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Wingspan

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Wingspan is a competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game from designer Elizabeth Hargrave and Stonemaier Games. It is the winner of the prestigious 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres award. You are bird enthusiasts—researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors—seeking to discover and attract the best birds to your network of wildlife preserves. Eac…
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Awards

Golden Geek
Stunning Artwork
Dice Tower

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Excellent components.
  • Satisfying engine building.
  • Ease of play without sacrificing depth.

Might Not Like

  • Lighter than expected.
  • Theme is not hugely applied.
  • Um, er... the score pad?!
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Description

Wingspan is a competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game from designer Elizabeth Hargrave and Stonemaier Games. It is the winner of the prestigious 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres award.

You are bird enthusiasts—researchers, bird watchers, ornithologists, and collectors—seeking to discover and attract the best birds to your network of wildlife preserves. Each bird extends a chain of powerful combinations in one of your habitats (actions). These habitats focus on several key aspects of growth:

  • Gain food tokens via custom dice in a birdfeeder dice tower
  • Lay eggs using egg miniatures in a variety of colours
  • Draw from hundreds of unique bird cards and play them

The winner is the player with the most points after 4 rounds.

If you enjoy Terraforming Mars and Gizmos, we think this game will take flight at your table.

Featured Components:

  • 170 unique bird cards (57x87mm)
  • 26 bonus cards (57x87mm)
  • 16 Automa cards (57x87mm)
  • 103 food tokens
  • 75 egg miniatures
  • 5 custom wooden dice
  • 5 player mats
  • 1 birdfeeder dice tower
  • 2-piece Game Trayz custom tray
  • 1 goal mat
  • 8 goal tiles
  • 1 first-player token
  • 40 action cubes (8 per player)
  • 1 scorepad (50 sheets; 1 sheet used for all players each game)
  • 3 rulebooks (core, Automa, and Appendix)

Wingspan Rulebook

Wingspan Board Game Review

Jamey Stegmaier, co-founder and president of Stonemaier Games, knows a thing or two about board games. Having used Kickstarter for most of their earlier games, Stegmaier moved his games to a pure retail focus. Thanks to the success of games like Scythe and Viticulture, Stonemaier maintain a huge following. And the excitement around their newer title, Wingspan, is considerable.

Maybe it's because of the phenomenal quality, both in terms of gameplay and components, or maybe the rarely used theme has caught attention. Whatever it is, I managed to grab a copy of the game to see for myself.

Wingspan

At its heart, Wingspan (designed by Elizabeth Hargrave) is an engine-building game. This means that, during the game, you will be taking actions that give you powers and upgrades you can combo to your advantage. In Wingspan, this comes in the form of cards representing your birds. Bird cards come with one of three types of power - or no power at all. Powers activate once when they are played. Pink-coloured powers activate on other peoples' turns, dependant on certain circumstances. Finally, the main power is brown coloured. These powers activate every time you use the action in the bird's habitat.

Habitats are on your player board. Each habitat is linked to an action; take food, lay eggs (the birds not you), or draw more bird cards into your hand. Once you take those actions, you move along the birds in that habitat from right to left and activate any brown powers.

When I read the rules and the appendix initially, I thought the interplay of powers and gameplay would prove lighter than hoped. Let me tell you: I was very, very wrong. Though in no way a 'heavy' game, Wingspan sits comfortably in the accessible but deep category. This is borne out by my plays of the game feeling very different in how I built and utilised my bird-composed engine.

Wingspan Board Game Review - Components

Winging It

There is a neatness to Wingspan that isn't always present in engine building games, Terraforming Mars and Underwater Cities are truly great, heavier examples of the genre. But they don't handle keeping track of your engine as smoothly as Wingspan does. This may be because your engine is more limited here, with only four rounds and up to five birds in each of your habitats (for a total maximum of 15). But it never feels limited in a bad way.

Like lots of good games, Wingspan is a game where you won't be able to achieve everything you want to - but in a pleasingly puzzley way. Now, often the downside to many engine building games is that, as the game progresses, it can be difficult to keep track of all the activations and cards that fire off when certain actions happen. Wingspan handles this by essentially giving you three smaller engines to run, and by giving you more turns in early rounds when your engine is smaller compared to later on in the game. You track your turns in a round using cubes, which you gradually have less of, limiting your turns the next round.

Final Thoughts On Wingspan

To cap off a fantastic game is the excellent components - even the rulebook is linen finished! The bling isn't necessary, but it does add to the theme and the feeling of the game. In fact, the biggest negative on the components is the plain score pad, which isn't needed as scoring is fairly straightforward.

