Board Game Review: Wingspan

It’s not too often I actually play a new game in real life these days. I’ve played more than a few on Board Game Arena, but the opportunities to get together with friends and learn a wholly new game have been limited to say the least. Usually it’s been more about playing old familiar games that we haven’t played in a while. Yesterday a friend from high school came by (yay vaccines!) and introduced me to a game he’s been hyping for the last while: Wingspan. I’m pleased to report it lived up to the hype.

At its heart, Wingspan is a card and resource management game, similar in ways to Race for the Galaxy. You work on getting cards and using the resources on those cards to get more cards and resources and (ultimately) points to win the game. It’s very well executed, but what sets it apart from other games is the way the theme really shines through the entire game.

Sometimes board game themes can be pretty tenuous, providing nothing more than a thin veneer to explain why you’re trying to do what you need to do to win. But when a theme is really popping, then it makes everything else makes sense. A common example of this would be Battleship. At its heart, all it is is a guessing game with some light strategy. But when you think about it in terms of trying to send torpedoes around to blow up different military ships, it becomes that much more engaging.

For Wingspan, you’re in the role of a team of bird enthusiasts, and your goal is to get as many different kinds of birds to come to your wildlife preserve. I know, that can seem pretty . . . strange at first. I mean, we’re down to birding as a theme? What’s next? But in this case, everything about the game clicks around that birding conceit. There’s a dice tower that’s a bird house. There are eggs as tokens. There are tons of beautifully illustrated cards depicting a huge variety of birds. The tokens are all high quality. No skimping with flimsy cardboard or paper in this case.

Playing the game, I was reminded just what a contrast playing with actual pieces is compared to playing a game online. There’s a real draw to having actual bits and pieces to fiddle with and examine, beyond the obvious plus of having real friends in a real room to play with. Board games are really designed to be tactile, and when you reduce them to just random number generators and graphics, something’s lost.

In any case, I had a great time with my first play through, and I’d definitely consider buying the game. How complex is it? Well, to get going in the first place, it takes a bit of description, but the actual gameplay (once you know what’s going on) isn’t that bad, it didn’t feel like. Boardgamegeek gives it a 2.42/5 in complexity, which is pretty accurate. So while it may put off casual players at first, I think it’s a game that would eventually feel right at home next to Ticket to Ride or Catan. And in the meantime, casual players can just have fun reading up on different birds as they play.

If you haven’t tried it already, this is definitely a game to add to your wishlist.

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