Full disclosure: A preview copy of Birds of a Feather: Western North America was provided by Snowbright Studio. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
The next few weeks may have a few more crowdfunded games, since we’re starting to get back into that cycle again. Exciting stuff, especially from new studios. Snowbright is a pretty new one, and they’re getting into high gear with a new version of Birds of a Feather, focusing on birds from Western North America. Always enjoy a light and quick card game, so figured, why not. Let’s hop into it!
In Birds of a Feather: Western North America, you are an avid birder, looking to see your favorite feathered weirdos. I think birds look weird. They probably think I look weird. Mutual disrespect. You’ve formed loose confederations with other birders to explore habitats, but there are only so many of you and so many birds. The more folks who go to a habitat, the more likely you’ll see something unique, so you need to choose carefully if you want to be successful. Will you be able to see your favorite birds?
None, essentially. There’s a scoring app (or score sheets) that you can use, but make sure everyone has that and then shuffle up the cards and deal them out to all players. At seven players, there will be eight cards per hand (the remaining cards will go unused). For two- and three-player games, deal out cards such that there are four hands of 15 cards each. The remaining hands will be used for dummy players.
That’ll be your hand for the game, and you’re ready to start!
Not a ton, here, in terms of complexity, which can be nice. Each turn, players are going to choose and reveal a card from their hand. This card represents a bird of some type (symbol in the top-left), found in some habitat (based on color / symbol in the bottom-left). Once every player has chosen a card, reveal them simultaneously. Each player can count all birds currently revealed of their same Habitat as “seen”, checking it off on their score sheet. This means that if I play a Purple card, all Purple cards played are checked off of my score sheet, but none of the Green cards played are. These cards then move to the center, where they nest for another round. In subsequent rounds, cards currently revealed match all revealed cards of their same Habitat and cards of the same Habitat in the center of the play area. After resolving a set of revealed cards, discard all cards in the center and move the just-revealed cards to the center to become the new set of nested cards.
One challenge here: there’s an optional raptor variant, where each raptor (red claw symbol), when played, immediately scares away all the birds in the center (before scoring). If you choose to play with that, the game becomes more intense (and more exciting).
After all cards except one have been played, the game ends! Players score for each circle they’ve checked off on their score sheet, with a bonus 3 points if a player has checked off all the birds from one habitat. The player with the most points wins!
There are additional optional variants, allowing for things like drafting your starting hand (four players, for instance, draft five cards three times) or passing cards in your starting hand to the next player. Try shaking things up to change your strategy!
Player Count Differences
Right out the gate, I’ll be clear: I think Birds of a Feather: Western North America is most interesting with more players. Just by the game’s nature, having fewer cards in hand and having to rely on what other people play to score is going to be more interesting as you increase the player count. I’m also not as keen on dummy players playing essentially randomly, since, while I definitely have played with folks that I suspected were playing randomly, having an actual random draw in the deck (especially with the raptor variant) doesn’t really excite me in any meaningful way. And that’s fine; there are other two-player games I’m more interested in. If you’re curious, adding a drafting component to the two-player game is one way they endeavor to make the game more strategic. Since you’re drafting cards into the dummy player’s hand, you have a sense of what cards could emerge, making things a bit more interesting for folks with good memories. That’s fine and all, but I think I’ll largely stick to Birds of a Feather with at least four players.
- If you see high-value cards of a color being played, it’s never a bad idea to annoy some players and drop a Raptor to clear them out. That’ll teach them to invest in high-value returns. But, in all seriousness, as soon as a double-wing bird gets played, the next round, a lot of players will try to hop on that train. If you already scored that card (or just hate the other players), might as well throw in a raptor to clear the center out. Then, nobody else gets it. This also works well if you don’t think you have enough cards of that color to fill out the row. Score what you think you can get; burn the rest.
- Similarly, holding on to high-value cards may give you the opportunity to deny your opponents both points and the completion bonus. If you wait long enough with high-value cards that are pretty rare, you can just play them at the end of the game and make sure that you’re the only person who gets to complete that row. It’s churlish, but effective, which is a solid 40% of the strategy tips, here. Some of y’all aren’t here to make friends and I can do nothing but respect that.
- If you have all the cards of one type, you can always hold on to them until the last possible second. One type being “orange eggs”, not every orange card. If you have been dealt every card of one color, you should take some umbrage with your dealer. It’s not impossible; just improbable. But if you have three cards of the same type, you can hold on to them until much later in the game to, again, try to stealthily deny other players that row completion bonus. It can make a big difference!
- If you have too many cards of one color, you might be busted. Try to shed some of them early in the game so that you’re not stuck with cards that belong to a category you’ve already completed. There’s not a ton you can do if most of your hand is a single color; you’re not going to be able to branch out that much. What you might be able to do is dole the cards out strategically, to try and encourage other players to focus on that color early and leave you some space to use the rest of your cards later in the round. What you don’t want is to have your final cards be all from a color you’ve already scored; then, you’re just giving points away to others. Not ideal.
- If you assume a Raptor is coming, you may be able to sneak yourself some points. Just try to match whatever color the raptor is, based on which cards you’ve already seen (but not scored). If you can pull it off, you’re still not going to get any points for the cards that were scared out of the center, but you’ll get some points for matching the raptor! If you don’t have many in your hand, you’ll need to get good at guessing when one is coming if you want to get any rows completed.
