With hundreds if not thousands of board games released annually, making a game that is remotely original is becoming increasingly difficult. Yet despite that, Elizabeth Hargrave’s Wingspan has a completely unique theme and style to it. I hope you’re ready to learn about bird species because Wingspan is all about these feathered creatures!
Brief Overview of Wingspan
Wingspan is a game about creating the most appealing habitat for new birds to migrate to and nest. In mechanics, the game can be described as an engine or table-building strategy game.
It can be played with up to 5 players, and includes a solo mode. However, it’s best experienced with 3 to 4 players, with game sessions lasting around 1 hour. The difficulty is balanced to make the game approachable to more casual players while also satisfying the more experienced crowd.
The game is published by Stonemaier Games, a company with a track record of highly successful releases. Wingspan is no exception and has earned a myriad of nominations, honors, and rewards since its release in 2019.
Versions & Expansions
Wingspan: European Expansion
The first Wingspan expansion focuses on increasing the number of bird species with those specifically found on the European continent. With them come new abilities and the option to fully integrate the expansion into the original game.
Apart from new cards, the expansion includes a larger storing tray for cards, extra food tokens, purple eggs, and a new scorepad for both multiplayer and solo games.
- For 1-5 players. 40-70 minute playing time
- First expansion to wingspan
- Includes the Regal, beautiful, and varied birds of Europe.
Wingspan: Oceania Expansion
Like the European expansion, Oceania increases the number of birds, this time from the regions of Australia and New Zealand. Apart from cards that can be freely mixed in with the base game and previous expansion, Oceania adds new types of food, player mats, eggs, and new end-game goals.
- Second expansion to Wingspan features the colorful and...
- This expansion includes new player mats and a new food type,...
- Includes new bonus cards and more end-of-round goals, as well as...
Wingspan comes with the following components:
- 1 Rulebook
- 1 Appendix
- 1 Goal Board
- 1 Birdfeeder Dice Tower
- 1 Scorepad
- 1 Bird Tray
- 1 First Player Token
- 5 Custom Wooden Dice
- 40 Wooden Action Cubes
- 170 Bird Cards
- 26 Bonus Cards
- 75 Egg Miniatures
- 103 Food Tokens
- 8 Goal Tiles
With the cover lifted off, you’ll find the rulebook at the top of the box. It’s printed on a large-format, high-quality paper with full-color illustrations. I appreciate it when things are kept separate and easy to keep track of, which is what Wingspan does with its appendix and automa rules.
Most Wingspan components can be kept in small boxes and trays provided with the game. Small containers are there for plastic egg tokens and cardboard food tokens, while the large blue tray is used for cards. The tray lid is also used during the game for a handy card display.
The birdfeeder is made out of punch-out cardboard and is quite sturdy. The tray might need some glue to make it sturdier, but the overall design and strength are great. Its use is entirely optional, but it’s a nice dice tower to have and use for other games as well.
The most important thing I need to talk about is the bird cards. Not only are they well made and easy to read, but there are 170 unique illustrations, one for each card. This is one most impressive card sets I’ve ever seen in a board game, as each illustration looks like it came from an encyclopedia.
I can’t remember the last time I opened a board game and was this impressed with the components. There’s nothing I could criticize, and if I really had to nitpick, I could say that the wooden dice could be a bit better, but that’s only because everything else is made to such a high standard.
How to Play Wingspan
Wingspan is a fairly simple engine-building game. The gameplay can be summarized as a cycle of collecting food tokens, laying eggs, and expanding your bird collection. Everything you do during the game will contribute to your final score. Now, let’s start with the setup and work our way through the gameplay elements.
The game setup involves the standard card shuffling and positioning of various tokens. You’ll follow the rulebook for this part, but it’s all quick and straightforward.
What’s important is that the player starts with 5 bird cards and 5 food tokens. For each bird you’d want to keep, you have to discard one food token. Out of two randomly-dealt bonus cards, pick one and discard the other. Each player also receives a player mat and 8 action cubes of their color.
The game is played out over four rounds with the first player randomly selected. In the first round, everyone gets to take 8 actions. The number of actions decreases by one after each round, with the last round consisting of 5 turns per player.
Players can perform one of four actions on their turn. When the game starts, you’ll be limited in actions you can take, but as you build your engine, the options will expand.
- Play a Bird – Requires you to pay egg and food costs, and consider its habitat. Place the bird on the leftmost available spot in the corresponding habitat. You have an option of activating the “when played” power of the bird.
- Gain Food and Activate Forest Bird Powers – Food is needed to pay for bird cards. Food types you can get are determined by the dice icons in the birdfeeder. You have an option of activating the brown powers of forest birds, from right to left.
- Lay Eggs and Activate Grassland Bird Powers – Eggs are an important part of getting new birds and contribute to your final score at the end of the game.
Taking the egg-laying action gives you egg tokens in the amount specified by the leftmost available slot in the egg-laying row. Activate the brown powers of grassland birds if you so choose.
- Draw Bird Cards and Activate Wetland Bird Powers – On the top of the bird tray, there should always be 3 face-up cards. If you want to draw a card, place an action cube in the designated slot on the mat, draw cards, then optionally play any brown powers of wetland birds.
