Welcome to the first ever Ranking Engine Board Game of the Year announcement!
2019 was a big year for the Ranking Engine. If you ranked any games this year using the BGRE you contributed to the results of this award. You ranked 14,815 lists. There were 17,751 unique games on those lists – 1,234 of which were published in 2019. Out of all the games published in 2019, one game rose to the top.
Not only did it take the top spot amongst games published in 2019, it also captured the #14 spot on the All-time list and it continues to rise. 2020 is looking good for Wingspan.
We here at the Pub want to celebrate with you by offering our brief thoughts on Wingspan. If you want to hear us discuss Wingspan and the award listen to episode 25 of our podcast – 2019 Game of the Year and our Top Games.
The second thing that caught my eye about Wingspan (the first being that it was published by Stonemaier Games) was how much attention it received from outside the board game hobby. I don’t think we have seen a game get the kind of attention that Wingspan did. The New York Times wrote an article about it for crying out loud. Due to all this attention it was quickly hard to come by, which meant I had to stay interested from afar.
When it became more easily available, I finally was able to get my hands on a copy and I could finally join the masses in their excitement for it. While Wingspan didn’t jump to the top of my favorite games it certainly justified to me all of the attention it got.
Wingspan is an immaculately designed and produced game.
Wingspan is an immaculately designed and produced. It is simple to start playing but offers satisfying and accessible depth once you get going. It offers a unique theme – collecting different types of birds to populate a bird habitat. Let me tell you, the hand-drawn bird cards are a beautiful thing to collect. But the art isn’t the only great thing about the cards. They are also packed with interesting real-world information about the birds. I could talk at length about the game’s amazing production value but I will sum it up by saying this – I was impressed even by the paper the rules are printed on.
Most hobby board games are inward facing, meaning they appeal to people who are already in the hobby. This is fine, but it is fun and refreshing to see a game come along that few insiders would have predicted to be a big hit – and then for it to hit big. And not only in the hobby, but outside it as well. If someone’s introduction to hobby games is Wingspan that is a win for them and for the hobby. It is a game I can look forward to playing with any audience. I can’t wait to play it again.
I tend to be torn on games like Wingspan. In terms of components, art, and table presentation: hands down fantastic. The game is very approachable in terms of its organization, iconography, and graphic design. And the thematic tie-ins integrate fairly well with the design/mechanics providing sensible turns and logical decisions. So what’s not to like?
If you need a game that lets you do you with a little bit of drafting, this is your jam.
In terms of personal taste, I like games that interact with other players a bit more. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun-enough playing and I recognize there are a lot of great games that provide personal tableaus with little to no player interaction, but these multiplayer solitaire games are less appealing to me than something that forces players to mix it up more. Now there is a bit of dice and card drafting that blurs this distinction somewhat where I found satisfaction in affecting my opponents decisions, but it’s soft elbows for how much I can really manipulate the gamestate.
Among games like this, I would say I’ve had just as much fun playing Wingspan as I had playing Altiplano or Orleans (also fantastic titles driving personal tableau puzzles). And while I may not actively seek these titles out, there is a large audience that resonates with the genre and for many this is a positive, not a negative. So if you need a game that lets you do you with a little bit of drafting, this is your jam.
Wingspan manages to blend a unique theme, excellent art, and solid mechanics into a game that not only appeals to gamers, but those outside the hobby as well. I remember hearing an NPR story about it while sitting in a drive through and thinking how cool it was to hear about the game and the hobby in general on such a platform. Its popularity is evident by how quickly each print run sold out, which Stonemaier had to continue to order more print runs to keep up with the runaway demand gamers had for this title.
What drew my interest in the game was the theme, which is unique and also quite interesting.
What drew my interest in the game was the theme, which is unique and also quite interesting. I’ve never been into birding myself, but the idea of playing a game about being a birder just seemed cool. The engine build and potential card combos are very fun, and the rules are relatively easy to learn. Stonemaier has a bonafide hit on their hands and I’m glad that I’ve had to chance to play Brian’s copy. I’d definitely take another dive into the world of Wingspan if it came back to the table.
I’m probably in the minority here, but Wingspan was not a game that originally appealed to me. The artwork may be really good, I just don’t care for the plain, white background. So while everyone was spending massive amounts of money to buy the game instead of waiting for the second print run, I was trying out other games.
One of those games happened to be what I compared Wingspan to after playing it. And that was Terraforming Mars which, by the way, is No. 2 in our BGRE all-time rankings. These games have a very similar feel when it comes to Engine Building. Both focused on the use of cards and to a degree tiers of cards. Where Wingspan shined was in the simplicity and organization of the cards. Sure, Terraforming Mars has a lot more going on but I honestly didn’t enjoy the game. The card play was chaotic and all over the place. Wingspan allowed me to focus on what I was doing. The board provided specific places for the birds to go and reason for them to be there. The iconography was also on point.
It really is as good of a game that everyone claims it to be.
All in all, I was pheasantly surprised by Wingspan. It really is as good of a game that everyone claims it to be. It ended up making my top 50 and while that’s not super high up on the list, did turn out to be a great family weight game that I would happily consider for my collection.