A brief aside:
First, let me apologize for not doing a review in over 7 months. I don’t think I
have had any hardcore followers, so this apology might be going out into the voids of the internet, but I feel bad about it. I’ve been playing games right along, so I have tons of potential review content. I’m going to aim for pumping out a review per week for the next few months. Aim for the stars, land on the moon – right?
The new game of 2019 that is sweeping the world over! In fact, just this week it won the Kennerspeil 2019. For those who don’t know what that is:
The German Kennerspiel des Jahres, first awarded in 2011, expands the prestigious Spiel des Jahres to recognize the “connoisseur/expert game of the year”. (“Kenner” can be translated as both “connoisseur” and “expert”, among other terms.) These are games which are meant for a more experienced audience, and where the Spiel des Jahres typically recognizes the best games for the entire family, the Kennerspiel des Jahres is more for gamers looking for games which present more of a challenge.
With that being said, let’s get right into the review!
Wingspan is a game about birds. It’s about what birds eat, what kind of nests they make, what habitats they live in, and their behaviors. You don’t need to know anything about birds to play this game, but I promise you’ll learn something about a species or two by the time you are done. The game plays 1 -5 players, and plays in 40 – 70 minutes. The reason for such a time gap is because with 2 players, you can definitely get a game in within 40 minutes. With 5 players, you’re most likely looking at 70 minutes. It’s a medium-weight, card driven, engine building game.
Engine building games are ones where players start with very little and build a system of interactions (in this case cards) that produce constant results. For instance, in Wingspan, you might need food to play a bird. You put a cube in the left most empty space (a space not containing a card) of the forest, and you can gain 1 food from the feeder. You gain a food because the cube activates the spot, and that spot allows you to gain 1 food. But wait! This is an engine builder!
Put a bird (card) in the forest, and now when you go to get food, you can gain 1 food from the feeder and also discard a card for an additional food because that’s the new left most empty spot.
Now let’s say that bird you played in the forest was a Northern Cardinal. The Northern Cardinal card has a “brown power” which allows you to gain a berry (food type) from the supply whenever you activate the Northern Cardinal.
So let’s play this turn out. You put your cube in the left most empty space in the forest. The spot becomes activated, and you gain your food, and choose whether or not to discard a card to gain an additional food. Now, you move the cube one spot to the left, which is now where the Northern Cardinal is. When activated, the Northern Cardinal allows you to gain a berry from the food supply. This means, now your forest that at most could get you one food, now can get you a maximum of 3. Keep playing birds in the forest, and the food gaining possibilities become greater and greater.
Every habitat works basically the same. The Forest gets you food, the meadow gains you eggs, and the wetlands gain you cards. If you understand one habitat, you understand them all – trust me.
Each round, you’ll have a set number of turns that decreases by 1 each round. The game lasts 4 rounds, and players then count up their score. You score points for each individual bird, each egg token on your board, each food token on your board, each card that is tucked behind a bird, points for any bonus cards you completed, and points for end-of-round goals you may have achieved.
I’m not going to get into all the rules and nuances of the game, since this is just a review and not a rules guide. For the most part though, this game is very straight forward with how things work. You pick a habitat (row), start in the left most empty space with one of your available cubes, and then work your way to the left side activating each space/card.
This game is excellent! Absolutely excellent. We taught my 77 year old grandma how to play, and by the 2nd round she was making her own decisions and firing off slick combos. The rules booklet is easy to follow, the rules are simple and concise, and it’s a breeze to pick up. I’ve played it with people who love birds, and I’ve played it with people who can’t tell a titmouse from a nuthatch. No one has told me they didn’t enjoy the experience. The art is great, there are little tidbits about each bird at the bottom of every card, and there is no bird in the game that appears twice. There are 170 birds in this game, and I promise you’ll never have the same game experience twice. Beside every bird card being unique, there are 8 double sided goal tiles that are randomly picked for each game. So even the 4 end of round goals will always be different or at least in different rounds each time you play. The replay value is high, the component quality is above and beyond, as is common with Stonemeier published games… it’s an absolute boardgame masterpiece. If you enjoy birds, pick this game up. If you enjoy engine building games, pick this game up. If you are lukewarm about birds and not sure if you like this style of game, find someone who owns it and give it a shot. I’m scoring this game a 9.5/10 it’s really that good. By the way, did you know that in most North American bird species, only males sing, but female cardinals break that rule? If you didn’t, you might have after playing Wingspan!
- Rating: 8.1
- Playtime: 40-70 min
- Complexity: 2.37 / 5
- Mechanisms: Card Drafting, Dice Rolling, Hand Management, Set Collection
- Category: Animals, Card Game, Economic, Educational
- MSRP: $55