Jamey Stegmaier, founder of Stonemaier Games, is a fantastic promoter of his wares. As a result there is a buzz around every release that drops. There was indeed a lot of hype when Elizabeth Hargrave’s Wingspan first came out too. This expectation comes with a price. It is all too easy to get swooped up in the hysteria and have unrealistic hopes placed on the game. I haven’t indulged in many Stonemaier Games as they come with a price tag that requires a serious commitment to loving the board game within the box. Living up to expectations and an often hefty price tag is a tricky thing. Under deliver and you’re making it too easy for people to get in a flap about the negatives. Although in Jamey’s defence, the hype never comes from his mouth.
Wingspan is generally considered to have been a flyaway success. Yet it still has had mixed reviews. Well here I am, ready to get my talons stuck in. So feather your nest and read our board game review of Wingspan…
Setup is surprisingly easy. Deal five cards and allocate one of each food type to all players. Also distribute two objective cards. Players will select one of the objective cards and discard the other. Players can keep as many birds as they want out of the five cards in their hand, but have to discard one food type for every one they keep.
The rest of the tabletop should have a display of three face up bird cards and a face down pile to draft and draw from. End of round bonus objectives are selected at random and displayed for all to see, food and eggs should also be in reaching distance for all. Finally the dice are rolled through the dice tower provided.
Wingspan is played over four rounds. The winner is the player with the most points after these rounds have been played. On your turn you will choose one of the four actions available to you, using an action cube to mark what you have done. These are indicated on your personal player board that is divided into three habitats: woodland, grassland and wetland, plus an area in the corner where you indicate you have laid a bird card.
Playing a bird card from your hand is one of the options. To perform this action you have to pay the food indicated on the card from your reserve and possibly eggs if the row of your personal board dictates so.
The other three actions reap more benefits depending how many birds you have in a habitat. The Forest area rewards players with food that can be selected from the dice tower. The grassland provides eggs, these are necessary to place birds further along your board and are also worth points at the end of the game. The wetland allows you to draft or blind draw more bird cards to your hand.
When performing an action in a habitat, many of the bird cards you’ve played will have activations that give additional bonuses. These bonuses really aid the engine building of the game.
Once all action cubes have been used up, players tally their contributions to the end of round bonuses and place an action cube on the relevant scoring spot. All players will have one fewer action in the subsequent round.
Then comes the end of the game scoring, including points from birds, eggs, end of round bonuses and any bonuses from the hidden objective cards.
Note purple eggs from European Expansion ©boardgamereview.co.uk
I’m really sorry I have never played the solo variant of Wingspan. Stonemaier’s Automa mechanics are heralded as generally being very good. My problem is that if I had a length of time on my own, I will be busy beavering away at a review. If I fancy a quick solo gaming fix, I would go for something shorter and lighter like Ganz Schön Clever. The funny thing is, I would like to try Wingspan out solo, so if ever I do, this will be updated!
What it’s like
Once you have got to grips with the game, it is very easy to play. This will probably take a game or two, but I would be surprised if you didn’t want to play again straight away. Players have plenty of decisions to make that have to reflect the supply of food, the cards available and the bonuses too. There are always different options and it is choosing the most efficient way to optimise every precious turn while dealing with the mildly random acts the cards and dice present.
It is an easy game to overthink. Some may take issue when the dice feeder hasn’t got the required food but you can use any two types of food to pay for a specific requirement you don’t have. Similarly the card drafting can go against you. This for me adds to the game. It forces you to adapt your strategy based on the options available, but some people could struggle or dislike that element. The end of game hidden objectives can be tricky to meet and aren’t as rewarding as some of the other ways you can get points.
With one fewer action every round, the game quickens up and you will be planning your final turn much quicker than you might like. This constraint is a clever addition to balance the power of the growing tableau in front of you. You will be left wanting more, but for me that is better than a game overstaying its welcome on the tabletop.
