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Wingspan: The Board Game that Stretches its Wings

Human beings are instinctively drawn to the beauty of nature. When my wife and I take vacations, it’s generally to a place where we can either a) do a significant amount of hiking, or b) check-in on some of America’s National Parks. Bonus if we get to combine the two together, which is usually what we end up doing.

Over the course of our travels, it’s absolutely amazing to see the wide variety of landscapes present in our country. And with different climates, you’re bound to find a healthy mix of plants and animals. One thing that has always impressed me, however, is the sheer multitude of birds.


Wingspan, a brand-new game designed by Elizabeth Hargrave, really showcases the immense variety of birds through engaging gameplay, all wrapped up in a stunning package. Even though I never had any desire to become an ornithologist, I can definitely see that as a possibility after playing this game.

Wingspan Board Game: Soaring High

Designed for 1-5 players, Wingspan shines in its ability to be taught quickly while still providing enough crunch to keep engine-builders rejoicing. After assembling the cute bird-feeder dice tower, it’s time to dive into one of the three rulebooks.

“Three rulebooks?! Abram, I thought you said that this was quick to teach!”

You’re right; I did say that. And I stand by my words! One of the rulebooks is strictly for the solo experience in which you take your aviary toe-to-toe with the Automa AI. The main rulebook goes into great detail on each of the rules, answering immediate questions and discussing corner cases. The thickest rulebook, however, is an Appendix that includes detailed explanations of the various bird powers but includes a simple, one-page Quick Reference guide. This is where you should start so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.

The basics of the game involve taking one of four actions on your turn until you run out of action cubes. Once everyone has used up all of their actions, the round ends and round-scoring occurs. This repeats until four rounds have been played, triggering the end-game scoring.

On your turn, you will be performing one of the following actions:

  • Playing a bird card into one of the three habitats of your aviary
  • Gaining food tokens from the bird-feeder, allowing you to pay the cost of playing other birds
  • Laying eggs and dispersing them across the birds in your aviary
  • Drawing bird cards from the deck or face-up bird tray

Limiting players to four actions is such a smart design choice because it shifts players’ focus from analyzing which action to take and instead let’s them focus on a broader strategy centered around sequencing their turns to maximize output.

Wingspan Board Game: Spread Your Wings

After multiple plays, I’m delighted to announce that focusing your efforts in any of the three habitats are variable routes to victory. It’s up to the players to assess their opening hand to determine which route might offer the best return-on-investment, but it’s also easy to switch gears if better opportunities present themselves later on.

Because of the limited number of actions, each of them are tied to each other to a point where you’re never going to completely ignore one of them. For example, food is needed to play birds. At the same time, after playing your first bird in a habitat you’ll need to pay additional egg costs. But if you want to lay eggs, you’ll need some birds in play, which you’ll acquire by drawing them.

But my favorite mechanic is when your birds’ activated abilities start to come online. The more birds that you play in a habitat, the better your actions in that habitat become. Instead of gaining a single food die, you could gain three if you have enough birds in the forest habitat. Similarly, you’re going to be drawing more bird cards and eggs with a single action once birds take up residence in those habitats.

And if that wasn’t enough, each time you take an action in a row you’re going to be activating abilities on the bird cards living in that habitat as well. In one particular game, I was drawing upwards of six cards during a single ‘draw bird cards’ action thanks to the synergy of the birds in the wetlands. 

Once your engine starts humming in the third and fourth rounds, you’re going to feel that rush of satisfaction that comes with a game that holds a lot of replayability. The round-specific goals are random and change each game, providing even more decision-making opportunities for the players; will you ‘skip’ one of the earlier goals to ensure that you get the higher point values from the goals in the later rounds? Or perhaps you’ll settle for being in the middle of the flock and relying on points from other sources to secure your victory?

I love it when a game can provide me with so many choices without becoming overly complicated. It allows me to spread my proverbial wings and experiment with different strategies while learning the intricacies of a game. Wingspan’s ability to offer substance without sacrificing simplicity should be applauded.

Wingspan Board Game: A Little Birdie Told Me

When I first heard about Wingspan, I was excited for a couple reasons. First of all, it is published by Stonemaier Games which has deservedly earned my attention through their other offerings (Scythe and Viticulture in particular). Secondly, the presentation of the components and artwork is easily one of the best I’ve seen in a board game. 

There are hundreds of unique bird cards, each with intricately accurate art. You could seriously spend a couple hours just cycling through them, enjoying the illustrations. Or, if you’re an avid bird enthusiast, you could use them as flash-cards on some of your favorite bird-watching strolls.

Just please, please, PLEASE don’t try to consume the eggs, despite their uncanny similarity to the Cadbury Mini Eggs that you can find at your local grocery store in the springtime. I doubt that they’re filled with soft chocolate, although I haven’t tried to confirm that.

Something to keep in mind is that Stonemaier Games has announced that there are typos in the first and second production runs of the game. As such, if you find yourself with one of these early copies, you may want to pick up a set of the corrected cards when they become available in a few months. They will be available for free from Meeplesource (US), Board Game Extras (UK), 401 Games (Canada), and Guf (Australia). You’ll just have to cover the shipping.

You can read more about the typo solutions on BoardGameGeek, here.

The third production run should have all of these issues resolved. Those copies are projected to hit shelves in the middle of May.

Additionally, a little birdie told me that there are potentially plans to enhance the base game with continent-based expansions in the future. It sounds like a great opportunity to branch out and experience birds from around the world without even needing a passport.

Wingspan Board Game: Parting Thoughts

The temperatures might be hovering below freezing, but you don’t have to wait until spring to start your bird-watching hobby. Wingspan has definitely sparked my interest in all things avian, and I’m looking forward to breaking out this game for years to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find deals on quality sets of binoculars and a guide to avian species in the Midwest.

You can pre-order Wingspan from Amazon, from the Stonemaier website, or better yet, ask for it at your FLGS.

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