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Wingspan Remote Rules

September 4, 2020

Unless you’ve been living in a house or apartment, or a hut in the Himalayas, you’ve probably heard of WINGSPAN, one of the most refreshingly disruptive board games in a long time – and particularly eclectically-electrically-edifying for bird-lovers, easter egg cuteness afficionados, strategic thinkers, and the ecologically affined.

Egadz! You’ve finally got your hard-to-get copy but now there’s a pandemic emergency on! Who can you play with? Is all lost?

Widely regarded as the hardest game to procure in the past year, and easily one of the most addictive, being unable to convene groups to enjoy the game once you finally get one is at first blush yet another major bummer of the times.

But wait! What if we could play remotely?
And so we did…with surprisingly easy modifications of the rules, detailed below.

Four players separated by many miles and a pandemic play Wingspan and enjoy social joy and gamer thinkalink via video chat – in this case sharing only one divided game set.


Set up and choose the first player normally. Play goes clockwise as usual – if there are multiple remote groups be clear what the order is. Prepare to communicate! Active questions and announcements of our moves, about one another’s moves, what’s visible on our boards, and fawning and flaunting the birds we play in our habitats is not only encouraged, in many cases it’s required. Caution, socializing may ensue!


Any group with food dice rolls them as appropriate (including rolling for remote players who have no food dice because they don’t have a complete set), and then announces the results. It is important that all players know and maintain the same contents of the birdfeeder. Yes you can make your own food dice or food dice simulator if you want to!!!

Whenever food is removed from the birdfeeder, it is announced so remote players can track the change and update their birdfeeder.

Any group without food dice can use matching food chips in a designated birdfeeder area. An egg can signify a “slasher” worm/grain die since there is no split food token. Consistent communication is necessary to make sure everyone has the same food showing on their table (see improvised birdfeeder food tracking at center of below photo).

Use food tokens to represent the food in the remote birdfeeder if you don’t have a birdfood tower and food dice. An egg can represent the “slasher” dice with both worm and grain.


  1. Be sure to agree whether you’re using the green (more competitive) or blue side (easier, less competitive) for the end of round goals.
  2. Have fun choosing the goals however you like (one player draws for all, or multiple players take turns, drawing them as you like – then make sure they are identical at each table.
  3. If any table doesn’t have a complete copy of the game, they can make a game copy for their table such as the hand-drawn example shown here:
End of round goals drawn by hand at a table that had no copy of the goals board and tokens.

4. To be sure scoring will be smooth at the end, it helps for at least one table to keep track of all tables’ End of Round scores each round, as you go.
5. Recommend having four color cubes or other items to represent and track each remote player (or record with writing) at the accounting table. Eggs once again worked well as a substitute piece, when we had given away our little color turn cubes to split the game so we didn’t have their color.


Disaster! That bird card you were hoping for is gone! Painful as it is, we simulate the increased disruption between turns of a larger group of players by removing the card from the same place.

Bird cards can’t reasonably be coordinated and matched, especially if the deck was split, so when one remote team pulls a bird card from the three on display, we simulate the random loss of the bird cards on display for all remote tables by removing the card at the corresponding place at each table (left, middle or right).

No bird card was removed if the remote player simply draws from the deck, what’s the point? Just increases shuffling rate! Especially with a reduced deck.

As an alternate approach in a learning game, birds were only removed by the people at a given table. With no random removal, scores were unusually high (perhaps enhanced by this, as desirable high point cards were less likely to disappear before someone could get them). Have not statistically analyzed (Elizabeth?). If you try variants, of course: Just agree and be consistent. And let us know how it goes!


Operate normally.


If one side has an expansion set that another doesn’t, two approaches:

  1. Gamers can agree to ignore and play anyway, improvising around any differences and hope for the best. One side will be able to draw different cards with powers and abilities that have no match on the other. And you won’t be able to share some end of round goals. (You can opt to have different end of round goals, at least for some rounds, but that would reduce the amount of dialogue to find out how remote players are doing toward their goals.) In our experience having different sets does create some imbalances and may actually detriment the folks with the expansion set.
  2. If a level playing field is preferred, remove expansion cards (generally easier to do as you play than to sort everything out in advance).


