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Top 5 Games For RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch

Big Garden Birdwatch
Big Garden Birdwatch

In honour of the world’s largest wildlife survey, namely the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch taking place at the end of this month (29 – 31 January 2021), we thought we would highlight a seleggtion of the bird themed games which some of our bloggers can’t stop raven about!

Whether you’re playing owl by yourself or you fancy a game that at least toucan play, check out our quack-tastic offerings below and you’ll be sure to have no egrets!

Flock off! Hey That’s My Fish!  - Will Moffat

I have four pet chickens, but they don’t rank in my top three birds. Those honours go to the Kingfisher, the Dipper, and the plucky Robin!

When asked to think of a bird-themed game I immediately thought of Wingspan – a popular game that I don’t own (yet), but am standing aside for others with more Wingspan experience to give their opinion. Then another game sprang to mind. (Although you wouldn’t see these birds in your back garden unless you lived in lower Chile, the Falkland Islands, or in Antarctica itself!). Yes, I’ve gone for the penguin-themed and idiosyncratically titled Hey, That’s My Fish!

Hey, That’s My Fish is a family game where you lay out a grid of hexagonal tiles (representing ice, with one, two or three fish on them) and on your turn, you move one of your penguins in a straight line over the tiles at a distance of your choosing. You then collect the hex from where your penguin started its movement from –this creates a gap in the grid which penguins can't pass over on future turns. When a penguin can't move, it is removed from play with its owner claiming the tile on which it stands. The winner is the player who collects the most fish.

I have two versions of this game – the original Mayfair version with large tiles and wooden penguin meeples, and the newer Fantasy Flight version with spectacularly charismatic penguin minis and smaller, more colourful tiles.

This is a chaotic, simple although fiddly game where you can’t help but knock the other tiles when you’re trying to pick your tile up. Nevertheless, my family and I never fail to have fun when we play it, and the greedy penguin theme really shines.

Flocking lovely! Wingspan - Northern Dice

What’s the one game you think of when you think birds? Well, pre-2019, I’d have had no idea. Birds weren’t a theme I was all about, nor did I think it key player amongst my preferred aesthetics of space, mythos or medieval settings. Fast forward to today, however, and I’m hit with the tail feathers of one of the biggest players around - Wingspan.

Wingspan is a gentle game with lots of wonderful imagery, gameplay and an all-round soft feeling. But it’s not without its tactics and depth! The true beauty of this game lies in its unique engine system.

The game has three tracks which players populate with cards. These tracks allow players to gain food, lay eggs on birds, and acquire bird cards. There’s a fourth action separate to the tracks which enables players to play the birds, too. As players fill the tracks, they gain unique benefits which trigger the track’s activation. What’s more, is that the track’s ability improves as it fills up; the fact it allows players to create combinations of cards bouncing off one another, and do so without any guidance, is excellent.

We discovered this game after the hype had reduced. In fact, it was only a few months before its most recent expansion became available that we got it! And yet it has become one of our most played games based on its beauty, gameplay and how easy it is to introduce to new players. And the fun doesn’t end with the core game’s 170 beautifully illustrated bird cards! Throw in the new mechanics of the expansions and you’ll have another 170+ to utilise!

When it comes to games with birds in them, flock to Wingspan; a game for tacticians, beauty appreciators, ornithologists, and board gamers alike!

Flocking hell! Odin’s Ravens - Ben Herbert

If you are in the market for a bird-themed game, why settle for just looking at birds on the artwork when you can be a bird? Not any old bird, but a mythical bird, a legendary bird, a Godly bird! A game that has the name of a bird in its title. It's even published by a company named after a bird!

In Odin’s Ravens by Osprey Games, two players take on the role of either Huginn or Muninn, Odin’s two Raven companions, in a race around the globe. The first one back wins.

Odin’s Ravens is a light, quick, card-based, hand management, filler game. The two players compete by racing in opposite directions around a row of cards depicting different landscapes. Each bird is depicted by a gorgeous, chunky wooden Raven meeple. The card art is darkly atmospheric, suiting the game just right.

