Wyrmspan Game Review

Wyrmspan Game Review - The World of Wingspan

Wyrmspan Game Review

Disclaimer: Wingsplain received a free review copy of Wyrmspan. We thank Stonemaier Games for this generous opportunity.

The Theme of Wyrmspan

The theme of Wyrmspan places you in the shoes of a dracologist who is trying to build out a network of caves in which to attract dragons to come and live in. You prepare caves through excavations and you entice dragons with coins, meat, gold, gems, and in the case of newborn hatchlings, milk. You are able to explore caves and interact with dragons in order to gain resources and advance your standing in the Dragon Guild.

I enjoy the theme for Wyrmspan. As a long time fan of fantasy in general and Dungeons & Dragons specifically, fantastic reptilian creatures and characters are something I tend to enjoy. I am also someone who enjoys animal themes in my games, which is something I’ve learned through my experiences with Wingspan and Ark Nova.

Something I wasn’t expecting with Wyrmspan is that many of the dragons are spun from animal based templates. Reptiles, fish, amphibians, and even insects inspire many of the dragon’s designs and I found this to be very appealing. I appreciate the game more with its current dragon designs than I would have if the deck had been full of classic or stereotypical dragon styles.

Wyrmspan Hatchlings

Hatchlings are a type of dragon that grows as you invest caches or tucks into them. Once they reach three caches or tucks, they give you a one time bonus. In practice, this is really fun and I hope the hatchling mechanic makes it into future Wingspan expansions (seems easy since birds hatch from eggs). If Wingspan has inspired Wyrmspan, I don’t know why the reverse can’t be true going forward.

Wyrmspan Hatchlings

This card type adds a lot more incentive to caching resources from your personal supply, which can be a less efficient form of caching in Wingspan by comparison (since that food can be spent to play large point birds). You can combo hatchlings with other dragons that tuck or cache resources on any dragon to accelerate their growth and it’s rewarding to find and implement such interactions.

Wyrmspan is an Engine Building Game

Much like its predecessor, Wyrmspan is an engine building game. Although I would argue that it is less so than Wingspan. Wyrmspan forces you to make some interesting strategic decisions. Final scores will be a blend of passive big point end-of-game powers, printed point costs on dragons, round goal standings, dragon guild bonuses, and proactive engine building mechanisms.

The Actions of Wyrmspan

Excavate (Play A Cave)

This is the action you take in order to play caves on your board. Caves have a variety of different effects that trigger when you play them and will often assist you in acquiring the necessary resources to play dragons. Some will immediately let you play a dragon for free! Note that dragons cannot be played until you have an available cave to place them in. This is an added level of preparation and tableau building that I enjoy quite a bit.

Entice (Play A Dragon)

This is simply the action you take in order to play dragons onto your board.

Explore (Run Your Engine)

This is how you “run your engine” in Wyrmspan. It’s interesting to note that this action has an escalating coin and egg cost for each habitat when you want to explore multiple times. It’s like a tax you have to pay. These costs throttle your gameplay and really slow down engine spam strategies. Building multiple engines borders on necessity and will be a common outcome of many games.

There won’t be any singularly powerful engines paving the way to victory the likes of which you might find in Wingspan egg-spam engines or mass-tucking engines. I can’t help but see this as a direct design counter measure to Wingspan strategies that some people say are “boring” or “over powered”.

Wyrmspan Explore Action

The Flow of the Game

The action economy of Wyrmspan runs on coins. The default number of actions you will be able to take each game is twenty-four since you get six coins automatically at the start of each round. In order to take actions you will spend a coin to do so. Various effects in the game will allow you to acquire more coins or force you to spend extra.

For example, some dragons have a coin in their resource cost. These dragons essentially cost you two actions to play, since you spend one coin on the Entice action and one coin on the dragon’s resource cost.

Wyrmspan Coin Cost

Some caves and dragons have When Played powers that will allow you to gain coins. These effects are among the strongest in the game as they are essentially reimbursing you the action it took to play those cards to begin with. That’s free points!

One very interesting strategic element to Wyrmspan is that you can choose to carry coins from one round to the next. I personally haven’t seen a good reason to do so yet. I spend all my coins each round in order to maximize my gains. Careful planning and looking forward to future turns is important to allow you to spend your coins in the best ways possible.

Sometimes you won’t have a choice though. You may get locked out of your game due to egg costs. Exploring is usually the gateway to resource acquisition. Exploring a habitat for the second or third time will cost you eggs. If you run out of eggs and don’t have resources to play dragons, you’re going to be out of luck for the round.

At the start of the next round you will get six more coins and one egg. This reset will give you the ability to explore a habitat twice. In this scenario, stocking up on eggs should probably be your first priority.

If for some reason you carry your coins over into the end of the game, each one is worth one point. This is actually pretty weak. You should be able to score many more points by taking some other type of action but if you end up getting locked out by the end of the game, at least you get the consolation of getting points for any leftover coins. I believe these lockouts are exceedingly rare and will mostly happen to new players who make some mistakes or players who get incredibly unlucky somehow.

