Publisher: Renegade Games
Player Count: 1-5 Players
Dedicated Solo mode: Yes
Game Length: 45 Minutes
With your sights set on the elusive birds-of-paradise, strap on your binoculars and prepare to compete against your opponents to build the most impressive and informative publication. In this light, family-friendly card drafting game, players will build sets and collect scoring opportunities through planning and careful execution.
ON YOUR TURN
Birdwatcher is first and foremost a celebration of the beautiful birds-of-paradise. These colorful birds are mostly found in the New Guinea highlands and are in such demand that they are often used as currency.
The game takes place in a jungle clearing where each player is patiently waiting for the right moment to photograph these rare birds. During your turn, you have the opportunity to execute 3 distinct actions that all essentially amount to planning your pursuit of these birds and recording them in your journal. The birds can be seen in the jungle, the clearing and your personal tree and it’s your job to draw them to yourself. Each action has some consequence, so understanding your opponents and careful planning are the path to success.
That’s not to say Birdwatcher is a complex game. In fact, it’s a fairly simple game with an easy ruleset and casual experience.
On your turn, you have the opportunity to take a photo of a bird from your tree which instantly brings it into your journal. This journal is key to scoring points and serves as a countdown for the end game – ending when a player reaches a certain number of journal entries. Each bird provides a scoring stamp or ribbon. These scoring marks determine if the bird is scored in a set or individually. Each bird added (or published) in your journal is added in order and cannot be adjusted—which can affect scoring.
When shooting a photo of a bird from your tree it also means you startle another bird, sending 1 additional bird to the clearing. Much of the rest of the actions serve as a way to move birds from the jungle into the clearing and ultimately into your personal tree. Running into the jungle draws birds into the clearing. In the cleaning you can do a bird call to draw all the birds of a specific type to your tree.
Just because a bird is in your tree doesn’t guarantee it will end up in your journal. Players can also spend 2 actions to photograph a bird in another player’s tree. This results in a gift of a bird from your tree and one from the deck for the player now missing one of their precious birds-of-paradise cards.
Additionally, players can publish, which allows them to draw an available publication card into your journal. These publish cards typically score points based on the most recent birds added into your journal, but they can vary. There is an additional scoring option where players gather different sets of insects found on certain bird cards.
Once the specific number of journal entries is reached, players add up their sets, individual scoring birds and any journal card points triggered. The player with the most points is the winner.
The solo mode in Birdwatcher is fairly simple to navigate and execute. Setup is very similar to the standard game. It’s not terribly sophisticated, and basically exists to block you from certain bird types. There is a fun (and extensive) list of achievements to keep your solo experiences busy for a while.
ARTWORK & COMPONENTS
While Birdwatcher doesn’t completely exist to showcase the artwork, the amazing illustrations of the birds-of-paradise are certainly central to its appeal. The highly detailed and colorful illustrations are very high-end and captivating. The game features 91 bird cards with many unique illustrations. The overall presentation has a sophisticated feel really drawing you into this world. The typography and color pallet feels timeless and looks great.
PROS & CONS
➕ Beautiful artwork
➕ Easy to learn & teach
➕ Plays quickly
➕ Easy to set up
➕ Simple actions
➕ Fun production
➖ While planning is interesting, the actions aren’t super engaging
➖ Like any card drafting game, your success is often left to the luck of the deck
Player interaction can feel a little mean – especially when you steal someone else’s hard fought bird.
WHY WOULD YOU LIKE THIS GAME?
Bird watchers and nature lovers are going to find this appealing. This is a light-weight, accessible game and gamers in the market for more of an entry-level challenge are going to appreciate it.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS GAME?
The best thing about Birdwatcher is the bird artwork. The illustrations from Lauren Helton are nothing short of amazing.
I think it’s safe to say that your appreciation for Birdwatcher hinges on your enjoyment of the artwork. This is a light-weight game that provides some interesting decisions, but won’t necessarily challenge you too much. As long as you understand what you’re getting, you can appreciate a beautiful production and the level.
For me, it ultimately ends up in that group of games I would happily play again, but it’s not something I find too engaging. It’s not necessarily doing anything wrong, it’s just not doing anything new and I think there are more engaging set collection games. I do appreciate its goal to appeal to more casual gamers who just want to jump into a game and have a pleasant experience. It plays quickly and you’ll likely have a good time and be able to knock a couple games out in one sitting.
If it isn’t clear at this point, the artwork is amazing and very central to the enjoyment of the game. I love the bits of information on each bird as well as the historical quotes on the publication cards. There is obviously a respect from the publishers for the birds and their history. Is that enough to do it for you? It may be.
I do think the attempt to appeal to a mass audience with an attractive theme falls a little short. I worry a lot of players are going to find the gameplay too light on engagement and not enough substance for repeat games. True birdwatchers are really going to enjoy this unique look at a very beautiful and rare group of birds, but this isn’t the “next” game for fans of Wingspan. That being said, I can understand there is a niche for this type of game. If you’re considering purchasing Birdwatcher, do your research, read the rulebook (well written), watch a gameplay and then determine if it’s a good fit for your group.