Going Analog

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How Wingspan's theme helped my parents spread their board gaming wings

From bird-watching to board gaming.

Like a can of Red Bull but far less likely to set off heart palpatations, the right board game can make you fly. OK, maybe not literally, but as I found out, they can certainly help a fledgeling gamer enjoy new genres. My parents tolerated board games when I was younger. Now aware of how truly awful Monopoly is, I can only apologize to them for the evenings of drudgery I forced them through in my youth. After I discovered a passion for board gaming (the good kind, this time) at college, I was surprised to find they were open to trying out lighter releases like Super Rhino and Knit Wit.

I suspect that the smart introduction of Telestrations -- a game I’m convinced is impossible to hate -- was the key to my family’s heart, but whatever the method, the result has been a glorious return to gaming during family meetups. However, while duels of Flick 'Em Up have become a staple request from my parents each reunion, I’d never managed to convince them to sit down for a more involved experience. Party and word games, it seemed, were the limit.

how Wingspan helped parents spread their gaming wings
The beautiful box of Wingspan

So imagine my shock, if you will, when I arrived home last winter to find my parents proudly showcasing a copy of Wingspan on their table. I’d certainly heard of Elizabeth Hargrave’s award-winning release before, but one look at the hour+ playtime and card-chaining gameplay had definitively ruled it out as a game for my folks. Yet here it was, a purchase by my mom and dad without a single word from me. Naturally they hadn’t bothered to check the rules yet; learning and relaying them was my job upon arrival. Some things never change, at least.

So why had they gone out of their way to grab it? Awards are all well and good, but it was Wingspan’s theme that really proved the selling point. My parents are avid amateur bird spotters and saw this as a chance to combine their interest with mine. It turns out that if you cover your box and cards in luscious and accurate paintings of wildlife instead of monsters, new people are liable to take notice.

It’s not just the art, though. Each of Wingspan’s cards is packed with snippets of information that, while only occasionally relevant in the game, are of interest to bird lovers regardless. The attack stat of this or that orc was never going to hold much interest to a man who fell asleep during The Lord of the Rings. But replaced with the average wingspan of a peregrine falcon, and suddenly my dad was studying each card intently. 

the cards of Wingspan are covered in interesting bird facts
The cards of Wingspan are covered in interesting bird facts.
© Stonemaier Games

After a decent amount of grumbling over learning something new, they even took to the mechanics. Cards were collected, birds were played, and even the obligatory comments on how closely Wingspan’s egg tokens resemble Cadbury’s Mini Eggs were shared (seriously, those things look delicious). It may have taken an entire afternoon to talk them through a single game, but they played it, enjoyed it, and ultimately kicked my butt at it, too. Hey, it’s hard to learn, teach, and do well simultaneously, OK? Cut me some slack. 

When every five minutes is spent reminding your mom why moving that little egg token is important, it’s not easy to focus on your own hand. I’m still only half convinced they weren’t using this as a method to distract me. You know when your parents invite you home to fix all their tech problems? Deep down you know they just can’t be bothered to solve it themself. These people have PhDs in physics; I’m pretty sure they can figure out how to move a plastic piece each round.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too shocked by my parents’ success. Situated in England’s leafy county of Surrey, these are the kind of people who contribute to a survey of the birds that stop by their feeder each morning -- tits, nuthatches, and goldfinches, in case you were interested. They know their avians. Even needing regular reminders of the core rules, the biggest gripe they could muster over Wingspan was a lack of local wildlife. Before we’d even finished a round, they were already considering picking up the European Birds expansion to fill future sessions with a more recognizable collection of feathered friends.

My parents, on the look our for rare birds (or is that board games?)
My parents, on the hunt for rare birds. Or was that board games?

A lengthy engine builder might never be the ideal game for people like my parents, but thanks to a combination of stunning art and a clear passion for its theme, Wingspan at least got them to the table. That’s a lot more than most of my collection could manage and makes me wish more designers wouldn’t shy away from inspirations with a broader appeal. I don’t know when we’ll have time to unpack Wingspan together again, but I’m glad we were able to share that experience at least.

Wingspan is a fun game in its own right, but the power to get my parents to sit down and enjoy my favorite hobby with me? That’s a selling point that can’t be overstated. I’d love to say that Wingspan has nested itself permanently in my collection, but given my parents decided to hold onto its beautiful box, I’d be lying.

Author bio: When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Frosthaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found scouring the web for the latest and greatest games, then wondering why he never has time to actually play them. Share your love of deck builders with him at @Fernoface on Twitter or drop an email to henry@moonrock.agency.