Wingspan Rules Overview

A quick rules overview of the most wonderful game, Wingspan.

Wingspan box

Wingspan is an incredible game but the rules are a little complicated and with the rules spread out over four rulebooks, this can be a little daunting for first-time players. Consider this a Rules Premier for beginner players. If you would like to read my review of this amazing game, here is the link, Wingspan Review.


The game is played by playing birds from your hand onto your private bird sanctuary (the game board). Each bird has a specific cost to play in food tokens and eggs. Throughout the game you will collect more food tokens, eggs, and bird cards to allow you to place more birds onto your sanctuary. There are three habitats that your bird may be placed on; Forest, Grassland, Wetlands. Each habitat affects your collection of one of the required items; food, eggs, cards. Each bird played to that habitat improves your ability to collect more items. Most birds also have a special power that will also improve your item collection ability or increase your final score.

The object of the game is to score the most points by the end of four rounds. There are numerous ways to accrue points. Each bird within your sanctuary has a point value. Eggs played within the sanctuary add points, and some birds have the ability to cache (store) food or tuck cards (to indicate a growing flock) which also add points. Points can also be earned by completing End-of Round Goals and by fulfilling Bonus Cards. (See Below under Cards)


Wingspan Setup
For a 4-5 player game you will need a large table. This two-player setup left no room to spare on our card table.

To start give every player a Game Board and a set of 8 Action Cubes. Set out the rest of the components in the middle of table for everyone to access. The food tokens should be divided up into individual piles but the eggs can be in one pile (the color of the eggs is irrelevant to the game).

Wingspan Goal Cards

The End-of-Round Goal Board is dual-sided and you choose the difficulty of the game, although the difference is negligible. The Blue side is the “easier” side as every player will score some points at the end of each round based upon his ability to complete that goal without competing against the other players. The Green side is more competitive since points are only awarded to the top 2 or 3 players of that round. For example, on the Green card above, the Round 1 goal is to have the most birds played to the grassland habitat. If Players 1 & 2 each played 4 birds to that habitat by the end of the round then they would score points, but if you only played 3 birds then you would receive zero points, although if you were playing using the easier Blue side you would have scored 3 points. When playing with first-time players or children we use the Blue side.

Wingspan Goal Tiles

There are 8 End-of-Round tokens. They are also dual-sided for a total of 16 End-of Round Goals. The symbols are slightly obscure (although they are fully referenced in the Appendix rulebook). Basically, there are 4 types of Goals. Row 1 is the number of Birds that live in the specific nests and have at least one egg on it. Row 2 is the number of Birds played within the specified habitat. Row 3 is the total number of Eggs placed on a bird that uses the indicated nest. Row 4 is the total number of Eggs placed within the specific habitat.

The Game Board

Wingspan Board

The Game Board is divided into 4 section, each indicating a specific habitat or action taken during the game. I know it looks like 3, but the very top line that reads “Play A Bird” is an Action used during the game and thus has its own section. The other 3 are the various habitats that you will be playing you birds onto. Each habitat also controls your ability to collect a specific resource. From the top, the Green Forest allows you to Gain Food needed to pay for your birds. The Yellow Grasslands allow you Lay Eggs, which are needed to play onto the board, fulfill various Goals, and accrue Points at the end of the game. The Blue Wetlands allow you to Draw Bird Cards.

When placing a bird into the Sanctuary always start from the left most available space. The first bird in each habitat has no Egg cost; just pay the food requirement. Each subsequent bird will require an additional egg cost as indicated along the Play A Bird Line. When gathering resources, place an action cube on the left-most spot with that habitat and gain the number of resources indicated, then move the square down each spot to the left activating any Bird Powers along the way. For example, if I were select the Lay Eggs action with the above board, I would gain 2 eggs, but if I had more birds within that habitat, I would gain additional eggs, up to 4. Columns 2 & 4 have a symbol of “2 Items & an Arrow”. When you activate this location, you can gain an addition resource by trading another. For example, under Gain Food, if you trade in a card from your hand you may gain 1 additional food from the Feeder. This will become more clear in the Playthrough section, below.

The Cards

Wingspan Bird Cards

Each player is dealt 5 bird cards at the start of the game. There is a lot of information on each card. For reference, we will use the Northern Cardinal in the upper right corner. On each card, in the top left corner is the habitat that the bird may be played to. There are three habitats available: Green is the forest, Yellow is the Grassland, and Blue is the Wetlands. For example, the Cardinal can only be played to the Forest. Some birds may be played to more than one habitat, such as the Red-Headed Woodpecker and you choose which habitat to place it in. Below the habitat is the food cost required to pay to place the bird onto your board, There are 5 food types; red berries, blue fish, yellow grain, grey rodents, and green worms. The Cardinal requires 1 berry and 1 grain to play. Some birds, such as the Kingfisher have a pie symbol with all five colors. That means that any food type will fulfill its food cost. Also some birds, such as the Vulture, have no food cost; they are free to play.

