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Board Game Reviews

From Tip to Tip-Taking Measure of Wingspan: A Wingspan Board Game Review

W Updated September 15, 2020
 
3.5
 
0.0 (0)
822 1
Wingspan Board Game

Game Information

Game Name
Players
1 - 5
There Will Be Games

To half-quote another 2019 release, my picking up of Wingspan was “Inevitable.” Once my wife saw it online, she was enamored with it. And, in my typical chasing of the hotness, I fumbled into my FLGS halfway through 2020 and spotted it on the shelf. If you haven't heard, it has exceptional production, amazing components, and a mixture of engine and tableau building that makes it almost as pleasing to mind as it is to the eyes.

As expected, it was a success at the table. It had an amazing run on game night, returning as the champion of “What do we want to play?” again and again. My wife stated, after a few games in, “Let's enjoy our time trouncing Wade because it is only a matter of time before he “gets” the game and we will never win again.” Ignoring the perception that this regularly occurs (it actually doesn't, if our board game chalk scoreboard is to be believed, with Jessica's outnumbering the Wade's by a good margin), I don't ever see that ever happening with this release.

So much of Wingspan hinges on getting the good selection of bird cards at the beginning of the game. You are also at the mercy of securing goal cards where what you are shooting for actually comes out during play (birds named after a person or geographical location). And that isn't even addressing getting the resources you need from the dice when you need them. Not that there is anything wrong with ALL of the things I listed. It keeps the game fresh and accessible for everyone. But it also leads to this strange negative connotation when the game finishes. Almost every comment about the game is 'I didn't get...” “I wish I could have...” “I just never had the chance to...” Rarely are the comments about alternate strategies or epiphanies about tweaking a little something to optimize scoring. It also seems to be “What I needed simply didn't come out.”

wingspan

What I did realize in my plays is that the End of round goals are skewed toward Eggs...Have at least one Egg in a specific nest type, Total Eggs in a specific habitat, sets of Eggs in all habitats, etc... And if those aforementioned Goal Cards happen to offer up Egg related bonuses? Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner (No chickens were harmed in the typing of this review). Any way you scramble it, Eggs are dominant strategy for Wingspan and, if the end rounds goals or goal cards synergize with that, mores the pity for your opponents. Literally none of the End of Round goals have anything to do with Tucking Cards and none of the end-of-game bonus cards will give you points for tucking either. (Probably more importantly, no cards you tucked are counted toward any of the other End of Round Goals).Even if you max out the number of eggs on the cards in your tableau, you will inevitably have a power that will activate that will allow you to trade them for resources or you'll need to trade those eggs in order to actually add another bird to your tableau.

As I said in my opening, Wingspan is a pleasure to look at .The Birdhouse dicetower is a beautiful touch. However, in execution, at a standard dining room table, roughly half the time, half the players can't see what in in the actual tray/tower. Thus, you end up rotating it every few turns like someone suffering from OCD trying to align it for perfect feng shui. I'm sure someone out there is 3D printing a Nest dice tray that alleviates this issue.

Wingspan is, by no means, a bad game. It is a decent one. I do not foresee Wingspan getting purged from my shelves any time soon. Everyone I have played it with has easily grasped it, enjoyed it, and would play it again. It doesn't bother me, per se, that I don't get “better” with each game. Anyone with a firm grasp on the gameplay, a realization that eggs are key to winning, and just the right amount of luck can win. Maybe that is one of the keys to why it is so popular.


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
3.5
Wingspan is, by no means, a bad game. It is a decent one. I do not foresee Wingspan getting purged from my shelves any time soon. Everyone I have played it with has easily grasped it, enjoyed it, and would play it again. It doesn't bother me, per se, that I don't get “better” with each game. Anyone with a firm grasp on the gameplay, a realization that eggs are key to winning, and just the right amount of luck can win. Maybe that is one of the keys to why it is so popular.
Wade Monnig  (He/Him)
Staff Board Game Reviewer

In west Saint Louis born and raised
Playing video games is where I spent most of my days
Strafing, Dashing, Adventuring and Looting
Writing reviews between all the Shooting
When a couple of guys reminded me what was so good
About playing games with cardboard and Wood,
Collecting Victory Points and those Miniatures with Flair
It’s not as easy as you think to rhyme with Bel Air.

Wade is the former editor in chief for Silicon Magazine and former senior editor for Gamearefun.com. He currently enjoys his games in the non-video variety, where the odds of a 14 year old questioning the legitimacy of your bloodline is drastically reduced.

“I’ll stop playing as Black when they invent a darker color.”

