Wingspan Review

Wingspan - Cover

When I found out that there was a new Stonemaier game on the near horizon, I’m not ashamed to admit that a bit of wee came out. I then found out what it was all about. “Not designed by Jamey”…okay… “card based”…oh. And so my enthusiasm fell apart. I was then, as we say on the podcast, greyscaled uninterested. However, Stonemaier’s reputation kept me with half an eye on the ball here. After all, I was pleasantly surprised by Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, so perhaps the metaphorical lightning would strike twice.

Turns out that proverb is woefully inaccurate. After bagging a copy (ok, my partner bagged it) at the UK Games Expo, I sat down to read the rules. “These are…straightforward..” I thought. And that intrigued me. One of the things we do like here at Polyhedron Collider is simple mechanics but with a bit of thinking and Wingspan appeared to offer just that. So it seemed my hat was up for eating for the second time.

Wingspan is an ornithologist’s wet dream. It’s all about birds. Although if I’m picky, the game could be completely reskinned into pretty much any animal and you’d have the same underlying mechanics. You have four actions to choose from: play a card, get resources (food), lay eggs or get more cards. That’s it. Simple, but effective.

Wingspan - Main Board

Collect birds and assign each one to its respective habitat to improve your actions in that area. Playing a card into one of the “get stuff” actions makes that action more powerful in future and kicks off ongoing abilities on the cards you play. So there’s a nice little engine builder under the hood. You need food and eggs to play cards, you need to have cards to play cards and you need to play cards to get more food and eggs. It’s all very neat and tidy.

And by goodness, Wingspan is pretty. The artwork is gorgeous, the components are lovely (you’re not the first to realise that the eggs could have been made by Cadbury although I don’t recommend that you try to eat them) and everything is well made. There’s even the birdbox dice tower. Not vital, but it’s a nice touch. One question remains though: there’s five resources, but only four storage boxes provided. For the OCD-prone amongst us, that’s more than an annoyance.

Wingspan - Eggs

So it all sounds lovely and I guess it is, mostly. The problem I have is that you’re very much at the mercy of the deck. Whilst there is a limited market available, it refreshes so quickly and so often that there’s very little control over which cards you end up with. This means there can be very little planning done prior to your turn. Not a deal breaker, but it does leave you a bit…loose and lacking in any serious decisions because you can’t plan your engine too far ahead. 

The personal objective cards also seem a little imbalanced and very much dependent on the cards that come out as some can provide opportunities for 15 VP, where others provide no more than 7; even then, you’re waiting on the right cards showing up. Since you’re limited in your ability to influence other players, you can’t steal them when they do come out so if they’re snaffled quickly, you’re screwed. Consequently, I never feel like I’m entirely invested in Wingspan and can’t get my teeth into it. Now, I’m not going to say I’m a master of hefty engine builders (quite the opposite is true in fact), but I like to have the choice. Wingspan seems to take that option away from me. 

Wingspan - Actions

In addition, I feel that the game takes just a little too long to get going for a short(ish) game and is over just as my engine is bearing fruit. Again, it may be down to my own inefficiencies but I have received similar comments from other groups. I do like the choice at the start of the game as to whether to choose cards or food, which is a nice touch. Maybe I need to hone my skills there, although it feels that perhaps two or three cards is the sweet spot. 

One thing that works well is the Stonemaier Play-Nice MechanismTM. There's two ways you can play and this affects the end of round scoring; either play with positive reinforcement where you get points based on how well you do against the varying criteria each round or play more competitively where there's a ranking system. I'd recommend the latter as it definitely adds a bit more pressure and makes the game gel more, instead of feeling like you're coasting. Plus it gives nasty people like me something to do.

Wingspan - Round Scoring

Ultimately, I do like Wingspan and I enjoy playing it. I certainly wouldn’t say no if it was presented in front of me. However, I doubt its longevity as a game. Will we be talking about it in six months time? Possibly. Twelve months? Probably not. 

So it seems that whilst my hat may have been up for consumption, it remains deliciously uneaten this time around. Maybe I’m getting too grumpy and picky in my old age, but there’s not much about Wingspan that keeps me frothing at the mouth with anticipation at another playthrough. I remain more favourable towards Wingspan than I was prior to release, but unlike a drunkard with a dead leg, I’m not falling over myself to play it again. 

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game.
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