Board Game Review — Wingspan: European Expansion

Snow Bunting. Yellowhammer. Bluethroat. These are but a few of the birds that flew their way into the first expansion for Wingspan, adeptly named Wingspan: European Expansion. Wanna know what these birds add to the previous flock? Read our review below to find out!

Game Play

The core game Wingspan is pretty much unchanged, if you need a refresher on how to play, you can find that here! However, there are a couple of new mechanisms included in the European expansion. In addition to the current brown and pink powers, there is now an “end of round” blue power. As you might guess, these powers are activated at the end of each round; therefore, to get the most out of these powers, it’s crucial to get them out during the first few rounds. Some of the blue powers we’ve seen include making that bird card count double for round-end goals and allowing you to play an additional bird card (paying the usual costs) if you’ve taken all four different actions over the course of the round.

There are also birds with a new kind of predator power that allows you to use other bird cards in place of food. One variety of these lets you substitute cards from your hand for each of their required food tokens, tucking the cards as you do so. Another type of these predators can be placed over any of your existing bird cards in a valid habitat. That bird becomes a tucked card, but you lose the benefit of its power, and any eggs or food tokens cached on it. Still, these birds open up some new strategic options for playing them without needing to use food tokens!

Aside from these wholly new mechanisms, there are, of course, a wide variety of new bird powers included in this expansion. Some allow you to tuck cards under or lay eggs on all birds in a habitat, while others offer more ways to gain food, eggs, or new cards. There can potentially be a bit more player interaction than in the base game, as some birds allow you to steal food tokens from an opponent (the opponent gets a new food from the bird feeder, so it isn’t super mean/cutthroat). Finally, there are new end-of-round goals and extra components, including a new purple bird tray (of the same high quality we’ve come to expect from Stonemaier/GameTrayz), more food tokens, and beautiful purple eggs.

Amber’s Review

There comes a time in every gamer’s life where even one of their top games needs an expansion. In the case of Wingspan, we’ve gotten enough plays in of the game where we have it “figured out;” we’ve seen the good combos, we know how to get the points, now it’s time to change things up a bit.  

To immerse ourselves in the new continent and get used to the new rules, we chose first to play Wingspan: The European Expansion using only the bird and bonus cards from this expansion. We quickly began to find exciting combos using the new end of round powers, as well as adjusting to the new birds and triggering off each others’ boards. The end-of-round bird powers created new opportunities to set yourself up for the next round, some allowing players to gain food or new cards, which I found really helpful in allowing more streamlined player actions. One way I’ve gotten stuck in games like this before is by not having enough actions to complete everything I want to do on my turn. By using the new blue cards, I was able to, for example, prevent myself from having to use actions to gain food and, therefore, could play my turn more wisely.

However, even with just the two of us, we had to reshuffle the bird cards to keep the tray filled, as well as pull bonus cards from the base game since we ran out. It seemed that while the expansion’s additions worked well on its own, we need to add it to the base game to allow for more bird and bonus options, as well as see how the two meshed. 

When we played again, we chose to combine the expansion with the base. This gave us entirely more bird cards, so there was no worry of having to reshuffle, and it did give us a wider variety of bonuses not only for the beginning of the game but to draw as powers allowed. As we moved along through the game, I found I was having trouble developing my strategy with the mix of cards. The base game contains more than double the birds of the expansion (170 vs. 81), so finding those round end powers was troublesome, as well as trying to scoop up old reliable combinations. In fact, we didn’t end up getting ANY end of round bonuses our entire game! I know this is simply the luck of shuffling, and I’m sure Ethan was pleased that I couldn’t pull off some of my tricks, but I was hoping to find better integration of the old powers and new. However, it’s absolutely possible we just got a few bad shuffles, and the right mix is there if you know how to find it.

Designer Elizabeth Hargrave and Stonemaier Games have made no secret that the intention is to introduce a new expansion for each continent. I say, keep them coming! I can’t wait to continue to create fulfilling habitats for all these beautiful birds (as long as I can keep those combos coming)!

Ethan’s Review

Wingspan was one of my favorite games from last year (slight spoiler alert for when we get around to ranking those!), so this expansion was a no-brainer to check out! There are definitely enough new elements here to shake things up a bit for your Wingspan games while still being familiar enough not to be overwhelming or change the light engine-building nature of the base game. None of the new stuff seems overpowered or unbalanced compared to the existing cards, which I definitely appreciate in an expansion like this. I also think it’s cool that even with the new cards mixed in, the ratios for the end-game bonus cards are still accurate — that definitely shows a lot of attention to detail!

I definitely liked the new elements this expansion brings to the table! The predator cards that can use other bird cards in lieu of food tokens have probably my favorite new power — not only are you able to play them without worrying about food, but you can also tuck cards at the same time, giving you even more points! During our first game with the expansion cards, I was able to set us a very strong card-drawing engine and was able to get a lot of cards tucked, thanks in part to those powers. However, as I said above, the new cards don’t feel overpowered or unbalanced, because even that engine didn’t win the game! Well, we tied, but I fell short on the tiebreaker. There are some other equally cool new bird powers as well. Part of my heavy card drawing strategy involved a card that let you refresh the available birds in the tray, and then draw one of the newly revealed cards. I really liked this power, because I feel that oftentimes the cards in the tray can become stagnant (even after discarding them after every round), leading to everyone just drawing from the deck, so being able to breathe new life into the cards on offer (and getting to keep one as a bonus) was undoubtedly refreshing. I think we’ll almost always play with the expansion just because of all the cool new cards, though that may change when future expansions are released, and the deck is a 500-card behemoth. For now, though, I’m very pro-Europe!

One of the minor issues I had with the expansion actually turned out to be a case of not reading the rulebook closely enough, but I feel it’s worthwhile to report here in case anyone else is like me and thinks they can get away with quickly skimming the rules since they already know the game. When playing 2-player, as most of our Wingspan plays have been, we typically use the blue, “less competitive” side of the goal mat where you can score 1 point per goal item, to a maximum of 5. For several of the end-of-round goals from the expansion, it is reasonably easy to get the maximum of 5 points using this scoring method — goals such as food in your supply, bird cards in your hand, or food cost pf played birds. When I checked the rulebook more carefully, I saw that it does indeed recommend using the green competitive side of the goal mat when playing with expansion goals, so I think we’ll have to try that in the future. Other than that, though, I can’t really find fault with this expansion. If you enjoyed Wingspan, as we did, you’ll almost certainly love the European expansion!

DISCLAIMER: We received a discounted copy of Wingspan: European Expansion through the reviewer’s program with Stonemaier Games. Receiving this copy has not influenced decisions made about the game.

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