What is it that makes Wingspan from Stonemaier games so popular? In 2019 it was winning almost every category of gaming prizes. It was the “go-to” game of the year and its popularity remains. The European expansion brought new birds, but it is the Oceania expansion that, for me, held the most promise. Read on if you feel this game should spread its wings and venture down under.
From the outset, this is an expansion. You still need the base game to play, but as expansions go this has all the ingredients you might want. Just one look at the box cover and the dusky orange colour brings back memories of travelling in the Outback. The kookaburra in flight on the front is a lovely example of Natalia Rojas’ superb artwork. Part of the appeal of Wingspan as a whole is the stunning clarity of the birds. Oceania allows the wonderful diversity of birds from down under to be shown to the full.
Oceania has a few antipodean quirks in play. Stonemaier has given five new player boards, identical in size and quality to the standard Wingspan boards. However, look closely, and they have a few subtle changes. The three habitats remain but now players can use some of their food stuffs to gain extra cards or actions. The key to this is the nectar. Not Toohey’s or Castlemaine XXXX but the syrupy sap from trees and flowers. Many of the birds down under rely on the nectar for food and the trees and plants rely on the birds for pollination. New food types mean that new dice are needed.
The Oceania expansion gives players five new dice to be used in place of the standard dice. These give the opportunity for nectar to be collected alongside the standard bird foods. Some of the dice faces still give choices and the rules governing the rolling of the dice and the bird feeder are unchanged. The nectar can act as a “wild” foodstuff, allowing players to place birds even if a specific food is not present. However, at the end of each of the four rounds, any unspent nectar in a player’s personal food supply is removed.
Nectar has other uses too. The new player board has a spent nectar space on each habitat. At the end of the game, the “spent” nectar that has accumulated here will allow a bonus of five points (for the first player) or two points (for the second player). You can spend nectar to place it on these spaces either by; using it as a bird food cost, using it for the wild icon for bird ability, or using nectar to pay for an upgrade. This is a new part of the Oceania expansion where the nectar might be used to reset the bird feeder or card tray or to gain additional eggs or cards.
The Oceania expansion gives extra bird cards, five bonus cards and more end of round goal tiles. The 95 bird cards may be shuffled into the base game and even used alongside the European expansion if present. They are identified from the other cards by a small OE in the bottom corner if they need to be separated from the other decks at a later stage. We have found that with a two or three-player game, these 95 Oceania-specific birds are sufficient for a normal game without even needing their American or European cousins. This gives us ample opportunity to enjoy the amazing artwork and ensure that the birds are seen and used, rather than diluted in the standard game.
The bonus cards are added alongside the standard goals at the beginning. One or two of the new cards, the analysts, will influence how you lay bird cars. You may choose to place the birds in ascending or descending wingspan size to achieve additional bonus points. The colourful names of the Oceania birds give plenty of scoring opportunities to the photographer bonus card if it is held.
New goals, new eggs and a score pad
Additional points are awarded at the end of each round in just the same way as in the standard game. Four new goal tiles are added to the existing goals. I like a few specific goals in this expansion; No goal and beak pointing left (or right). When the “no goal” tile is in play the player’s cube does not get wasted on the goal grid, but returns to the player’s stock. This means that for all subsequent rounds there will always be an additional cube available on each turn.
If chasing points for the bird beak direction goal, s players have to look closely at the wonderful artwork. They then select birds, not just on abilities, but also on the direction they are facing! A few birds look straight on so will not score for this goal.
An additional 15 golden eggs are provided in this expansion. With the new bird’s ability and with a five player game, these are essential. The scorepad is also upgraded to credit for nectar held on the player’s boards in round four. The final score, however, is a “point salad” of scoring opportunities.
As a lover of Wingspan, this was a must. This, coupled with a personal association with Australia, meant that this expansion is as essential to us as the “basic game”. There are a number of factors that would encourage me to say to any board gamer “if you love Wingspan, you should consider Oceania”.
The nectar as a “wild” food source means that bird cards are played more readily. Indeed, the fact that nectar cannot be carried over between rounds encourages its use to play birds. This means that players get to fill their boards quite quickly and soon need to plan to develop the egg-laying capabilities in order to play more bird cards.
Many of the Oceania birds will also give extra bonus powers. These may just reward one player with a few extra eggs, but get a little “engine” going and soon nectar, eggs, cards and bonuses all seem to rack up nicely. This means that when playing well there is less concern about the randomness of the dice in the bird feeder, but more consideration about what can be played from the hand. Players can now concentrate on developing their hand, gaining extra cards or acquiring food stuffs etc. Thus the expansion gives a player more control of their destiny.
The quality of the cards, mats and components are as good as any game. The rules have a linen texture too so there is a premium feel to this whole the expansion. It is not a cheap expansion, but it contains almost as many components as the base game so is definitely good value. The nectar components are punched-out card in the style of the standard game. That said many Wingspan fans choose to buy component upgrades and these are already available for nectar tokens too.
The beauty of an expansion is that you can choose whether to add it to the full game depending on your mood. Wingspan is an excellent family game in its basic form. For our family, Oceania gives it a twist to elevate it to a higher level. The only problem now is what to do with the “redundant” base game components? This does mean for us that Wingspan with the Oceania expansion has become the new normal. Such is the dilemma facing any gamer who gets expansions. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.