Open Seat Reviews: Wingspan

Disclaimer: This preview is from a previewer’s copy of the game that was provided by Stonemaier Games to Open Seat Gaming, but opinions are our own based on several plays of the game.

Game: Wingspan
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Design: Elizabeth Hargrave
Art: Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas, Beth Sobel

Mechanisms: Card Drafting, Dice Rolling, Hand Management, Set Collection
Number of Players: 1 – 5
Game Time: 40 – 70 minutes

Description:

In Wingspan, players compete to attract birds to their habitats, with each habitat representing a different action that can be taken. The more birds you have in a habitat the better that action becomes, and this engine building is what helps you accrue points. After 4 rounds, the player with the most points wins!

Each round consists of players taking actions in turn order. There are 4 basic actions:

  1. Play a bird. The first bird in each habitat costs only the food for that individual bird, but subsequent additional birds start requiring eggs to be paid as well.
  2. Gather food. Take food shown on dice in the bird feeder. Food is used to play bird cards and sometimes for special actions on birds in habitats.
  3. Lay eggs. Each bird has a nest capacity and can hold up to that many eggs. Once laid on birds, eggs are used to play bird cards and sometimes for special actions on birds in habitats.
  4. Draw bird cards. You can only play birds from your hand so this action helps replenish your hand with new bird cards.

Each player begins the game with 8 actions, tracked by cubes in their player color. At the end of each round, however, players use an action cube to mark their score for that round’s bonus goal (such as birds in a specific habitat, eggs on birds with a specific nest type, etc.) which means they will have 1 less action available the rest of the game (as the cube stays on the goals card until final scoring). By the 4th round, players only have 5 action cubes to use.

To offset this, most birds have special abilities that activate when you take the action of their respective habitat. For example, if you take the Lay Eggs action you will also activate all birds in that habitat/row which leads to bonus effects happening in addition to collecting your eggs. Some birds have one-time effects when played that do not activate again later, and some have between turns effects triggered by other players’ actions, but most have abilities that trigger every time the habitat’s action is taken. Special abilities are colored differently to differentiate when they activate.

Final scoring is determined by adding up the point values of your birds, 1 point for each egg on your birds, 1 point for each food/card cached on/under your birds (by special abilities), points earned from end-of-round goals, as well as any private objectives you meet the requirements for.

Reviews:

Marti: I hate hype – and yes, I know, as a reviewer/previewer, I just add to the mess that is hype. But, when a new game is announced or comes out, I’m someone who tries to ignore it as best as possible. I couldn’t ignore Wingspan, though – none of us could. Sarah and I wanted to get our hands on it.

Theme is part of the reason I wanted it – I had a book of North American Birds when I was young, and I had a good time identifying the birds I saw outside. Ironically, I’m also afraid of birds (I’m always worried they’ll swoop into my face, haha), but I enjoy observing them from afar or seeing them in contexts where they can’t fly in my face. So, Wingspan was just something that brought back some nostalgia for that 10 year old that was bored in rural PA.

Anyway, enough reminiscing. The game of Wingspan blows my mind, period. I’ve always been a big fan of engine building games, and so I knew that I would, at the very least, enjoy it. But Wingspan is one of the first games that just “clicked” with me on the first play.

The art is some of the best in board gaming. As with many Stonemaier games, it’s very well done and it catches your attention from the beginning. Every single bird is a different piece of art, and the colors are beautiful. Also, the player board is something else. The design of it makes a lot of sense and helps you to get a pretty solid idea of how each action flows.

The insert, which can also display cards during gameplay

When it comes to the graphic design, I feel like the layouts are really well done. I like that the different abilities that are triggered at different times are in different colors (no color, brown, pink, as mentioned in the description) and that it’s quite clear how things go.

Graphic design is, however, where one of my few “meh” points about the game are. I do wish the size of the cards were a bit bigger so that some of the information could also be larger. At the risk of sounding like an old lady (haha), I have to pick up many of the cards and look at them closely to check things out.

If I had to use one word to describe Wingspan’s gameplay, it’s elegant. Everything makes sense. Sure, you may fumble through your first action or two because you’re trying to get the swing of things, but once you do, it just clicks.

