Unveiled days ago by keen-eyed visitors to Essen Spiel 2022 – the largest tabletop gaming convention in the world – and its designer, Elizabeth Hargrave, Wingspan Asia is both an expansion for the original bird-themed game and a two-player variant. Rather than following in the footsteps of the previous Wingspan expansions, Europe and Oceania, by adding new cards and a few fresh gameplay mechanics, Asia will provide players with a version of the beginner board game that specifically designed for two players.
Dicebreaker managed to track down an elusive English-language demo of the two-player board game expansion, with a representative from Stonemaier Games – the publisher behind the Wingspan series – running us through its rules and gameplay. As expected, Wingspan Asia is themed around the various birdlife of the continent, with the expansion’s cards featuring beautiful illustrations of the many excellent ducks, woodpeckers and other winged creatures found therein. Alongside the new artwork, the cards in Wingspan Asia contain fresh abilities for players to utilise, many of which are directly tied to Asia’s most unique aspect – its new board.
Whilst the player boards and cards included in Asia can be used alongside the core release of Wingspan, even enabling players to experience a game that supports six or seven players, the unique board featured in the expansion is for no more than two players. Players can also experience a solo game mode via the new board, alongside a set of specific automata rules.
The demo we played specifically featured the two-player variant of Wingspan Asia, which has both players utilising a shared board in order to score additional boards on top of the usual points acquired from bird cards, eggs and end of game goals. Rounds in the variant still work in relatively the same way as they do in the original, with each player taking turns to either play bird cards into one of their board’s habitats or using a habitat ability. However, whenever a player lays a bird card onto a space on their board, they acquire a little token that can be placed onto the shared board.
Each player has their own set of tokens – which look like either half of a yin yang symbol – which they can only gain by playing bird cards onto the corresponding places on their board. With these tokens, players can take control of specific spaces on the shared board, as long as the bird card they played to get it shares the feature shown on the chosen space. For example, some of the spaces on the board are restricted to bird cards with certain nest types or even cards wherein the bird’s beak is facing a particular direction.
As players gain more tokens, they’ll be able to form connected lines on the shared board. Having a network of connected tokens aids players in gaining more victory points, whether through the round bonuses found on the shared board or at the very end of the game. The round bonuses found in Wingspan Asia are unique to its two-player variant and are entirely focused on the battle taking place on the shared board. This meant that our experience of Wingspan Asia was largely driven by a desire to dominate the shared board, becoming a race to gain and play bird cards as quickly as possible.
Playthroughs of standard Wingspan often begin at a slow pace, with players gradually building their birdy engines throughout the course of the game. Whereas Wingspan Asia’s two-player variant sees players quickly filling up the available slots on their player boards with cards, discarding the methodical, slow-burn strategies favoured in the original for a back-and-forth exchange of tokens. Whichever player manages to establish a strong control of the shared board definitely gains the upper hand in that particular domain. However, this does not necessarily mean that they secure victory over the entire game.
The shared board may be a shiny new tool for players to fight over – and the major departure from the original family board game – but it doesn’t override all the aspects that make Wingspan fun to play. Our demo might have had one player dominating the shared board, but they did not – in fact – win the game. As with any playthrough of Wingspan, it’s important to balance the various avenues of point scoring and to remember that those avenues will change over time. Putting all your eggs in one basket is rarely a good idea in the core version of Wingspan and that sentiment certainly applies in Asia’s two-player variant.
Whilst Wingspan Asia’s two-player variant doesn’t alter much beyond providing some new ways to score points, it does make the game a much more intense experience. The back-and-forth of playing tokens onto the shared board in order to secure control over its networks, makes for a much faster and more competitive experience than the core Wingspan provides. Players who are well-versed and experienced in the original Wingspan, now have a more complex version to enjoy. Whilst those who simply want a variant that better supports two players are also in good hands with Wingspan Asia.
The English-language version of Wingspan Asia will be available in December.