We are indulging our sweet tooth and feasting upon nectar in the delicious Wingspan expansion, Oceania, by Stonemaier Games.
*Set Collection * Tableau * Hand Management * High Production Value * Solo Mode * Puzzle* New Boards * New Food Resource (nectar) * New End Game Powers * Engine Building * New End of Round Goals * New Birds * New Scoring Objectives
Okay, so my Wingspan fan-girling is well documented (you can check out my review here). The original was a huge sleeper hit for me. First game in, I went to the table expecting it to be very mellow. One of those games that I play and think “nice” but then have no burning desire to play again. After all, Shadowmeeplemedia and I are usually all about knives-out and gloves off play when it comes to time around the table.
But ohhhh no. It wasn’t like that at all. It was a “Wait. What just happened?” moment. Despite the lack of take-that and mean play, I loved every chilled, calculating, strategic moment that emerged from the box emblazoned with a stunning Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. And I couldn’t get the experience out of my head. I couldn’t understand how something so lovely to behold, so lovely to play, still felt crunchy and competitive and yet completely relaxing. I was incredibly confused in the best possible way!
From that moment, the set collecting, engine cranking, tableau building box of beautiful birds had captured my heart, and Wingspan is now nested firmly in my top 10 forever games.
Therefore, having confessed to being an all-out bird-brain, the Wingspan expansions obviously called to me. Like a willow warbler, their siren songs danced into my ear, and I couldn’t resist. How could more Wingspan, more of what I love, be anything but a good thing?
The European Expansion came first. And I found that to be fantastic for introducing birds I can actually see from my window, as well as bringing in new end of round teal powers, scoring objectives, and end of round goals. One of those EE birds are feathery thieves too and let you take resources directly from other players!
Having tested the water on more Wingspan and loved it, I then had an opportunity to review Oceania. With such success to date, I was very excited to try it. Was Elizabeth Harding going to spoil us with more of what we know and love?
Well, in a way, she has! For me, more is most definitely a good thing! But, unlike the European Expansion which is pretty much more of the same wonderful Wingspan, Oceania brings in completely new elements. And despite my usual preference for the familiar, for regular and reliable routines, change is a really good thing!
As this is a review of an expansion, I am just going to cover how this changes up the base game. My Wingspan review covers the basic gameplay if you haven’t experienced it before. Just be aware that Oceania does bring some changes!
But please don’t let that ruffle your feathers. If you are in love with the base game as it currently plays (which I obviously am), then this expansion will likely alter your approach if you add it in. But as we found out (and will hopefully explain), despite the physical modifications to the game, these changes present alternative strategies in a way that doesn’t detract from the familiar.
Oceania brings more options and opportunities safely under the wing of the known base game play. It doesn’t alter the basic engine building, set collecting, tableau forming mechanics upon which Wingspan is based. It doesn’t flip-reverse the order in which you do things, or even the actions or order in which you take them each turn. The Oceania expansion elements simply bring new ways to seek out victory. Oh, and an enormous flock of the most BEAUTIFUL birds from Australia and New Zealand!
Okay, enough Star(ling) gazing…. Let’s get down to birdie business
New, New, New!
Oceania introduces the following new components:-
- New player boards
- New nectar food source
- New birds (almost 100!)
- New end of round goals
- New scoring objectives
- New dice
- New score pad
- New set of lemony-sherberty coloured eggies
So lots of new then! But it makes sense because (apart from the lovely bonus eggies), they’re all connected to each other. If you introduce a new food resource, then you need the new dice, new birds, new player boards, new powers, and even a new scoring pad to utilise it. And the individual additions look like what we already know, so that’s less daunting. But to lower the risk of getting overwhelmed by the total sum even further, let’s distil the changes down to the biggie………the nectar!
Nectar is the new resource in Oceania. It is a plant-based, energy rich sugar that lots of Oceanic bird (and other) species rely upon, so thematically it works beautifully as a wild resource in the game. This means you can use it to replace another resource type (worms, fish, rats, wheat, and cherries) when laying birds, or to trigger a bonus action (e.g. resetting the bird feeder). Some birds also need nectar to be laid, and you can use two other resources to replace a nectar just like in the base game. But nectar can’t be used as a wild food when a bird power requires you to use a specific food type.
Unlike other food types, however, nectar doesn’t go back into the general supply when you “spend” one from your stash. Rather, it goes onto you new player board in the “spent nectar” section of the relevant habitat. And, most importantly of all, nectar can’t be stored from round to round. This means anything left unspent must be discarded (and doesn’t count as “spent”)! Then, at the end of the game, whoever has used the most spent nectar in each habitat gets a bonus.
Now I know it sounds like hammering the nectar hard is going to be a no-brainer in your strategy given how powerful it first appears. But the designer has been very clever in bringing balance to that sweet substance!