Below the food cost is the Point Value for the bird when played to your game board. Points are indicated by a feather. The Cardinal is worth 3 points. Below that is the bird’s nest. There are 4 types of nests; from left to right along the top row, they are: a Bowl nest, a Tree Burrow nest, a large Branch nest, and a Ground nest. These nests are only relevant to some of the End-of-Round Goals and some Bonus Cards. Some birds, such as the Kingfisher, have a star for their nest symbol. These birds can live in any nest and fulfill the requirement needed for all nest specific goals. Below the nest, the next symbols denote how many eggs may be placed on that bird. The Cardinal can place up to 5 eggs on her nest. Opposite the eggs on the right side of the card is a wing symbol with a number. This is the bird’s wingspan. This is relevant for some birds that are allowed to tuck a card provided the wingspan requirement is met. For example, the Golden Eagle has a special power to tuck a card if the wingspan is less than 100cm, earning an extra point for every bird tucked.

Most birds have a Special Power of ability which is indicated near the bottom of the card. There are to many abilities to discuss here. They are all referenced in the game’s Appendix. Note that there are three basic types. The Brown Powers become active on your turn whenever you perform an action within that bird’s habitat when collecting food, eggs, or cards. The Pink Powers can be activated once in between your turns when another player performs the action indicated. Both of these powers usually involve gaining addition food, eggs, or cards to either add to your supply or cache onto your birds, giving you more points at the end of the game. The White Powers are activated one time only when you play the bird to your habitat. This might involve playing an extra bird on your turn, or taking all the food in the tray, or collecting additional Bonus Cards.

Wingspan Bonus Cards

Each player is also dealt 2 Bonus Cards. These cards give you a secret goal that only you know about while you are building your sanctuary. Completing these goals will earn you point at the end of the game. Many of these goals involve collecting birds that live in a particular habitat, build a specific nest, or eat certain foods. But some of the goals involve collecting birds with a color in its name, or named after a person, or with a certain wingspan. There are 26 different goals adding another level of complexity and challenge.


Let’s play through the first round of a sample game involving just a single player.

Wingspan2 Turn0

At the start of the game, each player has 1 Board, 8 Action Cubes and is dealt 5 Bird Cards, 5 Food Tokens (one of each color), and 2 Bonus Cards. However before play can begin each player must discard enough Bird Cards and Food Tokens to bring the combined total down to 5; and he must discard 1 Bonus Card. We will use the Blue side End-of-Round Goal Card for this example.

Wingspan2 Goal Card
For Round 1 we need to collect as many birds with a Large Branch nest and have at least one egg placed on it.

The five birds in my hand are the eponymous Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, the Chimney Swift, the Red-Shouldered Hawk, the Turkey Vulture, and the Roseate Spoonbill. My two Bonus cards are Viticulturalist, attempting to collect birds with the berry symbol, and the Large Bird Specialist, attempting to collect birds with a wingspan greater than 65cm. Of my five birds 3 of them (hawk, vulture, spoonbill) have wingspans larger than 65cm, and 2 of those also live in a Large Branch nest (hawk & spoonbill). Two them also have a low food cost (the hawk needs 1 rodent, the vulture has zero food cost). The Spoonbill has a high food cost (1 worm, 1 grain, 1 fish) but it has a great Power, giving me another Bonus Card early in the game. The other two birds have too high food cost with low reward to keep in my hand.

Wingspan2 Turn0 pt2

At the start of the game, I’ll begin with 3 birds (hawk, vulture, spoonbill), 2 food tokens (1 rodent, 1 fish), and the Large Bird Specialist card.

Turn 1

Wingspan2 Turn1

My first action is to Play A Bird, placing an action cube on the top line of the board. I play the Red-Shouldered Hawk into the only habitat available to him, the Forest. Its food cost is 1 rodent, and since it is the first bird in this habitat there is no Egg cost. My turn is over and I move the cube to the left side of the board.

Turn 2

Wingspan2 Turn2

My next action is to play another bird, the Turkey Vulture. This bird has no food cost (because it is a scavenger). This bird can also live in any habitat, so I chose the Wetlands to access more cards. There is no Egg cost because it is the first bird in this habitat. Its Special Power is that once between turns if another Raptor bird (eagle, hawk, etc.) succeeds with its ability (usually tucking a card based on wingspan) then I gain a bonus food from the feeder. I’ll have to watch the other players to benefit from this.

Turn 3


Wingspan2 Turn3

In order to place the Spoonbill onto my board, it will need to go into the Wetland habitat. To place another bird in that habitat, I will need to pay an Egg as well. So, for my third action, I chose to Lay Eggs. I gain 2 eggs and place them both on the Hawk, because that also fulfills the End of Round goal for this round.

