Birdwatching is a peaceful hobby that anyone can enjoy. There are a lot of colorful and interesting birds out there, and to see them behave with nature is a serene experience.
You have the smallest birds like the finches, hummingbirds, and wrens, to the largest ones like the ostriches, eagles, and pelicans. They all come in different shapes and colors, and to watch them fly through the sky is a sight to behold.
I think it is also not a hobby that requires you to invest too many resources. All you need is to figure out the right time when these feathered beauties come in, the right place where they stretch their wings, and a pair of binoculars to see them from afar without disturbing them.
However, I spend my spare time enjoying boards instead of birds; how can someone like me know the delight of watching the avifauna?
Let me introduce you to Wingspan, a board game for one to five players perfect for ages ten and above. If you scrolled through Steam, you may have noticed a Wingspan video game since it is one of the most popular titles in the platform’s board game category.
It is considerably easy to get into, and if you are interested in getting into it too, this guide will help you learn the ins and outs of Wingspan.
Bottom Line Up Front: What is Wingspan?
Wingspan is a strategy board game that makes you assume the role of a bird enthusiast. Your goal is to discover and attract the most wonderful birds to your enclosure by building up your network, creating chains of powerful combinations, and more.
The winner is decided by who has the most points after four rounds. Below are some important details about Wingspan.
- Number of players: 1 to 5
- Playtime: 40 to 70 minutes
- Suitable age to play: 10 and above
- Designer: Elizabeth Hargrave
- Artist: Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo, Natalia Rojas, Greg May, and Beth Sobel
- Publishers: Stonemaier Games, 999 Games, etc.
How to set up Wingspan
After unpacking your Wingspan board game, you need to set it up, and to do so, follow the steps below.
- Shuffle all the bird cards into a face-down deck.
- Take three bird cards from the deck and place them face up on the game tray.
- Shuffle all the bonus cards into a face-down deck.
- Build the birdfeed dice tower (the instructions are included in the package).
- Toss the five wooden dice in the hole located at the back of the birdfeed dice tower.
- Decide which goal type you will be playing; for a competitive game, choose the green side of the goal mat. For a less-competitive game, choose the blue side.
- Shuffle the goal tiles and place one on each slot per round located on the goal mat.
- Provide each player with a player mat, eight action cubes of their chosen color, one of each food token type, five bird cards, and two bonus cards.
- Each player decides on which bird cards to keep and discard; place all the discarded bird cards in a discard pile.
- For every bird card the players keep, they must discard a food token. For example, you need to discard three food tokens if you keep three bird cards. I.e., you can only keep five of any combination of bird cards and food tokens.
- Each player chooses one bonus card and discards the other one; place all the discarded bonus cards in a discard pile.
It can be a bit confusing at first because of the many components in Wingspan; when I first started playing it, I postponed learning the game! I thought I was about to learn algebra again but with boards and birds. It turns out, Wingspan is simple to play.
How to Play Wingspan
It may be obvious, but I will say it; the person with the most accumulated points in Wingspan wins. A game of Wingspan lasts for four rounds, and the first round is composed of eight turns for each player.
The eight action cubes represent each player’s turn, and after every round, each player loses one action cube. When you reach round four, each player will end up with five turns to start.
The person doing their turn gets the first-player token as an indication of their turn. For example, Marshal goes first, followed by Odin, then by Shorty. After Marshal finishes his turn, he gives the first player token to Odin, and the cycle continues.
In Wingspan, you can do one of four possible actions during your turn:
- Playing a bird card
- Gaining food and activating Forest Bird powers
- Gaining eggs and activating Grassland Bird powers
- Gaining bird cards and activating Wetland Bird powers
Before I explain these actions, you must first know what bonus cards are used for.
What are Bonus Cards in Wingspan?
Bonus cards in Wingspan are cards that grant you additional scores if you have it in your hand and you meet its requirements. All the bonus cards (except for one) count the birds that you have played.
