Discovering the Depths: Ark Nova Marine Worlds Expansion Review

Explore the depths of Ark Nova’s Marine Worlds expansion with our review. Delve into the new features and challenges, providing a detailed look at the latest additions to this popular game. Join us as we navigate the submerged landscapes and share insights on the gaming experience offered by Ark Nova: Marine Worlds expansion.

Introduction to Ark Nova Marine Worlds Expansion Review

Board game expansions come in several shapes, but we can roughly distinguish two larger groups. Some add extra content that is often modular and thus optional, while others try to polish out the rough edges of the base game by naturally ensconcing in it (shuffle in and forget).

Honestly, I’m not the biggest fan of the first group, as I often find out they don’t bring enough improvement to the game and just complicate things needlessly. I end up preferring to play with just the base content. (Both expansions for 7 Wonders: Duel are good examples. I rate both of them highly, but prefer to play without them.)

Luckily, the expansion for Ark Nova, one of my favorite games of recent years, falls firmly in the second category. In terms of what it adds to the game, I would compare it to The Norwegians expansion for A Feast for Odin. Not only does it add a whole new category of animals, but it also tries to fix some of the core negatives of the original, such as dependence on the card draw and the balance of some cards.

Sea animals are not even the most felt addition as you can easily play a game without even adding a sea animal to your zoo (particularly if no such conservation projects are active). The other small things that improve the quality of gameplay and your enjoyment have a bigger impact.

Therefore, the Marine Worlds title might even be a bit misleading, as it suggests that the expansion adds just new content, while it is one of those shuffle-in-and-forget expansions trying to improve the core gameplay. Let’s see exactly what it’s new and whether it succeeds in improving Ark Nova.

Ark Nova Marine Worlds Expansion Review Box
Ark Nova: Marine Worlds is published by Feaurland Spiele, but this time, I bought the box myself (yay!)

Marine Animals

As mentioned, the most obvious addition is the new animal category, marine animals. Fish, algae, plankton, octopi – everything you can find in an ocean. These animals need a place to stay, so two new buildings, a small and large aquarium are introduced and you place marine animals in them in a similar fashion that you would birds in an aviary.

Both of those aquariums must be placed next to a water hex, but there’s also a special building called The Underwater tunnel, which is placed in two water hexes and can also hold marine animals.

Many new animals are “reef dwellers”, which means their ability activates not only when you place them in your zoo, but also every time you place another “reef dweller”. This can produce interesting and powerful combos, but it’s inevitably highly dependent on the luck of the draw, as it’s not something you can plan.

Another interesting addition is the wave icon that all marine animals have on the card. This is just an indicator to discard one more card from the display and replenish it. It’s one of the tools to help with the card turnaround, which is, with all the new cards added, needed even more than before.

New University

The new university has a noticeable impact on the gameplay. Since Ark Nova is mostly about competing for base conservation projects, it was sometimes difficult to gather the necessary icons, particularly if the card draw did not cooperate.

Now, the fourth university immediately grants an icon of an animal category of your choice. Moreover, it lets you search the deck for the first animal in that category. This can grant you two icons of the same category in a short time, dramatically helping compete in the races for conservation projects.

There’s a trade-off, though. You can still have only three universities on your map, so you need to decide which of the four you will take this game, which also helps diversify and specialize your play. Moreover, each animal category university is only available once, so if you take the herbivore uni, no one else can take it in this game.

Ark Nova Marine Worlds Expansion Review Cards
New cards. Note the wave icon and the reef dweller icon on Sharknose Goby. Also, why doesn’t the marine biologist card come with a picture of the most famous one, George Costanza? 😉

New Action Cards

Talking about specializing, new action cards allow you exactly that. In each game, you will draft two custom action cards which you will use for the entirety of the game. That’s the number the manual suggests. You can, of course, use this module as you please – or not at all.

The cards are very similar to the vanilla action cards, but they allow the action to be just a tad stronger (both sides, base and upgraded). You place animals cheaper, you don’t need to discard cards when you take cards, you can place an extra kiosk when building, etc.

The abilities are very interesting and useful, although I’m not sure they’re exactly balanced, as some seem more universally useful, while others are more situational. But as said, if you want an even playing field, you can always play with stock cards.

One other thing I wished for, was a more detailed description of what the ability does, as the rulebook description can be a bit ambiguous. For instance, for one action card (for example, Animals 3, as well as the new bonus tule on reputation space 15), the English explanation was not specific enough, so I went to see the original German writing, which was ambiguous as well. Finally, I found the answer on the BGG forums. Maybe another pass of editing wouldn’t hurt.

Rebalanced Cards

In addition, several of the now irrelevant conservation projects and sponsors are removed from the game and new ones are added to replace them. Some of them are replaced just for rebalancing sake, it’s always nice to see that the developer cares about the game and its long-term appeal.

However, there are still some problematic cards left (i.e. the notorious Sun Bear, which can be used as a strong combo activator for the last round), so I’m not completely satisfied with the result. Or maybe my shuffle just appeals to the Sun Bear and he comes out too often. 🙂

Oh, and as icing on the expansion’s cake, let’s not forget extra animeeples and scoring markers that add some bling (that many players added with third-party solutions before), but otherwise don’t change the gameplay.

Ark Nova Marine Worlds Expansion Review Featured large
shuffle, shuffle

Gameplay Impressions

Overall, the gameplay impressions are very positive, but they were also very positive just with the base game. The new animal category is a welcomed addition, but it’s not like the game was desperate for more cards. The deck was already too thick, now it’s just ridiculous – good luck shuffling it.

Luckily, the new mechanisms (new university, the wave icon) that help mitigate the luck of the draw seem to work, and the cards on display also seem to rotate faster. At least it looked like that for the first couple of games. Obviously, a lot more further testing is needed to see how it works in the long run.


I feel Marine Worlds is a nicely rounded expansion, the one that fixes some of the shortcomings of the original, and also the one that you shuffle in and forget about it. I don’t regret getting it and I’m certainly going to keep it in for all future plays.

Do I recommend buying it? Yes and no. If you buy it, you won’t regret it and it’s certainly worth its price. But unless you’re playing Ark Nova regularly, you won’t miss a single thing from it.

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