WBG Score: 8
Published by: Stonemaier Games
Designed by: Elizabeth Hargrave
I cannot imagine there are many people within the hobby who have not heard of Wingspan by now. Card Game of the year 2020. Kennerspiel des Jahres Winner in 2019. Swiss Gamers Award Winner in 2019. Wingspan certainly is one of the big hitters of the modern era. But, if you are new to the hobby, somehow missed this one, or just interested in how WBG see's this mighty game, then read on. I hope to have a fresh take for you. Let's get it to the table and see how it plays.
I won't go into the full set up in this review. There is a great video here if you want the full 'Rodney' details. Suffice to say, the game comes with a lot of components that make setting up this game a lot easier. Such as the card tray which holds everything neatly when in the box, and then displays three cards beautifully when set up. The trays the food tokens come in are equally useful for both storage and set-up. Place all these out now around the table. In the box there is also bird feeder dice tower. This looks stunning, is easily assembled for your first play, and fits back into the box fully made so you won't have to dismantle and re-make each time. Place this out now with the dice in it and give each player a board and cubes of their chosen colour.
How To Play
Again, I won't go into the full rules here. The video above will do a better job for that. But I will cover the basics to give you a flavour.
On your turn, you will be able to do one of four options. Placing one or your coloured cubes on your board as you go to show how many turns you have left. The first option you can choose is to play a bird card from your hand onto your board, paying the appropriate food and egg cost shown the card you are placing and column you are placing it into. Then lay the card into the best suited environment on your board. If the bird has an immediate effect you can use this now.
The second option is to gain food, gaining the symbols on the left most uncovered slot in the top woodland area on your board. Generally here you can chose the food shown on one of the dice. The food is used to feed the birds when you place them in the above first option. The bird cards, when placed, will make later turns in each row more powerful. The order you do everything is crucial. Sometimes this game literally is Chicken and egg.
The third option is to gain eggs. The forth is to draw new bird cards. Again, you will spend a cube and take the amount of eggs or cards as shown on the left most available space on your player board.
The more birds placed on your board, the more powerful your subsequent turns become.
When placing birds, you can also activate any birds in that row that have any relevant brown "when activated" powers. So, the order in which you place the birds is also important.
Each round has its own specific bonus to aim for, such as a certain amount of eggs or birds in a specific habitat. You can either score this based on who scored the most each round, or a more friendly way where all players can score the maximum bonus if they achieved five of the specific task. A player will mark this using one of their action cubes. Once this is done, all players will take back all their other remaining cubes from the board, replenish all face up bird cards on the display, and start the next round. The game runs like this for four rounds. As such, each round you will have access to one less cube to use as an action. So, as the game develops, your actions will have to be carefully considered. The later rounds will fly by! Players will often want one or two more turns to complete certain scoring options in their early games. It has that delightful frustration of wanting to do a little bit more.
After the final round, players will score points for all bird cards on their board. Each player will score points as per their own bonus score card given to them at the start of the game and any subsequent bonus cards they may have gained during the game. Then each player will add the points scored from the mid round goals, and one point for every egg, cached food token, and tucked card on their player board. The highest score wins!
Is it Fun (Bear with me, we will get there...)
Wingspan has a huge fan base. I think this is down to three main things:
First, Wingspan is a gorgeous looking game. The art on the cards is stunning. Each one of the 170 cards is unique and shows a beautiful, accurate picture of a real bird. People like this. It feels educational, but not boring. It is interesting, true to life, and visually pleasing. The box art is also wonderful. Clean. And instantly striking. On a shelf, people would be intrigued to find out more.
Second, Wingspan plays well, incorporating some solid mechanisms in a highly accessible way. Mix the visual appeal with solid gameplay and you have the scale to win fan voted awards. Winning awards gain more sales, and a positive cycle of new games being sold and new fans coming to the game begins.
Finally, I think Wingspan grew to have such a huge following because it is good. But there are a lot of people out there that love it, and some that really don't. When anything gets this big, it will inevitably polarise opinion. Often, the extremes are more emotionally led, and I find a mean average can help. But those extremes sure do create a lot of hype. And that brings more sales too. So the art draw attention. The attention draw fans. The fans draw awards. The awards drew more fans. And the whole time, it turns out the game is good too. Hmmm...
Let's tale a quick look at those extremes for a moment though. The people that absolutely love Wingspan, may come from a few groups. One such group may be those that have been introduced to modern gaming through popular games like Wingspan, but haven't played that many others, and so find it incredible compared to other older "classic" games. This is a wonderful thing. Well done to Wingspan for bring so many more fans to this great hobby of ours. But this may explain why some views are so high in comparison.