- It’s critical to remember which cards you’ve already seen and how many are left. You may want to mark your scoresheet differently if you’ve seen a card but didn’t score it; just check off that card so that you’re aware of what’s still in play.
- If you’re playing with a drafting variant, keep in mind which cards you see in the hand(s) you’re passed. That may inform what you want to grab on to, if you don’t see the same cards come back around. It’s mostly just noting which cards your opponents seem to have grabbed at some point so that you know whether or not they’re, say, hoarding raptors or double-wing cards and can prepare adequately. There are a lot of different hand construction strategies one could employ for this game, and they’re all valid. All’s fair in love and birds, I think is the saying.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is delightful. Do people not like the art in bird games? Like, birds are sometimes weird little jerks, but they’re pretty. Sometimes colorful, even, which is even more fun. Generally, this is a good-looking game, and I’m excited to see how it looks with an actual box. I just have a deck of cards, which is nice and all, but I like boxes.
- The theme is also very pleasant. It’s hard to get too mad at a game that’s just about going and looking at birds, and I think that the gameplay lends itself nicely to the ease of that theme. The game isn’t in-your-face or aggressive; it’s just about working to make sure that you can see as many birds as you want. The raptor variant introduces more chaotic (and I’d say meaner) play, but also, that’s how birds work, I think? Sometimes you’re looking for a cool bird and something comes along and scares it off. Unfortunate.
- I appreciate the set of variants available. I didn’t have a chance to list them all in my Gameplay section (operating off of an old copy of the rulebook), but I think that there are a lot of different ways to play that folks will like.
- The game is very quick to pick up. There’s strategy to your playing order, granted, but you’re really just flipping a card and then checking to see who flipped cards of the same color, hoping that enough people will have that you eventually can check off all cards of that color. It’s engaging, but part of what makes it engaging is that the game itself is open and welcoming for most folks to just pick up and play. The strategic elements of the game emerge for folks after a play or two, and watching them pick up on how to play better next time is half of the fun.
- Also very easy to transport! I mean, functionally, it’s just a deck of cards. I imagine the box will be a bit bigger than a standard tuckbox, but this isn’t Splendor, here; it’ll fit in most backpacks or functional bags. The game is meant to be played with people, so I appreciate the small form factor making it easy to take the game to where people are. The score sheets add a bit of heft, but, there’s also an online scoring app for people who are not fans of paper waste, which I’m here for.
- I think that the interaction mechanism being mostly positive is going to appeal to a lot of folks. I used to play with a lunchtime group that wasn’t a huge fan of “mean” games. They wanted to just play something that they could chat over and enjoy and someone would win and that was kind of it. With the standard variant of this game, I think there are a lot of folks who will find the game welcoming without being too aggressive. Granted, the raptor variant adds a bit of that back in, but the game’s primary form of interaction will be great for folks who want games that aren’t quite as heavy on the competition side of things.
- Birds of a Feather is at its most interesting when played with more people, which can be challenging for me, a person who prefers lower player count games. The core interaction is improved by having more bird cards in the center. The lower player count variants introduce drafting and dummy player hands, and I get that, but at some level the core of the game really is about playing it with more people. As a result, it’s just harder for me to get enthused about it when I tend to have more 1:1 game nights. For convention travel? Absolutely!
- The game is somewhat vulnerable to individual hand variance, since getting a lot of one color is usually pretty bad for you (and having none of a color means you will definitely not be able to score for that). On one hand, that can lead to a bad time, but on the other, the game is largely so short that if your hand ends up not working in your favor, you might as well play again. My frustration is that some single-instance cards end up being both rare and valuable, so not having any raptors or double-wing (the most valuable cards) leaves you vulnerable to the whims of your opponents, which can be frustrating. I would be more irritated about this in a longer game, but my tolerance for this in a shorter game is much higher.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I had a good time with Birds of a Feather: Western North America! For folks into bird stuff, I think the bright and colorful cards will appeal to a lot of their sensibilities. It’s a cute, pleasant game (even when it’s a bit aggressive), and the key swing in its favor is the ease of teaching it. Birds of a Feather is the kind of card game you can just pick up and play on the fly (and then play again, after the first one), and adding a scoring app to further simplify things (or a quick scorepad for players) really makes for a quick, snappy, and easy-to-transport game. Given the publisher’s known enthusiasm for the Quiver game transport thing, it’s no surprise that their first game would be a near-perfect contender for a Quiver, and I respect that. Birds of a Feather occupies a similar spot in my brain as many of the Oink Games titles that I love so much, again, because it smartly capitalizes on its limited components and shoots for a game that’s quick, easy, and a breeze to replay rather than adding in overwrought additional steps. I appreciate that. Granted, there are additional variants of play coming, but making the two-player game more strategic is right up my alley, since I’m still growing accustomed to the idea of leaving my house. But given that non-raptor interactions in the game are positive, I think the coziness of a game about just looking at cool birds is going to continue to charm people as it did with the original printing. I enjoyed my plays of Birds of a Feather: Western North America, and if you’re looking for a light and engaging title, you like birds, or you want another contender for permanent Quiver storage, you might enjoy it as well!
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