The bonus cards may count for birds that have a specific diet, nest, habitat, wingspan measurement, name, number of points or eggs, or powers. Not fulfilling the requirements needed in your bonus card will not net you a score from it.
I advise you to keep an eye on your bonus cards; they may even come in handy at the end of the game. I remember winning a game of Wingspan by one point thanks to a bonus card I kept on my hand!
How to Play a Bird Card in Wingspan
To play a bird card, it must be available in your hand. Then, go through the requirements listed below. More thorough instructions are written in their respective subsections.
- You must place the bird card in a habitat it can live in.
- You must place the bird card in the leftmost available card slot.
- You must pay the required number of eggs.
- You must pay the required food tokens.
After meeting all these requirements, you can proceed to the “What to do after playing a bird card in Wingspan” subsection that detail the scoring, nests, egg capacities, wingspans, and bird powers of the bird cards.
Requirements to Play a Bird Card in Wingspan
You must Place the Bird Card in a Habitat it Can Live In
On the upper-left corner of the card, you can see one or more diamonds of green, yellow, or blue with different symbols on them. These are the habitats and each diamond represents one habitat; a green diamond with a tree symbol in it represents the Forest.
A yellow diamond with a grass symbol on it represents the Grassland. A blue diamond with a sea waves symbol on it represents the Wetlands.
If your bird card has two or more habitat symbols, you can place the bird card in either habitat. If your bird card only has one habitat symbol, you can only place the bird card in that habitat. You do not want your feathered friends to be fish out of water!
You Must Place the Bird Card in the Leftmost Available Card Slot
When you look at the player mat, you can see that there are five card slots per habitat (i.e., per row). Playing a bird card in a habitat requires you to place it in the leftmost available card slot. You cannot place any more birds if all slots are occupied.
You Must Pay the Required Number of Eggs
The position in which you place your bird card determines how many eggs you need to pay. Playing a bird card on the first available card slot does not require you to pay for an egg, but playing it on the second and third ones requires you to pay for one egg.
Playing it on the fourth and fifth available card slots requires you to pay two eggs. You can always refer to the top of every column to see how many eggs you need.
If you do not have any eggs, there are many ways you can get them. The most common method is by getting them while activating the Grassland Bird powers, which is one of the four possible actions per turn. You can refer to the “How to get food, eggs, or bird cards in Wingspan” section to know more.
Honestly, I do not understand how paying eggs to host birds would work if we take this game logically. How does using a pelican’s eggs help in hatching a bald eagle? Who do we even pay these eggs to?!
You Must Pay the Required Food Tokens
In the upper-left corner of the bird card and below the habitat symbols, you may see various food symbols; the worm symbol represents the Invertebrate food token.
The wheat symbol represents the Seed food token. The berries symbol represents the Fruit food token. The mouse symbol represents the Rodent food token. Finally, the fish symbol represents the Fish food token.
They are the bird card’s requirement to play it. After all, you cannot bring a pretty bird to your place without food! Other bird cards have two or more food token symbols listed in them. If a bird card has a plus sign between the food symbols, you must pay all the food tokens listed.
Some bird cards may even require you to pay two or more of the same food tokens.
Some bird cards have a forward slash between the food tokens. If so, you must choose which food tokens to pay between the choices.
Some bird cards have a colorful wheel symbol in them instead of a food token; if a bird card has this symbol, it means you can pay it with any food token you want.
This symbol can appear on its own or along with another food token, as previously shown.
Some bird cards have a no-entry symbol (i.e., a circle with a diagonal line from the top-left to the bottom-right) listed in them. You do not need to pay any food tokens to play these cards.
When you want to play a bird card, and you do not have a specific food token needed to play it, you can exchange two food tokens to replace the missing piece.
You can get food tokens in many possible ways. The most common method is by using your turn to get them while activating Forest Bird powers. To know more about it, you can head over to the “How to get food, eggs, or bird cards in Wingspan” section.
