“Here. Review this,” said Tony as he tossed a game at me from 15 feet in the air. He was perched in the bucket of a utility vehicle, wearing a safari hat, a khaki shirt, and pants (I hope) while staring off into the distance through high-powered binoculars.
As I caught the game – Wingspan? – I asked, “Are you applying for the Yavin IV Scout position?”
“No, I am bird watching.” I tried not to laugh. He continued, “You need to review that game.”
I looked at the cover. It had a bird on it. “I am not reviewing a game about birds. I HATE birds.”
He sighed. “Fine. If you review it, I’ll let you review Gen 7 nex– “
He did not finish the sentence. I was already on my way home with my glorious copy of Wingspan. Sometimes you have to eat your vegetables to get to your dessert…
Wingspan is an engine building/tableau card game for one to five players. Oh yeah… it is about birds. The game length varies based on number of players, but once you know the rules even four player games can be completed in an hour or less.
The game is played over four rounds, each of which lasts between five and eight turns. During a turn, the player chooses between four available actions:
- Play a bird from your hand – pay the bird’s cost and place it in either the forest, grasslands, or wetlands habitat on your board.
- Gain food and activate the powers of birds in your forest – food is used to pay for the cost to place a bird on your board.
- Lay eggs and activate the powers of birds in your grasslands – eggs are used to pay for the cost to place a bird beyond the first space in each habitat as well as score points at the end of the game.
- Draw cards and activate the powers of birds in your wetlands – you need cards to give you options on which birds you will play.
After four rounds, the final scores are tallied and the player with the most points is crowned
Creepy Bird Person the winner.
The following are actual quotes before playing Wingspan:
My wife: “I am not playing a game about birds. I HATE birds!” (Yes, we had almost the exact same reaction.)
My non-gamer friend: “I am boycotting game night if we play this game.”
My brother: “I came over to play Mechs vs. Minions, not a game about stupid birds.”
The following are actual quotes AFTER playing Wingspan:
All three of them: “Let’s play again!”
Why the change of heart? Because you should never judge a board game by its theme…well, at least THIS game. Wingspan garnered a reaction from me that rarely occurs: I learned the game, played it, and immediately wanted to play again. And again. It was just SO fun.
The best aspect of the game is the engine you build on your player board. When you take a forest, grasslands, or wetlands action, you get the resources that habitat provides and then activate every bird with a “when activated” power, in order from right to left. In addition, the more birds in play in a habitat, the more resources you receive. For example, you get three eggs if there are two birds in the grasslands but would have received four eggs if there were four birds.
Activating multiple birds can create some excellent scoring opportunities. I remember the game where I played two birds, one that generated a free seed for me every time it was activated and one to its left that allowed me to turn in a seed to draw two cards from the deck and tuck them under the bird (every card underneath a bird is worth one point). This combo earned me ten points by the end of the game. And this is only one example of the billions* of combos that can occur in the game (*actual number may vary – I am not a mathematician).
So you should just:
1) drop five birds in a row
2) activate that row
4) profit from your sweet combo machine
Unfortunately, it is not that easy. You need food to pay for placing your birds on your board and you need eggs to place every bird beyond the first in a habitat. You’ll need cards in your hand so that you have birds to play. Balancing the growth of all three habitats is needed because of the interaction between food, eggs, and cards.
As if this balancing act is not enough, there are end of round goal tiles that must be considered. Four tiles are randomly selected at the start of the game. The tiles give bonuses based on different game states at the end of the round, such as the number of birds in a habitat or eggs in a specific nest type. A brilliant decision was the inclusion of a double-sided goal board to display these tiles. One side of the board awards points based on the place players come in for each goal, while the other rewards up to 5 points for every player for each goal.
Each player is given eight cubes to represent their available actions. Why am I mentioning this now? In ANOTHER design decision that I loved, at the end of a round, you mark your points earned with one of these cubes. After every round, you have one less action in the next round. That means you will rely less on your action and more on your cards to generate the resources needed to win the game.
Speaking of cards, they are the star of the show. All 170 bird cards have unique art as well as varied characteristics. If a bird has a power, it activates either when first played, when you use the action in the bird’s habitat, or when triggered by one of your opponent’s action. There are also informational nuggets on each card, such as where they can be found and one fact about the bird.
So this game is perfect and will be my first 5.0 review? Well, not quite. The three face-up birds that can be selected by players when drawing cards are replaced at the end of a player’s turn or at the end of the round. I really wish that there was a way to clear all three (for example, sacrificing two eggs) instead of relying on someone to take one or the round ending. There were times in almost every game where I drew blind because none of the face-up birds fit into my strategy. The game is also VERY tactical. There is luck involved due to the size of the bird deck. This is another reason I wish there was a way to clear the face-up birds.
This game COMPLETELY took me by surprise. It is, by far, my most played game of 2018. I simply cannot believe how much I love a game about birds. This game appeals to me and what mechanisms I truly enjoy in my games. Tactical decisions. Tableau building. Variable end of round and end of game bonuses. Multiplayer solitaire (outside of the face up cards and some bird powers). Great components. I am going to stop now.
But I promise you this – I am going to get to my Gen 7 review…after just ONE more game of Wingspan…
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A game that I didn’t expect to love as much as I did has become one of my most played games of 2018.
• No action to clear the three face-up birds
• The theme may put some people off