Birds on a Wire

Design by:  Carey Grayson
Published by:  Gryphon Games
2 – 5 Players, 20 – 30 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

Over the past few years, Gryphon Games has expanded its stable of games quite rapidly, introducing a line of bookshelf games that are designed primarily to appeal to families and gamers preferring lighter fare.  Most of the games in this numbered line are card games, but there are a few exceptions.  For example, Roll through the Ages – a finalist for the prestigious Spiel des Jahre – is primarily a dice game.  The subject of this review – Birds on a Wire – is primarily a set-collecting tile game.

Designed by Carey Grayson – author of Tumblin’ Dice, 24 / 7 and Bridgetown RacesBirds on a Wire is a light family game wherein players attempt to gather birds of like groups on their power lines.  While there are two versions of the game – family and advanced – there really isn’t anything terribly more advanced or difficult with the advanced game, so it is the version that I tend to prefer.


Players each receive a board depicting two telephone poles with a 4×3 grid stretched along the wires between those two poles.  The central “sky” board has space for twelve birds, as well as four “zap” tiles.  The 63 tiles depict nine different types of birds.  The object is to collect birds in sets, gathering them into like groups on your power lines.  Be careful, though, as only the smallest groupings of birds will score points.

Game play is very simple.  A player’s turn consists of drawing a random tile from the bag and deciding whether to keep the bird, placing it on an open space on his telephone wires, or placing it on the central sky board instead.  If the player opts to place the bird on the sky card, he may draw another tile from the bag, but then he must keep this one, placing it on his wires.

When placing a bird onto his wires, the bird must be placed adjacent to another bird of the same color and shape.  If there are no identical birds present – or if the player is unable to place the bird adjacent to identical birds – the bird may be placed on any open space.  Again, the idea is to gather identical birds into a flock.  However, only the smallest groupings score, so players must attempt to manipulate their placements so as to form numerous groupings of identical size.

Migrations are what make the game interesting.  When one of the columns or rows on the sky card is filled, those birds will migrate.  The player causing the migration takes all birds in that row or column, as well as any zap tile that is present in that row or column.  The player must keep and place all birds that match birds currently on his wires.  Any remaining birds migrate to the next player, who also must place any birds onto his wire that match birds currently there.  This continues until all birds are placed.  Any birds unable to be placed must be placed on the active player’s power lines, so beware when you cause a migration.  Migrations are a clever process wherein the active player can acquire needed birds by forcing a migration.  Additionally, an astute player can force an opponent to take an unwanted bird or two.

What about those zap tiles?  A player may use a zap tile on any turn.  Instead of drawing a bird tile from the bag, the player may place a zap tile on any wire on an opponent’s board.  All but one bird on that particular wire will flee the suddenly hot wire, following the migration pattern described above.  The one remaining bird tile is flipped, the reverse side showing an amusing illustration of the bird delicately balancing on one foot, thereby avoiding the sudden power surge!  As with the normal migration process, this is a clever way to acquire a needed bird or break-up an opponent’s sets.

The game ends in one of two ways:

1)   One player collects a matching set of six birds, thereby winning immediately.  This is VERY difficult as there is only seven of each type.

2)   When a player completely fills his board with birds.  The game ends immediately and layers tally their scores.

Each player determines their smallest grouping of identical birds.  Each set of this size scores one point for each bird in those sets.  Additionally, the player earns one point for each bird standing on one leg, so being zapped does have its benefits!  Of course, the player with the most points is victorious.

The family game is a bit friendlier, varying from the advanced game in a few aspects.  When placing a bird onto a wire, it may be placed anywhere; there is no requirement to place it next to an identical bird.  During a migration, a player may elect to keep one bird, but is never forced to do so.  Birds continue to migrate in the fashion described above, with all unclaimed birds being placed on the active player’s board.  Finally, scoring is different, as players score points for sets of three or more birds that have either NO attributes alike, one attribute alike (color or shape) or all attributes alike.  So, forming scoring sets is far easier.  The advanced version does add more strategic elements to the game, but it is still accessible by everyone but the youngest of players.

Even when playing the advanced game, Birds on a Wire is lighter fare, more suitable for family gaming rather than serious gamers.  The decisions to be made are not taxing, and the slight edge of nastiness due to forced migrations and zaps are not too offensive, even for young children.  Strategies are few.  Place birds so as to give you maximum flexibility and avoid forming large flocks.  Secure a zap tile or two and use them at optimum times to gain a needed bird or split an opponent’s flock.  Trigger a migration to gain a desired bird or force an opponent or two to take unwanted birds.  In short, there is not much here to test your thinking skills or give rise to stunningly clever moves.

Birds on a Wire is quite likely the lightest game in the Gryphon bookshelf game series.  Families with young children will likely find it to be a pleasant pastime.  Serious gamers, however, will likely take flight quickly.

Ratings:

4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it):
2 (Neutral):  Greg Schloesser
1 (Not for me):

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About gschloesser

Greg Schloesser is the founder of the Westbank Gamers and co-founder of the East Tennessee Gamers. He is also a prolific reviewer of games and a regular contributor to numerous gaming publications and websites, including Counter, Knucklebones, Boardgame News, Boardgame Geek, Gamers Alliance and many others. Greg has been a gaming enthusiast his entire life, growing up in our hobby mainly on the war game side. His foray onto the internet exposed him to the wonderful world of German and European games and now nearly all of his gaming time is devoted to this area of our hobby. He travels to several gaming conventions each year and is the co-founder of Gulf Games, a regional gaming get-together held in the Southern USA. Greg was born in 1961 and lived his entire life in New Orleans before moving to East Tennessee in 2005. He is married and has one daughter (now married.)
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