Wingspan European Expansion: More of the Same
I’ve never been a fan of expansions and what they provide to their players. When I look at buying a game, I do my research, figure out what a game has to offer, and whether I’m likely to enjoy it or not. This is almost always based on the initial, base box of the game. I never go into a purchase, wondering if an existing or future expansion will make a game better, fix a problem, or make me love a game I won’t enjoy without it. Outside of a few notable mistakes, I always make sure that I’ll enjoy the base game, never relying on future, unreleased content.
My biggest problem with expansions is a problem with learning. As much as I love playing board games, fondling their components, discovering strategies, and making the other players hate me while I betray them, I hate learning the games themselves. I’m not sure the reasoning behind it. Maybe I’m afraid of being taught a game and not catching on immediately. Or maybe I’m afraid of being the teacher, but never adequately relaying the rules to the other players, ruining what could have been a great game. What if the game I just bought will never be played because I’m too dumb to learn or teach it? I’ve spent a lot of my life convincing people I’m smart, and I don’t want that ruse to fall apart as I’m screaming at the instruction manual of an 18xx game or Rhino Hero. I’ve already lost too much credibility while trying to set my microwave’s clock.
After struggling through an instruction book and having watched a Youtube video of Rodney flip and catch a board game box, I’m excited when I finally understand how to play a new games, feel confident in teaching it, and know I won’t be looking stupid trying to teach it to my friends, who already make fun of me for thinking I could make a living with a Bachelor of Arts degree. So the last thing I need is an overzealous publisher who thinks their game needs new rules and modules, by releasing an expansion that ruins all the time I spent becoming a self-described expert at their game. I don’t want new content, new modules, new boards, or new rules. I want the game that I originally bought and spent my time learning. Because of this fear, I have always avoided expansions and their promises of new gameplay and excitement.
There has been one exception to this aversion of expansions, though. Mansions of Madness introduced me to a box filled with new content and gameplay, without the need for relearning the game and requiring the use of several manuals. And this premise of “more stuff, not more rules,” was beautifully achieved by Stonemaier Games, in their Wingspan European Expansion.
When Stonemaier Games contacted me, asking if I wanted to take a look at their new expansion for Wingspan, I wasn’t sure what to say. When I began to write reviews and started posting impressions and photos on Instagram, the possibility of receiving review copies of games from prominent publishers like Stonemaier was a dream I thought would not likely happen. So naturally, I was a bit torn and worried when the first review copy Stonemaier offered me was an expansion to one of my favorite games of last year. I don’t like expansions, I hate new boards and complications, and I loath new rules. If I accepted my first review copy from them, and wrote a scathing review, criticizing them for over-complicating a game I loved, would I ever get a chance to work with Stonemaier again?
I decided to take a day to think about it and looked into the expansion. I did my due diligence, and read the manual beforehand. In the small pdf rules book, I was instructed to shuffle in the 81 new and unique bird cards to the current Wingspan deck, enjoy the new purple colored eggs, and throw the new bonus cards and goal tiles into the running for possible end game points. The manual took under 5 minutes to read, there was no sign of new rules to learn, and no boards were added to take up table space better suited to drinks and snacks. I was in awe of its simplicity. I quickly accepted the opportunity to review the Wingspan European Expansion and had it on my table within a couple of weeks.
The hand-drawn art on each card is beautiful, showing the love, artist Natalia Rojas, has for the subject matter. The over the top production values synonymous with Stonemaier games and the base game of Wingspan was carried over to this expansion, with every card illustrated with a unique, hand-drawn bird. The new teal-colored bird powers provide a wonderful addition to the engine you build throughout the game, adding inventive end of round effects, while new cards are also included that utilize the familiar immediate effects (white), between turn effects (pink), and when activated effects (brown) carried over from the cards found in the base game. Designer Elizabeth Hargrave pulled off a difficult feat, by adding the new actions and effects of the new teal bird powers, providing new strategies and new scoring potentials, without adding new rules or complicating an already balanced game. Simply put, these additions just made sense. Within a few games, I had forgotten I had added an expansion to the game, and I was simply playing the game I had been enjoying for the last eight months.
And I guess this could be the one complaint against the expansion.
I haven’t tired of Wingspan. I still enjoy every opportunity I get to play it. Every time I play, I find a new bird I haven’t seen, and use a new ability I haven’t tried yet. Every game I’m still being surprised. With the new expansion, opportunities to discover new birds and use new bird powers were added to Wingspan, but it’s still the same game. And this is very much the appeal of this expansion to me.
But, if you are tired of Wingspan, are no longer excited when the game is brought to the table, and the novelty of the uniquely illustrated cards and included dice tower has worn thin with you, this expansion isn’t for you. It just doesn’t give any reason to return to the game if your relationship with it has already waned.
However, if you’re still enjoying Wingspan, still find yourself reading the flavor text on each card, and showing every player how cute the bird you’re about to play is, this expansion is a no brainer. I recommend it wholeheartedly. You won’t regret adding it to Wingspan.