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Review of Wingspan

pic4458123.jpgGame: Wingspan

Published: Stonemaier Games

Designer: Elizabeth Hargrave

Players: 1-5

Playtime: 40-70 Minutes

Play Type: Engine Building

Synopsis:

You have a deep love for birds, whether you are a bird watcher, researcher or collector. Your main goal is to attract the most wondrous birds to your aviary, with birds building off one another to attract even more birds. The person with the best aviary in the end wins the game.

Game Play:

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In Wingspan, players will be building out a personal player board with bird cards to help create the strongest combination of birds to gain victory points. Players will be able to score points directly from bird cards, from bonus cards, end of round goals, and remaining resources at the end of the game. Due to the fact that there are many ways to score, each player will likely have a very different engine based on the factors they have been given.

During set up, each player will take a player board, five food tokens, five bird cards and two bonus cards. Players will then have to decide how many of the five bird cards they want to keep. They may keep all five if they choose, but for each of the cards they choose to keep they must discard one of their food tokens.  Players will then choose one of the two bonus cards to keep. Players will also randomly decide upon a first player, and give that person a first player token. Finally players will grab their eight action tokens in the color of their choosing. This completes set up for the individual players.

In addition to each player setting up their play space, players must also set up the communal supplies. Players must shuffle the bird deck and deal three cards face up, and shuffle the bonus cards as well. Place these decks within reach of all players. Then players must put together their dice tower, and place the five wooden dice in the back of it. This will roll those dice and the dice will stay in the bottom of the feeder. Place the food token stores and the eggs within reach of all players.

Finally, select an end of round goals side and place goal tiles on the four spaced indicated. Players should be aware that the green side will be for a more competitive game, whereas blue provides points regardless of what each other player does. The blue side is suggested for new players. Once these things are set in place, set up is complete and players are ready to play the game.

Starting with the first player, each player will take one of four actions.


Place a Bird from your Hand

Place an action cube on the Place a Bird space, in the column you will be placing a bird. Players will select one of the bird cards in their hands and place in into a habitat below. Birds must be played into a habitat that matches one of the ones depicted in the top left-hand corner of their card. Players must also be able to pay the food cost associated with the bird, pictured under the habitat in the top left corner of the card. Food cost must come from personal supply not from the player board. Players may opt to pay two food tokens of any kind in place of one food token needed, this is true ONLY when playing a bird.  You will place this bird in the leftmost space on the habitat of your choosing.  In some cases, the board may depict an egg or multiple eggs above that column. When players place birds in these spaces they must discard that number of eggs to play the card. If the bird has a “When Played” power, you may activate it then and follow the directions listed on the card. Then slide your action cube all the way to the left.

Gain Food

 Place an action cube in the left most exposed slot on the gain food row. You will then pick one die per dice you see in the exposed box. Players will select dice from the dice tower. In some cases, below the dice depicted there will be a symbol that shows a bird card with an arrow to a die. That shows the player may discard a bird card to take an additional food token. Players may only do this once per action, and players must take that card from their hand, not their player board.

If the food supply is ever empty when you need to take a die, players will place all dice back into the dice tower. In cases where all remaining dice (even if there is just one) show that same symbol, players have the option to reroll all dice. Each dice gives only one food token, so in cases where there is a slash depicted players select one kind of food token to take.

Once you have done the action depicted on the open space, then you will move your cube from left to right stopping on each bird already in the row. Players then have the option to active any birds that have a brown when actived power. Players may choose not whether they complete this action. The players turn will end once the action cube has returned to the leftmost column that says gain food. If a when activated card says to place an item on or under a card, such as food or another card, you may not use that item as though it is in your personal supply. It will be used for end of game scoring.

Lay Eggs

Mechanically, lay eggs works in the exact same fashion as the gain food option. Players will place their action cube in the leftmost exposed slot, take the action indicated and then move their action cube left activating birds with the when activated banner as the player wishes.

The difference between these two spaces is that in the lay eggs space, the player will be taking eggs rather than food dice. Players will take a number of eggs indicated on the exposed space and place it on a bird card. Some spaces will give players the option to return one food piece to the supply to take an additional egg. This can only be done once per action, and the food must come from your personal supply not your player board.

Players must find a bird card that has open space in its nest, and place the eggs on that bird card. Eggs on bird cards will be used as a resource as well to place cards, unlike food or tucked cards which cannot be used as a personal supply. Each bird can only hold a certain number of eggs depicted by small eggs on the left-hand side of the card. If you cannot store the eggs that you gain, the remaining eggs would be returned to the supply and lost.

