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Game Review: Wingspan

We are War Games, and we make games worth fighting over.

However, we recognize that there are plenty of other great games out there not made by us. So in an effort to spread the love, we decided to also start reviewing other games worth fighting over.

As you wait for the copy of Proliferation: The Game of Nuclear Strategy you just purchased to reach your doorstep, here is one game we think you will enjoy.

Game: Wingspan

Game Night: April 26, 2023

Play Time: 40-70 minutes

Rating: 7.5/10

Description: “You are bird enthusiasts - researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors - seeking to discover and attract the best birds to your aviary. Each bird extends a chain of powerful combinations in one of your habitats (actions). These habitats focus on several key aspects of growth:

  • Gain food tokens via custom dice in a birdfeeder dice tower

  • Lay eggs using egg miniatures in a variety of colors

  • Draw from hundreds of unique bird cards and play them

The winner is the player with the most points accumulated from birds, bonus cards, end-of-round goals, eggs, catched food, and tucked birds.”

Publisher: Stonemaier Games

Date Published: 2019

For this game night, we chose one of the most popular tabletop games from Stonemaier Games, Wingspan. The game has a seemingly cult following among board game enthusiasts, and was a name that came up multiple times during our market research. We were especially interested in playing a game that purported to be on bird-watching, especially after having so many war-themed, resource-driven, enemy-creating game nights in the recent past.

Note: We played Wingspan as a group. Therefore, this is not a review of the Automa version of the game, or the 1-player adaptation.

First Impressions/Unboxing: When we first unboxed this bad boy, we immediately took note of just how beautiful the artwork, materials, and designs were. The game was definitely inviting to open, and featured pastel colors that drew the eye to each individual game piece. Unboxing Wingspan gave the impression of a tabletop game that was very well put together and thought out, and made the War Games team excited to play.

The multi-colored pastel eggs included with the game immediately caught my attention, along with the cardboard dice tower that had to be folded and assembled. The dice tower being in the shape of a bird house further added to the consistency of the game’s theme. Our copy also came with a sensible amount of closable plastic containers to hold the eggs, tokens, and wooden dice after our first playthrough. Being a group of sticklers for game organization, we were very pleased to see how much thought went into game storage, and how the pieces fit together inside of the box. A diagram printed on the side of the box details how to put everything away optimally, and serves as a nice touch to the box art in general. These small details were impressive to see, and helped to solidify Stonemaier Games in our minds as a company that produces high-quality tabletop games.

The Wingspan box includes a stunningly beautiful design, and the game cards feature individual pictures of birds all across the globe. The strict and clever adherence to a theme, along with the inviting materials and artwork, made this unboxing an even more pleasurable experience than usual.

Rulebook: The linen-embossed rulebooks for Wingspan are short and easy to understand, the main rulebook comprising 12 pages from cover to cover. This was a breath of fresh air, since the usual game nights we have as a team that involve newly purchased games require at least an hour of explaining instructions. The language used in the rulebooks is easy to understand and follow, while the numbered diagrams contained within it make sure no stone went unturned.

The back cover includes links to a how-to-play video, rules in another language, and a source for replacement parts. This was just one more example of the amount of thought and detail to attention that seemingly went into bringing Wingspan to life. The game box also included an Appendix, which helped us understand some of the end-of-round goals.

Materials: The materials used in creating Wingspan were durable and high-quality. For example, the individual player boards were made of thick cardboard, whereas we have opened plenty of games with very flimsy, nearly sheet-like boards. There is no material provided in the game that stands out from the rest in a negative way. Plenty of rigid plastic containers were provided for game storage, and the paper that went into the rulebooks is pleasing to touch. Wingspan, especially upon unboxing, justifies its price point and brings more value than a lot of others sold at the same price.