Wingspan isn't as heavy as I expected but this is not a bad thing. Its ease and speed of play mean that the game is welcoming, without leaving experienced players bored or feeling like they must hold back. There are also expansions available to keep everyone on their toes. These include the European and Oceania expansions, with an up and coming Asia expansion!

Editors note: This blog was originally published on May 10th, 2019. Updated on July 27th, 2022 to improve the information available.

Wingspan Feature In Wingspan, players are bird enthusiasts. They are trying to attract birds to each of their three different bird havens. The habitats each give you a bonus that you can use to attract more birds. Players want to build up an engine to ensure they can continue attracting birds for points, but also to meet secret bonuses and end of round goals. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.

Preparing The Nest

First, shuffle the bird cards into a deck and place this next to the bird tray, in easy view of all players. Then, place a card face up in each space on the bird tray. Shuffle the bonus cards and place them in a pile near the bird cards. All food and egg tokens should be placed into the supply, which should be within easy reach of all players.   If this is your first time playing the game, you will need to build the birdfeeder tower. There are instructions on the punchboards for how to do this. Once the birdfeeder is complete, place it on the table and fill it with the dice. Place the goal board in the middle of the table. Players will need to choose which goals they wish to play with as the board is double-sided. The blue side is a less directly competitive game where points are awarded at the end of the round. The green side is more competitive, with points awarded for being in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place for each goal. The blue side is recommended for new players. Shuffle the goal tiles and place one, with a random side up, on each of the blank spaces on the goal board.   Each player takes a player mat, 1 food token of each type, and the eight action cubes of one colour. Players are then dealt two random bonus cards and five random bird cards.   The players then decide which of their bird cards they wish to keep. For each bird card they keep, they must discard one food token. Whilst a player could keep all five birds, they would then have no food for the start of the game. Players decide on one of the two bonus cards to keep and discard the other one. Players can look at bonus cards and bird cards at the same time to help them decide which to keep and which to discard.   The first player is randomly selected, and play can then begin. Wingspan Board

Playing The Game

The game is played over four rounds. The first round comprises of eight turns, whereas the last round is only five turns long. On each turn, players will take one of their action cubes and place it on one of the available actions on the left side of the board. These are:

  • Play a bird
  • Gain food from the birdfeeder
  • Lay eggs
  • Draw bird cards

Play A Bird Card

To play a bird from your hand you must be able to play the food cost, shown in the upper left corner of the card. Birds need between nil and three food tokens to play. These food tokens must come from the player's supply. Some birds require their food cost to be met by specific tokens (fruit, seed, invertebrates, fish or rodents).  Other birds can be played using any food token. These birds have a wild symbol on their card. This is a circle with a section of each of the five colours. When playing a bird, you can spend any two food tokens as if they were one other food token. For example, a rodent and a fish instead of fruit.

Players should then check which habitat the bird will be played in - forest, grassland, or wetland. The habitat is also shown in the upper left corner of the card. Some birds can be played in more than one habitat. If this is not the first bird played in a particular habitat, you must also pay the egg cost. Egg cost is printed at the top of the column where you are playing the bird. If you cannot meet both the egg and the food cost, you cannot play the bird.

Once you have paid the cost for playing the bird, place it in the leftmost exposed space in the habitat. Then place your action cube next to the 'play a bird' text.   Some birds have a power that can be used when they are played. These powers have a white background and say "When Played" on. You do not have to use this power when you play a bird, but you also cannot reactivate it later on.

Gain Food Tokens

Players need to gain food to be able to play bird cards.   To gain food, you place an action cube on the leftmost empty space in the gain food row. You then take the amount of food shown from the birdfeeder. To do this, take one die from the birdfeeder and place a matching food token in your supply. You can only gain one food token per die. Some spaces show that you may convert one bird card to an extra die from the birdfeeder. This may only be done once on a turn and is optional.   You may then choose to activate any brown powers you want to on your forest birds, from right to left. It is optional to activate these powers. When you have activated all the brown powers you wish to, move your action cube to the left side of the gain food row, placing it underneath the text.   When a die is taken from the birdfeeder it is not placed back immediately. Instead, all dice are rerolled when the birdfeeder is empty. If all the dice in the birdfeeder tray show the same face when you go to gain food, you may choose to re-roll all the dice. Wingspan Eggs

