Bringing Friends Together with Wingspan

We often feature “staff picks” in our Inside Poop, the Center’s bi-weekly email newsletter. Staff picks offer a fun insight into what our various staff members like to do in their free time – it might be reading a really good wildlife book, listening to an environmental podcast, or creating something wildlife-related. When we asked some of our veterinary staff for a “staff pick” earlier this year, both wildlife rehabilitation intern Ben and veterinary intern Dr. Cam were quick to mention Wingspan – a game that they have greatly been enjoying with friends, near and far!

From Ben:

Back in October, my best friend and his wife made the difficult decision to leave city life behind and to move down to Virginia where they would have more space and a lower cost of living, both critical given the challenges posed by living through a pandemic. As luck would have it, I too was looking for a new living arrangement and we moved into a lovely two-bedroom duplex unit together in the Belmont neighborhood of downtown Charlottesville. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to come home after every shift to a household full of connection and of love, especially given that I am a single man experiencing the advent of my 30s. For us, one of our household’s favorite ways of connecting has been through the medium of board games and, as of late, one board game in particular: Wingspan.

I first heard about Wingspan during a segment on NPR back in February of 2020 and the very second that I heard the phrase “competitive bird collection game”, I knew I needed to know more. In Wingspan, designed by Elizabeth Hargreaves, distributed by Stonemaier Games, and featuring incredible art and illustrations by Natalia Rojas, Ana Maria Martinez, and Beth Sobel, you seek to outscore your opponents by playing different North American bird species. The game features a whopping 170 different species and these “bird cards” are really what makes the game so special. Each card is packed with information; the species diet, habitat, nest type, scientific Latin name, and even a fun fact about their natural history. Some of the information is relevant to gameplay but some of it is just there for some much appreciated additional flavor.

Not everything about the game is 100% scientifically accurate (sacrifices do have to be made in the name of gameplay every now and again) but there is no denying that you almost always leave a game of Wingspan knowing a little bit more about the birds that call our continent home than you did going in. It has been thrilling for me, as someone who has been passionate about birds since my childhood, to witness my housemates’ interest and knowledge grow exponentially since we started playing. It is that rare competitive game that manages to be exciting yet peaceful, the joy coming as much from regaling your fellow players with personal anecdotes and fun facts related to the various species that come up as it does from outmaneuvering your opponent and constructing a flawless point producing engine. And, I mean, come on, what other game allows you to dramatically announce that you are playing a Ruddy Duck or to curse your opponent’s expertly played Franklin’s Gull. It is unique, tactical, silly, and infinitely replayable.

From Dr. Cam:

At the end of veterinary school, the close group of friends I made started to scatter to different parts of the country to pursue various jobs and further education. Life became even busier after that with long hours, preparing for rounds, and just trying to catch up on sleep. My twin brother and I were accepted to the same internship but often worked opposite schedules so even though we lived in the same house, we might go days without seeing each other. I could occasionally talk with friends through the magic of the internet, but watching videos can get dull, and we were usually too tired to do much more.

In 2020, my brother headed down to Florida and I came to Virginia. I have some good roommates and a revolving door of students to keep things fresh, but I still miss my friends and the things we wanted to do together. One of the students to pass through the Wildlife Center introduced us all to Wingspan, a board game about competitively building bird ecosystems. It’s a little tricky to learn, but very entertaining and entertaining with endless replay value.

Fortunately, there is a digital version available on the game distribution network Steam. They really put a lot of effort into digitizing it, because the interface and artwork are beautiful and the music is so charming and relaxing! The game is simple to play and is a great focus as well as a backdrop to interact with my friends and family scattered throughout the United States. We’re all becoming better birders (a vet school goal that we never made time for) during dinner games, weekend afternoons, and even insomnia-ridden nights. We’re constantly telling each other to "listen to my Red-winged Blackbird", or “Look how cute my Tufted Titmouse is!” And even when we don’t have the time to dedicate to a full game, taking a turn once a day can stretch a game over a few weeks. It really is a fun game and I’m grateful we found it. (I promise I wasn’t paid for this advertisement.)

—Ben and Dr. Cam