Watch as Ryan’s daughters Cassie and Izzy take the driver’s seat to teach you how to play Wingspan, a family favourite.
Izzy: Hi! It’s Izzy from Nights Around a Table, and this is my sister Cassie, and this is Wingspan, an engine-building board game about boids (Cassie: Boids!) Izzy: for 1-5 players. Let us show you how to play!
You and your friends channel your inner Tippi Hedren to attract various birds in your habitat by putting out the food they like, including fruits, seeds, and small rodent carcasses. The birds can occupy your forest, grassland, or wetland rows, and the rows also provide you with food to attract more birds… eggs to hatch more birds… and cards that depict… you know. More birds!
Whenever you activate one of these rows, you rip backwards through each bird in that biome, activating their different brown powers in a chain reaction. The birds you attract can also give you a one-time benefit, or a power that lets you profit whenever an opponent takes a certain action. At the end of four rounds, you count up points you’ve accumulated in birds, eggs, cached food, tucked cards, contests, and secret goals, and whoever scores the most points, wins!
You start the game with a blank slate habitat, and a few bird cards and morsels of food to work with, which you whittle down to five items. You also have a handful of these action cubes. Each turn, you’ll play one cube on your board, either in a row, or a column, and depending on where you place it, you get to do different things.
The big show is attracting new birds to your habitat.
To do that, place an action cube in the column above where you want the new bird to go. Your birds arrive from left to right. So the first bird you attract in any row will go in the leftmost column. So, you place your action cube in the first column.
Here’s what a bird card looks like. Here’s the bird’s name… and the number of points it’s worth next to the feather. This is the kind of nest the bird likes – either platform, bowl, cavity, or ground. A bird with a star here will nest anywhere, so it’s like a wildcard symbol. Every bird can lay a certain number of eggs at a maximum. The bird’s wingspan is listed here. This comes into play on certain bonus cards, or when the birds try to eat each other. At the bottom of the card is some flavour text about the bird, in case you’re a gigantic nerd.
The type of biome a bird can inhabit is up here. Some birds only enjoy hanging out in forests, grasslands, or wetlands, but other birds can enjoy two, or even three different environments… And you get to choose where they’ll go.
Beneath those symbols are the types of food that this bird likes to eat. Some birds eat just one thing, like a single invertebrate… and some birds are huge pigs! The saying “eats like a bird” doesn’t apply to them. The slash means “or,” while the plus means “and.” So the hooded warbler wants to eat two invertebrates. The American robin wants to eat an invertebrate or a berry. And the brant wants to eat a seed and one of anything.
You pay the food tokens your bird wants, and place the bird in the correct section in your habitat.
Now, all birds in Wingspan have special powers. Those powers are either white, pink, or brown.
When you attract a bird that has a white power (Jerk bird: White power!) Girls: HEY HEY HEY – no. NO. BAD BIRD. Okay, so the birds with the… uh… (colourless) colourless powers fire off right away. Some birds might give you a choice of two new cards, or the ability to play another bird – that type of thing.
The birds with the pink powers fire off when it’s not your turn, and another player performs the action depicted on your bird card. You can use these birds’ pink powers once each between your turn. So the brown-headed cowbird lays an egg in another bird’s bowl nest when one of your opponents’ birds lays eggs. So after you take your turn, if Fiona’s birds lay eggs, you can claim your brown-headed cowbird’s pink power. But if Slick Joey Sixfingers lays eggs on his turn, your brown-headed cowbird bird doesn’t get to use its power, because that power won’t refresh until it’s your turn again.
We’ll look at what the birds’ brown powers do in a second, but you do need to know that those abilities don’t fire off right away when you play those birds to your habitat.
Instead of playing an action cube to a column, you can play an action cube to a row to get food… eggs… or cards. You’ll place your cube on the leftmost empty slot in a given row. So at the beginning of the game, you have to play here, here, or here. But as the game progresses and you attract more birds, you’ll put your cube in the leftmost non-bird slot, and the slots get better as they reach the right edge of your board.
In the top forest row, if you play your cube here, you can take some food. Wingspan has a birdfeeder-shaped dice tower. The dice get rolled off the top of the game, and you get to pick the one that depicts the type of food you want. You move the die outside the feeder, and claim the matching food token from the supply. This die gives you the option of either taking a seed, or an invertebrate.
Any time you go to take a food token from the feeder, if the birdfeeder is empty… or if all of the dice show the same symbol, (including if there’s only one die left) …you get to re-roll all five dice through the top of the tower. For this re-roll rule, the seed/invertebrate face counts as its own thing. So you wouldn’t be able to re-roll the dice if the birdfeeder looked like this… but you could re-roll if it looked like this.
As we’ve seen, food is useful for attracting birds to your habitat. Whenever you see this symbol, it means “any type of food.” So some birds aren’t picky. And when you’re attracting a new bird, you can cash in two of any type of food for any other type of food. They don’t even have to be the same type. So you can spend a seed and a berry in place of a fish.