Lay Eggs On Birds

Eggs are necessary to play more birds in your habitats. They are also worth one point each at the end of the game.   To lay an egg, place your action cube in the leftmost space of the lay eggs row. Then take the number of eggs matching that space on your player board. It does not matter what colour eggs you take. Some spaces allow you to trade one food token for an extra egg. This can only be done once each turn and is optional.   Once you have taken your eggs you must then place them on bird cards. You can lay eggs on any combination of birds that you wish to. It is important to note, however, that each bird has an egg limit. You cannot place more eggs on a bird than shown by their egg limit. If you cannot lay the eggs you take, they are lost.   When you have laid your eggs, you may then activate any optional brown powers on your grassland birds. These are activated from left to right. When you have activated all the powers you want to, place the action cube on the left side of the lay eggs row.   Each bird card shows a nest icon down the left side, just above the egg limit. There are four main types of nests: platform (twigs), cavity (hole in a tree trunk), ground (stones), and bowl. There are also some birds that have a wild nest type (not in one of the previous four categories). Birds with a wild nest type have a star symbol on the card. Wild nests are useful. They can be used as any other nest type for the purpose of bonus cards, end of round goals, and bird powers.

Drawing Bird Cards

When choosing this action, players can choose whether to draw a face-up bird card from the tray or a face-down bird card from the deck. If you draw a face-up bird card the space on the tray is not refilled until the end of your turn. Place your action cube on the leftmost exposed space of the 'draw bird' cards row. Then draw the number of bird cards indicated by that space. Some spaces show that you can trade in an egg to draw an extra card if you should wish to do so. You can only trade in one egg for one bird card in this way.   Activate any brown powers you wish to on your wetland birds, from right to left across the line. You do not have to activate any brown powers if you do not wish to. Once you have done this, place your action cube on the left side of the draw bird cards row, underneath the text. Wingspan Cards

End Of The Round

The round ends when all players have placed all of their action cubes. In round one, the players will have eight actions. They will have seven actions in round two, six in round three, and five in round four.   The players should then remove all action cubes from their player mat. The end of round goal is then scored. For example, the goal may be for players to have birds in their forest, or the most eggs on a bird with a particular type of nest. Players place one of their action cubes on the correct space for their score in that particular end of the round goal. There is an appendix book that comes with the game to explain all of the end of round scoring goals. The face-up birds in the bird tray are discarded and replaced with new birds. Finally, the first player token moves one space clockwise.

So… Who Wins?

The game ends after four rounds. Players then score points according to the included scorepad. These points are for: points on the bird card. Points for each bonus card. Points for end of round goals. One point for each egg and food token on a bird card, and for each card tucked under a bird card. The points are added up and the player with the most points wins.

Solo gaming is something many Stonemaier Games can boast as a given. Never mind the beautifully designed components, stunning artwork and excellent mechanics… The solo mode is, for many, where it's at. And what better game to look at for such a mode than Wingspan. It's renown across the board gaming community as a guaranteed winner and sits superbly as a top favourite for many. Heck, it sits in the top 50 for a multitude of categories in many a forum. (And I love it, too.) But today, we're not birds of a feather and we ain't flocking together. We're a solitary hunter taking on a mode of being unbound by others. Let's go Wingspan solo!

How's It Differ?

Wingspan's solo mode isn't massively dissimilar to its main mode for the player. You still collect birds, lay eggs and strive for personal and public goals. Set up for the player for is no different to the standard game. You still need to have a mat, action cubes, private goals, a starting hand and all the usual resources to hand. There are also two reference cards available for players regarding the solo mode and an end of round goal card for the automa. The automa player however requires much, much less.

The automa player is incredibly low maintenance component wise. Unlike many other solo experiences - it has a very small footprint. It only collects birds and eggs and, even then, they're only used for scoring! They do have the automa deck to determine actions and they need an end game goal (but this isn't for scoring). Also, there's a crib sheet to determine how many points they score at the end of round goals based on actions. Finally, you decide a difficulty level. You can go smooth sailing with the automa scoring 3 per facedown card, rough with 4 or you can go big and let each of their cards stack up as a massive 5 points!

Taking Turns

In Wingspan solo, you run your turns as a standard. Play birds, collect eggs, claim food and draw cards. No real difference for you. The automa, however, has their turn determined by the automa deck. Each card dictates an action based on the current round. They also dictate whether they stick around after each round, refining their deck and reducing the randomness of their actions.

When the automa needs to play a bird, you take birds from the face up display that best match their private goal and then take the highest scoring of those, discarding the latter. If they need to gain eggs, they gain the listed number. Should they need to place a cube on the end of the game goal, they add this cube to the actual goal (not the track yet!). The crib sheet will help explain how they score and values of things towards goals - remembering they don't ever physically have these things. There are circumstances when you might have to remove cubes as well, simulating them losing progress towards a goal.

In the weird circumstance that they have to draw cards - which they can't actually do - they add a face down card from deck to their pile and refresh the face up display. Facedown and face up cards score differently so these need placing accordingly. Finally, when they have to gain food, they take food based on a table for the card. They take every dice with the appropriate food symbol for the first result present. If there's none of the first symbols, they check for the second (and so on).

Finally, when a card says to activate all pink abilities, you do just that and gain all the benefits. Again, this is to simulate the automa player triggering your pink cards like in a multiplayer game. This routine runs with player and automa taking alternative turns and scoring for end game scores until the end of the game is triggered.

Ending The Game

End game scoring for Wingspan's solo mode runs exactly the same as it normally would… for the player. The automa is not so complicated, however. They gain points for the end of round goals as normal, but then score based on the number of cards they have collected. All face up cards are worth their value in points as normal, however the facedown cards are worth your difficulty modifier, each. If they have 14 cards and you chose to go big mode, they'd score 70 points just for the face down cards. (14 x 5 = 70 points). Finally, they score one point per egg collected. After that, whomever has the most points wins.

How's It Stack Up?

Wingspan Solo is undoubtedly the easiest solo I've ever run, without it becoming a golfing experience. You're not simply vying for a personal best, you have the challenge of competing with an unpredictably scoring element that's always gaining… it's not a chase, exactly, but it is a game of striving to do your best and to take on an automated system that can, and will, score well.

Life Like Doesn't Cut It!

The automa, like many in Stonemaier games, is tricky to beat. It has some open face scoring with eggs, face up cards and end game scoring.. but it has that unpredictable element of how many cards it will gain and when. You can prevent its gains by outmanoeuvring it with the goals and taking the top tier birds from the display before it does… but realistically, it's not going to be so simple. It doesn't need resources or to spend anything. It's an unrelenting terminator programmed to kill Sarah Connorearn big points in the most efficient way.

Wingspan does give some respite to the player and ensures the automa isn't just a point gaining machine, though. It is designed cleverly to simulate human error (as ironic as that sounds). The automa will lose progress to goals and do other daft stuff that does help in some capacities, but imitates Wingspan's to and fro between players. The core game has pretty low player interaction beyond pink bird effects but the solo ensures that's still used, too. It's a really clever system that's well executed and makes for a very enjoyable solo.

The Perfect Machine?

So how does it stack up as a purely solo game? Well… that's a tricky one. Despite my cold, hard, northern exterior, I quite enjoy other people's company. As such, player interaction is a big thing for me! Wingspan as a game doesn't necessarily have tonnes of that, I know, but it does still have that other human player. Someone to take cards, resources, claim eggs and replicate those errors you'll take full advantage of. Does the automa fill the shoes of another player? Yes. Yes, it does.

The administrative management of Wingspan Solo's automa is simple and accessible on every level. It's low management, high output like any good machine should be. What's more is that those lifelike interactions make for a superb replacement to what a real person would do. It's really impressive and makes for a top challenge! But… that's where the lifelikeness ends. High challenge.

Even the easiest mode of the solo is hardcore. I wasn't kidding with my Terminator analogy - the game is relentless and always striving to some level of success. If never, ever does poorly in scoring. Never. And because of that, it can't replicate a generic player's skill level. It's more of a replication of a veteran to the game. Even worse, the low level of maintenance means you can never learn from how the automa works to do better. Your learning is done entirely through the refinement of your own choices and decisions. Not though learning from a more experienced player.

In A Nutshell

Wingspan's solo mode makes for a superb experience and a superbly fun way to play the game on your own. It's challenging, clever and does a smashing job of being a substitute competitor. However, it does not replace the real thing. If you've got the choice of a 1v1 or a solo game, I'd always go 1v1. But if I were going to pick game to play solo? I'd definitely be picking Wingspan as one of my choices. It's quick fire, near identical to the core game experience and superbly easy to manage.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Excellent components.
  • Satisfying engine building.
  • Ease of play without sacrificing depth.

Might not like

  • Lighter than expected.
  • Theme is not hugely applied.
  • Um, er... the score pad?!