Wingspan – Stonemaier Games – Review

"I bought Wingspan to give to a close friend who did her masters with bird research, but as it left my house after her birthday celebration, I was already making plans to purchase a second copy."

Theme and What is it?

Rockin’ Robin. Blackbird. His Eye is on the Sparrow. Fly Like an Eagle.

Society’s fascination with birds has even shown up in the pop music industry. Even more than the beautiful emotions conjured by those melodic interludes, is the imagery of a quiet woodland meadow on the edge of a stream. It has its own music, the wind rustles through the trees, the brook babbles with the occasional splash of a fish jump and most prevalently, there is always a sweet song of the birds. It will vary from a small descant to an overwhelming cacophony at times.

With those thoughts in our mind, we are enticed back deliciously to our tabletop with the stunning beauty of Elizabeth Hargrave’s Wingspan.

You are a birder trying to attract a flock with food and you must take different habitats into account as your collection grows. Your birds have special qualities that can help or hinder your collecting and if the gorgeous illustrations weren’t enough to keep your interest, the various point earning opportunities get you focused on building the best bird reserve, your own portrayal of a serene forest glade near the creek, on your tabletop

Gameplay Mechanics

The victory point combinations in this game are endless and you have enough going on that your win could come out of nowhere. Let’s take a look.

VP Earning Opportunities:

Bird Cards – each bird has a feather icon indicating point value
Eggs – each egg left on the board at the end of the game is a point – each bird has a nest limit
Goal Cards – bonuses are available based on your occupation – if your occupation favors a certain type of bird, be sure to focus on playing those types to your reserve (player board)
Cached Food – you have the opportunity to cache food on a bird card during the game but then cannot access it to attract more birds – if you don’t cache, they aren’t points at the end of the game
Goal Tile – each round presents a tile to offer additional bonus points for completing the tile objective (you can flip over the goal board itself to change for more competitive scoring objectives)
Card Tucking – you receive a point per card tucked under your bird cards

There are few opportunities for player interaction as you focus on building your own flock for the most part, but other players can “hate draft” or block your point earning by noting your strategy and grabbing those cards before you can.

Each of the 4 rounds features a randomized goal tile that also includes a possibility to earn up to 5 bonus points in easy mode.

The player mat is divided into three main rows for the actions of gaining food, laying eggs, and drawing cards, and a fourth, narrow row at the very top for playing birds. The rows are also your habitats, with food in the forest, eggs in the prairie and draw cards in the water.

Those are your choices: playing a bird from your hand to your player mat, gaining food, laying eggs, and drawing bird cards.

All of the actions have interacting requirements from each category. You must draw cards from the water to play a bird card. You must have food to play the bird card (food must be at your reserve to attract the bird), You must have eggs to continue playing cards across the board (your birds must be breeding to attract more birds). I love the thematic parallels!

Food availability is determined by dice rolling which is re-rolled when all the dice have been chosen and the tower tray is empty.

Gameplay depth continues as each bird has different abilities with instant one-time benefit (white background), replayable benefits (brown band) and benefits triggered by other players (pink band).

Total actions available decrease by 1 per turn and the round ends when all players are out of action cubes. The player board does not reset though, so you continue to build on to your habitats in subsequent rounds, unlocking more point potential.

Initial Impressions

Holy crap, that’s a lot of pieces! But it’s so pretty! Let’s just “wing” it! 

Game Build Quality

I could not get over the incredible quality of this game. It is a Stonemaier standard. The almost vinyl feel of the rulebooks adds a level that other games don’t invest in. I would imagine that it slightly increases durability and definitely adds to the lush vibe. The Game Trayz are also on point with the robin’s egg blue card organizer and small clear bins keep the many components in check.

The player boards fold up to look like leather field study journals, though a couple of my scientist friends playing it said that they could add more authenticity by designing the journals to resemble the bright yellow top bound notepads scientists use with the word “WATERPROOF” emblazoned on the cover.

The dice are solid and the bird feeder themed tower keep things nice and neat. With everything on the table for a 5 player game, there was very little spare real estate to be had.

Also, of note, packing it back into the box with a Stonemaier standard repack diagram keeps it all pristine and playable. I love it when a game fits back in perfectly after assembly!

Artistic Direction

The. Art.

WOW.

I need a coffee table book. Seriously. The detail? Breathtaking  The color palette? Appealing and serene. The medium (colored pencil)? Conveys an organic, raw, and natural feel.

Fun Factor

The vibe at my table was jovial but confused. When you’re going for a first time play, a chatty group who hasn’t caught up in a while is not the target audience. It takes some thinking and focus to learn so keep that in mind.

For some extra atmosphere, turn on some birdsong in the background. My husband happened to be playing a video game in the same room that had ambient forest sounds that included lots of birdsong and it really enhanced the playing experience!

Age Range & Weight

Once you get over the component count and think of the pieces as they would be used to represent bird behavior, it makes perfect sense. It has many different opportunities to add to your score so there is a mid-weight complexity to it, but once you have a good handle on the game, a game-savvy 10-12 year old could definitely participate.

Conclusions

This was a fascinating window into the world of ornithology and I absolutely loved the thematic elements. Honestly, Stonemaier could have easily gone with photograph based art, but to create drawings to represent 170 different birds is just stunning and brings it to another level. The gameplay was very engaging and took focus, but every player, no matter how distracted, was able to pick it up.

I bought Wingspan to give to a close friend who did her masters with bird research, but as it left my house after her birthday celebration, I was already making plans to purchase a second copy.

Another quote comes to mind from Sir David Attenborough, “Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?”