1-5 players, Competitive, Engine Building Bird Paradise
Designer: Elizabeth Hargrave
Artwork: Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Overview of Gameplay-
In Wingspan you need to build a bird empire. However there are many different ways to build said empire. You could place high value birds on your player mat to gather points or you could place low valued birds that have better synergies with other birds. There are eggs you can lay on your birds that are worth points or some of your birds can gather food up or even devour other birds. In short there are a lot of ways to gain points in this game and finding that perfect strategy may not be as easy as it sounds….
So to play the game is actually really simple. On your turn you place one of your colored wooden cubes on a specific spot on your player board and take the action that is there. The actions are: Play a bird, Gain food, Lay eggs and draw card. That’s it. The key is to play in such a method that the bird madness you create on your board all works together fluidly. Because as you start playing birds on your board, depending on what row you play them in, those actions become more powerful. So let’s say you have a couple birds already played to the forest row, well now when you perform the “Gain Food” action you can gain two food instead of the one food like everyone starts with.
What makes it more tactical though is that you are constrained by your starting birds. At the very beginning each player is dealt 5 random bird cards and 1 of each of the 5 food tokens and you can keep however many of those cards you want at the cost of 1 food each. Not only that but each player is dealt 2 objective cards and has to choose just one to keep. So right off the bat you have to make a choice on how you want to proceed building your bird engine based on what you have in hand. It’s an interesting choice for sure, and for the life of me every game I’ve played it hasn’t been about winning. It’s always been about something super specific that a particular person had on their mind. A couple examples, my wife played and in her starting hand was this Horned Owl that looks all devious. Now she loves owls so I can only imagine the glee in her bones when she had this card. The ONLY thing in her mind was that she HAD to play this card regardless of the cost. Now I believe the cost on that particular Owl was 3 rats. Of the 5 different foods that can be gained rats are are one of the most rare. Also there are precious few birds in the large deck that eat rats so you don’t see them come up all that often compared to the others. So she spent a very large portion of the game trying to gather up enough rats to play this beast. She finally did and she was pleased, however it cost her the game. But that didn’t matter at that moment, she accomplished her goal that she created from the get go.
In another instance I was playing a 5 player game with some friends and one of my buddies got it in his mind that he wanted to find the Pigeon card in the deck. So he built this incredible “Draw Card” bird engine that when combined with bird cards that he played had him drawing up 11 bird cards every turn. At the end of the game he came in 4th on points and never did find that pigeon (there isn’t one in the game) but the amount of fun he had hunting was glorious. That game in particular also showed me so many different ways you can build up your bird engine and was an interesting experiment on different strategies. In any case I’ve dolled on long enough, onward with the review!
Components/Game Board –
This is one of those games that goes far above and beyond when it comes to component quality. Before I purchased the game for myself I had played a friends copy and got the honor of touching his rulebook. My gawd. These rulebooks are heavenly. The pages feel like…like…what you imagine a cloud must feel like when you were six years old. The softness and texture is out of this world. The cards also have a lovely texture to them, the oversized wooden dice have custom images emblazoned on the sides and roll perfectly down a custom made bird house dice tower that also feel very sturdy. There is a plastic storage holder that doubles as the card draw for the cards that has an image of a bird on it. I mean the ONLY things in the game that I would even consider average are the wooden action cubes and the cardboard food tokens and even those look very nice on the table. Oh and the plastic eggs! A whole fat batch of plastic eggs that you use in the game that adds an immense amount of theme.
The player boards are also super high quality. They fold in half and have a kind of soft smooth textured touch to them. It’s hard to put into words until you feel of them yourself…..especially those rulebooks. Anyway as far as components go this game shot straight to the top for me. Super high quality and attention to detail with every aspect.
The box also has a nice feel to it as well, it just feels premium. And it’s not all that big either when compared to most modern games. I would say a little smaller than average. And even though it doesn’t come with a proper insert, everything fits in the box almost perfectly. Now this is the way to measure and pack a game box. There is even a diagram on the inside lip of the box that shows you how to pack the box. There are a few plastic containers that allow you to store the tokens though which is nice. The big storage aspect though is the plastic card holder. This baby stores all the cards and has a nice lid to keep them all nice and organized. Beyond all that though you will bag up the rest of the stuff such as the eggs and dice. For a game without a full insert I was pleasantly surprised at how well everything came together in the box.