Articles by Wade

Wade Monnig
Staff Board Game Reviewer

Articles by Wade

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Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #314129 16 Sep 2020 00:16
Yep. That's pretty much it. Looks great, plays easily... doesn't really do a whole lot. I mean, to each their own. If that's what people are into, go for it. I just like something with a little more dynamism in my games, in general, and engine builders, in specific (like, say, 51st State.) And I like it when there's more than one resource that matters.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314146 16 Sep 2020 09:35
I think "gamers" are having an issue wrapping their head around the fact that this is a very simple engine.

Food>Birds>Eggs

The round goals and card goals may inform some of your decisions, give you a little direction, and you can't ignore them entirely. However, you also can't let them distract you from your primary goal - produce the most eggs.
jeb's Avatar
jeb replied the topic: #314148 16 Sep 2020 09:53
I’m a little embarrassed that even this much ink gets spilled on how to play. The game is a beautiful, non-hostile gem. Not everyone on earth, and especially everyone in this house can do the space lasers, high drama, heart-pounding chit pull that we may favor. Some folks just want to make their own thing, at their own pace, and have a nice time doing it. You really can’t fuck someone over in WINGSPAN. That’s what we’re after sometimes. It’s like MACHI KORO, where we ban the purple buildings. We just want to play. There is enough drama in our lives, we don’t need to invent some more.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314152 16 Sep 2020 10:33
@Jeb
I've been playing with my daughter, my neighbor and her daughter. We have a requisite bit of time that must be spent ohhing and ahhing when a particularly pretty bird comes out. And time at the end to admire what each other built.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #314155 16 Sep 2020 10:59
Good review, reflects most of my own feelings on it. It's a game that just sort of plays itself and is then over. My spouse bought this from theme alone, and by play five or six we had both settled on it being pretty boring.

The core of my issue is that there is *zero* drama in the game---I don't mean pulse pounding chit pulls or like "HAHA FUCK YOU" moments like a caricature of an ameritrash fan. Instead I just don't feel this game really has even any texture at all, in terms of ups and downs, gameplaywise. I literally cannot remember a single thing that happened in a game of Wingspan at the end of the game. I prefer games, even breezy simple ones, to have moves of varying importance or to be building to something that is different at the end than the beginning.

I compare this to a game of pretty similar weight and length, Roll for the Galaxy. Roll for the Galaxy has a few of those moments where you read the board state and take a gamble on what other people are doing. It doesn't have to be conflictual or anything like that to do this.

But as you say it's fine and I'm glad people like it or whatever. It's not a crusade for me. But I'd be glad to never play it again and play an equal weight, equally simple game that gives more.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #314157 16 Sep 2020 11:25
Maybe fans of Wingspan could pick up Through the Desert and combine the games, just so they can arrange the pretty pieces in pleasing patterns.
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #314158 16 Sep 2020 11:43

Shellhead wrote: Maybe fans of Wingspan could pick up Through the Desert and combine the games, just so they can arrange the pretty pieces in pleasing patterns.


Or you could combine it with another camel-based game and get Wyngspahan.

I like it. Shellie asked me to review it but I've actually been asked to write it up for T3 so I'm afraid it'll have to go there instead. Seems to have plenty of drama to me, you're always uncertain as to whether you'll get the food rolls you need or whether that dice'll be left by the time your turn comes round. You never know what birds cards you're going to get to work with. And it's a squeeze in the endgame to try and stay ahead of the competition in the time remaining.

There are few better engine building games, IMO, but like most folk here, engine building games are not really my thing. My biggest issue with it is simply that it takes too long and is a faff to set up. If it dusted in an hour, it'd see the table a lot more.
jeb's Avatar
jeb replied the topic: #314159 16 Sep 2020 12:03
I feel like folks are mad that WINGSPAN is a massive hit and actually enjoyed by people. I love birds. Sibley's Guide is within arm reach as I type this. Everyone here that will play and adore a hex-and-chit about the west side of some hill on Sept 4th 1862 can probably understand how this might not appeal to everyone. Same thing goes for which particular flavor of wizard vampire runs the streets of Schenectady circa-1994.

WINGSPAN is a good game, well executed, about a topic adored by many. I am defensive about it because folks I respect seem so annoyed by it and I can't think why? Because it's more popular than it ~deserves~? Are we the tastemakers now?
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314162 16 Sep 2020 12:33
@Gary Sax
I'd never play Wingspan with just Al, or a table of experienced competitive gamers. It would be boring as hell, because so much of what needs to be done is rather obvious to us, and we could be playing something else.

I've been playing with two intermediate level gamers, my daughter and her friend, and I'm guessing Jeb is playing with his pile o' children. So I think we are just looking for more congenial games where we don't totally trounce our kids. I have beaten them every time we have played, but not by an enormously discouraging number of points. They now have the goal of beating me, and have been inching up on my score with every game. A couple more games and they will figure out it is all about the eggs, and then a few games after that they will figure out how to maximize those eggs while still being able to squeeze out a few extra points from the goals. Then we will all be on a level playing field. They will beat me a few times and then we will probably move on to a more challenging game (but return to Wingspan when we want to play something more relaxed).

