Wingspan is a wonderful board game about birds published by Stonemaier Games. Every game feels different thanks to the variety of cards, round objectives and bonus objectives. With so many ways to win, what is the best Wingspan strategy and how do you win Wingspan every time?
Well, while there isn’t one strategy to use every single game, there are several strategies that I use regularly to win my fair share of games!
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These 11 Wingspan strategy tips range from: ideas on opportunities to get ahead, abilities to avoid, and extra bits of game information that can give you the edge over other players!
Use the combination of strategies that make the most sense for each game to win!
1. Focus on one or two habitats
You want to get a decent engine going on your tableau and it can help to focus on one or two locations to get this going rather than spreading your bird cards evenly between all three.
To help you choose which habitats to focus on, it can help to think about which ones match the round objectives and your personal bonuses. As guide, here are some notes about the nest types and food costs for each habitat.
- Cavity (tree) nests are the most common, followed by bowl (cup) nests.
- Birds usually cost worms, wheat and berries to play.
- Ground (eggs) nests are the most common followed by bowl (cup) nests.
- Birds usually cost wheat and worms to play.
- Platform (sticks) nests are the most common closely followed by ground (eggs) nests.
- Birds usually cost fish and worms to play. Rodents very rarely needed.
2. Birds that can move, move you forward
If you’re focusing on a couple of habitats at a time, it can really help to have birds like the Chimney Swift and Berwick’s Wren. They both have the same brown ability:
WHEN ACTIVATED: If this bird is to the right of all other birds in its habitat, move it to another habitat.
This means that you can send the bird back and forth between your habitats and effectively play as though you were one more bird card along in each track for the higher-level abilities.
Or, you can send the bird to the habitat you aren’t focusing on in preparation for your next turn where you can also take advantage of a higher-level ability.
3. Ravens get you a good deal
It’s official. Ravens are overpowered. Well, according to me and several people I’ve played with, they are!
The Common Raven and the Chihuahuan Raven say:
WHEN ACTIVATED: Discard 1 egg from any of your other birds to gain any 2 food from the supply.
Now, that’s a pretty good deal if you ask me! The ravens are two of the best cards in Wingspan.
Their ability is so incredibly useful. With the right kind of food, you can get the birds into play that you really want!
Crows like the American Crow and the Fish Crow can also help with this. They are like the ravens but only allow you to take 1 food from the supply per egg rather than 2.
4. Be careful with pink cards
Pink abilities are great at getting bonuses between turns. However, be careful with which pink cards you play and when you play them!
After you’ve put that a pink card in play, other players will see it. Do you think they will want to play birds will help you when they activate their ability?
No! They’ll take a different strategy so that you don’t benefit from their actions!
However, this is not a hard and fast rule…
If you have a card with the ability that means you gain an egg every time another player uses the lay eggs action, then they are going to do that at some point for sure! Plus, you’ll only gain 1 egg, while they stand to gain many more! So they still end up better off than you.
That’s not to say that you should never play any of the other pink cards. They can be great after you’ve figured out another player’s strategy! But by that point in the game, you may be better off playing other cards whose abilities are directly under your control, rather than being dependent on someone else’s actions.
5. Tuck cards for points
Something that works out really well for me is playing the birds like the Common Grackle where you can tuck cards behind them. Its brown ability says:
WHEN ACTIVATED: Tuck a bird card from your hand behind this bird. If you do, also lay 1 egg on this bird.
I like this strategy for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, when you tuck cards behind a bird it’s quite hard for other players to see how many cards are there! You can build up a decent stash and they won’t realise until it’s too late! Plus, with bird cards like the Common Grackle you also get an egg too!
Secondly, this strategy works really nicely with the card cycling tactic (see Tip 11). With some cards, you can get rid of a bird card and pick up a new one, yet still get a point for the bird you don’t want!
6. Maximise final round points
In the final round, it’s all about maths. Yep. Sorry. You need to work out what is going to give you the most points on you final few turns. In my experience this comes down to three main approaches.
1. Lay all the eggs!
Lay as many eggs as you can because is one is worth a victory point.
