that they gave players two different sizes and even allow players to split one animal up over multiple Aquariums.  This definitely gives players some flexibility on where to place their new Sea Animals and makes it easier to ensure that you don’t run out of needed enclosures spaces.

The Sea Animals also have their own Animal Category, represented by an Octopus Icon, and you might be wondering, “Kris, how does this new icon work with Conservation Projects or End-of-Game Scoring Cards, when that icon didn’t exist at the time of the original game being printed?”  Thankfully the designers have created a new icon to symbolize all animals (including Sea Animals) and have re-printed any necessary cards.  Since they are all numbered, it is a relatively painless process to swap out these old cards with the new cards to refresh your game and make it compatible with the expansion.

But we’re not done with cards just yet…

Alternate Action Cards

Alternate action cards in Ark Nova Marine Worlds.
Alternate Action Cards add variable player powers to each game.

This is another area where I can see a new player being thoroughly confused but a veteran will love this new addition.  All five Action Cards now come with four alternate versions.  The instructions outline a way for players to draft these cards so that they play with two of these Alternate Action Cards each game.  If you’re a fan of Variable Player Powers, this is going to be a homerun for you as players will have slightly different perks added to a couple of their actions.  Again, you definitely need to be familiar with the base Action Cards as most of the text explaining them has been relegated to icons on the alternate versions so that there is room for the text to explain the additional powers.  For those who don’t like an asymmetrical angle to the game, you can always play with the standard action cards, foregoing the alternate versions.

New University

New university tile in Ark Nova Marine Worlds.
A new University tile helps players get Animal Icons into their zoo even faster.

While Ark Nova: Marine Worlds is made up of mostly additional cards, there are a few non-card related components in the box.  One of these is a new Association Board that has a minor change to it: a space to hold the brand new University.  This new University tile is actually made up of six versions of it, with each player only able to choose one per game.  These new tiles each have one of the Animal Icons on it, a Research Icon, and a Magnifying Glass Icon.  When a player places this tile into their zoo, they gain one Research Icon, as well as the printed Animal Icon.  On top of that, the Magnifying Glass allows the player to draw card from the deck until they find a card (either an Animal Card or Sponsor Card) that includes the matching Animal Icon and places it into their hand.  Only one player can take one of the new tiles per round so as the game wears on, chances of being able to select the tile you need starts to decrease.

I really like this new University as there are a lot of cards that need a certain Animal Icon in your zoo to be played.  In the base game, these can be tough to get out on the table at the beginning of the game, because you might not be able to draw or afford to get the specific Animal Icon into your zoo.  This new University gives you a chance to grab this icon and give your zoo a much needed jump start.

Alternate Counters and Player Tokens

Alternate counters in Ark Nova Marine Worlds.
No more cubes keeping track of the Conservation Projects you back!

The base game of Ark Nova is beautiful to see on the table, especially as your zoo begins to grow but there was always one part that always nagged me, and that was the excessive use of cubes.  They’re just so….boring.  In Marine Worlds, each color comes with seven Player Tokens to replace some of the cubes, modeled after varying animals.  Blue player is given fish, red is given lemurs, yellow is some type of monkey and black is given wonderfully cute penguins.  There are also Alternate Counters that can be used for the Reputation Track, the Conservation Track, and the Appeal Track.  While none of these are necessarily needed, they all are nice quality of life additions to Ark Nova.


Ark Nova Marine Worlds board game.

If you love Ark Nova but you’re on the fence about Marine Worlds, I would recommend you purchasing it, especially if you like the idea of Alternate Action Cards.  The Sea Animal Cards are beautiful to look at and the Reef Dweller actions give players a chance to chain together a lot of fun situations.  If you have never played Ark Nova, I would suggest you skip Marine Worlds until you are feel comfortable with the base game, and then take the plunge into the deeper side of the pool that is Marine Worlds.


Ratings are based on 5 main criteria: rulebook, setup, components, art & graphic design, and gameplay.  The first 4 criteria are rated 1 to 5 and the gameplay is rated 1 to 10.  These scores culminate in an “overall satisfaction” score that is rated from 1 to 10.  If the reviewed game has both a solo and multiplayer mode, I have assigned scores separately to give context to which mode we enjoy more.  


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Amazon: Ark Nova: Marine Worlds Expansion

Kristofer Solomon

Hey, everyone! I’m Kristofer Solomon and the creator of Board Game Breakdown. I’ve been playing board games since I was little, typically spending days on top of days playing Risk with kids from my neighborhood. As I moved into college, I started playing Magic: the Gathering with a group of guys and my love for board games slid to the wayside as I progressed into gulp adulthood (not to mention a long obsession with World of Warcraft.) Eventually, I fell back into the hobby in its current state when my wife (then girlfriend) bought me a copy of Ticket to Ride: Marklin Edition for my birthday in 2008. This simple to grasp, but strategic train game blew me away. I didn’t realize at the time that board games could be much more than your average game of Sorry or Trouble. We eventually got Catan, Small World, and other well-known titles and the rest is history.

I’m hopeful that the content of this website and its associated YouTube and Instagram channels can be informative to those who are either on the fence about getting a game, or maybe just looking for something new. About 50% of my gaming time is spent solo gaming so I enjoy touching on that subject when I discuss games as this is an area that is typically not focused on.

Thanks to all who spent even a minute perusing this site, it means a lot to me. Happy gaming!

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