I think that games like Wingspan and Pan Am are a new generation of games. Family games level the playing field between children and adults, who are at different stages of cognitive development. Whereas, these games level the playing field between players with the same cognitive abilities but different levels of experience. I think there is a need for these, as we now have, shall we call them "expert" or "advanced" gamers who have been playing worker placement, deck builders, networking, whatever games for 15 years, sitting down at the table with other adult, shall we call them "intermediate" level gamers, who have been playing Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, Catan and CAH for maybe 2 years.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314164 16 Sep 2020 12:44

Matt Thrower wrote: I've actually been asked to write it up for T3 .


T3 the magazine? Awesome! When it is published, start a new thread with a link so we can all head over and read it.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #314166 16 Sep 2020 13:36
Pan Am sounds vastly, vastly more interesting than Wingspan for the purposes of "intermediate" gaming, which I like as a concept as you've composed it. Catan, TTR, games like that still function in this niche for me and I certainly like them better than Wingspan.

That said, TO ME, I'd put Wingspan more in the category of "activity" games than an intermediate game by your definition. Wingspan fits into games that play themselves but have some pleasing aspect to them, so it's a group activity where you keep your hands busy with something physical between you but rarely need to think about it. Something like Machi Koro fits into this space, except I like Machi Koro a lot better for filling this niche. But people are going to differ on how light a game needs to be to reach the niche I'm talking about.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314167 16 Sep 2020 13:47
Wingspan only seems that way to you because simple engine building is second nature to you. Zoe still ends up with a shit load of un-played birds in her hand and a pile of unused food, which she has wasted turns collecting instead of doing things that will improve her engine or set her up to score points. It all hasn't clicked with her yet. It's still a challenge to her to identify and play to the primary objective.

Excuse the pun, but a lot of these types of games is about learning that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. So figure out how to optimize what's in the hand, rather than wasting turns digging for that perfect combo.
RobertB's Avatar
RobertB replied the topic: #314172 16 Sep 2020 15:05

ubarose wrote: Wingspan only seems that way to you because simple engine building is second nature to you. Zoe still ends up with a shit load of un-played birds in her hand and a pile of unused food, which she has wasted turns collecting instead of doing things that will improve her engine or set her up to score points. It all hasn't clicked with her yet. It's still a challenge to her to identify and play to the primary objective.

Excuse the pun, but a lot of these types of games is about learning that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. So figure out how to optimize what's in the hand, rather than wasting turns digging for that perfect combo.

Yep. I had to nag my daughter a little bit about not spending a lot of time digging for something in particular; that you have to get the most from the cards in hand. I know that if we're into round 2 and I haven't come up with a halfway decent plan for points, then I'm dead.

When the players get good in Wingspan, I think it can be a runaway with the right cards at the start, but in general it turns into players trying to not waste turns. You can get a lot of 73-71-70 sorts of games.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314173 16 Sep 2020 15:34
@RobertB

I agree. Players with the same level of experience and skill tend to cluster within a 5 point spread, and those 1-5 points can usually be attributed to luck of the draw.

What I'm seeing is that any game has a maximum number of points if someone plays a perfect game, and a minimum number of "give me" points that a person can score even if they just flail through and play procedurally without totally fucking up. The minimum and maximum depend upon player count, what goals come out, and how many cards that gift things to other players are in play. However, that minimum and maximum are always within 20-25 points of each other. Assuming no one can play a perfect game, and no one is a total flailer, and that there is a bit of a swing due to the luck of the draw, what you usually get is the inexperienced players clustering together about 10-15 points below the experienced players' cluster. That's not overwhelmingly discouraging. As more games are played, the experienced players' scores don't get better, because of that max points ceiling, but the less experienced players' scores quickly creep up and close the gap.

And yes, there is always the possibility that you will have a game where someone pulls a way awesome combo on the first draw and runs away with it, and someone else can never get anything going, but those games are rare.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314174 16 Sep 2020 17:02
BTW my secret plan is to get work them them up from Wingspan to Argent.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #314176 16 Sep 2020 17:13

ubarose wrote: BTW my secret plan is to get work them them up from Wingspan to Argent.


