Hi everyone. Before I bring you this post, I wanted to mention that I am now a contributor for the Meeple Times. Because of that, you can also find this article onto the Meeple times website. You can find it here:
Hey everyone! Today I wanted to talk a bit about Wingspan, a board game about collecting birds. Wingspan is currently very difficult to obtain, as it is completely sold out. In fact, earlier in March it was selling on Ebay for $1000! So, when someone brought Wingspan to a local game meetup, I had to take the chance to see what the hype was all about. It’s true that I’ve only had the chance to play this game one time, which is not ideal for a review. That being said, I have no idea when I’ll be able to play this game again, and it could easily be a long time from now.
People want new themes
Wingspan’s success was unexpected. So unexpected that it quickly sold out the first, second, and third print runs. For tabletop games, which have generally not strayed far from fantasy and sci-fi themes, it is easy to see how Stonemaier Games could not predict the wild success that Wingspan has enjoyed. And yet, at the same time, it makes so much sense.
I’ve played a lot of games. I’ve been to space and blown up aliens, started a farm to grow crops, and built large empires to conquer them all. So, when another farming or space exploration game comes around, I am left wondering: do I really need this game? Often times, that question is answered by the mechanics. As a game designer, I have a bit of insight into how these mechanics are developed. Part of making an excellent game is making sure all of the mechanics make sense. This is a lot harder than it seems, and there often times is a constant tug of war between creating something that thematically makes sense, and making something mechanically fun to play. Games with similar themes are all inevitably going to be constrained in the same way, which makes it increasingly harder to make something unique. In the end, when I am looking for a game with new mechanics, another (insert overused theme here) game is likely the last place I would look. And even if the mechanics are super unique, chances are that they won’t align well with the theme. You don’t have to be a game designer to know when a game has been thoughtfully designed around a theme. They are the games where all of a sudden, everything clicks.
Wingspan was not the first nor the last game to explore a unique theme. And to be clear, Wingspans success is not the result of its theme alone. However, it serves as a reminder of something that has been forgotten by the publishers who churn out games with the tried and true themes of yesterday. Perhaps Wingspan will spur on a new generation of games with new and exciting themes. One thing is clear though: there is a demand for something new.
In Wingspan, your turn consists of 1 of 4 actions. Your goal is to get victory points, and you need to play bird cards to get those points. To play those bird cards, you need to feed them food that you can gather through the first action. Once played, birds can lay eggs. Finally, you can draw bird cards. And that sums up the vast majority of the game. It’s simple and elegant, and it makes a ton of intuitive sense.
Ok, I’ll admit it. I didn’t do this on purpose, but I had read a few other Wingspan reviews before playing, and thus went into the game with a slight advantage. It turns out that this didn’t help me that much, which I was actually very pleased by. The strategy is extremely complex, and you need to have strong foresight as well as good tactics. In other words, you need to have a long term plan that you are working towards, and you also have to be good at identifying your best option on a turn-by-turn basis. Wingspan does this without overwhelming the players, as turns were very quick. The whole game took about 2-3 hours, but it was a 5 player game with mostly new players. I would definitely try to avoid 4-5 player games though, as they definitely take longer, and more players don’t seem to add that much to the game.
Wingspan is a bit different from the types of games that I normally enjoy, as I personally like a more interactive game. This element was mostly missing from Wingspan. This could be frustrating at times, as it was difficult for us new players to gang up on the person who owned the game. One other thing that I generally dislike is being almost completely in the dark as to who is doing well. I kind of like knowing where my place is in the pecking order, so I can analyze my moves as I am making them. Was that action I took that one turn actually worth it? Am I in last place or first place? Often times, I had no clue, as the only time I knew my score was at the end of the game (and the scores were pretty surprising, at least to me).
That being said, this is in no way unique to Wingspan. In fact, I’m positive that this is an intentional marketing choice. One thing that I have realized is that many people hate the same interactive games that I enjoy so much. They might refuse to play a game with heavy player interaction. That doesn’t necessarily happen in the opposite direction: people who love player interaction (like me!) might be happy to play a game without those elements. Whatever the case, I have heard that Wingspan was originally going to contain much more player interaction than the final product delivered.
I usually don’t care that much about good looking components, but it is worth pointing out that Wingspan goes way beyond most other games in this department. Specifically, the dice tower was fantastic. I admittedly had never used a dice tower before, and have spent a fair bit of time chasing after dice that fall off of the table. It was a huge quality of life upgrade, and I appreciate that level of thought a lot.
I really enjoyed Wingspan. There are many factors contributing to its success, not all of which I outlined here. Most notably, I think that the unique theme has cemented Wingspan’s legacy as living proof that a game with an interesting theme can be successful. I hope that more game designers take note!
Have you played Wingspan? What do you think contributes to its success? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks!