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.”
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.