Are Wyrmspan Cards Balanced?

So far, I have not been able to identify any stand out Dragons that can run away with the game like Ravens, Franklin’s Gull, or Killdeer can in Wingspan. I haven’t identified anything that feels especially weak either. This is a good sign. Time will tell if Wyrmspan will have its own “Power 4” and I will update this review accordingly if I later discover some card imbalances in the game.

The most powerful plays in Wyrmspan feel like anything that lets you play caves or dragons for free. Some of these effects even let you play them from the public card tray, so you don’t even need them in hand! Anything that gives you more coins also feels strong. All of these effects essentially give you free actions so its no wonder they feel powerful.

Are Wyrmspan Boards Balanced?

Wyrmspan might have a problem. “Egg Spam” still exists although it is harder to pull off compared to Wingspan. I’ve found that it can still be very effective within Wyrmspan’s gameplay.

If you build out the Amethyst Abyss (AA) with four dragons, you unlock the ability to discard two caves from hand in order to lay two eggs for each discarded cave. The fully built Abyss inherently gives you two caves each time you explore it. This means that the Abyss will always result in five eggs in addition to anything else your dragons give you.

You’re netting twelve total eggs each round from activating a maxed out Abyss all three times. This is highly effective in practice and I’ve managed to break 100 points twice using this strategy.

Wyrmspan Built Abyss

Something else I find concerning, while the Abyss’s end ability scores up to four points, the end abilities for the Crystal Cavern (CC) and Glistening Grotto (GG) cap out at two points each. That means that two habitats have 50% of the raw scoring ability of the third when fully developed. This feels like an oversight and I find it ironic given how notorious egg spam is in Wingspan.

Wyrmspan End Abilities

Of course this egg spam relies on having the available dragons to accommodate the eggs. You’re also going to need a dragon in the Abyss that can produce some type of resource which will help you pay for dragons along with anything you gain from Dragon Guild progression. While this can be tight, I have yet to run into any problems building out the needed dragons to accommodate the eggs.

The egg space problem kind of helps to solve itself really, since you need caves to play dragons and caves played into columns three and four require eggs to be spent. The correct caves will also get you resources for dragons. Once you’ve spent eggs on caves and played some more dragons, you’re open to exploring the Abyss again if you haven’t done it three times already.

Maybe I’ve just been lucky so far but getting a resource generating dragon or two and building out the Abyss seems like it might be a dominate strategy. Being able to generate a lot of eggs lets you start to run away with the game because it gives you the fuel to be more aggressive with the Explore action in multiple habitats across multiple rounds. I suppose time will tell just how effective this strategy is.

The Components of Wyrmspan

Wyrmspan is a game that doesn’t show as well on a computer screen but it looks amazing in person. I suspect that this has to do with the watercolor art style and its lighter colors. Even the box art feels “more present” when you have it in your hands and your staring at it for the first time. The rule book is really well done. It looks good and its easy to follow and understand. I really appreciated this after my recent issues with the Libertalia: Winds of Galecrest rulebook. The cardboard resource tokens look and work just fine and I’m neutral on them.

Something I didn’t like at first is that many of the cave cards are colored in the same colors as the habitats. While it looks good, your first impression is that the yellow, red, and blue cave cards are played into their respective colored areas (red Crimson Cavern, yellow Golden Grotto, and blue Amethyst Abyss).

This is not the case. The colors of the cave cards have no correlation to the game board at all. Any cave card can be played in any habitat. I suspect this is going to be a sticking point for many new players and they will have to be told about this up front. It’s just a natural human reaction to match up the colors.

Wyrmspan Cave Colors

One solution to something like this is to make all the cave cards a uniform color which is different than any cave space on the game board. I wonder if there was a limiting business decision that caused them to go with the “on color” cave cards. Once you know that the colors don’t matter, the issue quickly goes away.

I’m not a fan of the eggs in Wyrmspan. This is a me issue and is not the game’s fault in any way. I really like the uniform pastel colors of Wingspan eggs so I might be spoiled. I may just use my Wingspan eggs going forward. I like how the Wyrmspan eggs are speckled but the underlying color scheme isn’t something I find pleasing.

Wyrmspan Eggs

Regarding the dragon cards, something we found annoying during gameplay is that some of the resource icons are not clearly visible on the card. This only occurs with the right most icon in the cost of many dragons. This is especially apparent with milk icons.

This is another visual issue that confuses me a bit but this one doesn’t go away with a quick lesson, which is the case for cave card colors. You’re going to be looking closely at cards to make sure you are paying accurate costs, especially with hatchlings.

This is annoying when you’re looking at cards in the tray that are a couple of feet away and you make plays based on what you think you see. We got busted a couple of times once we had a card in hand and realized it was more expensive than we thought when we went to play it.