You may notice that some eggs have different types of nests, this does not affect placement of eggs in any way. That only comes into play when evaluated end of round goals and bonus cards.

Draw Cards

The draw cards action is mechanically the same as gain eggs or food.  Instead of gaining food or eggs though, this is how players are able to draw cards from the deck or face up cards. Players may choose to either draw from a face up card when taking this action, or a face down card off of the top of the bird deck. On some spaces, players may have the option to discard an egg from their player board to gain an additional card. Keep in mind, players do not refill the three card display until they have finished drawing their cards for this action.

It is important to remember that there is no hand limit in Wingspan. Players can have any number of bird cards in their hand. Unlike in the beginning of the game, players do not have to discard a food token each time they draw a new card.


Play continues in this fashion with each player selecting one of the four actions to take with each of their action cubes until players have no action cubes remaining. It is crucial to make sure that players are placing an action cube on each turn, including when playing cards.

Players should also be paying attention during other players’ turns. Some birds have a pink action banner, which allows them to do an action on another player’s turn if certain criteria are met. This is the third type of action in addition to the when played actions, and when activated actions. These actions will never be activated on that player’s turn, so it is crucial for players to listen to the opponent’s actions as well.

After the last action cube is placed, players will need to clean up the round and reset for the next round. This includes taking off all action cubes from player mats, discarding and replenishing face up bird cards and rotating the first player token. Then players should score their end of round bonus.

Players will note the end of round tile, and score their board accordingly. If players have chosen to use the green side, they will determine who is in first, second, third according to the requirements on the tile. Those players will place their action cube on the corresponding space. All remaining players will place their cube on the zero space. These cubes will stay here for the remainder of the game.

On the blue side of the end of round goals, players will see how many cards fit the tile requirements, with a maximum of five. They will then place their cube on the corresponding number. There may be multiple cubes on one space. Each space will award points based on the corresponding number. Therefor a player who places their cube on five, will gain five points during the end of the game. These cubes will remain her for the rest of the game.

After placing action cubes on the end of round goals, players will begin a new round.  Players will play a total of four rounds. Each round players will use all action cubes, and then place one action cube on the end of round goal board. This leaves players with increasingly less actions each turn, so it is important to play attention to action economy throughout game play.

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Once the last round has been played, players will go to end of game scoring. There is a score sheet included which walks players step by step through scoring. First players will score points from the bird cards themselves, which are noted by a feather on the left-hand side of the card itself. Then players will score the bonus card they gained in the beginning of the game, along with any additional bonus cards they gained through card effects. Players will then look to see how many points they gained from end of round bonuses.

Once players have scored these elements, they will shift their attention to their player board. Players will score one point for each of the following things: eggs on cards, food on cards, cards tucked under cards. It is important to note that players do not score points for food in their personal supply, or cards in their hand. Players only score one point per food or card on their player board due to card effects.

After these elements are scored, players total their points. The player with the most points has created the best aviary and therefor wins the game.

Components:

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The components in this game are the top-notch components that I have come to expect from Stonemaier Games. There was attention to detail in everything from the components, to the artwork, to even the look and feel of the rule book.  The pieces are both functional and visually appealing while still remaining heavily thematic. I was especially impressed by the dice tower, which demonstrates a clear attention to detail and care for the theme of the game as it is actually shaped like a bird house.

In addition to the beautiful dice tower, the pastel eggs are especially eye-catching and feel great in hand. I love the decision to include 3D eggs rather than cardboard tokens. The food tokens are from a high quality punch board that were easy to punch, and I had no tearing of the tokens while punching the game. I would have loved to see these tokens also either be realistic resources or wooden tokens. However, I expect that there will be third party produced food tokens that players could add if they wanted to upgrade these at some point.

Stonemaier Games also considered storage when creating the game, including a Game Trayz two part organizer that holds all three decks of cards, and is used during game to hold the face up cards, making them easy to pick up from the table. Additional the game comes with four Stonemaier Plastic Resource Containers to hold parts during the game. My one complaint would be that I wish one additional container was included in the game because it would make set up much quicker. Players count easily put the different food types in their own separate container and open them and be ready to play immediately. If players only have four they will need to mix at least one of the food types or use a separate bag. This is an easy fix though, as Stonemaier Games does sell these containers on their website.

Beyond the components themselves, it is important to note the quality of art. Each card depicts realistic illustrations of real birds. These illustrations are impeccably done, and will be exciting to those who are bird enthusiasts as they will be able to easily recognize the birds. Additionally, for players who may not be experts on birds, the well done illustrations could be a learning tool to help connect names of the birds with their images. This game is truly a work of art with all the details considered.

