What is not to love about birds? They are fluffy, pretty, graceful, and amazing. Granted, they do pepper your car from time to time with the reminisce of whatever bug was on the menu recently. They may wake you from a late morning slumber with the song of their people. Every so often they attack you while you are on a stand-up paddleboard, minding your own business, trying to learn. Birds are great – fluffy, pretty, graceful, amazing, and trauma-inducing death harbingers. So great. Now you can have your very own habitat just filled with them. Welcome to Wingspan.
All joking aside, birds are pretty awesome, even the ones who are bent on my demise. I often find myself stopping the car, pulling over, and taking pictures of an unknown bird. I’ll spend the next few hours pouring over Google image after Google image in search of the bird so I can identify the majestic creature. You maybe thinking to yourself that this doesn’t sound like me: You don’t care for these feathered friends. No worries because we aren’t here to talk about birds but a game about birds and this game doesn’t need your admiration of birds to appreciate it.
Wingspan is something of a marvel when it touches the table. I’ve heard many voices of desertion upon players seeing the cover and learning its theme. Those voices quickly dispelled upon witnessing the production. every little piece in the box shows a level of love that is almost unprecedented. No expense was spared here: 170 unique linen finished bird cards, linen finished rulebook, birdfeeder dice tower, egg miniatures, resource containers, and a custom vacuum-formed card tray. It’s simply beautiful.
The gameplay is another wonder to behold. I would categorize Wingspan as a card-driven engine-building game. Stonemaier Games, the publisher of Wingspan, even defines the game as such. Each card play will trigger an effect at a certain time and will often chain with other card effects played previously. This produces that all too familiar feel-good moment of satisfaction that most engine-builder games do. That moment when all your plans come to fruition.
This, however, unlike many other engine-building games, doesn’t bog the players down with excess card text. The complexity of Wingspan is right in that sweet spot: medium-weight. Its true complexity comes with its card play which can truly get players minds cooking: a cornucopia of card combos flows from these birds. A seemingly simple game at first glance with loads of replay value for any player with a desire for mastery.
All these card effects will inevitably roll into the end game which is just as dynamic as its gameplay. Scoring in this game is very robust with not only the birds themselves scoring you points, but the eggs they lay too. You will also receive points from personal objective cards, public objectives, flock size, and cached food. How and where you choose to score these is dependent on the birds you play, when they are activated, and how many times they were activated. A true testament to Wingspans replayability.
With all these card play and effects, one might think this is a rather unthematic experience. This couldn’t be farther from the truth as most bird cards effect ties into the depicted birds traits. For example, the Northern Mockingbird card repeats a card effect of another card in its habitat. The Golden Eagle card draws the top card from the deck and eats it if its under 100 cm in wingspan. Some of these thematic ties may have gone unnoticed if it wasn’t for the little nuggets of flavor text at the bottom of each card giving fun facts about the bird. These little touches really pull you back to what makes this game special which is a passion for its subject matter.
I don’t think I would be doing my due diligence if I didn’t have a few complaints about the game, as minuscule as they might be. After several plays, I find the game to have some randomness and balance issues. This game is very hinged on the abilities of its players to make an effective point engine. That may not be in the cards as you only have so many actions to do so. Often a fortunate player will receive the exact cards needed to do just and others may find themselves in the dust. This I find to be a minor problem as most players are handed a mixed bag and forced to make the best of it. The “golden goose” hand is rarely found.
Wingspan has something to offer almost all gamers at the table. Bird enthusiasts to avid indoor board gamers will unite under the flag of Wingspan. I strongly recommend that you try it for yourself as this may very well be the game of the year. I understand its only February but you will understand upon playing this game. You will not cry fowl.