Avengers Endgame – Spoiler free review on the most important bird-related theme

A Common Loon, which evidently not only lives on Earth, but also on…whatever planet bad guy Thanos retired to after the end of the previous Avengers movie, Infinity War. Would “EndGame” show proper respect to the use of bird vocalizations in a movie?

What a great night from an entertainment perspective! My son and I went to see Avengers Endgame this evening. After 10 years or so and 22 movies, we were pretty invested in the storylines and characters, and the movie certainly delivered! Without giving anything away, it hit all the right notes and is definitely one of the best of the lot. That was followed by watching the newest episode of Game of Thrones. Wow…another satisfying and highly entertaining show.

But there’s one elephant in the room that I’m sure is on EVERYONE’s mind regarding the Marvel movies and the Avengers storyline. It all goes back to “Infinity War”. At the end of that movie, big baddie Thanos snaps his fingers, and BOOM, half of all sentient beings in the universe turn to dust…including many of our favorite Marvel characters. Thanos then retreats to an idyllic planet to “retire”.

The problem that was on EVERYONE’s mind after watching Infinity War…the audio that accompanied Thanos and his retirement. As the scene goes to this strange planet, what sound are we greeted with in the background? THE HAUNTING CRIES OF A COMMON LOON!!!! Now, Hollywood certainly is guilty of using the vocalizations of a few species in movies, particularly Common Loons, Red-tailed Hawks, and Kookaburra. But a Common Loon…ON AN ALIEN PLANET!?!? That was a new low.

When we got to the theater tonight, the lot was by FAR more full than I’d ever seen it. We got there 50 minutes early and still stood in a massive line to wait for our screen to open. While waiting, we overheard a theater working noting that the day before, they had 4,901 tickets sold, a record for one day. ONE THEATER, in a city of 180,000, and they had almost 5,000 people visit for this movie! And what was on EVERYBODY’S mind? That’s right…Was Marvel going to have a major bird-related faux pas again?!?!? So as the movie got going and we caught up with our favorite (surviving) characters, I, like everyone else in the theater, had my ears tuned to the sound track. Would we have a similar ridiculous audio misstep?

It was relatively early in the movie where I heard, yes…THE CALL OF A COMMON LOON!! AGAIN!!! But alas, THIS time Marvel got it right!! It was a stage in the movie where we visited Tony Stark and a home on a lake. It looked like what might be typical northern woods surrounding the lake, and yes, this was on Earth. A PERFECTLY normal place to potentially have a loon call!

WELL DONE MARVEL!! I hereby brand “Endgame” to be a total success, and at the end of the movie, everybody was clapping, which I’m SURE was also related to the proper use of a Loon call!

Wingspan! Great board game for birders, and board game enthusiasts

Wingspan Game - Review

We had a very nice relaxing day with the family at home today for Easter. A delicious meal of cheesy shrimp risotto, some coconut cream pie, and a day of games. Today was the day we broke out the new “Wingspan” game! The game has gotten incredible reviews and quickly sold out the first few printings. When I saw a new printing becoming available, I ordered right away.

I’m glad I did! The game is a 4-round strategy game, where you’re stockpiling birds on your “network of wildlife preserves”. There are 170 different birds, with cards for each detailing that species food needs, nesting capacity, habitat needs and “special abilities”. It’s a turn-based game, where a player chooses whether to:

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  • Gather food from the “feeder”, making sure to select food items that support the bird species in your preserves (if that food is available). The different categories of available food include “invertebrates”, “seeds”, “fish”, “fruit”, and “rodent”.
  • Select new bird cards, providing additional species options for placement in your preserves
  • Place a bird in your preserve, making sure that you have the proper food to support that bird. Birds require anywhere from 1 to 3 food resources, and you must have those food items in your possession to be able to place the bird.
  • Having an individual species in your preserve lay eggs
  • Carrying out any actions. Some species provide rewards as the game proceeds, depending upon the action the player takes that round.

