Ark & Noah – A Game Drenched in Biblical Themes
Crashing lightning, booming thunder, and thousands upon thousands of gallons of water pour from the sky. The drumming of torrential downpour on the roof of the Ark is calming in its regularity, as the unending rows of matched pair animals bray and paw nervously. There is a loud creaking as the rising water level begins to lift the massive boat off its perch, a dry dock in the middle of the desert. You’re in Noah’s Ark. But how did you get here? Are you Shem, Ham, Japheth, or are you the patriarchal head, Noah himself?
This week we’re going to take a look at Ark & Noah, a role selection game by Stefano Groppi and published in the US by Eagle-Gryphon Games that relies on tried-and-true mechanics to bring together the elements of the story of Noah and his Ark. You are tasked with building corrals and pairing animals, male and female. Race against your opponents to gain points by building the best corrals and pairing the most (and largest!) animals.
Ark & Noah borrows mechanics from a number of different games – most notably variable phase order (from games like Puerto Rico) and corral building/animal pairing (from games like Agricola or Zooloretto). The goal of Ark & Noah is to acquire the necessary materials (pitch and boards) to build corral sections. Players can place paired animals in completed corrals, provided the corral and animal sizes match. One of the unique aspects of Ark & Noah is shared player ownership of these corrals.
The overriding mechanic of Ark & Noah is that of a role selection game. In Ark & Noah, all players select their chosen action before any are adjudicated. Non-selected actions receive additional victory point tokens to entice players to select them in later rounds.
The actions available to be selected are pitch making, animal collecting, food gathering, tile exchange, cutting wood, building the Ark, and loading the Ark. (Note: There are two versions of Ark & Noah in the box. The “quick game” version eliminates food and pitch, simplifies building mechanics, and drops the mandatory round count to 8. If you’re playing with younger or newer players, this is absolutely the way to go.)
Once each player has selected an action, the actions resolve from left-to-right along the rainbow. Each of the other players also get an opportunity to perform the same action as the chooser. However, the other players’ benefits are not as good as the benefits of the player who chose the role. (For example: The leftmost action is gathering pitch. The player who selected this action gathers three pitch cubes, while every other player gathers one.)
Players who have acquired pitch and boards can add parts to the Ark by building. The player who chooses the build action can build eight sections, everyone else can build five. Corrals cannot be larger than four squares and are considered completed when they’re fully enclosed. Once a corral is completed, players cannot subdivide it. Pitch cubes are required to connect the boards that make up the outer edge of the ark.
While working on building these corrals, players can acquire new animals. By choosing the animal collecting action, players draw male and female animals randomly from separate female\male blind bags. The goal is to get mated pairs so they can be loaded into corrals when they’re ready.
Each tile in the completed corral must have a food token in it before the corral can be loaded. Acquiring food is an action, as is loading the Ark. Loading points are used to both load food into the corral spaces and to load animals into the corrals. Players gain victory points by loading food and animals. When a corral is loaded, players get additional points for each board making up the corral that they placed. Because of the variable phase mechanic of the game, players can work together to load a matched pair if one player has one of the pair and a different player has the other.
Ark & Noah ends when two conditions are completed: the Ark must be complete (pitch and boards all the way around the outside edges of the Ark boards) and at least ten rounds (8 in the “quick game”) have happened. After this, players tally their final victory points and the player with the highest point total wins!
I really think there are a lot of great mechanics in Ark & Noah, and the variable phase order mechanic was familiar and comfortable from Puerto Rico. This is a great mechanic that promotes player engagement during other people’s turns.
I also liked the matched pair dynamic, allowing players to collaborate to load the corrals as soon as both of a certain animal were anywhere in play. Groppi does a commendable job weaving the competitive and collaborative strategy elements together. It becomes possible to confound an opponent with a well placed corral board.
The art is thematically tight, with nearly every element an homage in some way to the story of Noah. Its well thought out, sufficient, and understandable, even if not a masterpiece of design.
Ultimately, though, this allegiance to theme drags down the entire gaming experience. Each time we played, regardless of player count, we ended up focusing on building the outside of the ark to finish the game. It makes sense to require a boat be complete to float, but this onerous requirement resulted in every game feeling too drawn out. As a result, each play ended with a bad taste in the players’ mouths.
This also means Ark & Noah won’t work well for kids. The game reliably languishes toward the end, so despite its 8+ rating, it’s almost guaranteed younger players will lose interest.
Mercifully, the two-player version of Ark & Noah eschews the inner sections of the Ark board. With just a bow and stern the game moves faster, but this (or something like it) should be considered for games of more players. There is a balance that isn’t quite struck in this game. The completed board image above is from a two-player game.
Additionally, there are better individual implementations of each of the mechanics in Ark and Noah in other games. The whole is not greater than the sum of its parts here, and the combination of mechanics doesn’t do the game favors. Coupled with the build requirements that make the game longer than it needs to be, Ark & Noah becomes a game we really want to love, but don’t. Unless the theme drives your interest (and that’s okay!), there are probably better places to look for your game night experiences.
The Family Gamers received a review copy of Ark & Noah from Eagle-Gryphon Games.