Wingspan: Not just for the Birbs
Primer: I am going to be using the word “birb” instead of bird periodically below. I think that you’d get plume tired of reading the word “bird” or any pluralization of it by the end, so why not keep things light like one of the hottest and newest Stonemaier Games? It’s not like I’m just wingin’ it on these reviews. Don’t cry fowl; I also promise this is the last pun.
I wasn’t kidding with my second sentence above; Wingspan is already an incredibly popular title having launched in the new year (2019). It’s currently sitting on 8th in the Hotness rank on BoardGameGeek with a solid rating of 8.3.
Wingspan plays as a 1-5 person game where you get points through collecting a vast array of birds. Such bird cards include its genus and species, its wingspan in centimeters (big surprise there), what type of nest the bird uses, its region of residence in the world, a point value for scoring, a possible action once played or activated, and a fun fact.
You place these birds onto one of three tracks corresponding to the location of the nests: Water, Forest, or Field. This is one of a few actions you can take on your turn, including laying eggs (needed for round missions & playing bird cards), gathering food from the bird feeder (needed to attract birbs), and drawing more bird cards to your hand. Thus, each player will get multiple turns per round and, with four rounds in the game, everyone has a good chance to fill their play boards with birds.
But the game doesn’t stop there. Taking a specific action can also trigger birbs who live in that location on your board. Say, for example, you produce eggs in the middle section. In taking that action, you get to also use any actions of birds in that location. Furthermore, placing more birds on each of the three tracks makes that track’s action more powerful. I found this game mechanic quite enjoyable in my first playthrough as I slowly played more water fowl and drew more birb cards on alternating turns.
(ok, that’s the last bird pun I swear)
I think the best part of the game for me was that it felt kind. So many competitive games (including the other wildly popular Stonemaier game Scythe) can bring out the worst in players and tear apart the most tight-knit groups due to few turn options, kingmaking, and attack actions. I don’t see this in the slightest with Wingspan. The only two resource elements that others can affect are the face-up bird cards to draw and the food options at the feeder.
In addition, certain bird abilities can trigger based on another player’s action. In other games, triggering an opponent’s ability could spell trouble, but not here. Some abilities change what is available at the feeder, give out more bird cards to other players, or even let others gather resources.
Throughout the years, I have played many a board, card, and video game and tried my best to recall the culture/feeling surrounding each playthrough. With Wingspan I felt something different, and not just because we played during brunch and I was on my second Mimosa. The mood was calm—peaceful even. Not much pressure was put on any one player to work quickly. The egg token coloration was soft and inviting. The bird cards were beautifully designed and informative.
Each turn flowed as a gentle stream, uninterrupted by players mewling or moaning over lost opportunities or harsh gameplay. I was impressed how casual the game felt with all four players being diehard competitors. The only thing missing from the experience were hats, possibly an afternoon tea, birds themselves, binoculars, and a lighthearted movie from 2011 starring Steve Martin and Jack Black.
I think the only critique I have for the game lies in the personal objective card. Every player has a choice of two to start the game and, in my experience, none of the objectives matched what I had in my hand or what was available among the face-up birbs. But even this was rectified when certain birbs allow you to add another objective to your hand.
I’ve written the word “bird” nineteen times now and the word “birb” eight times now which, in its own right, seems like a lot. But the same cannot be said for Wingspan. It is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in a long time. It may not be the best box to pull for a long night of heavy strategy gaming, but I find it perfect for a cozy Sunday afternoon near an outside window for your own bird watching experience. It is more than accessible for newer and younger gamers and its varied abilities, actions, and objectives will keep me coming back for more. That said, I won’t be surprised and will be excited if and when an expansion shakes a few things up.
My friend (who owns the game) emphasizes that he likes the game a little more each time he plays it. And I think I will say the same for Wingspan as well. At least, until it gets warmer and I try my hand at birbwatching.
Game Mechanics: 8.5/10
Replay ability: 8/10
Final Score: 8.5/10