Mathis Wigge is the designer of Ark Nova, a tremendously popular board game about zookeeping. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that it’s his first released board game.
I interviewed Wigge by email to find out more about where Ark Nova came from. This interview was originally published in Finnish at Lautapeliopas.
Where did Ark Nova come from? How long have you been working on it? How did you begin, and when did Feuerland Spiele come in? How far was the game you submitted to Feuerland Spiele from the released game? Were there any major changes at that stage?
I played board games for so long until I came to a point where I wanted to create a game exactly for my (and my group’s) liking. I worked on it on nightshifts for over a year before showing it to my friends. When it was at the level where I thought I’d rather play this than that new game I just bought, I started looking for a publisher.
When Feuerland showed interest, they said something like: “Mathias, look. You will find someone who publishes your game exactly as it is, but we believe in reaching more people if we can streamline it together.”
What was your goal for the game? What kind of experience did you want the players to have?
Fun? Ark Nova is an optimization puzzle-heavy euro game with a theme I’ve liked since I was a child, integrated more than usual.
How did the big deck of unique cards survive the editing process? One might think the publisher would be interested in cutting the deck to a smaller size and perhaps include multiple copies of the cards for various reasons, including cost. Or was the deck even bigger at first?
Actually, we even chose to add the Australian cards – which could have easily been the first expansion – to the base game! I think Feuerland understood the appeal of a big unique stack of cards from the get-go.
Has anything been surprising in how players have received the game? It has shot like a rocket up the BGG rankings, so clearly, it has hit a nerve. Was that a surprise, or was the game a big hit already among the playtesters?
Right from the first open external playtesting, I was very surprised by how the game was perceived by more intuitive or casual players. I knew the game would be liked by similar groups like ours. But I didn’t know there were so many of them 🙂
Some of the same complaints seem to come up repeatedly: the deck is too big, and everybody doesn’t get an equal amount of turns… These seem like good features in the game and not problems. Are these complaints that seem to go against the design frustrating as a designer?
That’s fine – we tried to reach many people, but you will never reach all. And then diverse thinking and taste are good things after all.
Probably, some of the people complaining just don’t like card games that much because they haven’t learned to love the “stochastic Schweinehund” (as I call it 😉 ) yet.
For a game and its replayability, it is great to have a chance of winning even if you know you are most likely playing worse than your opponent. Not many players return to a game where they feel like having no chance at all. Cards are great for generating that variance! But that doesn’t mean this is a game of luck! Think of Magic: the Gathering or Poker as examples. The better player will win most of the time. The sweet spot is probably around 70–80%.
Are there any plans for online versions, like on BoardGameArena?
I am very confident in seeing an online version in the future.
Your box side bio describes you as a Magic: The Gathering player. What kind of player were you? If you’re familiar with the Timmy, Johnny, Spike classification, which one were you? Do you still play Magic?
Spike, it is, without a doubt. I started diving into Magic when I learned about the tournament scene and quit after finishing university when I didn’t have enough time to compete anymore. I played seven Pro Tours with mediocre success and had two GP Top 8 finishes.
What other games have you enjoyed recently? Are there any favourites you’d like to recommend to our readers?
From the class of 2021, we enjoyed Boonlake pretty much. Most recently, I played Pagan: Fate of Roanoke, which I can also recommend if you like them cards.