The new boards, for example, don’t just make room for nectar. They have been altered so that your engine gets going faster. One bird in your forest row and you’re already collecting two resources from the bird feeder each time you activate. This makes room for new tactics from the get-go as you don’t have to build up the row just to boost resource production. Same with wetland bird card collecting – just one bird card down and it’s two into the hand! Plus you can now discard resources to reset the bird feeder or refresh the birds on display on your turn if you don’t like the look of what is on offer. The slow and steady approach over the first round in base game has therefore turned into a swift operation!
Taking these effects together, we have found that we not only lay more birds into our tableaus, but also cycle through more bird cards during a given game. And with the sheer number of cards in play when the expansion(s) are added in, that is definitely something to celebrate! I love the diversity of the powers and attributes of these glorious birdies, so seeing more of them is brilliant.
But going through more birds in a game is not just visually appealing. It offers a serious opportunity to mitigate the luck of the draw. Some games, the best birdies go into hiding and that can make a game feel a little frustrating. I know it just means I have to switch up my strategy and find a workaround, but it’s nice to have more control over picking birds that work better with my grand plans!
It also opens up much greater chances of being able to chain multiple powers together when you action a row. If you manage your birds well and pack out those rows, you could have a line of 5 birds triggering multiple effects on a single turn. And that is powerful combo, engine cranking stuff! Plus if you’re all doing it, then that is going to mean one busy, exciting game bursting with birdie business!
Hand in hand with all this giving, however, is a slower eggie production. The grasslands aren’t so generous on producing eggs anymore. So even if having nectar helps with the food cost to lay a bird, that won’t always coincide with having enough eggies to add them to your tableau.
And my previously hard-boiled approach to egg collecting in the final round doesn’t have the impact that it used to. With new yellow end of game powers that reward leftovers, as well as more chances to use resources for bonus actions, I’m now cranking my combos and food hoarding to the very last turn. And I like that because (even though I know they too are simply point generators), it somehow feels more proactive than just adding eggies for straight VPs during the last few turns of the game.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect when I saw all the new components. The fact they are the superb quality that Stonemaier is famous for did give me some comfort. But my brain seeks out the familiar and the reliable. And Wingspan base game has become extremely familiar and reliable for me. In fact Wingspan base has been one of my go-to comfort games when life feels like it is spiralling.
But now we have played Oceania multiple times, I am super pleased to say that we are really enjoying the changes nectar brings to the game play. Without doubt, it is a generous resource. Stockpiling spent nectar could lead to a whopping 15 point bonus at end game if you’re the only one splashing the sweetness! Is that likely though? Given what nectar can do, our experience has been that everyone dips in and out of it as part of their overall strategies. Not to mention almost equal examples of being forehead-slappingly frustrated when losing a whole heap of unused nectar at round end.
As gamers who value momentum and speed when playing, being able to crank our birdie engines earlier and faster feels good. It’s the ability to watch the combo effects of chained powers along the rows that ultimately feeds our Wingspan obsession. And as mentioned above, with nectar allowing us to pick from more birds, lay more birds, take more bonus actions, and set up more awesome combos, we are getting addicted to the sweetness!
Oceania definitely feels more generous and not just in the ways already covered. In contrast to the European Expansion (which is talons out given that some birds can seriously meddle with players’ plans!), these new birds include many that reward not just you but also other players.
For example, Princess Stephanie’s Astrapia will give you an eggie upon actioning, but it also rewards another player with the same. And those “gifts” therefore require strategic consideration before sticky fingers pick up that feathery friend. Do I want to give eggs or food to another player? If I do, will that push them closer to victory? Would I be better not picking and laying that bird? Or is it worth chaining it into a row because I could spread the eggies across various opponents? Obviously at 2 player count, this is even more dilemma inducing as your only opposition is going to profit from your power each time!
For us, Oceania doesn’t change the fundamentals of Wingspan. There are still multiple routes to victory, chilled calculations, and strategic choices to be made. Rather, what Oceania brings for us is more. More routes, more calculations, more strategic choices. Nectar is powerful stuff for sure. And I get that some players might not like the powerful punch it brings. But it’s what you do (or don’t do) with nectar that counts. And, as everybody has the same chance to collect and leverage the sweetest of resources, its point producing potential is available for all to taste!
Having now nibbled on nectar, I expect our future games will include both European and Oceania expansions. (I should mention here that there is a note in the rules that suggests removing the Chihuahuan Raven and Common Raven from the base if there is too much of a sugar-hit when combining eggie-resource exchange powers with nectar) There’s also an excellent Automa Factory solo mode so I can keep the sweetness all to myself!
Seeing our tableaus so full of birdies, creating long chains of combo actions, and choosing from so many gorgeous species is such a good feeling. I know the indigenous birds use nectar as a fast energy hit (thanks to the wonderful rule book that includes background information). For us, however, it is proving to be one satisfying snack!
Please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publishers for review. I am not paid for my comments, however, and all opinions are my own]. I am also not affiliated to or sponsored by any retail store.