I also have to give some props to Stonemaier Games. Thank you for doing this in a manner that amplifies women in board gaming – the designer and all 3 artists are women, and it really does bring that commitment to women leading the charge to center stage. Thank you, Jamey and Alan.

I’ve seen many reviewers disparage the game because it’s “too light” or because it “doesn’t do something new” in terms of mechanisms. And I’d like to address both those things before I give my final call on it.

This game is light, sure. But not super light – this is not a game I would throw in front of someone that had never played a game before. They’d have to understand a few terms and concepts and, honestly, there are some interesting decision points associated with buying birds and making your engine go. It could feel overwhelming, especially for new gamers, because there may be some points where you feel like you are trying to deal with Overchoice.

My other point is that it’s essential to recognize this is a big deal for women who may have been hesitant to get into the hobby before. Whether that’s in regards to playing games or designing games, it’s great to see a design and its production (specifically, the art) done entirely by women. And while there have been women designers in the past, the reception this game has gotten is a lot bigger than many of those. And that’s important to acknowledge and appreciate.

In short, I believe that Wingspan is an excellent game that everyone needs to try at least once, but I recommend twice because your second play really solidifies what you’re doing. If the theme clicks and you like engine building, I believe that it’s 100% a buy. More printings are coming, so be patient, but it’s worth it.

Sarah: The theme and gameplay of Wingspan fuse fantastically.

The game mechanics are deceptively simple. Take one of four possible actions. How to best utilize those four actions in order to build up your wildlife preserve and customize the habitats on your player mat is all up to you. But, with the diminishing amount of actions every round, your choices become harder and you keep feeling like you want to do more. During the 4th round of every game I’ve played, I find myself wishing I had a couple more actions to get things done.

To me, this is a hallmark of a great game; wishing you had more time to play and execute your plans.  It makes me want to come back and play again and again.

In terms of art and production value, you can feel the amount of attention to detail that was put into the game. The depictions of all 170 birds on the cards are stunningly gorgeous. Ana-Maria Martinez Jaramillo and Natalia Rojas did a magnificent job making each bird vibrant and unique.  The art on the playmat and the cardbacks is very evocative.

I want to visit the wildlife preserve depicted on the playmat. Beth Sobel did an excellent job with these elements of the art; as well as designing the birdfeeder dice tower. The Game Trayz card tray is fantastic and the egg miniatures are whimsical.

My only quibble of critique of Wingspan is that, apparently, there are not enough egg miniatures for the five player game. This may have came down to space in the box, the cost of producing more eggs, or something else entirely. But if you don’t have enough eggs, you can put anything on your bird cards to indicate that you should have an egg; which is a simple fix. You can also order more eggs from several online stores.

The clever gameplay, amazing art, and enticing production come together to form a marvelous and polished board game well deserving of its KdJ nomination. Overall, I see this game being an evergreen in our collection.

Scott: I wasn’t as hyped about Wingspan as Sarah and Marti were. I knew it existed and that there was a lot of buzz about it but it wasn’t really on my radar. Having played it now, I don’t know whether or not it lives up to the hype (because I didn’t really partake in it) but I can attest that it is a very enjoyable game.

It’s a really interesting take on engine building in that your amount of actions to spend reduces as the game goes on but the actions are more involved as you add additional birds to your habitats that trigger off the basic actions. It makes for some interesting choices and crazy turns in the later rounds.

I also really like that the end-of-round goal card has 2 sides: either everyone scores independently based on how many of the goal item they individually have or everyone scores based on order from most to least. It means you can adjust the difficulty, as well as player interactivity, for each individual game based on who’s participating and how aggressive you feel like playing.

The layout is great and the art is fabulous. I love that the designer and artists are all women, we definitely need more women-led games in the hobby. Overall, this game is very pleasant and it will definitely hit the table many more times in the future.

~||~

Overall, we love Wingspan! Have you gotten to give it a try yet? If so, how did you like it? If not, are you going to try it out or is it an instant add to your collection?

Game On!
The Meeples of OSG

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