Wingspan: Ten Things to Know

Wingspan

Genre: Card-driven Engine-builder

Player Count: 1 – 5

Play Count as of Review: 11

  1. Wingspan is a tour de force that took the board game world by storm in 2019. Since its release, Wingspan has won a laundry list of awards and can be found on the shelves of big box stores like Target. The gameplay has players acting as bird enthusiasts, attracting birds to their wildlife preserve over the course of four rounds. This is an engine building game at heart, where players will become more powerful each round as they add more birds to their player boards and can perform more actions in thanks to those birds.
  2. Wingspan is an absolutely gorgeous game which should come as no surprise as its a Stonemaier production and features artwork from the wonderful Beth Sobel, Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo and Natalie Rojas (who has a website where you can buy bird prints!). The artwork and color scheme provide an oddly soothing experience as players turn birds into points thanks to the color palette used being calm and nurturing with light tones. There are 170 bird cards and what stands out to be is not the art or the easy to follow iconography but the bird fact listed on each card. It’s such a simple and elegant inclusion that immerses you in the game by learning about the bird you may or may not be playing. There are also bird eggs, large wooden dice with bird food iconography, a card holder and a birdhouse dice tower that create just a phenomenal table presence. Stonemaier is known for their production values and I think Wingspan is their magnum opus.
  3. To me, Wingspan is a simple and intuitive game that can serve as a gateway to other games in the hobby and in my circle, it has. I have met colleagues at work or at conventions that eagerly talk about the bird game once they learn that I love board games. But it is also a far step up from the traditional fair that many people that are new to the hobby are accustomed to. Jumping from Monopoly or Sorry! or Candyland to Wingspan can be a huge hurdle but I want to let those reading know that it’s not insurmountable. The game is relatively streamlined and based around four actions. The tricky area in my opinion is the activating of birds as a players turn progresses. It’s a concept that is all too-familiar to players like myself but will be new for players that are not accustomed to having multiple choices on their turn or having created multiple responses based on the action they chose.
Eggs and food tokens (rubber containers not included)
  1. Wingspan functions more as a multi-player solitaire experience than a game that feeds off direct player interaction. There are variable end of round scoring cards that offer players an even less interactional experience than using the flip side but most of the interaction will be non-direct. That being said, there are ways to interact as players can strategically choose food or birds that may align better with their opponents plans than their own but just be aware that the interaction is passive at best and can deter players that want the challenge of facing off with an opponent that can impact their decision making more than just what card they’re going to grab.
  2. Wingspan plays one to five and the solo mode features the Automa mode that Stonemaier productions features prominently in their games. I think the Automa is a fine inclusion but not for me. When I want to play Wingspan and it’s just me, I would rather utilize the app version (or jump on Steam or your Switch if you prefer to game there). The game scales incredibly well all the way up to four-players. At five players (and sometimes four), the game can just drag on far too long for what it is and can soil the experience. Now, if you’re playing with five people that have all played before, the time could be cut considerably but you’re still looking at an almost 90 minute game of Wingspan and in my opinion, that’s too much Wingspan as the depth isn’t there for me.
Midgame player board in action.
  1. With 170 bird cards, there can be a fair amount of luck involved in the game. Players may draw cards that perfectly align with the goals or their player boards whereas other times they may draw cards that do absolutely nothing for them. It is what it is but it can be frustrating when the game punishes you and rewards another through no fault of either players actions. This isn’t an absolute deal breaker in the slightest and does help give Wingspan some variability when played over and over, but it can also create frustration and annoyance at the same time. I typically overlook the randomness but there is one aspect of the game where it really hurts: the engine building combo side of the game. There have been several times where I have seen players create what is about to be an absolutely epic combination of cards only to not have the final act appear on stage at all. It is disheartening and can leave a sour taste in your mouth as that’s what you’ll remember about the game and nothing else. Besides the cards, there is also the luck associated with the dice rolling and resource gathering.
  2. The game has incredibly thematic tie-ins with the production values and the actions players are taking on their turns…yet…the game itself can feel mechanical after a few plays. I am a fan of games like this (dry euro’s get my blood pumping) but if you take away the theme and cutesy artwork and production values, I don’t know that Wingspan stands out on its own. It’s a fine game without those add-ons and at a surface level, the game has a lot of value with 170 bird cards but those birds, while unique, are really just the same thing phrased differently. Collecting fish or worms or rodents are the same thing; same as tucking a card behind your existing card(s).
Card holder showing off some fun birds.
  1. There are games where the final round revolves around just laying eggs to maximize your point values and that takes away interesting decisions that you would usually find in the final round of a game. In addition, there are some birds that may feel overpowered (and one expansion, Oceania, has players remove one type of bird from the deck). I agree that there are a few birds that are clearly better than others in the deck but due to the random generation of cards, they don’t always hit at full potential to show why they’re overpowered. But when they do…watch out. I don’t want to spoil which birds these are as I feel it’s more fun to experience this on your own and in the event the birds keep appearing overpowered to you, there is the option to just remove them from the deck.
  2. The Wingspan: Swift Start Promo Pack includes ten cards and instructions for four players. The Swift Start pack is available in current publications of the game. This promo pack makes teaching the game even easier as players have their hand held for the first few actions of the games. It can be incredibly helpful in getting the game to ‘click’ for players that learn better by doing than just watching and/or listening.
Can’t get any closer than that.
  1. I think I like Wingspan but I honestly don’t know. I love the theme and the integration of bird education with the actions but don’t enjoy the lack of interaction or formulaic approach to subsequent playthroughs. I have an issue with many engine building style games where I want to actually utilize the engine I spent time building and Wingspan doesn’t really give me the opportunity to put together the cool combos I labored over more than once or twice. I never turn the game down when someone wants to play it but I also never am the first person to bring it up.

Author: Two off the Top

Just a guy that wants to talk about board games more than his significant other tolerates.

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