There are three types of bird powers:
- When Activated (Brown) – Triggered from right to left.
- Once Between Turns (Pink) – Triggered during an opponent’s turn.
- When Played (No Color) – Triggered when played.
Birds have a variety of powers, described in detail in the appendix. They’re an important part of the engine, so carefully pick your birds to maximize productivity.
Scoring & Game End
After every round, remove all the action cubes you’ve placed, discard face-up cards on the bird tray and move the first player token clockwise. One goal board is competitive, while the other allows each player to score points at their own pace.
The game ends once the fourth-round scoring has been completed. Sum up points for each bird and bonus card played, end-of-round goals, as well as remaining resources. The player with the most points wins, and if there’s a tie, whoever has the most food remaining wins!
Your First Game of Wingspan
Every game of Wingspan is different, but your first will be the most challenging. The rules are quite simple but made unnecessarily complicated in the rulebook. If you’re playing with someone who has already learned them, they’ll be able to explain the rules more clearly and quickly.
There’s a lot I couldn’t cover in the rules explanation, like the specifics of the habitats and bird powers. However, I can give you a few tips that will make a lot of sense once you start playing.
Depending on the objectives and bonuses, pick a primary and secondary habitat, ignoring the third. You want to focus on getting as much value of out one or two locations rather than distribute your efforts among all three.
Some birds have a special ‘when activated’ ability to tuck a bird card underneath it and gain bonuses. You won’t be able to utilize this mechanic fully during your first game, but keep it in mind so you don’t get surprised when others pull this move.
It’s not a bad idea to avoid pink cards altogether in your first game. They’ll all seem like a no-brainer play, but as soon as you put them down, expect other plays to work around your card so that you gain minimal benefits from it. However, if your pink card involves an opponent’s action they must take, then it’s fine to play it early on and gain as many benefits as possible.
As with any point collection game, the last round is the key. Throughout the game, try to get a few birds with large nests out, so that you can accumulate a lot of eggs in the last round, and convert them into points! Hunt down bonus objectives, and play high-value birds that would have been a burden in the previous rounds.
Pros & Cons
- Brilliant Theme
- Easily Taught
- Scales Well With More Players
If not for the theme and Stonemaier’s name on it, Wingspan would have a hard time getting traction on the board game scene. However, the Stonemaier brand also comes with a dose of expectations, and Wingspan more than meets them.
I’m not a person that cares too much about the theme, but I can certainly appreciate it when it’s done well. Wingspan is one of the best examples of how a theme should be tied to the gameplay. It’s all about birds, from cards to eggs and the birdfeeder. I cannot praise the card artwork enough, both for its quality and uniqueness.
Wingspan is not a very complicated game — there are four actions, you take one, then you have some time to think about your next move as others take theirs. It’s fairly simple to learn if you’re being taught by another player. We’ll touch upon the rulebook in the cons section.
From solo mode to four players, Wingspan does a nice job of accomodating the various number of players. The five-player mode is serviceable, but the game sessions can get unnecessarily long.
- Unclear Rulebook
- Luck of the Draw
- Point Salad Gameplay
I’ve tried my best to give you a brief summary of the rules based on what’s written in the rulebook so I keep it as compact as possible. However, I feel like I could have done a better job, and that Elizabeth could have done a much better job at writing the rulebook.
It feels as if it was written by an expert, for experts. There’s little regard to clearing up ambiguities as if we’re supposed to know in advance how the mechanics should work. If you’re the first person in your group to learn the rules, I strongly advise watching a youtube guide and keeping the rulebook only for reference.
The following two points have to do more with how you like your games, rather than a particular fault with the mechanics. I wouldn’t label Wingspan as a highly competitive game, because there’s a lot of luck involved in the card draw.
The 2.43/5 on the BGG complexity scale seems to be too high. The game is not as complex as it seems, and the rating most likely has to do with how difficult it is to learn rather than master. The term point salad is often used to describe games that award you points no matter what you do, and Wingspan fits the description.
Wingspan is a game worth trying if you’re looking for a fairly light engine-building board game with a strong theme. It has some of the best components in its price range, and aside from the rulebook, there are no flaws with the physical pieces.
The gameplay is entertaining from start to finish, whether you’re playing alone, or with a group. Overall, Wingspan lives up to the hype and the expectations from a Stonemaier game!
I’m the type of player that doesn’t give the theme a lot of significance. It’s a nice selling point and will keep my attention for a game or two, but sooner or later I stop noticing it completely and focus on the gameplay.
With Wingspan, it didn’t go that way. A slight interest was all it took to start memorizing the appearance and names of bird species and learn more about them. In most games, the theme is just a mask to cover up the gameplay mechanics, but Wingspan does an amazing job of keeping the theme relevant.
The only thing holding me back from playing Wingspan more is its difficulty. It’s not a totally casual game, but I still prefer something heavier. I’ll still gladly sit down and play a game of Wingspan whenever my group feels like it, but it wouldn’t be my first pick.
Still, you should try Wingspan just for its uniqueness and amazing theme. Elizabeth did a wonderful job with the artwork, and the Stonemaier components are top-notch!
We hope you enjoyed our Wingspan review. Have you tried this award-winning board game? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!