Thematically, birds are always, always a good choice. Of course, that’s bias on my end. I grew up bird watching with my father. When the opportunity to review Wingspan, a prolific game about, you guessed it, birds, I soared towards the game.
Wingspan is a one to five player game where the main mechanics are engine building and tableau display. The average gameplay length is around 45 minutes, but varies on the number of players. You can even play it solo with automa rules.
Regardless of the number of players, the game is played over four rounds, with gradually decreasing turns (from eight to five). During each turn, a player can do any of the following: play a bird (with bird powers!), take food, lay eggs, draw bird cards and swap food. It’s pretty much how you manage these five actions that will determine whether you crack the formula or not.
After four rounds, the person with the most points wins.
The quality of the cards is top-notch, with each bird illustrated in full form on solid backed cards. The dice tower (resembling a bird house, no less), is constructed from thick card. Other components, like the eggs, dice and food tokens are all made from high quality materials. I almost forgot to mention: the rulebook and appendix. Heaven on Earth. Why? Remember smelling old books and touching the paper? Yes, that.
During the setup, each player receives:
- 1 player mat
- 8 action cubes of one color
- 2 random bonus cards
- 5 random bird cards
- 5 food tokens (1 of each type)
After you have received everything, you can choose to keep up to five bird cards and discard the others. For each bird card you keep, you must discard one food token. When it comes to the two bonus cards, one can be kept while the other must be discarded.
As mentioned earlier, one can play one of four actions (+ the additional food swap action). The gain food, lay eggs and draw cards all follow the same order: choose a habitat, perform actions in said habitat, compound bird powers (if any) and that’s it!
This process is performed by all players until everyone runs out of action cubes.
To be honest, I was not sure what I was expecting out of a game like this when I first played it. A game about birds and deck building? Sounds fun! I was a little skeptical and had pretty high standards because it was on a subject that is somewhat overdone.
But I was proven wrong and I am glad for that.
It was the design of the game, which is a combination of various mathematical principles like permutations and combinations, as well as the overall structured play experience with the people I played with, that tipped my love in Wingspan’s favour.
Not only was the replayability value in Wingspan wonderful, but it was also fun for all ages. I foresee this as a game that families with children can play together. With regards to the gameplay itself, its simplicity and systematic turn system is truly rewarding for those who like that added bit of structure in their gameplay instead of push your luck sort of games.
Most importantly, the entire thematic wrapped around an easy to learn, but hard to master gameplay system makes for a truly rewarding experience. That to me, is the key element of any game. Mathematically, with nearly an endless amount of possibilities to master and apply to one’s gameplay, makes each replay a brand new experience, even for seasoned veterans.
Playing Wingspan is fun, even within the first play.
Soon it became an addiction — I craved for more. To this day, I have played the game at least seven times. Despite having won less than half of the games I played, I find that the value of Wingspan is something extraordinary. People say that too much of a good thing is a bad thing; yes I do very much agree, but I believe that anything that exercises the mind is definitely good for it.
The game was, as the New York Times article on Wingspan noted on her favourite bird, the aquatic Roseate Spoonbill, “gorgeous at a distance and bizarre up close.” To me, beauty lies everywhere — up close or at a distance — and Wingspan certainly champions it.
I take my hat off to it.
(And I’m off to play round eight.)