Seeing hobby board games on the TV always causes a stir, even when it connects with the theme of the show, such as Catan turning up in The Big Bang Theory. So imagine the surprise of British gamers when they saw Wingspan featured on prime-time soap opera Coronation Street last Friday. And not just a passing box shot either, but referenced in the dialogue between two characters, Tim Metcalfe and his mother Elaine Jones, as she pored over the open rulebook.
“I think Tim was rather looking forward to playing a board game this afternoon,” Elaine says around the 28:30 mark in the February 18th episode. “Wingspan.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Tim replies. “You get a bird, it lays an egg.”
“The story behind it is that Tim has just had heart surgery and is recuperating at home, trying to avoid any stress,” the episode’s writer, David Isaac, explained to Dicebreaker. “We have established in other episodes that he likes watching films and playing board games with his mum, who has only recently come back into his life.”
Isaac gave careful consideration as to which board game should feature in the episode. “Wingspan seemed like the perfect choice for someone in Tim's position,” he said. “It's a lovely, relaxing game where you collect birds and eggs. There's no killing or sabotaging other players. It's just a really gentle game where you learn things about birds too.” Let’s hope Elaine doesn’t draw any of the game’s allegedly overpowered Raven cards.
It’s also a good choice because it’s been such a crossover hit that it will undoubtedly be familiar to some of the show’s viewers. Aside from critical acclaim among hobby gamers, Wingspan picked up the prestigious Kennerspiel des Jahres award in 2019 and has since sold over a million copies.
ITV, which produces Coronation Street, reached out to Wingspan’s publisher, Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games, back in November, for permission to use the board game as a prop. “They provided a sampling from the script where Wingspan was mentioned,” Stegmaier tweeted. “We approved it. This happened once before for us with Scythe in Orphan Black. The idea came from the producers, not Stonemaier. We were just happy to support the game.”
Twitter user Drew Buddie, whose account is @DigitalMaverick, picked up the mention in the episode and tweeted his surprise. Even more surprised, however, was the game’s designer, Elizabeth Hargrave. “Ok someone shared the video clip with me -- this is not just a product placement, it is IN THE DIALOGUE”, she tweeted.
So this leaves us with the question of where Isaac got the idea to use Wingspan in the first place. It turns out he’s a fan. “It's just one of a number of board games I play with the kids,” he said. “I love it. We also play things like Settlers of Catan, Mysterium - which I think also had a mention in a Corrie episode a while back - and The Chameleon. My favourite is 221B Baker St though. I'm a sucker for anything Sherlock Holmes-related.”
It doesn’t take a master sleuth to realise that this is another, welcome sign of the way that hobbyist board games are becoming increasingly mainstream. Although we’ll probably have to wait a while before we see Twilight Imperium on EastEnders.