Wingspan is the newest game from Stonemaier Games. That is enough for some to be interested in this game. The game was designed by Elizabeth Hargrave and has beautiful watercolor-like illustrations by Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas and Beth Sobel. A complete women’s team! Wingspan created a lot of interest and hype among board game enthusiasts in the first quarter of 2019. The game, but also the designer got a nice spotlight article in the New York Times.
What is Wingspan like?
Players take on the role of bird lovers or researchers, who try to find the best birds and attract them to their forest, meadow or water habitat. There are three different habitats, each with an associated action. Each of which is part of this engine builder game: The forest habitat provides players with food through food tokens, that one can grab based on the available dice in the bird feed dice tower. The meadow habitat allows players to lay eggs on birds that have space in their nest. And finally, the water habitat yields new bird cards that ties in with the last possible action of playing a bird card from your hand to your tableau. For this you have to pay for them with the food tokens. Every bird offers an advantage in its appropriate habitat. Some offer this advantage upon placement in the habitat and others activate every time its owner activates that habitat action. There are also some public and private goals to give players a number of strategic choices in every game in every round and before the end of the game.There a some other rules but that is basically how Wingspan plays.
The game has a simple ruleset and gives players just enough meaningful options to keep gamers interested. The game has a few strategic elements but is mostly tactical. Players have to try and make the most of the bird cards they gain throughout the game. Yes, players can get the exact bird cards that fit their engine or they might struggle to get a matching bird card. But it is never that frustrating as it sometimes is in other games like Terraforming Mars where some cards are just dead draws. The habitat actions also improve no matter what bird cards you play in that habitat.
Wingspan comes with 170 unique bird cards with realistic artwork, although there is some overlap in card abilities on the bird cards. It is the nice balance between collecting similar birds versus a variety of birds that contribute to the achievement of public / private goals. In every game of Wingspan I played I had the feeling I accomplished something. In fact, I even enjoy what my opponents are building in their habitats or what engine they are building. Wingspan is not a confrontational game and the interaction betweeen* players is limited to three things; taking resources your opponent needs from the bird feeder, taking bird cards you opponents might need. And lastly there are bird cards which react to certain actions you opponents take. For example, one of your birds has an ability which lets you take a food token from the bird feeder when an opponent takes a food token.
*Pun intended (The English version has misspelled the word; between, on several bird cards)
The production quality of this game is through the roof. The card holder from Gametrayz, the birdfeeder dice tower, plastic eggs and the linen finished rulebooks. It’s all quite a production. So if you are enamoured with all high quality components this game is easy to like.
On the other hand, Wingspan does not bring really innovative game ideas to the table. But it knows how to mix the game concepts very smoothly into what it is. There is a lot to explore and there is room for improvement and extension through expansions. Some valid criticism is that the bird cards come out a bit random and could favor one player over the other. It also feels that some birds are stronger than others, but usually this depends on the phase of the game. In the beginning food is important and later in the game eggs are more useful as they count as points as well. Drawing the right birds at the right time can really help your strategy. Just as drawing the right bonus cards for which you automatically score their points can cause a point swing players have no control over.
Does this make the difference between a good and a great game is for each to decide. Personally I find the randomness not disturbing enough to less appreciate the game. All in all a very satisfying tableau builder
- Wonderful smooth gameplay
- Quick turns
- Scientific integrity
- Great solo mode (via the Wingspan Automa Helper app)
- Some might find it a bit repetitive
- Not a lot of interaction
- The rule book could be better
Wingspan is easy to teach, but I would advise learning the game from a explanation video. Although everything is written in the rulebook, things didn’t immediately clicked for me and after watching a rule video things were much clearer . Turns are simple and players choose between 4 actions; play a bird, collect food, collect eggs and draw cards. Choices come from playing correct bird cards in their habitat to create an engine to be able to gain small advantages. For example collecting bonus eggs, cards or save an action so that 1 of your 26 action in the whole game can be used more optimally.
- Players: 1 – 5
- Playing time: 45- 90 minutes
- Suggested age: 10+
The fan created app Wingspan Automa Helper makes playing Wingspan solo a breeze: