Wingspan Board Game Review
What Is The Theme of Wingspan?
Wingspan’s theme is that you take on the role of a “bird enthusiast” seeking to discover and attract birds to their various wildlife preserves, which range from forests to prairies and wetlands.
To attract these birds, you will have to generate food from your forest, eggs from your grasslands, and cards from your wetlands.
How to Win a Game of Wingspan
The Wingspan rulebook leads with the description, “A competitive bird collection, engine building game for 1-5 players”.
- An integral element of this game is building resource generating and point-scoring “engines.” The concept of an engine-building game is to make a series of plays that allows you to compound existing resources into even more resources and points. You’re attempting to do this more quickly and efficiently than your opponents.
- Simply put, you win a game of Wingspan by scoring the most victory points at the end of four rounds. This can be achieved through a wide variety of strategies.
- Determining the best approach in any given game is where a lot of depth lives. You may end up scoring your points by playing high point value birds, tucking cards, caching food, laying eggs, or some combination of these. Fulfilling the requirements of your personal bonus cards and competing for the end-of-round goals round out your options for scoring points.
- The more birds you play, the stronger each of your individual actions become. This is where the term “engine building” comes into play. Each player only has 26 total activations, so maximizing their impact and efficiency is crucial.
- If you would like to take a deeper look at the rules or just have a look at the visuals, you can view the official rule book for free here: Wingspan Rule Book.
My Experience With Wingspan
When I first opened the Wingspan board game, my wife and I spent nine hours playing it. We were hooked immediately. It is currently our favorite game to play.
As an outdoorsman, the bird theme sucks me in. Wingspan is just awesome to look at. From the cards, the eggs, and the player mats, these superb components make me want to sit and understand what this game is all about. The production value is top-notch. It just facilitates a deeper immersion into the game.
Is Wingspan difficult to play?
No, I don’t think Wingspan is difficult to play.
I would call it a “medium weight” board game. Learning to play isn’t overly complex, but it’s not an especially shallow experience either. It really hits a sweet spot for me. It doesn’t have overwhelming levels of complexity which require you to spend ten to fifteen minutes plotting your turns, leading to frustration for the people playing with you. Yet it is not a milk-toast, shallow game that people who aren’t accustomed to modern board games can just pick up and master immediately.
That being said, once you begin to master Wingspan, you will find that there are times when you need to do some math and look ahead a few turns to optimize your scoring. There will also be times when you’ve set up your engine, and the game almost plays itself, but that is really just a consequence of engine-building games in general. This isn’t a flaw with this game.
I’ve seen a handful of people who wound up with a mass egg-laying or mass tucking engine cite that this was a boring way to play and suggest that something was wrong with the game. There was nothing wrong with the game on these occasions. This was just a consequence of their gameplay decisions in an engine-building game. They built a solid engine, and their best route to point generation was riding that engine to the end of the game.
The end of round goals and bonus cards felt clunky and tacked on when I first started playing Wingspan, but now I can’t imagine the game without them. They are an essential element of the game and add to its depth.
Is Wingspan a Balanced Game?
Yes and No. There are imbalances between some of the cards, but that adds to the charm of the game, in my opinion. If this were a game that used preconstructed decks, this might be a problem, as you could just load your deck with the best cards, and your opponents will try to do the same, leaving suboptimal cards to gather dust in the box, but that is not the case in Wingspan.
Some of the most entertaining moments for me are trying to optimize suboptimal options. It’s really where skill comes into play with this game. This element of Wingspan is also a bit of an equalizer in some situations.
There will be games where a player with a lower skill level will get better cards than someone with a higher level of skill. This then becomes a good exercise for the experienced player to defeat the luck element of the game by optimizing the cards they currently have access to. This also serves to keep newer players interested, as they can pull out a win or two early in their development to keep them wanting more.
Is Wingspan all about luck?
Luck does become a more obvious issue at higher levels of play, such as what you would experience playing with people in the Wingspan Tournaments Discord community (they compete online through the digital version of the game). When two strong players compete against each other, all it takes is that one great card to swing the game in one person’s favor.
This was determined to be such an issue for “The Power 4” (Chihuahuan Raven, Common Raven, Franklin’s Gull, and Killdeer) that the tournament community has house ruled that these birds cannot be played until round two. Despite this restriction, these cards are still highly desirable and they do decide the outcome of many (not all) games in which they are played early in round two. Bad bonus card draws and/or a birdfeeder that consistently fails to produce the food you need are other luck based factors that could potentially decide a game.
Despite these factors, I think that powerful cards add a level of charm and mystique to the game. Much like the Power 9 in Magic: The Gathering, The Power 4 in Wingspan generates a lot of discussion about the game. They are the cards that people want to see, and it always generates a story when they come up. Maybe my head is in the clouds here, but I think that cards like these help make a game better by challenging others to come up with counterplays and deeper strategies. They might not be a great thing for ELO scores or tournament wins, but they are still fun for casual Wingspan.
On the other side of the spectrum, we have birds that end up being prime tuck/discard fodder more often than not. An example of this would be predator cards that roll dice outside the birdfeeder and cache a particular food if it comes up. This power has a very low success rate, and it makes you wonder what the decision-making process was during playtesting to keep this power as it was.
Maybe these cards are the way they are because the bonus cards Rodentologist and Falconer are top tier and essentially make these weaker cards better by each scoring two victory points per qualifying bird. Since food caching itself currently tends to be a weaker form of point generation, maybe they should have been treated more like birds that cache food directly from the general supply.
Although, part of the theme of predators is that they are not always successful in their hunt. The game sometimes tries to emulate the real-life situations that some of these birds are facing and it’s reflected in some birds’ powers, another charming element of this game.
Of the game’s three habitats, the Grasslands tend to be the most influential in the core game, as the eggs generated there are inherently valuable at one point each. They don’t require some type of conversion (such as caching, tucking, or playing birds) to be worth anything and are only limited by the amount of nest space across your birds in play.
Conversely, food requires cards to spend it on, and cards require food to play. Eggs are just eggs and are always worth something. This is addressed with reconfigured player mats in the Oceania Expansion, where the Forest and Wetlands generate increased resources while the Grasslands generate less.
How long does it take to play a game of Wingspan?
Most of my games are two-player, and they end up lasting around 40 minutes or so. My three player games take about one hour. Higher player counts will result in longer games. In my experience game length is about 20 minutes per player.
Regardless of whether you end up with the “best cards” or the “worst cards,” the great thing about Wingspan is that you can just reset and play another game. Maybe you will get the Raven this time!
Experienced players may sometimes get impatient waiting for their next turn to come around, but this is a quirk that many games have. Pink Powered cards give you something to pay attention to between each of your turns, as they trigger when an opponent does something. These powers are more useful with higher player counts as they have the chance to trigger more often.
Something I really appreciate about Wingspan is that there are nearly zero negative player interactions. The ones that do exist are minor. The European Expansion introduced some birds that will steal certain food from an opponent’s personal supply, which can be annoying, but they get to replace that food from the birdfeeder, and that has the potential to actually help them. This is especially true in the Oceania Expansion, where a new wild food type, Nectar, is introduced.
I have played plenty of other games where you can attack other players in some fashion and destroy their ability to win. I personally do not enjoy those moments or games that rely on negative player interactions as a key element of gameplay. Spending an hour of my life attempting to win a game only to have it all torn down and taken away by my opponents in the closing moments is not something that makes me want to bring a game back to the table time and time again. I am happy to report that Wingspan is not one of those games, and I hope that they never go down that road with it.
Is Wingspan a good game?
Yes, all in all, I think Wingspan is a terrific game that’s fit for family game night. It’s no wonder that it’s so popular, and its player base continues to grow. I highly recommend it.
Thank you for checking out our review of the Wingspan Board Game! Let us know what you think about the game in the comments below.
Check out Wingspan on the Stonemaier Game’s blog