The game itself is deceptively simple once you understand the rules. Your choices don’t go far beyond the options outlined above, but once you play it you realize the need for strategy right from the start. For example, the game is played in four rounds. Each round has a specific scoring goal. For example, Round 1 may focus on providing points to players who place the most wetland habitat birds in their preserve. Round 2 may focus on cavity-nesting birds that lay the most eggs. The priority for each round is chosen at the start of the game, so long-term strategy comes into play. You want to maximize your points for the current round, but if you don’t also set yourself up for scoring priorities in future rounds, you’ll likely do poorly.

By the end of the game, scoring is tallied as followed:

  • Individual round scoring. During each individual round (4 rounds total), you are ranked against your competitors. In the first round example given above, for example, the player who had the most birds in their preserve who used wetland habitats would have gotten the most points for that round. More points are awarded in later rounds than in the first round, so the fourth-round 1st place scorer gets more points than the first-round 1st place scorer.
  • Points from birds in your preserve. Different birds are worth different scores. For example, I placed a Bald Eagle in my preserve, which was worth a very healthy 9 points (the highest point total for a bird, I believe). Point values for each species are partially related to how difficult it is to place that bird in the preserve. For example, to be able to place that Bald Eagle in my preserve, I had to stock up on 2 fish resources and 1 rodent resource before I could place him on the board. Other, lower-point birds are easier to place, with some birds that are only worth two points only requiring one food resource for placement on the board.
  • Eggs – Players receive one point for every egg on their final board.
  • “Bonus” cards – During the game, each player collects unique bonus cards. Bonus cards include titles such as “photographer”, “prairie manager”, “wetland scientist”, “backyard birder”, and much more. Each card rewards points at the end of the game based on certain characteristics of the birds in your aviary. For example, there are four types of nests birds build in the game: 1) platform nests, 2) bowl nests, 3) cavity nests, and 4) ground nests. My bonus card provided +4 points for having four different birds who build platform nests in my preserve.
  • Food on bird cards – Some bird species “cache” food on their cards. For example, the American Kestrel can collect rodents! If you can use it during a turn, it can collect one or more rodent tokens that are placed on the species card. Each cached food item counts as a point for the final scoring.
  • Tucked” cards – Some birds can form flocks! For example, the American White Pelican can effectively form a flock, with other bird cards tucked behind the pelican card in your preserve. Each bird in a flock counts as a point.

After four rounds, you add up the final scores using the 6-category scoring system. From what I’m seeing online, final scores for a winner are typically between 65-85 points.

At first it’s a bit confusing, but once we watched this short YouTube video on the rules of the game, it really is quite straightforward. Straightforward, but rather elegant! While the rules themselves may be straightforward, there’s definitely quite a bit of strategy involved! In the first game we played, the winner ended up with 65 points…on the low end of a winning score from what I’ve read. But now that we understand the rules and the strategy more, I’m sure our next game will be higher scoring.

Great game! It’s also very well put together. Materials are solid, and the artwork on the cards is absolutely beautiful. I love the “bird feeder”, a device you construct that allows you to roll dice that represent foods available in the feeder. A few times I caught myself just looking through the cards, as it’s fun not only to look at the beautiful artwork, but to see the special attributes and abilities the gamemakers assigned to each species. A really enjoyable game, and I can see a lot of replay value, given that each game’s goals and birds will be different.

Highly recommended, if you can get a copy! And hey, if my non-birding teenage son can get a kick out of it and ask to play again tomorrow, it’s a great indication that the audience for this game goes far behind just birders!

Wingspan Game - Closeup
A closeup of the game. Note the eggs on the gameboard here…did you know the Yellow-headed Blackbird laid such shiny eggs? Well, it WAS Easter Sunday! We did happen to have some candy “glimmer eggs” laying around! So we augmented the game with candy eggs, and some liberal rules about when a player could raid a nest and eat those eggs. 🙂
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