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Board Game Review: Wingspan European Expansion

I was really looking forward to playing Wingspan:European Expansion  since I enjoy the base game so very much (see my review for Wingspan). According to the publisher, the expansion encompasses all of this:

In this first expansion to Wingspan, we increase the scope of the world to include the regal, beautiful, and varied birds of Europe. These birds feature a variety of new abilities, including a number of birds with round end abilities, abilities that increase interaction between players, and birds that benefit from excess cards/food. Along with the new bonus cards, they’re designed to be shuffled into the original decks of cards (and cards from future expansions).

The European Expansion also includes an additional tray for storing the growing collection of birds (past, present, and future), as well as 15 purple eggs, extra food tokens, and a colorful new scorepad designed for both multi-player and single-player scoring. It's designed by Elizabeth Hargrave and features birds illustrated by Natalia Rojas and Ana Maria Martinez.

Sounds great right? So we get Wingspan: European Expansion, we unbox everything, and we set up to play Wingspan including the expansion. I’m ready to be dazzled, reviewer’s notepad by my side. As we play, I notice a few of the new cards with round end powers popping up in the draw stacks and on player boards, but otherwise things don’t seem too different. The art on the new cards carries the same style and beauty of the original deck.  There’s a few new bonus cards added to the bonus deck and goal tiles added to the existing goal tiles but the new additions of both easily get lost in the shuffle. There’s a also new scorepad that has a side tailored to solo play and I really like that.

I play Wingspan again with the expansion, and have the same experience, except this time, I feel the bonus scoring criteria on the bonus card I chose (birds that eat anything) seems impossible to meet. Playing with the expansion and original decks

None of the cards that have come up in the deck fit the bill. I note that this is a bonus card from the original deck and become convinced the expansion has thrown the percentages off (10% of birds in the deck allegedly fit this criteria according to the bonus card) so after the game I sort all the cards – original and new – and count the birds that meet the criteria. Bonus cardWith 170 cards in the original deck, there should be 17 birds from that deck that can eat anything. Well, in fact, there are 28, which is actually 16%. The expansion deck of 81 cards adds 13 new bird cards that can eat anything, keeping the percentage at 16%. Seems like my poor luck with meeting my bonus is just that – luck of the draw (or bad shuffling on our part) and not indicative of anything broken with the expansion. I’m still not sure why the bonus card lists 10% of birds meet the criteria of eating all food when it’s actually 16% but since that helps me and doesn’t hurt, I’m not going to complain. Update: after publishing this review, I took a look at the Stonemaier FAQ for Wingspan and  learned that this discrepancy in the percentage of birds that meet this bonus criteria is noted as a misprint in the original edition. https://stonemaiergames.com/games/wingspan/rules/

I play a few more times, and these times I hijack the game, setting aside the original deck and goal tiles to ensure I really get the full experience with the expansion. Expansion deck cards

It’s noted in the rulebook that the expansion is designed to be mixed in with the original components and not used standalone but I’m just not getting the full impact of the expansion powers and new goals that way. In these games with just the expansion deck, I notice a difference. We each have end round or once between turn powers on our boards that interact with other players’ actions and it throws off our assumptions and calculations about our ability to best each other in meeting the end of round goals. For example, Chris isn’t looking too closely at my bird that lets me tuck a card under it whenever he tucks one. He excitedly thinks he is going to have more birds tucked than me and then his plans are upset when I match his tucking each time. Hah! Likewise, I’m not paying close attention to another player’s end round power that lets her count one of her birds double for end round goals and it bites me as she takes the lead on that.  Since we are playing only with the expansion end round goals, they’re all new and different and I like most of them. None of them relate to eggs in types of nests, so none of us pay much attention to laying eggs other than what we need to play more birds. All the games with just the expansion decks and new end round goals feel a lot more competitive and interactive than games with the original deck. This validates the promises of the expansion marketing blurb I shared in the beginning of this review, but because there are so many cards in the deck and several goals, the impact is diluted when the new components are shuffled in with the old.

After playing all of these games of Wingspan with the expansion what have I learned? The changes in the expansion are subtle and blend well with the original game. It took playing the game with only the expansion deck and new goals to really see a noticeable difference. Is subtleness a good goal for an expansion? I think I’ve become used to expansions that introduce AMAZEBALLS!!! level changes to significantly improve the game.. To be fair, maybe that just represents original releases that were released too early or deliberately crippled in order to guarantee expansion sales. In any case, it’s the way my brain has been trained with regard to expansions: expect AMAZEBALLS!!! And Wingspan: European Expansion doesn’t bring that to the table. It’s an expansion I’m happy to have and that I appreciate in my collection, but I don’t think the original release of Wingspan suffers without it. If you play Wingspan at a high frequency at the 4 or 5 player count, you’ve probably become very familiar with all the bird powers in the original deck and I’d say you want to put this on your list to introduce a bit of newness back into the game. And if you’re buying Wingspan for the first time, you might as well go ahead and pick up the expansion at the same time. Otherwise, if you already own the game and play it only occasionally, you may not find the expansion a “must have” you need to rush out and buy today; wait for a sale or put it on your Christmas list and let one of your relatives pick it up for you.

Purchase from Stonemaier Games

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Publisher: Stonemaier Games
Players: 1-5
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): 45-70 minutes
Game type: hand management, card drafting, set collection, dice rolling

review-OUIOUI

Rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

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