I would also wager, there is a large group of fans of Wingspan who come to be such passionate supporters of the game due to the theme. Twitcher's, birders, and ornithologist's. Drawn to the game by the setting alone. Prior to Wingspan, there really were not that many mass market games about birds, believe it or not! Their opinions would be positively biased by their love for a previously neglected topic within games.
In the way that a mean average works, I would suggest we can discount these hard-core fans opinions to get a more balanced review for the masses. I am not discounting their genuine and absolutely sound love for this game. I am just using a mean average for the purposes of a review, and a rather laboured point. So, for balance, let's look at the other side of the fence.
There seem to be two main groups of people who really do not like Wingspan. The first is those who find anything that gets this big, hard to love. People who will avoid popular bands, films, and books, simply as they get huge press or mass market attention. Wingspan won a lot of awards and with that, put a lot of people off. Not just because some people avoid the popular, or obvious, but also because these awards were a popularity contest, rather than an objective result of mass game testing. It was frustrating to some that Wingspan won best card game for example. It sure does use a lot of cards, and they are fundamental to the core mechanics of the game. But many would argue that Wingspan is not a card game per-se. Catch me at my most pedantic, and I may be inclined to agree with that! So, this can turn some away.
The second group who seem quite passionate about this games inability to tickle there own personal gaming itch, are those perhaps more familiar with the hobby prior to Wingspan coming out. And perhaps they enjoy more mid or heavy weight games, and they find Wingspan to be too light. Frustrated by such a simple games popularity, they become irritated by so many people thinking that "this is what modern board games is about." They want people to experience a deeper game. To try something with more weight. And feel Wingspan stops people from trying what they may see as a more true reflection of modern board games.
I don't necessarily subscribe to all these points, but I certainly can see merit in all these arguments. But, I raise them purely to work towards a mean average. However, let's look at the stats. On BoardGameGeek there are 176 ratings of 1 currently recorded as per the day of writing. There are 138 scores of Two and 307 scores of three. Now, let's compare that to the scores of 10 which currently stands at 9,600! There are 15,000 scores of nine, and 25,000 scores of 8, the mean average starts to climb up a bit. And the low scores and arguments start to get somewhat drowned out!
I wonder how many people reading this would be shocked by the above. I thought, personally, that there would be far more lower scores. The vitriol for this game being so loud in the industry. But, I suppose that is because, like all things in life, sadly the negative reviews and lower scores can often be shouted with a much louder voice
I would wager, although I have nothing to back this up on, that there are many more people from the positive categories I mentioned above that have not scored Wingspan at all on websites like this, as they are not on BoardGameGeek. Even more people who are new to the hobby that would add their own 8's, 9's, and 10's but are not doing so, simply as they are new to the hobby and not on BGG yet. Whereas the active gamers who dislike Wingspan due to their many years in the hobby almost certainly would be present on scoring sites like this, in much higher numbers. So, you could argue there are many more unscored "Ten's" out there, than there are unscored "One's". Maybe Wingspan isn't as polarising as we have been lead to believe. The numbers certainly don't back it up. Maybe it's just good?
Well, that was all very interesting. If a little subjective! But it didn't really answer the question, Is this fun? And to save this argument between myself continuing, I will answer that now. Yes, Wingspan is fun. I felt it needed some context, considering this review is coming three years after it's release. A lot has been said about this game, both in the VERY positive. And also in the VERY negative. I wanted to find a balance. In trying to understand why the extremes exist, whilst looking for the facts to see if those extremes are as balanced as I had been lead to believe.
But what I am left with, after the dust has settled, is just a solid game. One that looks great. Is produced to very high standards. (That admittedly perhaps increases the cost a little too far, another irritant for some). But that delivers a stunning table presence that has brought many new people to tabletop gaming. For that alone, Wingspan deserves a lot of credit.
But let's tale away all the hype, awards, history and criticism and just look at the game. Wingspan is a good, low to mid-weight game that incorporates some interesting card play, clever engine building, that is coupled with an interesting depleting action selection mechanic, with multiple ways to score. As a game on its own, it is solid.
If you like birds, you will love it. If you are new to the hobby and want something accessible that takes you to the next step, this could be a firm favourite for you. If you enjoy hand-management and simple tableau building, this may be the one for you.
My advice, ignore the hype and give it a try. One of your friends probably already has a copy. It sold loads don't you know?