The Wingspan board game is a winner of the coveted Kennerspiele des Jahres (Expert Game of the Year) in 2019. It is one of my favorite games, not only because the artwork is incredible, but because the solo game offers a nice challenge as well. But, as good as the base game is, the Wingspan expansions add more layers to an already outstanding game.
So, let’s talk about the Wingspan expansions and what they all bring to the feeder!
Wingspan: European Expansion
The first addition to Wingspan, the European Expansion introduces birds native to Europe. Birds like the Black Redstart or the Snowy Owl, which Harry Potter fans will easily recognize. Blimey ‘arry!
In addition to a swathe of new bird cards, the box also includes the following:
- Birds with blue Round-End Abilities, which trigger upon the end of each round
- Second tray for storing and displaying bird cards
- 15 Purple Eggs, a color not featured in the eggs of the base game
- New scorepad, including solo-specific scoring
- Extra food tokens
- New End of Round goals and Bonus cards
What’s the Draw?
Based on the contents above, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to draw people in. After all, the base game has PLENTY of bird cards to create a variable experience every time that you play it.
You’re not wrong; the expansion really focuses on the bird cards and different abilities on those cards. The bells and whistles like the purple eggs and bird tray are nice, but they’re more cosmetic than anything else. They don’t impact the gameplay at all.
However, the new card abilities really do open up the gameplay. In order to see it, of course, you may want to strictly play with the European expansion cards instead of shuffling them in with the base game. I, however, have mixed everything together so that I’m always playing with all of the cards I have available.
There are three main card updates that make this expansion worthwhile: Round-End Abilities, Player Interaction, and Excess Food.
Round-End Abilities: In base Wingspan, you have Pink Abilities, which trigger on other players’ turns, and Brown Abilities, which trigger on your turn when you take a specific row action. Round-End Abilities trigger at the end of each round, which makes them more powerful in the beginning of the game.
What’s really nice about these abilities is that they add another effect to the game that doesn’t rely on other players. Nothing’s worse than getting out a bird with a pink ability, of which there aren’t a whole lot of, and then not getting a whole lot of use from it.
Yes, the maximum number of times you can trigger a bird with one of these abilities is four, but you know EXACTLY how many times and when it will trigger. This helps influence your round actions, knowing that a benefit is on the horizon.
Player Interaction: One of the main qualms with the base Wingspan board game is that there isn’t enough player interaction. Players lay down birds and play a sort of wildlife solitaire, occasionally trigger pink abilities. Except for taking birds from the tray that somebody else might have wanted, there is very little interaction between players.
The European expansion offers more interaction in that sense. For example, there are brown abilities that give everybody food when activated, meaning that you actually don’t mind if other players take that bird and play it. You’ll benefit! Or instead of gaining specific food, players might draft dice from the birdfeeder, or steal food from other players.
Of course, there isn’t any stealing of birds or swapping habitats across players, but the interaction is certainly higher. It’s not super noticeable, but it is a step in the right direction.
Excess Food: Lastly, there are some occasions where players may have excess food with nothing to spend it on. Now, I can’t say that this is a problem that I typically have – I’m usually starved for food tokens – so take this bullet point with a grain of…grain.
One example of this is through caching food. Normally, once you cache food, it’s stuck on that bird forever. However, there are some birds that let you spend cached food as if it were in your hand. Stash it away for later!
The Wingspan: European Expansion enhances the base game by providing an influx of bird cards with some unique new abilities. Instead of ‘watering down’ the base game, it actually enhances the variety that you experience while playing. It’s exciting to try out new abilities, and the number of strategies is increased as well. Hopefully, it will lessen the desire to spend all of round 4 stockpiling eggs on your birds.
Wingspan: Oceania Expansion
The second addition to Wingspan, the Ocean Expansion is MAJOR. I’m talking game-changing, here. Whereas the European Expansion focuses on bird card additions, the Oceania Expansion uses the unique birds of Australia and New Zealand to introduce new mechanics that flip Wingspan on its beak.
