As an avid turkey and waterfowl hunter I have an incredible appreciation and respect for both the game birds that I spend time pursuing, and the songbirds, scavengers, predators, and myriad of other feathered fellows that I encounter during my time in the field. I’ve never considered myself a bird watcher, but, while I play Winspan, I can’t help but think that even if my primary reason for observing so many different species isn’t motivated by bird watching in and of itself, I certainly spend dozens of hours and more bird watching each year. I can’t help but enjoy the various bird calls, personalities and plumage of the birds that I encounter, and my fondness for all of the various birds I’ve spent so much time sharing the outdoors with means that I was almost immediately drawn to the theme of Wingspan. This game is an absolute celebration of our feathered friends, and if you have even a slight fondness for birds, then you’ll almost certainly enjoy it as well.

From the rulebook:

“You are bird enthusiasts – researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors – seeking to discover and attract the best birds to your aviary.”

In practice, Wingspan is an engine building game that will see you placing bird cards on your player mat in order to power up the actions that you can take and also take advantage of the powers and point values of each individual bird that you play. Wingspan is an easy game to teach and play, and turns generally progress fairly rapidly, especially early game, as each player only takes a single action per turn. Every action that you take in Wingspan take benefits you in some way, either allowing you to gain resources, cards, lay eggs, or play new birds to your board, which gives the game a really satisfying feeling as you play and, coupled with the stellar art and components, it all adds up to one of the most pleasant tabletop experiences in recent years.

wingspan early game

Early in a game of Wingspan it can be tough to decide to try to plan for a grand strategy, or simply play birds in a way to score end-of-round points. Birds with brown powers activate when you take the action of the biome that they live in, while birds with pink powers may activate during your opponents’ turns.

Even though the game is relatively straightforward it contains quite a bit of depth. Every single one of the game’s 170 bird cards are different from one another in more than just name. Because of that uniqueness you can build some really powerful combinations of cards if you are careful about which birds you play, but with so many cards, and the fact that the cards are drawn randomly, there isn’t going to be any single powerful combination that is going to dominate every game. During some plays you may not even see half of the bird cards, so Wingspan is more about making decisions about the birds that are available to you rather than searching for that one bird that will complete your master plan.

wingspan late game

Some birds activate when you play them, and some birds don’t have a power, but are worth a lot of points at game end. Even if you don’t develop any kind of well oiled combination machine, it’s always satisfying to see your spread of birds at the end of the game.

Ultimately players are competing to have the highest total score at the end of four rounds, but there are smaller goals that award points if you can complete them each round which can give players a short term goal to shoot for if they can’t quite suss out an overall strategy early on, while experienced players can decide if they want to shoot for the end of round goals, or forego them in order to try to focus on a  grand game-spanning strategy. Because the game has so many unique cards, and because even those end of round goals are randomized (not to mention the fact that there are two types of goals, one more competitive than the other) Wingspan has incredible replay value.

wingspan dice tower

I like to roll dice, and therefore I’ve always had an aversion to dice towers. Wingspan’s dice tower not only fits perfectly with the theme, but it serves to show which food resources are available for the players. This is the first time I’ve ever enjoyed using a dice tower.

There are some bird cards that activate based on triggers from your opponents’ birds, and some birds grant resources to all players, but for the most part there is next to no direct player interaction in Wingspan. You can increase the competitiveness of the game by choosing the aforementioned competitive end-of-round goals, but don’t go in to Wingspan hoping to crush your enemies in head to head conflict. Instead, go in to Wingspan expecting a relaxing, feel-good time where every player focuses on building the best combination of birds that they possibly can. This is nearly a stress-free experience, as even determining your score is difficult until the end of the game because your board-state changes so frequently that it’s nearly impossible to tell who may be winning at any given moment. Considering the theme and feel of the game, that is actually one of the Wingspan’s best features as it allows players to focus on having a good time rather than on whose score is higher.

Thanks to the easy going nature of the gameplay, and the beautiful theme Wingspan is a perfect candidate for a family game night. The game is easy enough to play that my 12 year old has no problems with it (he actually requests that we play it often) yet the possibility for building out fun, powerful card combinations will keep even veteran players engaged. Each player will have multiple viable options to take nearly every turn, so even as the player count increases, which in turn increases time between turns, there are rarely moments in Wingspan where you feel like you are waiting. You need to plan out your turns in order to have the right resources and cards so even in the downtime between turns I’ve found that players remain engaged as they try to build out the best bird-engine that they possibly can.

A note on player count: Wingspan plays equally well across all player counts, and play time increases directly with each additional player. Some cards have the potential to be better with more players, but there isn’t a single strategy that you need to focus on for any player count. All told, our games usually last about 20 minutes per player, so even with a full compliment of players you can still finish in well under 2 hours once everyone knows the game.

Wingspan also has an Automa mode that let’s you play the game solitaire, although finding people to play with is incredibly easy, especially once people have played the game before.

A note on “chrome”: Wingspan, like nearly every other Stonemaier game, has some of the best components on the market. Every single piece of this game is fun to handle, from the finish on the cards, to the bird-feeder dice tower, to the textured paper of the rulebook it all works together to make an already fun game a phenomenal experience. The fact that we enjoy flipping through the rulebook simply because of the way the paper feels is something we never thought we’d experience. If you like board games because you enjoy handling and manipulating all of the cards and components then Wingspan will be a special treat for you.

 

The bottom line:

Wingspan is wonderful, and I highly recommend it to just about anyone who is interested in hobby board games. Everything about this game works together to give you a satisfying, fun and interesting experience while playing. The theme is one that just about everyone can enjoy, making it perfect for a family game night, and while you can create some powerful combinations of cards and abilities this game isn’t so strategically heavy that younger players, or less experienced players, won’t have fun playing with avid gamers. Wingspan is one of the most haptically satisfying games we’ve ever played, and the combination of the incredibly tactile components plus the fact that every action you take results in a positive feeling of gain means that Wingspan always feels good to play.

Get this game if:

You enjoy engine building games.

You like games with non-violent themes.

You like Euro games.

You like birds and bird watching.

You love games with great components that are satisfyingly tactile to play with.

You want a game that makes you feel just as happy to play as to win.

Avoid this game if:

You prefer directly competitive games.

You suffer from Ornithophobia.

The copy of Wingspan used for this review was provided by Stonemaier Games.

 

Where’s the score?
The TechRaptor tabletop team has decided that the content of our tabletop reviews is more important than an arbitrary numbered score. We feel that our critique and explanation thereof is more important than a static score, and all relevant information relating to a game, and whether it is worth your gaming dollar, is included in the body of our reviews.


Travis Williams

Tabletop Editor

Maestro of cardboard and plastic.


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