What to do after Playing a Bird Card in Wingspan
After meeting a bird card’s requirements and playing it in Wingspan, there are several things you need to know which are essential for scoring. You have to take note of the following properties of a bird card:
- Egg Capacity
- Wingspan Measurement
- Bird Power
The subsections below will explain in further detail their purpose.
What is a Bird Card’s Score in Wingspan?
After playing a bird card, you get its score as listed in it. You can see the bird card’s score on the left with a feather symbol beside it. I would not be surprised if the game makers are American because the bald eagle is worth nine points!
What is a bird card’s nest in Wingspan?
All birds have one of five possible nest types: Platform, Bowl, Cavity, Ground, and Star Nests. You can find the nest types below the bird card’s score, and they are circular.
A bundle of sticks on a platform represents the Platform Nests. A bowl represents the Bowl Nests (obviously). A hole in a tree trunk represents the Cavity Nests. A bundle of rocks represents the Ground Nests.
Finally, a star represents the Star Nests. Star Nests are special kinds of nests as they can act as any of the four other types. A bird card’s nest does not directly account for a score. Instead, they can contribute to goals, bonus cards, and bird powers.
Other uses for nests include bird powers and meeting end-round goals. Some goals require a particular type of nest. Some bird cards can enact a power upon playing them, and these powers can detail a type of nest. To know more about bird powers, proceed to the “What is a bird card’s power in Wingspan?” section below.
What is a Bird Card’s Egg Capacity in Wingspan?
A bird card’s egg capacity determines how many eggs it can hold on to. As I discussed before, you need eggs to play a bird on the second and further slots. However, you can only store eggs within bird cards. A bird card can carry up to six eggs, while some cannot carry any eggs at all.
If you get eggs and you do not have any more birds to place them into because all your other played birds have full egg capacities, you discard the excess eggs.
What is a Bird Card’s Wingspan Measurement in Wingspan?
A bird card’s wingspan measurement is listed on the bottom-right of the bird’s illustration and the top-right of the bird’s power. They are listed in centimeters. Similar to the nest types, wingspan measurements are useful for meeting a bonus card’s requirement and bird powers.
Some bird powers also utilize wingspan measurements. To know more about bird powers, proceed to the next section.
What is a Bird Card’s Power in Wingspan?
A bird card’s power, simply called bird power, is a set of instructions you have to follow depending on its power type. There are three power types and they are categorized by color: brown powers, pink powers, and white powers (I know; it sounds bad).
The simplest bird power is the white one; they have a “When Played” header written on them. You follow the instructions written on the bird card immediately after you play them.
Brown powers have a “When Activated” header written. When you play bird cards with these powers, you do not follow the instructions immediately. Instead, you only follow them when you use your turn to do the associated action of the bird card’s habitat.
Pink powers have a “Once Between Turns” header written. Like the brown powers, you do not follow the instructions immediately when playing them. Instead, you only follow them after the specified requirement is met between your turns.
How to Get Food, Eggs, or Bird Cards in Wingspan
Getting these resources are the rest of the possible actions during your turn. Getting food is associated with the Forest habitat, getting eggs is associated with the Grassland habitat, and getting bird cards is associated with the Wetlands habitat.
When you get food, eggs, or bird cards, you put your action cube on the leftmost available card slot of their respective habitat. The slot will determine the number of resources you can get. Below is a quick summary of what you can reap per slot per habitat.