Depending on what they like about Wingspan, that might not work. Wingspan is a very pretty game that sounds relaxing to play. Argent is an ugly sprawl of information overload that generates chaos and take-that exchanges.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #314177 16 Sep 2020 17:30
WINGSPAN is too complicated for my non gamer wife, non-gamer in-laws, and pre-literate child. I suspect, but don’t know for sure THANKS QUARANTINE, that it is too simple for my game group. Perhaps our bird sanctuaries are in Uncanny Valley.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314178 16 Sep 2020 17:33
She may decide she doesn't like it, but hopefully by then the reason won't be because it is inscrutable to her.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314179 16 Sep 2020 17:36

dysjunct wrote: WINGSPAN is too complicated for my non gamer wife, non-gamer in-laws, and pre-literate child. I suspect, but don’t know for sure THANKS QUARANTINE, that it is too simple for my game group. Perhaps our bird sanctuaries are in Uncanny Valley.


This is exactly where this game falls. Too complicated for non-gamers. Too simple for advanced gamers. Just right for the intermediate gamer.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #314183 16 Sep 2020 20:56
To jeb's point: I haven't run across anyone who's "annoyed" by the fact that Wingspan is so popular. I know people who are fairly confused by that phenomenon. But I get it. I wrote a decent-sized essay for this here site about the fact that I think Wingspan was really important for the game industry at the current time; not only because it demonstrated in a very visible fashion that, yes, women can be successful designers, too, but also because it embodied one of Elizabeth Hargrave's main complaints about the industry: the vast majority of topic matter in the gaming world is SF/fantasy/horror-related. That's why Wingspan is about birds. That's part of why it probably appeals to "non-experienced" gamers to a certain degree. They don't have to get comfortable with wizards and space aliens. It's just birds. It's like paging through the Audobon guide with some friends, but more fun.

Any annoyance that does occur may be a backlash to the immense popularity of the game; as is always the case with almost any game that wins Game of the Year, 15 Geek awards, etc. Then you come across people who have played a lot of games (like us) and been in the hobby for a long time and we're all like: "Eh. It's an average engine builder." But, again, sometimes that's what's necessary to open the door for new(er) people. I don't begrudge the game its success or favor one bit. It's just not something I'm particularly excited about because I'm not the target audience.

(Plus, 51st State is just better.)
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314201 17 Sep 2020 12:51

Jackwraith wrote: Any annoyance that does occur may be a backlash to the immense popularity of the game; as is always the case with almost any game that wins Game of the Year, 15 Geek awards, etc. Then you come across people who have played a lot of games (like us) and been in the hobby for a long time and we're all like: "Eh. It's an average engine builder." But, again, sometimes that's what's necessary to open the door for new(er) people. I don't begrudge the game its success or favor one bit. It's just not something I'm particularly excited about because I'm not the target audience.


I saw a lot of ugly backlash directed against Elizabeth on Twitter after the awards were announced. I guess I am still salty about it. It was cruel and hurtful and, I felt, undeserved. I think that the "old guard" (i.e. people like us who have been playing for many years and have played sooo many games) need to recognize that the board game market has expanded dramatically and we are in the minority.

On BGG, look at the number of ratings and owners of older games that we consider "classics" or "better than" the newer games that we might feel are derivatives of these older ones. In many cases the numbers on the older games are lower than the newer ones. And when they are greater, it isn't by as much as you would think for a game that has been in print for 10 years vs a game that has been in print for 10 months. All these older,"better," classic games that the "Old Guard" keep referring to are as old, and clunky and obscure to the majority of today's board gamers as Merchant of Venus, Talisman etc. were to the denizens of BGG in 2005. Like, just last week I saw someone post on Facebook that they had found some old game they had never heard of in the Goodwill, and wanted to know if anyone had ever heard of it and if it was any good. The game was Dominion.

So yeah, not only are we not the market for Wingspan, we also need to come to terms with the fact that we are a tiny, niche market.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #314202 17 Sep 2020 13:09
BGG has seen some grade inflation in their ratings over time. The early ratings were relatively straightforward, but sometimes fans of newer games would inflate their grades in an attempt to push their new fave higher in the overall rankings. Or sometimes a BGGer would rate a game a 1 to express disapproval of a publisher. For example, Space Hulk racked up a bunch of 1 ratings by BGGers who never played it, simply because Games Workshop made BGG take down some custom content submitted by BGGers. That's why I pay more attention to the verbal descriptions next to the individual ratings at BGG. I give less weight to the 1s and 10s, and pay closer attention to the comments for the ratings in the 4 to 6 range. Not 7s, because too many BGGers seem to use 7 as a default rating for an average game.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #314211 17 Sep 2020 15:53
I think you misread interpreted what I wrote. The quantity of ratings and quantity of owners. Wingspan has 34K ratings and 48K owners.

Compare that to the hot game of 2005:
Caylus has 26k ratings and 26k owners - and that is the number of owners and ratings it's accumulated over 15 years.
Jexik's Avatar
Jexik replied the topic: #314214 17 Sep 2020 17:28
That's a lot of people buying Wingspan! I didn't know it was quite that big. I still haven't played it or even Terraforming Mars yet... I've kind of been under a rock.