Wyrmspan Faded Food Cost 1Wyrmspan Faded Milk Bottle

The Dragon Guild

The Dragon Guild cards add variety to your gameplay. It would be easy to come up with your own guild cards to expand your experience if you wanted to. This part of the game looks like an easy target for expansion since there are just four cards.

I enjoy the implementation of the Dragon Guild. Its fun moving your marker around the board and gaining resources. Its really fun picking out a big bonus from the two “place marker” spaces. There are some really cool abilities here that let you play caves or dragons with alternative costs or gain coins (actions). There’s also opportunities to gain some big points.

Getting to these spaces first is important because many of them are limited. Not everyone is going to be able to get the best bonuses so this adds tactical and strategic depth. It also adds a fun level of tension to the game.

Wyrmspan Dragon Guild

Is Wyrmspan More Complicated Than Wingspan?

I think both games are of equal complexity but they get to the same place in different ways. Wyrmspan eliminates things like the birdfeeder, the subsequent rules about when to reroll it, and the order of operations of each icon in each habitat on the boards. There are no bonus cards. “Once Between Turns” powers (Wingspan’s pink powers) are also absent from Wyrmspan.

My first reaction to the absence of Once Between Turns powers is that I miss them. I think they add meaningful depth to gameplay but I understand why they didn’t include them here. People do ask a lot of questions about them in the various Wingspan communities. They may have felt that including them would make Wyrmspan more “complicated” than they wanted.

I personally think they should be included in the future and I think it’s an easy target for an expansion. All of the other Wingspan power types are represented in Wyrmspan: When Activated, When Played, Game End, and End of Round.

I don’t miss bonus cards. I don’t really think about their absence when I’m playing Wyrmspan. I think leaving them out helps to reduce the luck element of the game overall. You don’t run the risk of getting stuck with a stinker at the beginning of the game with no way to get out of it or exchange it.

Wyrmspan ends up putting more emphasis on combos and end-of-game powers that you have to plan out as you play. In a way it feels like “bonus cards” are tied into stronger end game dragon powers that score points by checking dragon types and qualities. Discovering combos caught me off guard because it wasn’t something I was expecting and it felt pretty good to find them and pull them off.

This type of play is something you won’t really find in Wingspan and its refreshing and fun in Wyrmspan. The Dragon Guild is a new board to keep track of but it’s just moving a cube along a circular track. You only need to make decisions at two points on the track, not every time you move.

Nearly everything in Wyrmspan is easy to understand. The one thing that took me a while to get my head around is that “running my engine” required that I specifically take the Explore action. Then you pick which “habitat” you want to “explore” (run your engine), and spend the appropriate coin and egg cost to do that. If you’ve never played Wingspan before, this probably won’t be an issue for you.

In Wingspan, if you want to run your engine, you simply take the Gain Food, Lay Eggs, or Draw Cards actions. I think that I’ve spent so much time with Wingspan that this is really burnt into my brain and I had to undo that thinking in order to play Wyrmspan. That might be the biggest hurdle Wingspan players will encounter. They have to “unlearn” a bit of Wingspan in order to play Wyrmspan. Incidentally, this is testament to the fact that these are different games.

Final Thoughts on Wyrmspan

Wyrmspan is not a Wingspan reskin. With the depth of experience that I have with Wingspan, I can confidently say that. Since Wyrmspan’s announcement, people have been looking at the name and the game pieces and judging a book by its cover. Once you actually play Wyrmspan and interact with the caves, dragons, hatchlings, dragon guild, and especially the explore action, you can really see what sets the game apart from Wingspan.

The team at Stonemaier Games has found a way to take the “DNA” of Wingspan and mold it into something entirely new. I’ve been having a great time playing and I look forward to playing it more and exploring everything it has to offer.

The easy question to ask me is, “Which game do you like better, Wingspan or Wyrmspan?” Honestly, I can’t make that call right now. I’ve spent over six hundred hours just playing Wingspan and hundreds more on content creation for that game. I’m kind of ready for a break from it. That being said, Wyrmspan hasn’t lit a fire in me that’s inspired me to play it for nine hours straight like Wingspan did on the first day we played it.

Maybe that’s an unfair comparison to make since Wingspan broke new ground in our minds and our gaming experiences. I hope both games continue to influence each other and the resulting products blow our minds. If you decided to buy one game over the other I wouldn’t argue with you over your choice. It’s going to be exciting to see what expansions bring to the Wyrmspan experience in the coming years. Thank you for reading our Wyrmspan game review! If you’d like to read our other game reviews, check out our reviews page.


  1. Julia Sayre

    Love this review, thank you. I’m also a lover of both Wingspan and D&D. Anxiously awaiting my copy of Wyrmspan to be shipped.

    I think you got this comment backwards: “If Wyrmspan has inspired Wingspan, I don’t know why the reverse can’t be true going forward.”

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