There and Outback Again: Gumbo Review of Wingspan: Oceania Expansion

I love listening to The Diceman Cometh podcast, and I cannot put my finger on exactly why. I know that it is something my Gumbo Live! Co-host, Steve “The Name Father” O’Rourke and I share — two American blokes listening to the chitter chatter among Tasmanian friends. For an hour or so, I’m don’t feel like I am working out on the elliptical or biking virtually along a path in southern Utah, it is almost as if I’m hanging out with the mates down at Cascade Brewery in Hobart, knocking back a few pints as we dish merrily on the latest misadventures in some euro.  

That’s a good reason to listen.

But it could be less the familiarity of listening to Garth or Leon (or in days past, Mark and Trent) and their guests, and more the unfamiliarity. The accents don’t sound like my friends from Rayne, Louisiana. There’s nary a mention of boudin or Abita root beer to be found. They use words like “cracking” and “that game is a real belter.” They talk about towns like Hobart and Kingston and Ranelagh (don’t ask me to pronounce that one). The accents and words and sayings are alien and fresh and weird and…interesting.

And that leads me to Wingspan’s new Oceania Expansion by designer, Elizabeth Hargrave and published by Stonemaier Games

Oceania is familiar and unfamiliar, interesting yet samey, cracking but comfortable, all at the same time. But let’s not fly ahead of our beaks just yet, lads and lowie.

GAMEPLAY: 

If you are reading this far, odds are you are already familiar with Wingspan, as ubiquitous of a board game as we have had in the last five years. For months after it came out, we saw it at every game night, all over conventions, on social media and on the YouTubes for good reason

But let’s make like the wedge-tailed eagle and give Wingspan a high level overview. In Wingspan, players will take turns building out a bird sanctuary, with a card laying tableau mechanic that has lots of combo possibilities. There’s a low level of player interactivity, except for a few cards that thematically share resources among the players and the struggle to claim the end round bonus scoring cards. But dopamine rushes abound in other ways, namely the way that the new bird cards, new bonus cards and the new goal cards illuminate ways to chain up combinations during the four rounds of play.

Each turn, players will take from 5-8 actions (depending on the round) to lay cards in their sanctuary, gain food from the birdfeeder, draw more cards to their hand, or lay multi colored eggs on their cars. Points can be found everywhere, and in fact, one of the more interesting things about Wingspan is that players will soon learn that laying eggs is a cheap way to get points, but that chaining up combos is so much more rewarding. 

What does the Oceania expansion bring to the gameplay? The obvious addition is the new brightly drawn bird cards from Australia, New Zealand and the rest of that area of the world. The cards are shuffled right into the base game, and have a new mechanic, namely the wild “nectar” resource that can be generated either from card play or from the replacement dice in the box that gives the ability to generate nectar. Some of the end game goals change a bit with the nectar mechanic, but other than those changes, the gameplay has not changed wildly from the base game, and in my opinion only tweaks the game play slightly. 

PRODUCTION:

This is the second expansion (or wingspansion as some fans like to call them) for Wingspan, and curiously, the size and shape of each new box is completely different. I’m not a fan of that decision, but after opening the box, I sort of understand why Stonemaier went with a flatter box, which is larger than the european expansion but smaller than the base game. (It still looks weird to have three different sized boxes next to each other). The difference is in the new components in this box versus the European edition.

Whereas the European expansion was all about cards, cards and more cards, the Oceania expansion does add new bird cards, and again they have gorgeous and unique art of the individual birds on each card. But, Stonemaier also provided another set of eggs, this time a brand new pastel yellow egg that really stands out on the table (much like the stand out purple eggs from the previous expansion).

Finally, in addition to new goals and bonuses, Stonemaier provided five brand new player mats, again each with the nature book aesthetic, but that take into account slight tweaks to the production to include nectar as well as an end game goal of getting points from spending nectar on each area of the player boards.

BUT IS IT ANY FUN? 

Wingspan: Oceana Expansion is familiar yet foreign, comfortable yet challenging. The expansion itself is almost a mind’s eye image of what I expect that region to be after binge watching Lord of the Rings trilogies and episodes of Outback Adventures with Tim Faulkner.

As you can see, my knowledge of Down Under is pretty limited, consisting mostly of travel posters from Flight of the Conchords, but adding in the Oceania expansion at the very least expands my horizons of the avian elements of that part of the world.

But that’s not why you would buy this game. You want to know, dear reader, if the expansion is necessary or if it amps up the gameplay. The answer to both questions is an unqualified yes.

The European expansion was a fun little addition that gave us a lot more cards to freshen up the play experience, but by no means was it necessary to add to your collection.

Oceania is different. Adding in the wild / nectar resource, and the chase for spending nectar for the end game, to me feels so natural and so right that I almost feel like it could have been a part of the base game all along. From reading designer notes, I gather that it was not, and instead was a natural outgrowth of Elizabeth Hargrave’s research into the Oceania bird empire, but I am glad she added it.

If you own the base game, I can without reservation say that adding Oceania should be the first expansion you add to the base game. I cannot see myself playing Wingspan anymore without the nectar dice, for sure.

Plus, let’s face it. A game like Wingspan thrives on combos and new cards. Each of the cards that we have seen in our two player and solo plays adds fun little twists to the game. The addition seems to make food gathering even more abundant than in the base game.

There are cards like the Regent Bowerbird, which gives you and a player you choose an extra food time from the supply. Or the Rainbow Lorikeet, a bird that eats one of your nectar but gives you back two other resources. (Hopefully, digested well). There are a ton of new cards that give you card drawing powers, or hunting and fishing actions. Rounding out the new powers are cards that give you one last action after the game ends, which is fun if you pull it off, frustrating if you forget or do not have the cards or resources to make it work.

All of these new cards spice up the gameplay just enough to keep the game fresh, without remaking the play experience into something else. It’s more Wingspan, but not Unrecognizable Wingspan. 

CONCLUSION:

Unlike the European expansion, Wingspan: Oceania will not only please existing fans of Wingspan but also just might rope in a few more players who may have looked the other way. Sure, it is still essentially a tableau engine building game about birds, and that’s a theme that is not going to appeal to every gamer.

But, if you enjoyed Wingspan but wanted a little bit more pleasant interaction among the players, or you like games where there is a tit-for-tat tension in achieving end-of-the-round and end-of-the-game goals that directly pit players competing against each other, then Oceania might be something attractive or worth a play or two. 

For fans of Wingspan, Oceania should legitimately be the first expansion that they put into their collection. The addition of the nectar mechanic alone, without even considering the interesting new cards, goal cards and player boards, is a must have for the part of your shelf that holds Wingspan. 

Wingspan: Oceania. I’m as happy as Larry around my table if someone asks me to play.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler! 

— BJ @boardgamegumbo

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