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A Little Bird Told Me

Stuart Burnham
United Kingdom
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In my last blog post I wrote about how I’d become comfortable with playing games that I love, those that are on the lighter end of the things that usually generate the heat and the content around these parts. Shortly after that post there was a brief preorder window for a game that seemed like it might fall squarely into that happy category for us. Although I am far from a Stonemaier games fanboy I soon found myself hastily depositing the required funds into their account despite knowing next to nothing about the game and the entire process being the antithesis of how I’d spent the previous year buying and playing games.

Thankfully Wingspan is an absolute joy (ignore the ridiculous and pompous behaviour of those decrying the handful of barely noticeable printing errors) and we have fallen in love with the simplicity of the gameplay and the beauty of the presentation. I’ve played it a dozen times now at almost every player count (only missing the full 5 player table) and have enjoyed it each time. The game changes subtly with the number of players, certain cards become more desirable and potentially more useful, and you need to decide on whether competing for end of round goals is worth chasing over other priorities you have. Essentially, even when playing solo, the game feels the same though.

The components are not just pleasing to the eye but also supremely practical and greatly aid the setting up and packing away of the game, as well as being clear and concise whilst playing (again, ignore the laughable list of rules questions on the forums, the cards, board, rulebook and comprehensive appendix contain all the answers you might need (although shouldn’t) if you only open the box and look rather than the browser and type) making the whole experience swift and pleasurable. We now get through a two player game in 45 minutes, including set up etc, which makes it perfect evening fare for us, and you can reasonably add around 20 minutes per (new) player to that.

The game falls squarely into that perfect tactical category for me where you have a hand of cards and must constantly (sometimes painfully) decide which to keep and which to discard. I’ve tried to play this game strategically and plan out what I want to achieve, if not over the entire game then certainly over the next round, but have fallen flat on my face. You have to be responsive to the randomness of your card draws and make constant adjustments to your goals based on what is in hand. This makes it too light and potentially frustrating for some but absolutely ideal for me, the agonising over reassessing is enjoyable and challenging (enough).

The photos above and below these paragraphs illustrate situations where I have failed and succeeded. In the top picture I have tried since the earliest moments of the game to get an egg generating engine going, based on the second and third cards in that row that I had in my initial hand, leading me into struggles with food gathering and round goal scoring. In the picture beneath I have played more with rather than against my card draws, seeing potential synergies but not going out of the way to force them into play. The top row, the food gathering area, now has not only a way to generate bonus food but also to acquire eggs, crucially saving me taking an action(s) to get an item that is mandatory to playing later cards into any area.

This does not mean that the game is on rails however, make the right choices and respond where you can to your opponents and you will usually come out on top. Early choices made in the game, including what to keep from your initial hand, are crucial however. There are three resources (food, eggs, cards) and you will likely be poor in (at least) one of them for most of the game (in this the game has a lot of similarities in feel with Nusfjord). This means that a first play or two of the game can turn off some, and “serious” gamers, who play a huge variety of titles and often only play distinct games once or twice in the space of a few months, are most likely to dismiss this superb slice of gaming.

We adore the game.

Wingspan has also managed to rekindle something that was a New Year’s resolution back in 2018; to get out in the fresh air and explore nature some more. With Mrs B suffering from the pain and fatigue that comes from having MS getting out into the countryside and walking around is challenging to say the least (and thus the resolution was failed) but it’s perfecly possible to attract birds into and view them in your own back garden all year round, as well as get out to a local nature reserve (at some old gravel pits) when the weather improves a little. I already own a couple of pairs of decent binoculars (from being a keen stargazer) so a few bird feeders and tables and an RSPB pocket guide are all we have needed.

A boardgame that encourages us not only to sit down and play, but also to pack it away and go and do something else instead? Perfect.

I had this musical number in mind to finish, and when I hopped over to You Tube to find the link I came across this excellent performance of it from a few short years ago when this country was looking outwards, putting on its best behaviour and welcoming people from all over to these shores; a country that seemed confident and proud of its place (and its past) and appeared happy with itself and each other. A country that was viewed from the outside as quite quirky but highly competent, classically reserved yet very welcoming, and the epitome of common sense whilst retaining a sense of humour. A few short years ago. How times change.

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