When playing, in order to move across the landscape in front of you, you will need to play flight cards of the matching type from your hand and then move your Raven and draw new cards. Don’t have the right cards in your hand, or want to save them for later? Or maybe you just want to slow down your opponent? Then it’s time to enlist the assistance of the trickster God, Loki.

By drawing Loki cards, you will be able to move your raven forwards, remove landscape cards, swap or spin cards, draw new cards, or even make the route longer.

The balance of flight cards and Loki cards you draw into your hand will affect the game. Drawing Loki cards to try to slow down your opponent may also leave you unable to progress. Drawing only flight cards can leave you vulnerable to Loki’s tricks. Draw and play your cards wisely or find yourself in a flap.

What the flock? Seikatsu - Favourite Foe

Welcome to Big Garden Birdwatch! Big ones, small ones, some the size of your head. No, wait, that’s coconuts! Well, no matter, because whilst our feathered friends may come in all shapes and sizes, in Seikatsu by IDW Games, it’s all about the force of your flock!

In this simple abstract, tile-laying game for 1-4 players, you will be competitively co-operating to create a beautiful shared garden space centred around a koi pond, replete with delicate birds and flowers.

Gameplay is straightforward, making the game easy to teach and quick to grasp. After randomly placing a starter bird tile on a space encircling the pond, each player will draft two tiles from the communal bag and take it in turns to fill a space on the board which is adjacent to at least one other tile already in situ. Each tile will depict either a bird encircled by flowers or a hot wild koi fish (of which there are only four). Once placed, that player draws another tile into their hand and that is the end of their turn. Once all the tiles are placed, end scoring begins.

And this is where things get interesting. Although the artwork on this game is hands-down gorgeous, the focus on perspective is pretty neat too. You see, players score points during the game where birds of matching species flock together. But there are also big end game bonuses where flowers of matching colours can be seen from the direction of their own personal pagodas. At this stage, those previously helpful wild koi fish are now colder than a California roll. So whilst you may have been focussing on amassing a flock to rival Mr. Popper’s Penguins, your flowers could be a technicolour travesty – hawkward!

Because of the latitude in early tile placement, I think Seikatsu shakes its tail feathers best as a 3 player in terms of strategic challenge. However, if you are looking for a stunning, relaxing, tableau-building game at 1 or 2 player count, then Seikatsu is a quacking choice!

Flocking Intense! The Lost Words - Jim Cohen

The Lost Words was originally a book of “spells.” They were called this as they were meant to be spoken or sung; poems designed to bring back to the modern consciousness the lost words of our youth. When nature, the outdoors, and a connection with our surroundings was more a part of our lives. A time when you might see a Wren, and know what it was. When you might hear the call of a Lark, and smile to yourself. Safe in the knowledge that you were surrounded by nature. A nature that you knew and understood.  The book is used in many schools around the country. It won many prizes and was described by The Guardian as a “cultural phenomenon.”

It struck a chord with many due to the beautiful prose and art which is full of nostalgia and beauty. The game harps back to a simpler time when perhaps our own lives were happier or more content. The Lost Words game tries to inspire these feelings too, using the same words and pictures from the book.

The Lost Words is a very simple game; you won’t get lost in the mechanics. But you will lose yourself into the world it is trying to create and you will absolutely love this. The cards are divided into nature cards and spell cards. The nature cards are the paintings of the animals and plants; Magpies, Ravens, Otters, and many more. The Spell cards contain the poems about them: “I am Ivy, a real high-flyer. Via bark and stone, I scale tree and spire. You call me ground-cover; I say sky-wire.” In the game, you are simply looking to place a matching spell card over the nature cards you are collecting. The first one to do this over four nature cards is the winner.

The way this is done is via a combination of being lucky enough to draw the right cards, but more in using the third type of card, the special cards. These allow you to perform a mixture of actions such as taking cards from other players, taking additional actions or asking other players for a particular card you need.

The Lost Words encourages you to play slowly; to read the text on the cards aloud as you draw and play them. To admire the art. Finally, to relax and immerse yourself into this calm and tranquil world. In truth, this game is more like flicking through a coffee table book and calmly discussing what you see. If that sounds up your street then look no further as few games will deliver this type of experience better than The Lost Words.

What will you play at the Big Garden Birdwatch?