- Designer: Zakir Jafry
- Publisher: Renegade Game Studio
- Players: 1-5
- Age: 13+
- Time: 45 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Renegade Game Studio
- Amazon affiliate link – https://amzn.to/3YcyDVQ
Well, I guess that it’s safe to say the bird themed games are all the rage now; the leader of the pack being Wingspan. Birdwatcher seems to be a different sort of game – it is a fast, competitive game in which players are rival wildlife photographers on a hunt to snap photos of the elusive and illustrious birds of paradise.
There are two boards in the game, the Clearing board which starts empty but will eventually have 4 face up piles of bird cards on it. The other board has the Jungle area which starts with 3 bird cards on it and the Academy section which starts with 3 publication cards on it. Each player gets a tree board which acts as a player aid. Each tree starts with 4 bird cards dealt above it as well. The area below your tree is your Journal area, and you will place bird cards and publication cards here left to right over the course of the game.
The bulk of the game revolves around the Bird cards, which includes 10 different varieties of birds. Each card tells you the VP value of the card as well as the number of similar cards in the deck. Some cards are scored individually while others are collected in sets. There is also an insect icon located in the bottom corner of some cards; take a matching insect token each time you take a picture of a bird with an insect icon. There are also 10 special bird cards which either mimic the card to the left of them or they are rare hybrids, each their own species.
The game is played in a number of rounds until either there are no more bird cards to be drawn from the deck OR at least one player has finished their journal (12 cards in a 4p game). The final round is completed so that all players have the same number of turns in the game.
On a turn, a player has 3 action points. The options are:
- Take a photo (1 pt) – You may do this as long as you have at least 2 birds in your tree. As you take a photo, you will startle a bird from your tree – you must discard a bird from your tree and place it in the clearing; placing it rotated to show that it is startled. It will remain startled until the end of your turn. Then take a picture of any other bird in your tree; taking the bird card from your tree and placing it to the right of previously collected cards in your Photo Journal.
- Run into the jungle (1 pt) – place all 3 visible cards in the jungle into 3 separate spaces in the clearing. They are placed in regular orientation (i.e. they are not startled). Draw three new bird cards from the deck to replenish the Jungle.
- Bird call (1 pt) – Call a specific species, and then add all currently visible cards of that species to your tree. Startled birds cannot be called. Your tree can hold a max of 6 birds
- Zoom Lens (2 pts) – use your zoom lens and take a photo of a bird in another player’s tree. You must have at least one bird in your tree to do this as you must still startle a bird before taking a photo. Place the photographed bird card to the right of your photo journal. The player who had a bird card stolen from their tree gets the top card from the bird deck placed face up in their tree as compensation.
- Publish (2 pts) – place a publication card from the Academy into your photo journal. Make sure that you are placing the card validly – some publications have limitations on which page(s) in your photo album that they can be placed in. Most of these have conditional scoring rules on them (red ribbon). They also may have a flat VP bonus (blue ribbon). There are some book icons to be found on the card; this will be important at game end.
- Bonus action (2 insect tokens) – you can discard 2 insect tokens to gain an extra action point on your turn
After the player has used all their action points, the next player goes. Again, the game continues until the end of a round when either at least one player has filled their photo journal, or there are no more bird cards to be drawn.
Now the game is scored. The players look at the cards in their Photo Journal – and remember that the order matters as sets of birds only score together if they are directly adjacent.
- Birds – points are awarded for individual birds or for sets of birds. Sets must be directly adjacent in your journal to score.
- Publications – score the points for each publication card – either a flat score or a conditional score based on the endgame state of your journal.
- Most Black sicklebill cards – 7VP. 3VP for next most.
- Greatest Variety – 7VP for the player with the most species, 3VP for next most
- Insect icons – 1/3/6/10/15 for 1/2/3/4/5 unique insect tokens
- Books – 5VP for the player with the most books on their publications, -2VP for the least
The player with the most points wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most birds left in their tree.
My thoughts on the game
Birdwatcher is a set collection game with a nice twist – the timing of when you add the cards to your collection is of paramount importance, as your scoring pile is actually a linear set. You only score cards in a set if they are gathered in order. So, this definitely gives you a different set of priorities from a regular set collection game.
Once you are working on a set, you really have to think twice about collecting anything else. As with many set collection games, the reward greatly increases with the increasing size of the set; so if you change gears and start collecting a new type of card, then you are maybe giving up a fair amount of scoring potential.
However, as you are collecting things, you’ll have to keep an eye out for what your opponents are collecting, or what publication cards are available. You may want to switch to a bird species that has more cards visible in the clearing or the jungle. You may want to take a card to stop an opponent from finishing a particularly lucrative set. You might want a publication that will give a nice reward; or maybe you need to just make sure you’re not falling behind in the race for books or Black Sicklebills…
Also, in a multiplayer game, you really don’t want to be in direct competition for a particular species of bird as it will likely punish both of the competitors as they have to wait longer to finish their set while their opponents can collect the cards they want without delay.
The points are nicely distributed – offering rewards for large sets of common birds, small sets of rare birds, and an ever changing set of demands from the publication cards that happen to come out each game. Heck, even the reward for insects can be sizable if you are able to get all 5 types. The end result is that rarely did it feel frustrating or limiting – you just have to figure out how to make the most of your 12 cards in your journal. The scoring system keeps people competitive in the game throughout the duration.
The game takes about 30-40 minutes, and I have been pretty involved in the game the entire time. Between turns, I’m always watching what is going on – as it is important to see what other players are collecting, it’s important to watch what birds are available in the jungle or clearing, and it’s even important to see what is roosting in other player’s trees as you can use a long-range lens to snatch a desired bird right off that tree!
The art on the cards is great, and there are lots of informational tidbits on each of the cards. (you can even see the phonetic bird calls for each species!) The iconography is easy to understand, and we’ve really not had any issues with understanding how a card scores. The player board has a nice recap of all of the possible actions as well as the scoring rules – having this information available at all times makes the game easy to learn and really limits any questions.
Birdwatcher has been a surprising hit this winter, and one which we have enjoyed each time we have gotten it to the table. The concept of set collection isn’t new, but the linear set that you collect in Birdwatcher takes this tried and true concept and makes it much more interesting and complex. Definitely a game that deserves a try, even more so if you are a bird watcher.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Dan B. (1 play): I like the twist on set collection, so I want to like the game, but I didn’t think it worked very well with five players. As in most games where players are taking cards from a central display, adding more players adds a lot more chaos, which tends to reduce the decision space because it’s impossible to plan anything. In this game there’s the added issue with five that the extra set of birds required in the deck just doesn’t seem to be that interesting.
Most similar games play best with two. Birdwatcher might benefit from one more player to allow more competition for bird sets and publications, but it’s hard to say without trying it.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Steph, Mark J
- Neutral. Dan B. (with five)
- Not for me…
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