Note that you can only play five birds in a single habitat. The last slot is only a representation of the action of getting resources.
|First card slot||Second card slot||Third card slot||Fourth card slot||Fifth card slot||Last Action|
|Forest (getting food)||Get one food token||Get one food token + (optional) exchange one bird card for an extra food token||Get two food tokens||Get two food tokens + (optional) exchange one bird card for an extra food token||Get three food tokens||Get three food tokens + (optional) exchange one bird card for an extra food token|
|Grassland (getting eggs)||Get two eggs||Get two eggs + (optional) exchange one food token for an extra egg||Get three eggs||Get three eggs + (optional) exchange one food token for an extra egg||Get four eggs||Get four eggs + (optional) exchange one food token for an extra egg|
|Wetlands (getting bird cards)||Get one bird card||Get one bird card + (optional) exchange one egg for an extra bird card||Get two bird cards||Get two bird cards + (optional) exchange one egg for an extra bird card||Get three bird cards||Get three bird cards + (optional) exchange one egg for an extra bird card|
After getting the resources as indicated in the card slot your action cube occupies, you move your action cube to the left per slot. You activate any brown powers within that habitat when you do so.
The same rule applies to every bird card your action cube comes across that has a brown power. I will explain in further detail in the “How to activate Bird powers in Wingspan” section. The next sections detail the specifics that were not covered in this section for every resource.
How to Gain Food in Wingspan
Each die in the bird feed dice tower represents a food token you can take. Once you decide on which food tokens to get according to the dice, you take the food dice out from the dice tower. You can only reroll the dice if:
- There are no dice left
- There is only one die left
- The dice have the same food token type
How to Gain Eggs in Wingspan
When you get eggs, you need to put them in your played birds that can carry them. Every bird has an egg capacity which indicates how many eggs it can carry. You can refer to the “What is a bird card’s egg capacity in Wingspan?” section for more information.
How to Gain Bird Cards in Wingspan
When you get bird cards, you can pick from the three face-up bird cards on the game tray. You can also pick from the face-down deck, but you cannot go back from this decision. If you pick from the face-down deck and you did not like the card, you cannot return it.
Do not refill the face-up bird cards on the game tray if you pick them up during your turn. You can only refill them when you end your turn. You refill them by picking three cards from the face-down deck and placing them face-up on the game tray.
How to Activate Bird Powers in Wingspan
You can activate brown bird powers in Wingspan when you get food from the Forest, eggs from the Grassland, or bird cards from the Wetlands.
As detailed in the “How to get food, eggs, or bird cards in Wingspan” section, you move your action cube to the left, passing by each bird card. If the bird card has a brown power, you must follow the indicated instructions.
Note that activating brown bird powers is optional; if you think it will impede your strategy, you can opt to not activate it and move on to the next card slot.
How to Win Wingspan
The player with the most points by the end of the game wins in Wingspan. The score is determined by the following:
- Bird card score: the total of all your played bird cards’ scores.
- Bonus card score: the total of all scores from bonus cards if their requirements are met.
- Goal score: the score from reaching goals after every round.
- Eggs: each egg in your played birds is equal to one point.
- Cached Food: Some bird powers cache foods for the bird; each cached food in all your played birds is equal to one point.
- Tucked bird cards: Some bird powers tuck bird cards beneath the bird; each tucked bird in all your played birds is equal to one point.
If you play the green side of the goal mat, all players are ranked depending on how much they accomplished in meeting the goal. The score distribution is as follows:
|Round one||Four points||One point||N/A|
|Round two||Five points||Two points||One point|
|Round three||Six points||Three points||Two points|
|Round four||Seven points||Four points||Three points|
If two or more players tie for a position, you add up the scores for the tied position and every position before the tied one concerning the number of players. If a player scores zero in terms of meeting the goal requirements, they do not get a position.
Some birds have powers that let them cache food and tuck birds. You cannot use cached food as food tokens unless the power’s instructions say so.
Tips and Tricks to Win in Wingspan
After learning its mechanics, I got highly addicted to Wingspan within a short period. From the long hours I sunk my attention into, I learned some things that I think you should also know.
- Do not stick to a single scoring method. I have lost many games because I kept focusing on being number one in terms of goals. Sure, I got the most points out of the goals, but when it came to bonus cards, laying eggs, tucking birds, and caching food, I came in dead last. You should always diversify your strategy.
