November 14, 2019

A board game released in March has taken flight, uniting nature lovers and board game hobbyists and selling out rapidly.

Wingspan, designed by Elizabeth Hargrave and published by Stonemaier Games, is categorized as an engine building game. The players are bird enthusiasts who seek to discover and attract a variety of birds to their aviaries. Each bird has different benefits and powers that help the players obtain resources and generate points.

Elizabeth Hargrave, the designer of Wingspan.
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hargrave

The game received great reviews from opinion leaders in the board game community such as Tom Vasel and a YouTuber called Rahdo.

“This is the best game of 2019,” said Rahdo in his video called Wingspan Final Thoughts. “Of course, that’s pretty easy to say because it’s the 22nd of December 2018, and this is the first 2019 game I’ve played. So really, what I’m saying is 2019 is starting out with a bang because this is phenomenal.”

The game has a rating of 8.1/10 on BoardGameGeek and sits in the 60th spot on the website’s Top 100 list.

Wingspan boasts an all-female illustration team including Beth Sobel, Natalia Rojas and Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo. It was Hargrave’s first published game.

“I moved to (Washington) D.C. to work for the federal government and did that for several years and eventually became a freelance consultant,” said Hargrave. “I design board games on the side, although that’s becoming more and more of a primary gig for me.”

Hargrave said she’s very happy to have her and the artists’ names on the box of Wingspan.

Wingspan includes player mats, miniature eggs, bird cards, wooden dice, a bird feeder- themed dice tower and more. Photo by Clara Montgomery / Spoke News

“There are few enough women getting attention in the board game industry right now that it is exciting to me to have all of our names on the box,” she said. “Artists don’t always get their names on the board game box either so it just makes me really happy to have more women’s names prominently displayed on a game that’s doing really well. There’s actually quite a few women designing games right now but not all of them have made it big and I’ve heard from a lot of women that it means a lot to them to see it on the box. So that makes me really happy. I hope it will sort of help normalize the idea that women do design games and illustrate games.”

A card from Wingspan featuring the roseate spoonbill. Photo by Clara Montgomery / Spoke News

A self-proclaimed outdoorsy person, Hargrave said her love for nature has inspired many of her game ideas, including a game called Tussie Mussie which has a floral theme and will be on Kickstarter this month.

“I’m a birder and also active in my local mushroom club, I’m a forager, I like gardening,” she said.

Local board game enthusiast Greg Case said he was skeptical at first of the bird theme but was very pleasantly surprised once he played the game.

“I thought at first, ‘Ah, birds, I’m not really sure if that’s a theme that I can get on board with.’ I started reading about it the last day of pre-order back in January, went through it, watched some videos and read the rules.”

Case said when he read that it was an engine building game, it piqued his interest. “So I saw that and I thought, ‘You know, I got a feeling this thing is going to sell well and if I order it now I can have it in a couple of weeks.’ That was part of the attraction, I knew I would have it in a couple of weeks because of the way that they were doing the pre-order. Otherwise, it may be months before I get it. So I just said, ‘I’ll order it.’”

According to Case, his first impression of the game was great.

“I really liked it. First of all physically it’s a beautiful game. About 170 cards with birds on them, each one is detailed differently. There are some powers that overlap between them, but it’s kind of on-theme. An example of that is, I think it’s the sparrows, where you can move the sparrows around the board, and even though the sparrows are different they have that sparrow quality of being able to jump around. So I really liked how the picture and the art worked with the theme. I also liked the way the birdhouse was done, that was cool. So when you see things like that, that indicates to me that there was a lot of thought put into it and a lot of quality components. So for me I like the quality and the components of a game as much as anything. Especially as I’ve collected more. I probably don’t get as many now as I used to so the ones I get, I want to like.”

Greg Case poses with a small portion of his board game collection.
Photo by Clara Montgomery / Spoke News

Case said he has somewhere between 800 and 1,000 board games in his home.

Although Wingspan seems to be very popular among the board game hobbyist community, Hargrave said she really likes that the theme is drawing in people who are interested in birds first.

However, people who are unfamiliar with this style of board games, sometimes referred to as Eurogames, may find it a little intimidating at first.

This is something Hargrave said that she and the publisher are looking into for future editions of Wingspan.

“One thing that has come up is a lot of nongamers are picking it up and people who are sort of birders first and haven’t played a game since they played Monopoly when they were kids and (they) haven’t played a more complicated hobby board game before. So for a lot of people who play a lot of modern board games, Wingspan is fairly simple and seems really easy to learn, but if you haven’t been playing games in this sort of market category, I think Wingspan can still feel a little daunting to read through the rules and figure out how to play,” said Hargrave. “So one of the things that we’ve actually been playing around with is could you have a very small set of cards that are sort of labelled as, like, ‘These don’t get shuffled into the deck, keep these out and for people who are learning, make this their first hand of cards,’ … So that’s something that we are actively working on. If we had thought of it ahead of time, maybe it would have made it into the original box, but it might be a little add-on thing that people can get or might eventually make it into future editions of the game. We’ll see where it goes. ‘Cause I’m excited that a lot of birders are interested in it so I don’t want them to then open the box and think, ‘Oh my god, what have I gotten myself into?’”

Wingspan is set to be back in stock on Stonemaier Games’ website by late July.

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