Wingspan: game or art?

Interesting article about Wingspan, which I’m posting mostly because it’s such a different perception of the game from mine. Though I’m also posting it because it includes interesting stuff about Elizabeth Hargrave and her process of developing the game, and how her success is helping to open the door to more diversity among game designers.

But the main thing that surprises me in this article is that the author, Dan Kois, seems to see Wingspan as being primarily focused on creating an artwork—a beautiful tableau of pretty birds, satisfyingly filling ecological niches. Whereas to me, the game is primarily a fairly good engine-building game, with a bird theme.

A few quotes from the article:

Wingspan has transformed the way I think about games, about competition, and even about art. And I’m not alone. Wingspan has sent people flocking not only to gaming but to game design. However the board game industry transforms in the next few years, it’ll be Wingspan that causes it.


I prefer thinking about the mechanism of Wingspan not as an engine I am building, but as an ecosystem I am fostering.


Is Wingspan actually a game at all, or is it something slightly different? Is it art?


it’s the only game I’ve ever played in which at times, the obvious, most efficient way to score points is readily apparent—often, laying eggs turn after turn—but I reject it in favor of a strategy that’s logically shakier but might produce a more elegant result

Back to Jed: there are games in which I sometimes do things for aesthetic rather than strategic reasons. In Carcassonne, for example, I dislike seeing holes in the landscape. And in Terraforming Mars, I sometimes play cards that I think are really cool even when it’s too late in the game for them to be worth what they’ll cost me.

But in Wingspan, I haven’t felt the impulse to do that kind of thing. For example, there comes a point near the end of each game (as noted in the article) where the most efficient way to score points is to do nothing but lay eggs, and I always do that; it hadn’t occurred to me before reading this article that that approach might be seen as a flaw in the game design or as aesthetically unsatisfying.

I think that part of the difference between my reaction and Kois’s is that I don’t find the game as visually appealing as Kois does. I like the visuals (especially the eggs, though they do look a lot like candy), but I don’t love them; for example, the bird art isn’t in a style that I find super-attractive.

But I think the difference goes deeper than that—I think that Kois experiences the game as feeling much more like a simulation than I do. I perceive it primarily as a game; when I’m picking bird cards to play, I’m looking mostly at how many points they score, or what other things they enable me to do. Whereas it sounds to me like Kois perceives it primarily as a simulation of creating a wildlife sanctuary, where a lot of the reward involves finding birds (not cards, but birds) that fit well into the ecosystem.

Nothing wrong with that, and I’m glad Kois wrote about it; it gives me an interestingly different view of the experience of this game.

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