This works great if you’ve played birds with nests that can hold a lot of eggs. Otherwise, you may find yourself running out of space!
2. Play high victory point birds
By now, your engine can likely generate a lot of food per turn to get extra birds into play.
High victory point birds will either be cheaper than other birds but offer no ability or an ability that benefits everyone when they are activated, like everyone gains food (that’s fine in the final round). Or, they will be expensive but offer an ability that only benefits you.
3. Play birds for bonus objectives
If you’re close to completing a bonus objective or two, a couple of bird cards can add a decent amount to your end score. Definitely worth calculating this option.
7. Get a couple of high victory point birds
A couple of high victory point birds will serve you really well in the end game scoring. They are a nice way to bank some points.
The best way to use them, of course, is if they align with a round goal or a bonus objective. Then you get some sweet victory points on top!
The trade-off with high victory point birds is that they’ll take up one of your 15 bird spots and other than points they usually have: a small nest for eggs and a worse ability than other birds. For example, no ability at all, a one-off ability, or an ability that benefits all players.
8. Get extra bonus objectives
In Wingspan, there is no limit to the number of bonus cards you have. So you could try your luck at scooping up additional bonus points.
In the early game, if you find yourself with a bird card that can get you access to extra bonuses then give it a whirl. More bonus objectives give you more options on what you can play to get points.
Picking up more bonus cards isn’t really worth is in later rounds because you’ll likely not have time to achieve the bonus.
9. Avoid helping other players
Plenty of cards have abilities where other players will benefit when you activate them. For example, the Red Crossbill says:
WHEN ACTIVATED: All players gain 1 wheat from the supply.
This is on a forest bird which costs 2 wheat, 6 victory points, a bowl nest with a 2 egg capacity, and a wingspan of 28cm.
Now depending on the round objectives, your habitat layout, your bonus objectives, where you are in the game, this could be a good card to play.
However, generally avoid these cards wherever possible. Every time you activate it, you help other players.
Whenever I have had one of these birds in play it’s discouraged me from wanting to use it.
10. Don’t prioritise re-roll abilities
Bird cards like the Willet and Black Skimmer have a re-roll ability.
WHEN ACTIVATED: Roll all dice not in birdfeeder. If any are fish, gain 1 fish and cache it on this card.
There are two main issues with re-roll abilities.
One is the unreliable results. You could just end up rolling food that you don’t want so you can’t cache it.
Secondly, you may activate the ability when the birdfeeder is full or has very few dice not in it, which eliminates or further reduces your chances of rolling the food you want.
11. Cycle through bird cards
Once you’ve decided on your strategy, the type of birds you play are key to enacting it. That’s where card cycling comes in.
If you can quickly swap the cards you don’t want for the cards that you do, you’ll be much better placed to win.
There are a few really cool card cycling abilities. The Killdeer and Franklin’s Gull have this one:
WHEN ACTIVATED: Discard 1 egg to draw 2 bird cards.
And cards like the Pied-Billed Grebe and the Ruddy Duck have this ability:
WHEN ACTIVATED: Draw 2 bird cards. If you do, discard 1 bird card from your hand at the end of your turn.
So you can card cycle without even paying the cost of an egg!
By far my favourite way to card cycle is to combine this with card tucking (see Tip 5). Then, any card that you don’t want is not wasted, it’s going to provide you with a VP at the end of the game. Double win!
You can use this strategy by playing the birds like the Tree Swallow and the Barn Swallow with this ability:
WHEN ACTIVATED: Tuck a bird card from your hand behind this bird. If you do, draw 1 bird card.
Conclusion – Wingspan Strategy: How to Win
I hope this post has given you some fresh strategy ideas on how to win Wingspan!
It’s a board game that keeps me coming back for more. There’s no wonder it won the 2019 Kennerspiel des Jahres for best connoisseur game of the year!
If you play Wingspan as often as I do, you know that the pieces scatter everywhere (even when stored in baggies!). This beautiful storage insert made from birch plywood with bird engravings on Etsy may be just the thing you need to save you time and hassle!
For more Wingspan upgrades and accessories ideas, see my article!