Overview:

Positives:
  • Replaybility
  • Many Paths to Victory
  • Stunning Artwork
  • High Quality Components
  • Female Design/ Art Team
  • Easy to Teach
  • Educational
  • Unique and Inviting Theme

Negatives:

  • Learning Curve
  • Analysis Paralysis Prone

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Wingspan is a beautiful, medium weight engine building game. After playing it several times, I have found that it is quickly becoming one of my favorite Stonemaier Games’ games. Beyond the attention to detail in the components themselves, I was also impressed by the game play.

The game is not overly difficult to teach to new players, as the player board offers a good guide to players. The actions once explained are easy to follow and complete.However, due to the variety of actions that can be taken, and the resources needed to take each action, I have noticed that the game can be difficult for those who are prone to analysis paralysis. It is also important to remind new players when placing cards to check and make sure that they have all resources necessary including the eggs which many players are prone to forgetting.

The many actions though are also a benefit to the game. It provides plenty of replayability because there are many strategies in which players can try to win. There are also plenty of birds, and with each one having different abilities it is interesting to see the different combinations that can be built into the engine. That being said, this does create a learning curve to the game.  Players who have played the game before and are familiar with some bird powers and how they work with other cards will have a clear and significant advantage over newer players. While this is true of most games, I found that it was especially prevalent in Wingspan. New players will still grasp the game and enjoy it likely, but there could be significant gaps in scoring as they figure out the engine building aspect.

Despite the learning curve, I would still suggest Wingspan to players who are new to engine building games. The step by step layout of the player board helps teach new players how to play the game. It is also lighter than many of the other engine building games on the market such as Scythe, Terraforming Mars, or Caverna. Though, those who enjoy those games will likely also enjoy Wingspan. It would be a good step up from games such as Century: Spice Road or Splendor though, as it provides a little more challenging game play without the complexity of the heavier games.

Beyond the game play itself, the game also has two other unique factors which are important to mention. First is the unique theme and application of the theme. While there are a few games on the market about birds, none of the ones I have seen have provided such a variety of realistic birds in the game.

Not only does the game explore the theme of bird watching or researching birds, but it also does so in an educational fashion. The birds in the game have been researched to provide accurate information to the players scaled to the game play itself. For instance, the number of eggs that can be laid on each bird is actually based off the number of eggs laid each year for that specific bird. The rule book includes fun tid bits about the different aspects of the game including their diet, egg laying capabilities, and the geographical location in which the bird may be found. Additionally, each card includes a map of where the bird would be found in the wild. These additional facts and focus on accuracy  would make the game a perfect gift for a bird enthusiasts.

I could also see using this game in the classroom or in a home school setting as an introduction to a science unit. Students could use the game to learn a bit about various birds, their habitat, what they eat and where they live. Then the game could be expanded into a research project on their favorite bird to provide more detail about it, or as a field trip to go bird watching and try to identify the birds within the game.  This could be expanded in a variety of ways but could be an engaging way to capture the attention of older students.

The second thing that stood out to me as somewhat unique was the game is created by a female design and art team. I often find posts where people are asking what are some great games designed or illustrated by women.  Wingspan is designed by Elizabeth Hargrave, and the artists involved are Beth Sobel, Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, and Natalia Rojas. Elizabeth Hargrave has one other published game called Tussie Mussie, which is another nature based game with an I cut, you choose mechanic. While this does not mean the game is better than other games for the sole reason that there are so many women involved, it is exciting to see a female collaboration that plays so beautifully.

I would suggest Wingspan for players who are a fan of the engine building mechanic. The game does a great job focusing on that mechanic and applying pressure for players to build their engine early in the game and watch it play out in the last two rounds. Beyond that, players who are avid bird watchers or researchers will obviously find great enjoyment in the theme of the game. Finally, for those who love games with great table presence, Wingspan combines visually interesting components with great game play and replayability.

If you are interested in getting Wingspan, be on the lookout for the pre-order which will go live on January 2nd, and stay open until January 8th via the Stonemaier Games’ website. If you order during this time, the game will ship in January.  Otherwise, other retailers will release the game at retail in March.

2 thoughts on “Review of Wingspan

  1. Great review, Mackenzie. You summed the game up wonderfully. I, too, think that while the game isnโ€™t difficult to pick up at all, that just general strategy will develop on how to address both end-of-round goals and end-of-game goals, which will lend the scoring to favor experienced players versus new players much more prominently than perhaps other games with less scoring mechanisms. That said, I think Wingspan is a fantastic game, probably taking #2 or #3 on my all time favorites, and certainly my #2 from Stonemaier. Scythe still has my heart. But again, well done on the review. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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