'Wingspan': Birds of a feather, play together

“Wingspan” is a game for one to five players that the publisher describes as a “competitive, medium-weight, card-driven, engine-building board game.” To me, it’s so much more than that: It’s a game with beautiful art, novel mechanics, and high replayability, especially with its expansions.

Players collect and play bird cards to their mat and activate their powers on their turn. By placing certain cards, players can create powerful combos which allow them to best their opponents. On a player’s turn, they have four choices: draw cards, lay eggs, get food, or play a bird card. Food (and sometimes eggs) are required for a player to play a bird card in its respective habitat on their map.

I think one of the strengths of the game is that at the beginning, all options should be utilized, but as the player develops their nest, they end up only playing cards and getting resources from other actions from the cards they have already played. For instance, one of the most powerful cards in the game, the Common Raven, allows the player to discard an egg to draw two food tokens of their choosing. As a result of the cards' interdependencies, players must be strategic when spending their turn.

The game is split into four rounds, each with a limited number of turns. As the rounds progress, players get one less turn. This was one of the first games I’ve played that implements this, and I think it’s smart. It means players must make sure they set up early, since they’ll be limited in what they can do in the final round.

At the end of each round, players are awarded points depending on the round’s goal. Depending on the playstyle of the participants, points can be awarded competitively or not. This highlights another aspect of the game: it caters to many audiences. “Wingspan” can be played both casually and competitively.

A small complaint I have is that some elements feel inconsequential, like the bonus cards. While they may reward the player for completing a specific goal, some of the goals are hard to accomplish if the card is drawn late into the game or if the player’s card draw doesn’t match the bonus. I give the makers of “Wingspan” credit, though; some of the bonus cards are creative, like play a certain number of birds with a color in their name or birds that have a person’s name in their name.

One of the major draws of “Wingspan” for me was the art and thought invested in it. I had only heard good things about the game prior to purchasing it, but it was the art that really got me. Each card has an illustration of the bird drawn in wonderful detail. There is also a little fact about the bird on most cards, which adds depth to the game. Each bird also has a nest type and number of eggs they can lay, which are both accurate to the actual species of bird. Each bird’s wingspan is listed on the card and the food tokens needed to play the bird are accurate to the bird’s actual diet. Being able to make “Wingspan” that accurate while keeping the cards balanced is seriously impressive.

“Wingspan” also features cool pieces. The multicolored eggs add some dimensionality to the game, along with a dice tower heavily used throughout the game. Not much else hits the spot like dumping the dice down the tower repeatedly.

Mixing in the two expansions (European and Oceania) also adds a nice twist to the game if you enjoy the original. New birds with a variety of abilities keep the game fresh and enjoyable (not that I ever felt the original was stale). Based on personal experience, they are a good addition after playing two or three times so you have enough understanding of how the base game works.

I cannot recommend “Wingspan” enough. It’s great to play casually with friends and family or competitively if you’re into min-maxing and your friends won’t get too mad at you. The rules are easy to follow and the game even includes a sample round for new players. A lot of care was taken to make “Wingspan,” and it clearly shows. If you ever have the chance to play “Wingspan,” take it!