As you attract birds, the benefit of placing an action cube in this row gets better and better. You get to pull multiple dice from the birdfeeder, and in these spots, you can discard one bird card you don’t want to gain an extra food.
When you play an action cube at the end of this row, your birds lay eggs. First, take the number of eggs depicted on the action space – in these spots, you can cash in one food to gain an extra egg – and then distribute those eggs to any of the bird cards you’ve attracted. A bird’s egg capacity is here, at the side of the card. The egg colour you pick doesn’t matter – you can mix and match. And if you have more eggs than your birds can bear, you just don’t get to keep them. Each egg sitting on a bird card at the end of the game is worth one point.
If you want more birds in your habitat, though, you’ll have to spend your eggs. As you build out further along the rows, birds cost food AND eggs to play to your habitat.
If you play your action cube to the bottom row, you get to draw cards from the deck. In these spots, if you spend one egg, you can draw an additional card. You can take a face up or face down card and add it to your hand.
You don’t refill the cards until the end of your turn. So if you get to take 2 cards, and you grab this one first, this slot stays empty while you take your second card. When you’re all finished, the slots get refilled.
If you ever place a cube in a row that’s completely filled up, you get to do the stuff at the end of that row. But you can’t have more than five birds in any row.
Now we get to see the most interesting part of the game: BROWN POWERS!
After you place a cube at the end of a row and do the thing, you go back through each bird in that row one by one. If the bird has a brown power, you can activate it, if you want to. Brown powers do all kinds of things, like giving you extra food, to hunting for prey, to laying extra eggs, to flitting to ends of other rows.
Some birds, like the acorn woodpecker, let you store food on the card. You can’t spend this cached food to feed other birds… but it’s worth points to you at the end of the game. Other birds let you tuck cards underneath them. Just like the cached food, you can’t play these tucked cards, but they’re worth endgame points, too.
Some birds’ powers may benefit other players. The common loon gives players with the fewest number of wetland birds an extra card. That’s why activating these powers is optional: if you don’t have the fewest wetland birds, you don’t have to activate your common loon.
That’d be loony! (…I don’t get it…?)
At the end of the round, take back all your cubes. The bird cards get wiped and replaced …but the food in the birdfeeder stays put. Pass the start player marker on clockwise, and score the end-of-round goal.
Each game, you’ll draw four of these goals randomly. These are little contests that help you get more points. This one means that whoever has the most birds with platform nests with at least one egg in them at the end of the round gets 1st place. Everyone puts one of their cubes on the card to mark where they placed. And the cube stays there, which means that you have fewer and fewer cubes to play with as the game goes on.
If two players tie, you put both of the cubes on the space together, and skip the next place. So if red and blue tie for second place, they both go here. You skip third place, and award fourth place. At the end of the game, you take the points the spot is worth, and divide them among the tied players, rounding down.
On the flip side of the green card, instead of competing for most on each goal, you just get points for how many of that thing you’ve achieved.
Cassie: That side’s for wimps, right?
Izzy: Yeah. It’s for wimps.
Off the top of the game, you get to choose one of two bonus cards. These cards let you score extra points at the end of the game, for things like having your birds lay lots of eggs, or attracting birds with body parts in their names.
For some reason, that bonus doesn’t count if you collect
The tufted titmouse
The downy woodpecker
The American woodcock
Duke McHooter’s Huge-Bootied Dude Noodle.
Izzy: Did Dad put that one in there?
Some birds even let you draw new bonus cards. There’s no limit to the number of bird cards, bonus cards, or food tokens you can collect. Egg counts are limited to the laying limits on your bird cards… and each row of your habitat can only hold 5 birds. You’re not allowed to get rid of any birds once you’ve played them to your habitat.
At the end of the game, you get points for each of the birds you played to your habitat – look for the number beside the feather. You get points for achieving the targets on your bonus cards. You get points for the end-of-round goals. And you get 1 point for each egg on a bird, each food token that was cached on a bird, and each card tucked under a bird. The birds in your hand aren’t worth any points… and neither is any leftover food in your supply.
Tally up the points on the scoresheet to see who’s won! Leftover food breaks ties, and if players are still tied, all tied players win!
There’s also a robot player so you can play Wingspan by yourself! Here. Go play Wingspan by yourself.
To set up the game, everyone takes a habitat board and eight cubes in the colour of their choice.
Shuffle and stack the bonus cards and the bird deck. Flip over the top three cards from the deck. Put the eggs and the food nearby to form a supply. Roll all five food dice into the birdfeeder.
Choose either side of the goal card – the proper side or the wimp side – and deal out four random goals.
Draw two random bonus cards and look at them. Keep one, and discard the other. You start with 5 random bird cards, and one of each type of food. You’re allowed to keep five things in any combination of birds and food – so 2 birds and 3 food, 1 bird and 4 food, and so on.
Randomly decide who gets the start player token.
And now, you’re ready to play Wingspan!
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[Music – Board Game Boogie by Ryan Henson Creighton]
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