By: Daniel Kendle
Birds of a feather stack nicely together.
Hello, it’s time for another episode of JOYSTiCK, the HPSH serial that enjoys exploring and reviewing video games. And now, it’s time that we go to the real world. The time is upon us; the sun rises on a new day, a new quarter of the school year, the time for board games.
’Wingspan’ is a board game made by Stonemaier Games in 2019, functioning as a complex strategy title centered around collecting birds, food, eggs, and repetition. This is one of the more complicated titles I’ve reviewed here, so buckle up, because it’s time we grab our binoculars, notepads, and assorted nuts and dive into ‘Wingspan.’
PART ONE: ARTWORK
Seeing as a board game without artwork is like a video game without animation, ‘Wingspan’ obviously has pictures and graphic designs to accompany game elements, like the birds themselves. And said designs are lovely!
There are many different components to the game, so a wide variety of colorful imagery was necessary, especially for the art of the birds. As we’ll get into later, there are over 100 different species of birds for you to collect in a round, all of which have been recreated in lavish detail. They’re fairly realistic: each bird has its correct plumage and patterns drawn in a very informed, yet styled manner.
Other parts have also had much love and care put into them. The boards each player gets have much detail, though not enough to distract from their interface you play down cards onto. The dice with the different varieties of food shown are well-made, and even the instruction manual is crafted nicely. There does come a point where the overwhelming number of physical items you are instructed to use becomes a little straining to the eye, but that’s more of a nitpick with the gameplay, rather than the art.
We also have to talk about the digital port released later down the road by Monster Couch for Xbox and Nintendo Switch consoles, as well as for iPhone and PC’s. Here, along with many other additions and improvements, animations for UI pieces and the birds themselves are introduced.
The UI additions are whatever, cool I guess, but the REAL meat-and-potatoes of the overhaul is through the birds. Each has their own unique animations when played, mostly just fidgeting in place while they’re flying or roosting. Still, it brings a lot of real-life character and influence into the game, making it feel as if the birds are actually there, and not just still images. My only nitpick is that the animation is clearly through rigging, which, while fine, does make some animations look weird. Birds are generally known to have very quick movement, and having a jelly-like system is a tad odd. Still though, great work.
PART TWO: GAMEPLAY And so, the games begin.
‘Wingspan’ is one of the most complex games I’ve played thus far this school year, and therefore will take a good amount of time to review. As I’ve said before, JOYSTiCK wasn’t made to analyze every single bit of gameplay, instead to get an overview of a child’s take on a game. So take that in mind as I go over the mechanics of a game of ‘Wingspan.’
So, seeing as this is a competitive board game, the object of the game is to win. To win, you need to collect and play down birds. To play birds, you need eggs. To get eggs, you need food. And you need to collect more bird cards in order to effectively use food.
When you have a bird card, you have to either play it in a Forest, Grassland, or Wetland habitat. You get food in the Forest, lay eggs in the Grassland, and get bird cards in the Wetland, and playing a bird in a habitat lets you get more of that item per card. Some birds can be played in all 3 biomes, some, only 1 or 2.
When playing a bird card, you need to spend food in order to do so. There are 5 types of food: Grub, Wheat, Cherries, Fish, and Mice. There’s also a dice side (food comes in the form of dice rolled) with both Grubs and Wheat, where you can choose which you take.
Laying eggs has you – as expected – lay eggs on a bird. Some birds can only lay 1 egg, others multiple. Eggs are used to place down birds after you place down the first card in a biome, as well as being used in after-round goals.
Goals are objectives laid out during each round that give you extra points by the end of a round. There are 4 rounds per game, meaning there are 4 end goals in total. They most commonly relate to how many eggs you have on a certain bird or in a certain habitat, or having birds in a specific biome. These progressively give more points if you beat your opponent. Therefore, they provide a good source of points if need be. However, passing up on them and potentially letting your foe reach them is dangerous.
Of course, what would a game focused on ornithology be without the obvious: birds. There are well over 100 birds in the base game, meaning there’s an inconceivable amount of ways a game could go due to the randomization.
Each bird gives a different amount of points, ranging from 0 to 9. Most birds have some kind of effect either when played or when activated, which happens each turn (birds that have 0 points attached to them generally have a good effect). You get the points from a bird whenever they’re played, and those points, among others, are tallied up at the end when the winner is decided. Effects do stuff to support you while playing, and don’t normally grant you points unless they’re part of another system, such as caching food and getting cards.
Alrighty, that’s most of the gameplay in ‘Wingspan.’ There’s probably some other stuff that I could discuss, but whatever it is is likely not of substance. Now I can give my thoughts on the game!
Anyways, to give the short answer, it’s wonderful. It’s such a relaxing game with play that, while complex, is enough to give some brainpower and thought into each of your turns.
The main loop of getting food, laying eggs, getting birds and placing them down is super satisfying. It feels great every time you’re able to place down a bird, using their abilities to further expand your board. The abilities, while never being super important in the grand scheme of things, are cool in short bursts.
Granted, I do feel like some parts could’ve been shaved off the main game and wouldn’t have affected much. Namely, how there are different types of abilities, like ones that are activated upon being played or ones that are activated every turn. It just makes it annoying to manage. Overall though, the gameplay is wonderful. A HUGE step up from ‘Splatoon 3’ or ‘Minecraft Dungeons,’ in my opinion.
PART THREE: MUSIC
Once again, we go back to the digital port and look at the music within. It’d be strange to just be playing the game in an empty void of noise, so we get some nice music to accompany us. Here are some of my favorites:
- “Far in the Grassland” is a melodic… melody, that is quite charming to listen to.
- “Cloud Gazing” is pretty. It has a Ghibli kind of vibe to it, and as someone who quite likes Ghibli movies, this is obviously seen as an absolute win. Others will likely agree with me.
- And “The Opening” is by far the BEST out of all of these, I love it!
PART FOUR: CONCLUSION
I generally like to buy games that I’ll likely enjoy, which is why the majority of games I’ve reviewed have been fairly positive. There’s been games I’ve reviewed that have gotten worse (such as the 2 I listed at the end of part 2) and there are games that have gotten better, though I can confidently say that ‘Wingspan’ is the 2nd best game I’ve played yet here! It gets a strong 9/10, and is the perfect game to play on a rainy day.
And that’s a wrap for this episode of JOYSTiCK. See you next time, where we’ll either be covering our penultimate or season finale for our 2022-2023 timeline.