Saturday Morning Gaming: Wingspan


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to

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4 Responses

  1. JHG

    It makes me happy that you enjoyed the game. It really is different in some ways, and so much deeper than it seems at first.

    I also had the same feeling about MTG in regards to food. Boy, rolling the dice into the feeder (actually, you just drop them in the back of a cardboard birdhouse and they roll out into the front tray) is very harrowing sometimes when you really need 3 rats or 1 of each for your bird cards.

    To me, there’s also a bit of the feel of Cataan in the blocking other players, limited resources, limited board spaces, or how the random “point systems” (I don’t recall what the game calls them) you draw for each of the 4 rounds drags some competitive decisions into the game sometimes (oh wait, next turn is birds with this kind of nest, maybe I should play this bird instead. wait, they already have 2 more than me. Ok, let’s see…). The cards make a difference. Also, I really like that the cards are visible, not random. It makes you really have to look at things, and you always (always!) want more actions each round.

    And, yeah, I agree, it really is just a beautiful game. I can’t wait to play it with the Wingsong app to play the calls of the birds.

    It might not be a game about zombies, but if you really think about it, it’s a game about dinosaurs. 😉

    (really glad that you enjoyed it)Report

  2. DensityDuck

    Things I like about Wingspan:
    *It’s very nicely made.
    *They went to some effort to make the birds’ “powers” appropriate for the birds instead of just being random
    *The game rewards repeated sessions, both to see all the different abilities and to see how the huge number of possible layouts results in very different endgame states

    Things I don’t like about Wingspan:
    *It’s VERY random
    *The cards are specialized for specific roles, but this doesn’t become apparent until you’re familiar with them (either through extensive study or through multiple play sessions) and you don’t always get the cards with the roles that match your gameplay requirements
    *There’s no “catch-up” for players who fall behind and someone who makes no gameplay errors can still get stuck in an unwinnable state

    To expand more on those latter points:

    You don’t get to pick which bird cards or food tokens are available; that’s all random, either dealt from a card deck or the result of dice rolls. And the bird cards have some that are “engine builder”, which help you get more resources more quickly, and “points scorer”, which does what it says on the tin; but the problem is that if you’re in the early game and all you have are “points scorer” birds, you might end up having to take those just to try and boost your engine at all, and you end up stuck with an underperforming engine that doesn’t give you enough resources in the endgame to get much out of your points-scoring birds.

    Also, because of that randomness it’s hard to execute a long-range plan successfully, so things like “gameplay objectives” often resolve more as random bonuses than as rewards for achievement; and even going for those objectives requires total dedication to the effort, which usually leaves you behind in other ways. (i.e. if you see a bird card you want, it usually takes two turns to get it on the board — one to draw the card, and the next turn to actually play it, and that’s if you even have enough food or eggs to do it. Meanwhile, the guy next to you did three “get five points” turns, and the objective usually isn’t worth enough to match that.)

    Without a good “bird engine” you end up with unsatisfying gameplay (the classic Wingspan gameplay loop is “well I guess I can do Get Food; okay, I get one food token. The guy next to me takes five minutes to resolve his turn, which ends with him scoring 500 points…”) and the sharp limit on the number of turns means there’s not really a way to get out of that hole, and the lack of balancing or “rubber-banding” means that someone who gets ahead usually stays ahead.

    I think that it’s fun to actually play but that it’s not a game you can enjoy with just one or two sessions every couple of weeks; you need at least three sessions per game night to really feel like everyone has had a chance for the dice to fall their way.Report

    • KenB in reply to DensityDuck

      I’ve played once IRL and a few times on the app against the computer, and i definitely don’t have a sense of the best strategy — sounds like I probably never will, as it’s unlikely I’d be playing enough and with enough attention to get a sense of the full bird inventory.

      Our work gaming group has gotten going again over the last couple of months, partly in person and partly online ( We’ve tried several new (to us) games, and they’ve all involved decks of cards and randomness in what happens to be available — they’ve been fun but they all have a high element of luck regarding whether you happen to get the opportunity to draw the cards that will work well together. Not sure if it’s just the latest fad in gaming or just what this group is drawn to. We haven’t played any of them enough yet to get to the point of understanding the probabilities and accounting for them.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to KenB

        The thing about super-random games is that the designers (and fans) will often tell you that you’re supposed to play them a whole bunch of times, so that the randomness “evens out”.

        The problem is, Wingspan doesn’t feel like a game I’m supposed to be slapping stuff down and getting the whole game done in ten minutes so we can play another round. It feels like something where I’m supposed to be taking my time and being careful and planning things out six moves in advance and thinking really hard before making any decisions.Report

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