- Keep an eye out on your opponents. Other people also have a strategy (unless they are a beginner; they are wild cards). Pay close attention to their moves at every turn. They might be gunning for having the most eggs, cached food, etc. You can counter them by playing into their weaknesses.
- Play birds with pink powers as early as possible. Playing these types of birds near the game end will be less favorable for you because you have fewer opportunities to activate their powers.
- Know your bonus and bird cards. When you start picking out bonus cards, you need to check which of them can benefit from your starting birds. For example, you should pick the Photographer bonus card if your starting birds have color names. Then, you can build up your aviary from there.
- Invest in getting resources passively. Some birds have powers that let you get resources without wasting a turn. For example, the American Redstart grants you any resource from the birdfeeder upon activation. Instead of getting one resource, you can instead get two!
Alternatives to Wingspan
If Wingspan is not to your taste, do not worry; I understand that it can be too confusing. Perhaps you are afraid of birds. Either way, I have some alternatives that you can look into.
Sushi Go Party
The way to a man’s heart is through his belly, and Sushi Go Party is all about food instead of birds. These two board games are similar because you can chain powerful combos based on the cards you play. Both games also determine the winner based on their score. Plus, there are cards that matter at the end of the round (which Wingspan also has if you have the European Expansion).
I also think Sushi Go Party is easier to get into compared to Wingspan. It has a simple mechanism across every game; everyone plays a card from their hand simultaneously, tallies up the scores, passes their hand to the player next to them, and repeats. You only need to learn their individual scoring systems, and you are all set!
If you are a fan of chaining combos like in Wingspan, I think Sushi Go Party is a good alternative for you.
Wingspan is a great strategy game, and if you are looking into similar strategy games, I would recommend Everdell. In it, you try to expand your territory and establish new cities. A glaring similarity between these two board games is resource management.
In Wingspan, you need to manage your resources like food and eggs. You cannot play birds in a habitat if you do not have the right resources! In the same way, you cannot develop a peaceful village if you do not have the proper elements at your disposal.
When you look at Wingspan and Catan at the same time, you would not think that they are similar games. However, they both are strategy games that force you to manage your resources carefully. In Catan, you need to build roads and settlements to gain points. The first to reach a specific number of points wins.
However, to build them, you need resources like clay, stone, etc. Like Wingspan, you can play birds that are worth points if you have the right resources.
I recommend Catan as an alternative to Wingspan if you do not like how too strategic Wingspan is. Catan has a bit of randomness to it because you roll dice to determine which resources players get. If you want some variety in your strategy games, Catan is a great choice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Can you play Wingspan with six players?
Answer: While Wingspan was designed for five players maximum, you can homebrew your game to have six players. The important thing to remember would be to have a lot of cards to accommodate an extra player; therefore, having the expansion packs would be helpful in this venture. However, note that a game of Wingspan with six players might get long.
Question: Is Wingspan available for Nintendo Switch?
Answer: Yes, the Wingspan video game is available for purchase on the Nintendo Switch. It also has the Seasonal Decorative Pack and the European Expansion for sale.
Question: Can Wingspan be played solo?
Answer: Yes, Wingspan can be played solo through the Automa game mode. The Automa does not act like another player. Rather, it is a different system of its own designed to give the solo player a challenging fight.
Conclusion: Is Wingspan Good?
Wingspan is a fun board game you can get into. I easily got hooked on the game thanks to the video game on PC. I love the illustrations for each card; every bird is unique, and the game itself made me interested in birds.
It can be intimidating because of its many rules, but once you know how to play it, you can have a ton of fun for long periods with your friends and family.
I recommend that you get the expansion packs for Wingspan; they enhance an already fun game. It is a good fit for players who loves strategy games like Chess, Civilization, and the like.
If you want to win this game, I suggest keeping an eye out for your friends’ progress. I find that even when I ace the goals, I still lose because of my opponents’ other scores like eggs, birds, etc.