Wingspan: Late to the Party Review

Once again, I’m late to the board game party with Wingspan! Launched in 2019 to massive critical acclaim, Wingspan is a set-collection and engine-building board game for 1-5 players. Games can range from a half hour to two hours depending on the players’ familiarity with the game and how much time they spend agonizing over options (which can be a LOT!).

Start of a single player game using the Wingspan Automata.

Wingspan is played across four rounds. Each round, players take turns placing action cubes to take one of four actions. First, they may play a bird card from their hand onto the appropriate habitat (woods, plains, or wetlands), spending the food shown on the card. The more birds already in that habitat, the more eggs must be spent to play the bird card – but the more powerful the action of that habitat becomes. In the woods, players can collect food. This is a fun mechanic involving a birdhouse dice tower. Players select from the dice remaining in the tower and take the appropriate food; if all the dice show the same face or the feeder is empty, the player can reroll the dice. In the plains, the players can lay eggs onto their bird cards, limited by the egg count for the nest shown on the card. Finally, in the wetlands, the player can draw more bird cards, either from the three visible or from the deck (or any combination if the player can draw more than one).

The real fun and the engine building start when the players have bird cards on the tableau. In addition to making the actions more powerful, each bird has a special action. Some of these actions activate when the bird is played, and some when another player takes an action, but most activate in turn from right to left as the player acts in a habitat. For example, if the wetlands were completely filled with birds, the player might be able to activate five additional actions beyond drawing cards. Building an efficient engine with the sequence of birds is the heart of the game, and definitely requires practice.

At the end of each round, players compare their tableau to a randomly-determined end-of-round goal. This could vary from simple (total birds on the tableau) to complex (count of eggs on birds with a specific nest type). There are two scoring modes for end-of-round goals, a more competitive in which the victory points score based on rank (e.g. most birds gets 7, second most gets 4, etc.), and a less competitive in which points score based on totals only. One action cube stays on the end-of-round board, meaning that the available actions reduce each round.

Final game scoring is a bit of a “point salad”. In addition to the end-of-round points, each bird played has a point value and eggs are worth one point each. Some bird cards have special powers that allow them to “tuck” bird cards underneath them or store food on them, and these are also worth points. Last but certainly not least, each player has a bonus goal that can score points for set collections.

End of game state for the solo game.

In the solo game, the opponent runs programmatically based on card draws, and does not take normal actions, instead accumulating birds and eggs and messing with the supplies of food and bird cards. The solo game has variable challenge levels; I managed to tie it on my first try on normal difficulty, so experienced players would likely need to ratchet up the challenge level.

Learning the game is fairly easy because the actions are straightforward and the explanations of bird powers are really good. Mastering the game, on the other hand, would definitely take many repeat plays, figuring out the best engine builds to accrue points.

Finally, no Wingspan review would be complete without mentioning the gorgeous art on the bird cards. This is a beautiful game on the table, which makes it that much more of a pleasure to play.

Everyone who played the game enjoyed it and wanted to play it again, and I personally really enjoyed it. I would recommend Wingspan both for newcomers to hobby board games and experienced grognards – there’s something here for everyone.

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