Ark Nova‘s scoring is a strange one. We count two sets of points, each from a different end of the board. When their markers meet, the remaining players take an extra turn and then the game ends. This unusual setup, as well as the final calculation involving “target numbers” left many baffled, giving ground to all sorts of misconceptions and theories. But, surprising even myself, these twists are a disguise for one of the simplest scoring mechanisms.

###### BEYOND POINTS

If we look at the way Ark Nova calculates our score, we can see that only two factors are involved. It asks us to look at our conservation points, translate them into appeal and then calculate the difference between both. Nothing else is taken into account. Hence, it doesn’t matter when or how markers cross each other. All that matters for our score is how many of each type of point we have.

Since one is subtracted from the other, it also means that both conservation and appeal can be directly compared. In fact, if we look at the scoring track, we’ll see that one conservation point equals, roughly, to three points of appeal. We also know that our score is zero when both makers meet and that there are 114 appeal spaces. We can conclude that we start at -114 points and slowly climb back to a positive score.

There’s a small difference at the beginning of one of the tracks, though. At the very beginning, conservation is only worth two appeal, which means our score will be about ten points lower than we could expect. But once we consider all these elements, we get a very clear view of how the score is calculated. We can write it down like this:

This is mathematically equivalent to the “target number” shenanigans of the manual, but I prefer it because it’s quite revealing. It more clearly shows the relationship between appeal and conservation and makes it obvious that the low or even negative scores most players get at the end of Ark Nova are an illusion.

###### IMPLICATIONS

Now that we have a clear picture of how the scoring works, we can more easily understand its implications. After all, the win condition is the most important factor in how a game is played. It’s the push that sets the whole experience in motion and affects everything from the strategy to its message. Let’s look at how its scoring system affects Ark Nova.

First, like I mentioned in my review, Ark Nova is a race. It truly is about getting 124 points as quickly as possible. The vast majority of matches will be won by whoever does that first. However, it’s also possible to come back from behind. If we score high enough during the extra round, we can overtake the player who triggered it. Keep that in mind whenever the match seems close.

Second, negative scores are normal. It doesn’t mean you played poorly. Given the way scoring works, it’s normal for every non-winning player to be in the negatives. After all, we do start with them. Scoring minus four sounds worse than scoring a hundred and ten, but, mathematically, they are the same thing. Most of the time, only the winner will be in the positives.

Third, conservation isn’t, strictly speaking, better than appeal. After the initial stretch , there’s little difference between three tickets and one green shield. So if you just want points, a couple plain animals might be better. Now, the rate on conservation is usually very good and the track bonuses are huge, so don’t ignore them! Just keep in mind that, when push comes to shove, you are just looking for the highest possible number.

Lastly, remember you give one extra round to all other players when you close the game. Unless you have a huge advantage, you may want to wait before crossing the breaking point. Rather, it’s often better to end your turn right next to it and then jump ahead when the next one comes. This way, you are further away from the minimum score of zero and it’s harder for your opponents to catch up. Don’t lose the game on its last step!

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1. Mark says:

The ending of the game is just odd.
First of all there is the possibility of one player just getting a turn less, always a bit weird in a game with not all that many turns.
Secondly in a tight race you can get this situation where being the one to end it is disadvantageous.

I much prefer a game with a sharper ending where for example player to pass first get’s a small bonus or the game ends on the spot to award sprinting towards the goal instead of getting into these weird ‘bicycle race sprint’ ending where you wiggle for the best way to pass the finish line. It just leaves a bit of a sour ending as usually it doesn’t matter anyway but it just let’s the end drag potentially.

1. Erik Twice says:

It is indeed a bit odd. While most of our matches weren’t tight enough for it to matter, we have seen a few instances of sandbagging just to get an extra turn.

2. What a weird system! But apparently it’s complicated enough to make reddit go “Nooo you can’t just say 1 ticket = 1 point!”

Reminds me of A Feast for Odin where you start with basically infinite minus points and go up from there.