Wingspan Solo – A Long Overdue Short Review of a Small Game in a Big Box

There is an abundance of information about this game out there, so I’ll just briefly share some thoughts on why this game didn’t make the cut as a solitaire experience.

As often is the case when I approach something with enthusiasm and anticipation, it took some time for me to admit that I don’t particularly enjoy Wingspan as a solitaire game. Although I’m far from an ornithologist, I love birds and observe them when I have the chance. The idea of a game with mechanisms inspired by the behavior and peculiarities of different birds is very appealing to me. I also tend to like engine building and tableau building. For these reasons, I had reasonably high hopes for this game.

The entire presentation is great, which made it even harder to finally admit to myself that I didn’t quite enjoy the game. The illustrations are great, the iconography is clear, the components are of good quality and on top of that the rules writing is excellent. But the times I took Wingspan from the shelf to the table soon became fewer and further between.

Apart from the great presentation, components, writing and all, the game certainly has some things going for it. It’s easier to learn than to master, it has a theme that can appeal to many people and the theme is tied to the mechanisms more often than not. The rules are clear, simple and comprehensible. I have little negative to say about this game, really. I’m probably just underwhelmed.

With 170 unique birds cards and 26 bonus cards that reward different strategies I was expecting this game to feel more varied than it did. Most runs against the Automa tend to feel the same, though, no matter what cards come up; do the best with what you’ve got and then lay lots of eggs. It usually feels like the huge stack of randomized cards makes it rather hard to have a long-term plan and a more situational approach (often with an emphasis on eggs) is usually more efficient. Chance is an important element, but it creates mild frustration rather than tension since I can’t really tie it to the theme – I’m just as likely to draw a bald eagle as the duck I need.

As a player you need to balance your priorities to get the most out of what you’ve been dealt, and you have to try to keep your goals in mind too, but to me the game feels more or less the same whether I’m a wetland scientist and get rewarded for having as many aquatic birds as possible, or if I’m an omnivore expert and get rewarded for all omnivorous birds I’ve collected. I do the same thing – I just get points for birds with different symbols on them, and although how and when some birds lay eggs, what and how they eat and so on, makes thematic sense, the different scoring strategies feel like choosing between hearts and clubs.

The Automa provides a good challenge and requires low maintenance. When I first played the game I was so impressed by the simplicity and functionality of the Automa that I enjoyed just watching how it worked. So that’s not where the problem is. The problem is on the player side of things: the variety promised by lots of unique cards just isn’t there, and it all feels like a simple race to get the most points with what you’re dealt. It also feels like tough decisions are rare. I guess the game is lighter than I had hoped for. And that’s probably what it all comes down to – the game mechanisms and the theme had me believe that this most definitely was a game for me, but I’m not the target audience here. Wingspan is probably a great family game, a great game for introducing people to tabletop gaming, and perhaps also a great multiplayer game, but it’s not a game for this solitary geek.

I look at the beautiful box, the great illustrations, the well written rule book, the nice bird feeder dice tower, the chunky, wooden dice and the tray for the cards and think about all the attention to detail that went into this product. I love how every bird card has a snippet of information on it and how that information usually ties to what the card does. But in the end I feel that Wingspan, as a solitaire game, is smaller than the sum of its parts.

I’ll stop and look at the heron by the pond on my way home from work, and if I feel like some tableau building after dinner I’ll probably pull out Race for the Galaxy. It’s bigger than the sum of it’s parts. And galaxies have birds in them too.

Thanks for reading. I hope you found this short review useful.

2 Responses

  1. Birds FTW! Looks like a very unique and aesthetically pleasing game, just like you wrote!

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