You’re getting a bunch of new bird cards, of course, but you’ll also find the following in the box:
- Brand new player mats, which include additional reset actions for when the birdfeeder and the bird tray aren’t to your liking
- Birds with Yellow End-Game Abilities, that trigger once at the end of the game
- Birds that are considered flightless, meaning that they have an * on their wingspan value
- Adjacency rules, as some cards care about birds in a neighborly capacity
- Tokens for a new food type, Nectar, which is a vital part to the Oceanic ecosystem
- 5 New dice with nectar included on the faces
What’s the Draw?
If you’re looking for a Wingspan expansion that completely changes how the game plays, look no further than the Wingspan: Oceania Expansion. This box is chock-full of delightful goodies, all of which breathe new life into the game and give the player more agency than base Wingspan.
I mean, they’re replacing the player mats for crying out loud! That’s significant, and should certainly draw your attention. Sometimes when games try to reinvent themselves or rethink mechanics in a new way, they fall flat. It could be too ambitious or game-breaking if there isn’t enough vetting and testing involved.
In my experience, however, the Oceania Expansion does wonders for Wingspan. Between the player mat changes and the Nectar resource, things really open up for the players. Let’s go more in-depth with the changes and why they’re so novel.
Player Mat Changes: One part of Wingspan that always soured me a bit is when you have to settle for taking a food action multiple times because the birdfeeder doesn’t have the resources that you need. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing solo or with a group, sometimes you just have to take a bunch of worms to hopefully get a shot at some fish.
Same thing goes for the bird tray, although to a much lesser extent. There are times where you wish the birds available in the tray were better/different, and you’d have to wait for other players to snag some or for the round to end. The solo game doesn’t have this issue because the Automa can clear the tray with relative frequency.
By giving players the option to pay for a change to the birdfeeder or bird tray, you at least give them to opportunity to deal with these problems. Sure, there’s a cost, and I’d expect there to be. It shouldn’t be free! But by offering the choice, players finally have some control over the game’s variability, to some extent.
Nectar: At last, a wild food resource! Nectar is amazing because it counts as any resource when playing birds, upgrading actions, or use an ‘Any Food’ bird ability. This makes it incredibly versatile in and of itself, but you have to be smart about gaining nectar. Any nectar remaining at the end of a round gets discarded, because such a coveted resource isn’t going to sit out the wild, untouched, for long!
The other interesting thing is that when you spend nectar, you keep track of it. At the end of the game, extra points are awarded for each player that has the majority in each habitat. I love this mechanic because it rewards you for doing something that you want to do anyways. It turns the threat of ‘you better use up that nectar’ into an incentive.
The only thing that’s a bit difficult to remember with nectar is that it’s wild-ish. For example, Horsfield’s Bushlark requires you to discard a grain to lay up to two eggs on it. You can’t use nectar in this case, because grain is specifically required. It can be confusing for the table, but since nectar is short-lived by the round, it’s usually gained and used quickly. Just keep tabs on it.
Adjacency: The last thing I want to touch on for the Oceania Expansion is the caring about adjacency. In terms of Wingspan, adjacent birds are any birds directly to the left and right, or above and below a given bird. For this reason, the plains habitat becomes the most important habitat; it’s the only one that can have adjacency in all four directions.
Unfortunately, this mechanic isn’t used as much as it could be. By my count, there’s a single bird that cares about adjacency: the Pūkeko. So why do I even mention it? Well, the rulebook explicitly mentions adjacency, and I assumed that it would be more prominent in the expansion. That, however, is not the case.
Why it’s worth talking about is because it opens up some design space that I’m anticipating we’ll see more of. More birds will undoubtedly care about adjacency in the future, and we’ll probably see some Bonus cards as well. Don’t sleep on adjacency – there’s more to come on this front.
I’ve already said it, but the Wingspan: Oceania Expansion should be the first expansion that you gravitate towards as a Wingspan fan. It introduces nectar and new player mats, both of which will change your game for the better. And, if I might add, I absolutely adore the bird artwork in this expansion, so kudos to the wonderful artists: Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas, and Beth Sobel. All of the Wingspan art is amazing, but the bright, colorful birds of the Oceania region really pop off the page.
Wingspan Expansion Rankings
I’ll keep this article updating as additional Wingspan expansions are released, so that you can check out my personal rankings for each one. The order below reflects the order that I would recommend picking them up to supplement your copy of Wingspan:
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some birding to do!