At end of game, one or more leaders can tally the score for all players, collaboratively or independently, relying on the remote groups to gather and share information for the count. This is very similar to when everyone is at the same table – people count their own birds, eggs, etc. – but the end of round goals can be tricky unless someone has been tracking all players (recommended above).


Funny things may come up – if everyone’s agreeable, flexible and creative and playing for the fun of it, have faith you can find a way to resolve any confusing circumstances not anticipated here.


These rules assume just one video feed per table. It’s impossible to read the contents of the other table’s boards although you can get some idea on a good day. In practice we’d much rather see our long lost friends’ faces than focus on their game boards – which is what we’d see in a normal game anyway. If you can rig up more cameras to inspect boards and prefer such, by all means go wild! Again communication foments the social dimension (and incentive to perceive gameplay and recall, as in counting cards).

A moment of conference – despite the distance it often feels like we’re at the same table.
Seeing the board is secondary to seeing the people – valuing the social interaction foremost.
Massage implement optional.



  1. A single game can be split among two groups, after shuffling the bird and bonus cards a lot, especially if you have an expansion set (in this case the European expansion so you have extra cards and food). Only one group kept unique items like the birdfeeder and end of round goals parts (game play for split set is discussed above). Yes the bird and bonus card options will be more limited and the decks might be imbalanced somehow but hey YOU GET TO PLAY WINGSPAN!!! Plus our bird card familiarity increased quickly for the smaller set we had (cognitive scientists, please weigh in).
  2. One or more players can use an online simulation of the game. This was a little tricky to research (hopefully easier now) but involved paying $20 for access to Steam and then at least one person has to purchase rights to a model of the Wingspan game in order to invite others and start a game for all the Steam members – around $6.99 for the full set (with European Expansion) from Tabletopia. Which is less than half as expensive for a single player than buying the physical game.

    Note the online offer is just a model of the physical game environment, without the rules, and no artificial intelligence to play with you. Wingspan does have the Automa rules so you can play yourself solitaire which can be very attractive given that set-up takes time and space and hard to carry with you, and even remote players aren’t always available. Also the Automa is fun – Wingspan is such a good thinking game that solo really is engaging and a good way to practice for group games. (Not sure if the online version includes Automa cards.)

    Worth noting that the online environment was amazing and beautiful and the quickest way to get access when the physical game has been so hard to get, but if you use a computer all day for work, even with a scroll mouse, good screen and gamer’s training you may find it painful. Here’s an image from when Your Agent Meggsy first tried it:
Online environment for playing Wingspan with multiple players – a beautiful representation and another great option for playing remotely – if you already have the rules and don’t mind a lot of mouse manipulation.


So there ya go! Hope this is helpful. Feel free to post in the comments, and ask questions, we’ll be happy to update. And let us know if you’d like to play!


While evangelizing about the love of Wingspan, people often ask if playing it teaches us about birds. Different people answer differently but after some experience seems like everyone believes they are more aware of birds. The game is modeled on actual bird characteristics with beautiful realistic illustrations. Food preferences, behaviors, nest type, nest egg capacity, special powers, habitats and more are modeled on the real birds. Cards even have a map of their geographic extent, a latin name and a fun fact. It’s easy to ignore these if you like but it must be said that this agent’s own experience noticing local birds and ahz relationship to them was certainly enhanced in very special ways, a topic for another time.

UPDATE: There’s an Android App that you can point at Wingspan cards and it will sing the song of that bird!!! Untested & unendorsed but sounds really cool!

For a more detailed background on the creation of this game, brainchild of Elizabeth Hargrave, there are many articles and interviews, one New York Times article is noteworthy, titled “She Invented a Board Game With Scientific Integrity. It’s Taking Off. How Elizabeth Hargrave turned a passion for ornithology and spreadsheets into a popular game about birds”.

HEALTH NOTE: No Wi-Fi was used in the playing of remote Wingspan.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Sasha Spring permalink
    September 5, 2020 2:08 am

    Jason This looks such a fun game . Never heard of it before . But I always Happy to try new games ! Sasha x

    Sent from my iPhone


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