Wingspan Review

I wrote a few weeks ago about playing games where the strategy escapes me the first few times and how that usually drives me to try to figure it out. It’s not always heavy games, though.

There’s this new game out that you might have heard of. It’s designed by Elizabeth Hargrave and published by Stonemaier Games. It’s a game about birds. Does the name Wingspan ring any bells?

Of course, that’s a bit tongue in cheek. Wingspan has been a ridiculously hot commodity, so much so that it is already on maybe its 6th print run. Gamers everywhere seem to be clamoring for it. Gamers tend to have a pretty big fear of missing out and want to seek out the new hotness, sometimes even if the game isn’t that great. So does Wingspan live up to the hype?

I had heard about Wingspan and I initially had mixed feelings. A game about birds? That’s…eh. But I knew it was being put out by Stonemaier and so I wanted to give it a shot based on their catalog alone: I haven’t played a Stonemaier game I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. I was determined not to buy a copy though, which I didn’t think would be an issue due to the initial shortage.

Ryan, though, managed to snag a copy, and so at the next game day I asked him to bring it so we could just rip the bandaid off. Let’s get it over with, I thought. Let’s play this game about birds that I don’t want to like so I won’t need to buy it.

And then, we played it. And I did terrible. And I knew I had to have it.

Let’s talk briefly about gameplay. Wingspan is an engine builder, and due to its scoring mechanic, the number of actions you have each turn (I use turn to define the largest chunks of gameplay) diminish. Like other engine builders, there are a variety of ways to chain cards together to make the most of your actions. There’s a variety of end game scoring opportunities too, from private objectives, to turn based objectives, to simply playing cards with high point values or that can hold lots of eggs.

I can usually sniff out a competitive strategy the first time I play an engine builder; it’s one of my favorite mechanisms. With Wingspan, though, even though the rules were extremely light, the strategy wasn’t apparent to me. I sort of floundered here and there, not being able to commit and didn’t really feel like I played well at all. As I told a board game community I’m a part of, “It enraged me and I loved it and I must have it”

To some people, though, gameplay isn’t everything, and I’ll admit I do like games with higher quality bits than just cardboard, and Wingspan doesn’t disappoint.

The game comes with a lot of stuff. Notably, it includes a plastic card tray to hold all the cards, 5 chunky (but not too big) wooden dice, a cardboard birdhouse dice tower, 3 rulebooks that come on the best paper I’ve ever held in my hands, wooden eggs that might be confused for Easter candy and lots and lots of beautifully illustrated cards.

I can’t stress how impressed I am with the work of Beth Sobel, Natalia Rojas and Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo . All of the birds look like they came right out of an Audubon field guide. The iconography and layout is clean and easily recognizable, and the player boards are thematic. I am not a birder, but based upon feedback I’m seeing in the Facebook group that was set up for this game, there are tons of them that vouch for the art being ridiculously authentic, as well as the game being enjoyable. The artwork complements the mechanics, and you really do actually get the theme of birds and building an aviary.

Wingspan has vaulted itself to the top of my “games to play with people who aren’t gamers” list. The rules are easy to grasp, and it’s a fun game to play while you are having a conversation. I’ve enjoyed it at various player counts, from 2 to 4, and it even includes the ever great Automa system so you can play it solo (even though I haven’t yet tried).

I think Wingspan could be easily dismissed, like I almost did, because of the theme, but this would be a mistake. Wingspan is one of those games that has something for just about everyone, although I could see how those who tend to the medium-heavy end of the spectrum might lose interest. It’s definitely worth a play, however, even to just look at the art and play a laid back game.

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