Turn 4

Wingspan2 Turn4

To pay for the Spoonbill, I also need 2 more food, but if I do the Gain Food option this round, I will only receive 1 food. Unless I trade an extra card (in this case, the Spoonbill) to get the 2nd food, which defeats the whole purpose. For this round, I Draw Bird Cards. I trade in an egg to get a 2nd card. One card will be used to gain extra food, and hopefully the other will improve my game. Then I move the action cube along row, landing on the vulture, but it does not have any power that activates on my turn, so nothing further happens.

Wingspan2 Card Tray

When Drawing Bird Cards, there are two options. There are three face-up cards and two face-down Draw Piles (turquoise cards with feathers). The dark green deck with the berries is the Bonus Card deck. I can choose any of the face-up cards but I don’t get to turn over any new ones until after my turn. I picked the Red Winged Blackbird because it has a low food cost and a decent power. Then I drew from the deck and got the Hooded Warbler. This happens to be my son’s favorite card; he calls it the Ninja Bird.

Turn 5

Wingspan2 Turn5

Still trying to pay for the Spoonbill. I take the Gain Food Action, and trade in the Warbler (sorry, Ninja Bird) to gain two food. Now I get to use the Bird Feeder.

Wingspan2 Dice Tower
Thank you, Ninja Bird.

The Bird Feeder is the custom Bird House Dice Tower that comes with the game. 5 dice represent the food available from the Feeder. At the start of this turn, there is only 1 grain and 1 berry available (the other food is presumably taken by the other invisible players). The dice can only be rerolled if all of the remaining food in the tray is the same type. Fortunately, I need the grain, so I take that. Then I roll all of the dice and luckily, at least 1 worm was rolled, so I take that too. Once I’ve completed the Gain Food action, I move the cube down the row and activate my first Power.

Wingspan2 Turn5 pt2

The Red-Shouldered Hawk’s Power is the ability to tuck cards for end game points. I take the top card from the face-down Bird Deck and if the drawn bird has a wingspan less than 65cm than the predator hawk can tuck that bird under his nest (presumably to be eaten later, ouch). I draw the Eastern Kingbird with a wingspan of 38cm, so I can tuck the card under the Hawk. It gets a late-night snack and I get 1 point.

Turn 6

Wingspan2 Turn6

I finally get to play the Spoonbill onto my sanctuary. It costs me all of my food and the last egg I had to place it onto my board. As mentioned, it can only be placed into the Wetland. But it does net me a good 8 points, it uses the nest I need, and I get to immediately activate its one-time power, by drawing two new bonus cards.

Wingspan2 Turn6 pt2

Drawing two new Bonus Cards, I have to choose only one of them to keep. I drew the Food Web Expert, which scores points for having birds that eat worms, and the Photographer, which scores points for collecting birds that have a color in its name. None of my current birds eat worms but three of them have a color in its name (Red-Shouldered Hawk, Roseate Spoonbill, and Red Winged Blackbird). Obviously I keep the Photographer Bonus Card and discard the other.

Turn 7

Wingspan2 Turn7

Now that I have my last Large Nest bird in my sanctuary, I take the Lay Eggs action again and place one on the hawk and the other on the Spoonbill. That will net me two points at the end of the game. I still have no cards in the Grassland habitat, so I gain no extra bird activation powers.

Turn 8

Wingspan2 Turn8

For my last turn, I choose to Draw Bird Cards. Extra eggs do not benefit me at the moment, and I don’t know what food I need. I draw the Ferruginous Hawk and the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. The hawk has a large wingspan and the hummingbird has a color in its name, so both cards help me with my Bonus Cards. If I can get a these birds out of my hand and onto my sanctuary, then I will guarantee some bonus points at the end of the game.

End of Round 1

Wingspan2 Goal Card Round1

At the end of Round 1, I would score 2 points for the two birds (hawk & spoonbill) that build Large Branch nests and had at least 1 egg in them. I use one of my Action Cubes to mark this score. This also means that in the next round and for each subsequent round, I will have one less action to perform. This makes the game get more tense and exciting each round. Moving forward, I will need to focus on getting more food to pay for the birds in my hand, and placing as many eggs onto my forest birds for the next End of Round Goal. Also, I need to collect more large wingspan birds and colorful birds to add to my Bonus Cards, and be on the lookout for birds that lay eggs in a tree for Round 4.

But this is just one playthrough, in an infinite variety of possible outcomes. No game of Wingspan is ever the same, but every game will be fun, exciting, and wonderful. I hope that this tutorial has helped you learn how to play the game or has helped you decide to buy it. Wingspan is truly a masterpiece, egging you on to play it again and again.

As always, birds of a feather flock together and play Wingspan, and Game On!