- Number of plays: 10
- Designer: Elizabeth Hargrave
- Artists: Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas, Beth Sobel
- Release Year: 2019
- Mechanics: Card Drafting, Dice Rolling, Hand Management, Engine Building
- Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Hoo-boy, talk about a sleeper hit. I remember so much drama when Wingspan was first released by Stonemaier Games in 2019. It hit store shelves and immediately sold out. Everyone wanted to get their hands on the hot new bird game, to the point where nasty rumors of ‘artificial scarcity’ began to circulate and people criticized Stonemaier Games for having poor forecasting. The reality of the situation was that no one could have predicted just how successful Wingspan would become.
How to Play
Wingspan begins each player with an empty ecosystem board, 5 bird cards, 2 goals, and 5 food (one of each type). Players can keep as many birds from their initial draw as they wish, but they need to sacrifice 1 food for each card kept.
On your turn you may place one of your cubes in any one of the four action spots on your player board, simultaneously helping keep track of how many turns in the round, and helping you remember how to run your engine.
The first possible action is to play a bird card. From your hand, simply pay the required food from your personal supply back to the bank and place your bird on one of the three ecosystems on your board (Woodlands, Plains, and Wetlands). Your bird card must go in the leftmost empty column, and depending on the column you may also need to pay an egg.
If you choose not to play a bird, You can instead play your cube in one of your three ecosystems. Each ecosystem will net you different benefits. If you place your cube in the woodland area, you’ll get to generate food based off the die on the table. The Plains allows you to lay eggs on your bird cards, and the Wetlands allow you to draw cards. As you play birds to an ecosystems, choosing to play your cube there becomes more lucrative. When you take any of the actions that correspond to the ecosystems you place your cube in the left most empty spot on that track. As bird cards fill up the weaker left slots, the basic action will get stronger (for example, the first woodland column generates 1 food while the right most generates 3). Not only will your action be better, you will also benefit from the specific bird cards that you activate as you move your cube left, completing your turn.
The charm of Wingspan lies in its great variety. The base game contains 170 individual cards, all with lovely and unique art depicting each bird. While not every card power is unique, there is still a huge variety to behold.
The game continues with players taking actions until they all run out of cubes. Players score for the goal of the round and move to the next round. After the 4th round the final score is tallied and the player with the highest score is the winner.
The production of Wingspan is simply fantastic. The box and rulebook have a luxury linen finish, and the card stock for all the cards is thick and satisfying. The artwork is breathtaking, and the pastel coloured eggs are sure to give you candy cravings. Everyone I’ve shown this game to has complimented how nice everything is; it is clear that no compromises were made during production.
The game play of Wingspan is simply and straightforward. Everyone has their own goal that they’re working towards and some shared goals to help nudge players in a specific direction. The public goals generally refer to having birds in specific ecosystems, or eggs in certain types of nests, while the private goals are much more varied. Some goals will have you seeking birds with colours in their name, while others want you to amass a flock of birds with a wingspan of 76cm or less. While you only start with one of these goals, some bird cards will give you the chance to obtain more.
The bird cards are the core of Wingspan. The entire game revolves around collecting, playing, and activating the birds on your player board. Often players will find themselves grappling with the desire to activate a certain row of birds, but really needing the effects of a different action.
Over the course of a game of Wingspan you’ll likely play anywhere between 8 – 14 cards into your tableau. With 170 unique bird cards there is a great amount of variability and many paths and engines for you to explore. There is no need to do the same thing over and over again, game after game.
A game of Wingspan starts off slowly, which can be a bit painful. It takes over half of your turns of the first round to get enough food and cards to play just a couple of birds. Luckily a lot of the cards you play will give you a benefit every time they activate, making your subsequent turns more effective and allowing you to reach heights you previously thought impossible.
Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Wingspan. It’s pleasant to look at, easy to teach and play, and offers a great amount of replayability, but I dislike how much luck is involved. The card deck, while tall and varied makes it difficult to find the specific card you need, and if one of your opponents was lucky enough to pull a food generating crow early in the game, it can be difficult to keep up. I do enjoy the small amount of positive player interaction (some cards will give all players a food, and others will give you a point when a other player takes a certain action), but I wish there were just a little more. Again, this has to do with the size of the deck and just how varied the cards are. While I know I would prefer a more focused tableau building game such as Race for the Galaxy, I recognize that the wide variety is important for the replayability of Wingspan.
But who cares about what I think – my wife absolutely LOVES Wingspan. This is one of the few games she actively asks to play, and any game that inspires a level of enthusiasm from my partner is a game that deserves applause. She loves the feeling of building an engine, she enjoys the fact that no one can throw a wrench into her mechanics and slow down her process, and she particularly enjoys when a satisfying combo can be created.
It’s also worth pointing out that the theme of birds is just plain pleasant. It’s so nice to see lovely illustrations of birds that we could see in our back yard. If Wingspan had a goblin or mountain troll theme, it would be eminently less pleasant. I think this is where Wingspan shines the brightest; it’s a fun, comforting, enjoyable experience and it is completely inoffensive. Wingspan welcomes players into the board game hobby with open wings.