Visual Appeal /Theme–
Another aspect that they just knocked out of the park with this game. The game is gorgeous with a variety of colors all over the player boards. And not just the player boards either, the plastic eggs are all colored differently as well as the food tokens and player action cubes. Visually this game just draws people in when they get a glimpse of it, it stands out. Now I remember when this game was first announced, the theme was to me, uninteresting. I remember thinking, “birds? Meh”. Oh how wrong I was to dismiss this game just because of the theme. After having played it I can say the way the bird theme integrates with the game mechanics and how interesting it is to see some birds synergizing with others is just awesome. Strictly speaking just because of this game, I will never judge a game solely on its theme alone again.
In any case they did an outstanding job with the bird cards. Heck even if you are not a bird lover, the little bits of bird knowledge on each card is fun to read! Plus some of the bird names are just hilarious. It never fails to bring a smile from the groups I play with when I flip a new bird card and read its name aloud along with the nice little bird fact.
Oh don’t even get me started rn. These 3 rulebooks included with this game are…..unbelievable. And in such an amazing way. I mean honestly I am at this moment having a hard time even remembering the rules…..it’s almost like once I touch the softness of the pages my mind is whisked away to an enchanted forest where only the softest of trees grow and tiniest fuzzballs of birds dwell. Snapping back into existence, the rules are written out easy to read with plenty of examples and even still there really isn’t much to explain as the game is so straight forward as it is. But I don’t recall ever wondering about a specific rule and I haven’t had to come to the forums in search of a rules question which is always a good sign.
I mentioned 3 rulebooks up there ^. There is the regular book to explain the game, an appendix book that goes over all the finer details (which I have never needed to use) and a solo Automa rulebook which explains how to play the solo game. The solo game is super fun and unique and I’ll delve into that more in the player count section below. All in all though the rulebook/s are great!
Table Talk/Fun Factor –
The game is played on your own personal player board as there is no group board to play upon so you do find yourself focusing on your own devices a lot more than worrying about others. That said, at least with the groups I play with, we always seem to keep conversation going about the game while we play. We are always talking about the different birds we find and I typically handle the draw pile for everyone around the table and read aloud the new birds with their little tidbit of intriguing info. It goes a long way to keeping everyone engaged and not only that but people always seem interested in strategies that everyone else is doing.
I always ask my groups how they like the games we play every week and every single person enjoyed this one. They all said the same thing too, they loved all the different ways you could try to win by gaining points.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability –
I think this game wins in a number of different player counts. Solo is a blast as the game comes with a dedicated automa solo mode complete with its own cards and instructions. I enjoyed all my plays solo and am itching to play it as we speak. 2-5 player is super fun as well however I did see some downtime during the 5 player games I played. The downtime wasn’t nearly as bad as some games I’ve played in the past but it’s something to be aware of.
Replayability is pretty good for the most part. There are 150-ish different bird cards in that large deck so more than likely you will not see ALL the birds for quite some time. So each new game you play you can try out new strategies depending on what birds you collect/draw. That said it’s the same game mechanics over and over of playing birds, collecting food, drawing cards, laying eggs. The variety comes from HOW you choose to build your engine.
Positive Final Thoughts –
If you are looking for a great engine building style of game with loads of theme and color then look no further. Even if you are not a fan of birds in general the gameplay mechanics are a hoot. With the amount of variety of the different birds and ways you can try to win this game will keep you occupied for a very good long time. Not only that but the component quality is off the charts, and for the love of relish you NEED to feel these rulebooks omg.
Negative Final Thoughts –
I wish there was a pigeon. Also the game isn’t crazy deep so if you are looking for a complex strategy game or a brain burner then this isn’t it. There are card synergies you can play but that’s about as deep as this game gets. Also the end game seems a little lopsided, what I mean is that it seems like everyone always leans towards laying eggs for those easy points during the 4th and last round. Since there isn’t as much time to play actions during the last round due to having only 5 action cubes (when compared to 8 in the first round as you lose 1 action cube each round) players seem to all agree that laying eggs during the last round is the best course of action.