Gameplay: Wingspan is a popular competitive eurogame centered around the theme of bird watching, where players take turns choosing strategic bird-themed actions that will lead to the most victory points by the end of the game. Each player keeps track of their different economies, active bird cards, and corresponding environments on individual game boards, leading to gameplay that feels both solitary and competitive at the same time. The main actions of the game include drawing more bird cards, playing a bird game, gaining resources, and laying eggs, each action linking together to form a game-winning strategy in exactly 26 turns of play. End-of-round goals add to the victory points of players who complete them the best.

One of the most noticeable features of Wingspan’s gameplay is the concise amount of turns that make up a game. One game of Wingspan comprises four rounds made up of 8, 7, 6, and then 5 turns each. After that, victory points are tallied up, and a winner is declared. This means that every turn has to count, and every action must be carefully considered. With victory points coming from a variety of sources, it is easy to stretch a bold strategy too thin, or have too many eggs in one basket.

The three different economies Wingspan utilizes, including bird cards, eggs, and food tokens, are all equally important in garnering victory points. This means that a player cannot load up on a single economy, such as focusing on bird cards primarily, and expect to get very far. Food tokens are needed to play bird cards, bird cards are needed to lay eggs, and eggs are spent to keep expanding each type of economy on the player board. This makes for intricate gameplay with sequences of interconnected decisions, making losing track of a single detail a potentially fatal blow.

Overall, the team enjoyed the gameplay and mechanics that went into Wingspan quite a lot, and found it to be a break from the usual war-themed (and lately Mars-themed) tabletop games. The gameplay was still a bit competitive and stressful, but with the theme of bird-watching taking center stage, along with the beautiful bird illustrations and avian-inspired game pieces, we couldn’t help but feel at peace.

Some other highlights of Wingspan’s game mechanics included the use of individual game boards, the dice tower and food token mechanics, and the information and variation contained in the bird cards. Seeing the game’s niche theme expertly extend to each corner of the game was impressive and well thought out. Our team learned a lot of bird facts along the way, too!

Key Strengths:

  • Game Artwork. The colors that make up Wingspan and its illustrations are cohesive and wonderful. The main illustration on the game’s box attracts the eye to a degree that most simply do not. Wingspan looks beautiful on any game shelf, and is likely to inspire a conversation or two in the process.

  • Brilliant, Niche Concept. It is impressive that a game centered around bird watching is so popular, but once we played, we began to understand why. The game’s strict adherence to its niche concept is awesome, and turns the potentially boring idea of bird watching into an entertaining and delightful tabletop game. Our realization that we were enjoying a game about birds so much made the game even that much more fun in the end.

  • Easy to Learn. Wingspan was relatively easy to learn how to play, and came with instruction booklets that laid out the material in a way that was easy to digest. The game mechanics make a lot of sense and flow well with each other. The only learning curve that gave a few team members some difficulty was the mechanic of using eggs to play more bird cards in a certain habitat, but once that was fleshed out, gameplay was smooth and rapid.

  • The Bird Cards. The bird cards definitely deserve a lot of praise. The War Games team loves a good fact on a playing card, and these cards delivered. Each card is beautiful to look at, and shows the region of the world the bird comes from. Bird cards also tend to have unique actions you can take during your turn, making them dynamic forces on the path to victory.

  • The Eggs and Dice Tower. There was something especially pleasing about these two game pieces in particular. They both added a lot of personality to the game setup, and gave Wingspan some of its unique, commentary-worthy features.

  • Elizabeth Hargrave. Her ambition toward making games with themes outside of the box lent to a debut game by her that went on to even win Spiel des Jahres, the royalty-crowning board game competition that takes place in Germany each year. The nature-themed monolith that is Wingspan proves a lot of things, one of them being that a niche concept, especially if executed well, can easily make for an entertaining tabletop game, even in the Risk- and Catan-dominated tabletop zeitgeist.

One Drawback: Once you’ve played the game a few times, the number of different strategies to embark on become a little limited. Introducing Wingspan to a new player is a thrilling, rewarding experience, but much like hitting the craps tables in Las Vegas, brevity is a bit of a virtue with this one. Overall, however, the game knocked it out of the park, and surpassed nearly all of our expectations.

Game Night Winner: Lila Brissette (Digital Media Manager)


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