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Review: Wingspan board game, plus expansions

Beloved by birders and board gamers alike, Wingspan took flight in 2019 and has proved popular ever since.

Wingspan board game, plus European and Oceania expansion
Published: June 29, 2022 at 7:00 am
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Review: Wingspan board game

Wingspan game
  • By Elizabeth Hargrave. Illustrated by Natalia Rojas, Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, and Beth Sobel. Stonemaier Games.
  • Age 10+, 1-5 players, 40-70 minutes playing time.
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Published in 2019 by Stonemaier Games (who have also published Scythe, Viticulture and Tapestry), Wingspan has been quite the phenomenon – and in two ways. It’s popular with birdwatchers (let's be honest, we love anything even vaguely bird-themed) and it’s introduced them to the world of board games (beyond the typical ones many of us grow up with: Monopoly, Scrabble, Cluedo, etc). I’m one of these converts, having spent years watching birds and other wildlife and then discovering board games thanks to Wingspan.

However, it’s also been well-received by avid board game players too, and introduced them to the wonders of nature and birdwatching. A win-win-win-win situation!

Wingspan was designed by Elizabeth Hargrave (designer of Tussie Mussie and Mariposas) who was introduced to some of the great board games, such as Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride, during a holiday in winter 2015. Upon returning home, she continued playing games but found the themes quite repetitive and wondered about designing a game around something she loved: birds. The result was Wingspan.

Within a week of its release in March 2019, it was sold out. And by late April, it was entering its sixth print runt. Stonemaier Games released an apology to fans for underestimating its sales.

As a side – but important – note, Wingspan has an all-woman creative team. There's Hargrave the designer, bird artwork by Natalia Rojas and Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, graphic design Christine Santana, and player mats and a birdhouse dice tower designed by Beth Sobel. In world that has long been dominated by men, this is certainly notable, and Hargrave is optimistic about a more diverse (in many ways) industry in the future.

The timing of the game's publication in 2019 and initial surge of popularity was perfect for the incoming pandemic – as we all spent more time at home, and more time reconnecting with nature, Wingspan provided a brilliant crossover. Whilst I was separated from my partner during the initial lockdown, we played it online against each other, and when we were able to see each other again when restrictions lifted enough, we played it every day (sometimes twice a day).

As I’ve become more interested in board games (and not been stuck inside due to lockdowns), I’ve played it less and less, but it’s still a firm favourite and my one of my go-to games (without the expansions) for introducing birders and nature lovers to board gaming.

How to play Wingspan:

The premise of the game is to attract birds to your nature reserve, where they can live in one of three habitats: forest, grassland or wetland (with the exception of some migratory birds which can moved between habitats).

Each of the 170 birds is assigned a power (with the exception of some high-scoring birds) which can be activated either upon playing the bird, when taking an action in the habitat that bird is living in, or once between turns.

For each of your turns, you have the choice of just four actions: play a card, gain food from the birdfeeder (a very cute dice tower), lay eggs or draw more bird cards. Whilst that sounds simple, you’ve got to plan ahead to work out your strategy and the best way to gain as many points as possible.

There are a wide variety of ways to gain points including playing birds, laying eggs, tucking other bird cards (either as a predator catching prey, or by creating flocks), end-of-round goals, and bonus cards. With so many different factors to take into account (including some luck) and potential strategies to focus on, it’s a very easy game to play again and again without getting bored.

The components are good quality, but I’ve ditched some of them in favour of upgraded pieces – I bought a new dice tower off Etsy as mine was getting a bit worn, and received hand-knitted nests as a birthday present to hold the eggs in. I know some players have sleeved all of the cards in order to prevent wear and tear, but this does make the cards difficult to fit back into the original boxes and to shuffle.

Are they any expansions to Wingspan?

Yes! So far two expansions have been released European (£21.75) in 2019, and Oceania (£24.75) in 2020. The Stonemaier website mentions that there will be four further expansions, and the final total of bird cards will sit at around 700.

The theme for the next expansion was confirmed on 29th June 2022 as Asia, and one of the new bird cards will be revealed each month in the Stonemaier Games e-newsletter. It will be released alongside the Wingspan Nesting Box, a big box storage solution for storing all current and future expansions.

Wingspan European Expansion

Each adds more bird and bonus cards to the game, end-of-round goals, differently coloured eggs (purple for European and yellow for Oceania), and new powers – both the ‘brown’ powers for activating when taking an action in a habitat, as well as end-of-round actions with some European birds and end-of-game actions with some Oceania birds.

Oceania Wingspan expansion

The Oceania expansion takes things a little bit further and introduces nectar as a new food type, which changes up the gameplay a bit and also means using new player mats. There have been some concerns amongst players that nectar spoils the game, and makes the actions of some of the birds (namely a couple of the crows) in the original game too powerful. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it spoils the game, but it definitely changes things.

In addition to the expansions, a Wingspan book featuring the beautiful illustrations has been published, and three jigsaw puzzles have been released: Birds of Feathers (500 pieces), Duck Duck Goose (1000 pieces) and Birds of Prey (15oo pieces).

Can I play Wingspan online?

Wingspan has also been adapted to play via Steam and on the Nintendo Switch.


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Authors

Megan ShersbyEditorial and digital co-ordinator at BBC Wildlife Magazine, and countryfile.com
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