I can testify that it works at two, three and four players. There is a bit more down time with higher player counts and it is a bit harder to plan for what dice and cards will be available, but generally the additional thinking time is welcome, as is the higher frequency of additional benefits of some bird cards that affect all.
Other player’s turns do affect your choices. The more scheming may swoop in for bird cards that might overtly help another player. But generally it is the end of round bonuses that ensure you pay attention to your opponents’ tableaus. However, playing Wingspan is a fairly solitary experience as you desperately try and get your own personal engine working. On rare occasions, it doesn’t!
Note purple eggs from European Expansion ©boardgamereview.co.uk
As far as out of the box components go, Wingspan is at the forefront. The most impressive of these is the cardboard dice tower modelled as a bird house where the custom printed dice are rolled and selected from. The tokens these represent are bright and colourful. The prettiest component by far is the swathe of coloured bird’s eggs that are included. Oh and let’s not forget about the clear plastic component trays that are also included in the box. That sort of thing excites me more than it should!
The cards are adorned with beautiful and accurate depictions of the birds and are brilliantly clear. There is also additional facts at the bottom of each card for the wannabe ornithologists too! You also have more cards than you can shuffle, with the option of adding more with expansions.
The player boards are colourful. Rarely mentioned, but the back of these look like a seasoned brown leather journal. This is a lovely detail but arguably my favourite little detail is on the side of the box. New to me, but there is a diagram on the box showing the optimum way to house all the components in the box. A detail that deserves a round of applause.
This isn’t to say there is not room for improvement. I have commissioned from a friend a knitted bird’s nest to hold the eggs and was also given some geeked-up food token components. These extras really do improve my enjoyment of the game further despite being entirely superfluous! My personal add-ons may have sneaked into some of the photos here so please be aware they are not included in the game. What is included will be perfectly fine for most.
The instructions are of the standard all other games should try and attain to. They get you up and playing quite quickly but have appendices to further explain card rules and the bonuses you might encounter. I understand that the second edition also comes with Swift Start. Not only is this a brilliant bird pun, it also takes players through their first few turns in the game and apparently gets you up and playing quicker than before. If it does what it purports, it is a brilliant addition!
Food tokens optional unofficial purchase ©boardgamereview.co.uk
Final thoughts on Wingspan
I have seen Wingspan banded about as an ideal gateway game, i.e. perfect for beginners to get into the hobby. I slightly disagree, for me it is gateway-plus. I think Wingspan is the game you move onto having played some of the other beginner-friendly titles. I fear those new to the hobby would struggle as there is a lot going on and to think about. With a few other entry level games under your belt, this is the perfect next step!
Wingspan is a brilliant game. I acknowledge it isn’t for everyone, I’m not sure there is such a game in existence. I do believe however, the majority of people will enjoy playing it. I also think many will fall in love with it. There is after all a lot to love, an accessible game with wonderful components and a theme that is refreshingly different.
The first few plays I had of Wingspan left me dreaming about it at night. Keen to work out the different strategies. I love it when that happens with a game. It’s rare, but such a treat when it happens.
I understand Wingspan is a more expensive game. I personally have got the value out of it as I play it often. If I don’t play it regularly I pine after it. I can’t say that about many games!
Number of players: 1 to 5
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 12+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 10+
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 5 minutes
Designers: Elizabeth Hargrave
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Wingspan deserves all the credit it gets. It is a phenomenal production. At its core is a very good, yet accessible game that will appeal to the majority of people. All the mechanics of the game meld together into one glorious egg-laying machine. Elizabeth Hargrave, with Stonemaier Games, has created a classic.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Amazing gateway plus game
- Stunning components
- Beautiful theme
- Additional facts on the cards
- Expansions available
- The lack of bird puns in the review
- You will like it so much you will want to upgrade the food tokens and find a nest for your birds
- End of game bonuses could reward with more points
- Sometimes the engine doesn’t get going
Need more games?
If you already own Wingspan and enjoy it, or are looking for other inspiration, you might also like these similar games:
- Santa Monica
- Viticulture Essential Edition
- Red Rising
- Star Realms
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