September 2021 is here and the #girlgeeks are back with a whopper: Wingspan hit the table for the first time in August. Question is; did it fall or did it fly high?
By SAGGYHEAD and FAVOURITEFOE
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Designer: Elizabeth Hargreaves
Player Count: 1 – 5
Publisher Recommended Age:
Heavyweight: Saggyhead aka “the committed birdspotter”
Light flyweight: Favouritefoe aka “the fancy free featherweight”
So I am going for the hard hit this month. You always tell me you only like hatey games where you mess with each other and really have an option to affect your opponent. You also claim to not be bothered by pretty components particularly and it is all about the crunch of the game. Well I am going to flip it all on it’s head because my flavour of the month game is Wingspan and I know that despite what you think, it is going to be a hit. This is me telling you that you are wrong with what you think you like. I’m going to prove it with the help of this beautiful ornithological delight. Promise.
Wingspan is a tableau building game that in my humble opinion will make more gamers than Ticket to Ride. Although a significant uplift in difficulty versus your monopoly and uno, with a good teach, I think anyone who wants to learn could learn this one.
In Wingspan, you play across four rounds, and you get 8 actions in the first round, reducing by one each round so by the last round you only have five actions available. This matches beautifully with your engine building. As your engine gets stronger, the pressure of limited actions never lets up. It also means that it does not suffer from the typical slow start which often happens in these kinds of games.
You want to try and get birds played down to get some feathery points for end game scoring, these will cost you food resources and eggs to play down. So you need to be collecting those too. As you play birds down into your habitat, the engine you are building will become more powerful as you can now activate each bird in the row as you collect resources, lay eggs or draw cards. End game points come from your birds, but also from the eggs you still have laid in your habitat, as well as the end of round goals and finally from your personal objective bonus cards too. The game is a delight of thinky action selection and bird choosing and I love that you never are finished, there are always things you feel like you would have done next.
As I have alluded to, the components in this game are brilliant, the eggs are one of my favourite components ever. The card art is beautiful, helped by the fact the vast majority of the birds are beautiful naturally. This game just has table presence, from the box on the shelf to the card of hands you have throughout the game, everything is just a delight.
In this house, this game has jumped straight into both mine and Marv’s top 10s. Initially I thought it was just a fleeting fancy and a “hot right now” game. But as the months went on, I quickly realised that this game was here to stay as a game I really love.
Now, my fair friend FavouriteFoe has told me she isn’t overly bothered about pretty games, preferring what I refer to as “beige garbage”. She also tells me she and ShadowMeepleMedia mostly likes hatey games where there is a ton of player interaction and they can really wreck each other’s jam. And yet, I pick a game with very little player interaction that is probably one of the most beautiful games I own as the next Ace vs Apprentice. We managed to sit down to a 4 player game of Wingspan at a recent meet-up. No surprises that I loved it, but I will hand it over to my pal to let you know whether my suggestion was bird-poop or the golden feather?
Straight out of the gate, you passed me a veritable plume of gorgeous, golden feathers. I was 100% in love with Wingspan from the get go. Literally, 2 rounds into our first game with Saggyhead and Marv, and I was on the hook like a proverbial billed duck.
Without doubt, Wingspan is beautiful to look at. But Wingspan is more than just a feast for the eye. It is a clever, resource managing, tableau building, engine revving game with a puzzle at its heart. Every turn is a trade-off between everything you want. Everything you need. Resources, eggies, and beautiful birdie cards. But you don’t have time to catch them all. A bird in the hand could be worth two on the board (if you’re getting set to tuck, that is), but going hard boiled on eggies might be the better strategy this time. With masses of cards and a flock of end of round goals, not to mention personal objectives to shoot for, the replayability is sky high, and the variability in each game is huge. Which means your strategy has to bend like like a murmuration of starlings in order to react to what is coming off the decks.
Now, whilst Wingspan can play like a relaxing spot of birdwatching, it can also show its talons. If we are in the mood for some hate drafting – our own boards are on the table for all to see after all! – then you can snatch and grab some engine breaking birdies. ShadowMeepleMedia often manages to crank up a hand of 10, 15 birds using a clever combos in his water habitat. The cascading brown powers purring perfectly as one feeds another. But honestly, in Wingspan, I’d much rather focus on feathering my own nest and attracting the best birdies I can. And the multiplayer as well as the brilliant Automa Factory solo AI variant allows me to do so. As my own review admits, “Wingspan has revealed a side of me that I never knew existed; a bird-brained, peacefully competitive gamer with an added appreciation for gorgeous components.”
The lawyer in me wants to entrench; it wants to maintain that I am all about the mean and hatey play. That I don’t care about the components or the quality so long as the gameplay is cutting. But, as a board gamer I am evolving. And in part I have you to thank for that, pal. As a result of our chats, games, and friendship, I am trying all kinds of mechanics, themes, styles, and experiences. And Wingspan is definitely one that made me think harder about added joy that comes from a gorgeous game.
Don’t misunderstand me, Saggy. I still love what you call “beige garbage”. I’ll happily play something devoid of all colour and fancy frillies if it delivers solid gameplay. I know the box-art-tart in you bristles at the thought. But Wingspan proves that you can have beauty and brains; the two aren’t mutually exclusive. To be fair, I could have just looked at you to know that. But it is a rare thing in a person, and rarer still in a board game. Wingspan is an exception that proves the rule. It too has gone into my top 10 and shows no sing of flying away. Plus, not that it needs it, (as the quality of all the components and even the rule book is top notch), but I have so much faith in my enduring love for these birdies, that I have even upgraded!
Well, what can I say? Saggyhead, you opened my eyes and I am forever grateful. Only question left is; when can we flock together for another game of beautiful birdies?
So, with October being my choice, the pressure is now on to select a doozie……..and I think I know just the right one!
Stay tuned for Round #9 Coming soon!