Taking the board game world by storm when it was released in 2019, it seems to have taken me a very long time to get around to playing this highly acclaimed, ornithology-themed game.
In Wingspan – designed by Elizabeth Hargrave – players are tasked with populating various habitats on their individual boards with a wide variety of real life bird species, some of which will attract further birds of their type – creating flocks – or even breed. Played across four rounds – during which players will be aiming for round specific bonus points (which are randomly drawn at the start of the game) – the game sees players either playing bird cards to their specific habitat on their board, laying eggs, drawing more bird cards to choose from or collecting different food types. At the end of the game, players score points for each bird on their board, as well as each egg on their bird cards and even points for each bird that makes up a flock amongst other criteria. The player with the most points wins.
Though that’s a massive simplification of Wingspan, it’s a surprisingly easy game to pick up – it’s important to keep in mind that it does look a lot more complicated than it actually is. There’s not a huge amount of player interaction, which does help to give the game a somewhat relaxing and unhurried feel; diminishing numbers of actions per round mean that it’s a game that doesn’t outstay its welcome and in fact, you’ll wish that you had a few more turns by the end, to keep going with everything you’ve been planning to put in place on your player board over the course of the game.
It’s beautifully thematic and wonderfully designed from a component point of view; Wingspan has a brilliant bird feeder dice tower (and chunky wooden dice), solid 3D egg pieces, pleasing – and useful – plastic trays/card displays and an absolutely astonishing number of bird species that are all illustrated in a superbly naturalistic way, by Beth Sobel, Natalia Rojas, and Ana Maria Martinez. It’s both very tactile and functional throughout; even educational, from an ornithological standpoint.
The rules do feel a little overwhelming at first, but the actions aren’t too difficult to get to grips with in practice; with only four different types of action to get your head around, it really doesn’t take long to grasp. That said, there is also – in the latest printings of Wingspan – a clever and very useful Swift-Start pack included, which assists new players with learning the game.
Additionally, a single player, AI-deck driven version is included, though admittedly I’ve yet to try this.
The unusual, non-violent theme coupled with the mostly non-competitive (at least until the scoring starts!) nature of Wingspan marks it out as fairly unique. It’s an incredibly thematic and tactile game, which is pleasant, cosy and always leaves players wanting more. Wingspan is a genuine delight and it’s no wonder that so many players have been won over by its mechanical cleverness and deeply thematic design and components. It’s a beautiful and relaxing experience that really does demonstrate what’s possible beyond the sometimes narrow subject matter of many board games. Though not one for ultra-competitive players, Wingspan is an absolute delight for more laidback, if not entirely casual, players of all ages.
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