Episode 336 - Songbirds
Release Date: Oct. 18, 2019
Designers: Yuo Artists: Kotori Neiko, Claire Donaldson
Publisher: Daily Magic, Homosapiens Lab, Gen-X
2 -4 players | 20 min | ages 8+ | 5 min to learn | $20
You are a forest spirit, delighting in the songbirds around you. But which one is your favorite? Gather your flock and send them out to battle for the sweetest berries. In the end you must choose one species as your own.
Songbirds is a small card game full of big decisions. Pick a bird card and play it to the forest grid. The type, the number, and the location of the bird will influence each choice you make. This depth of decision, combined with a small hand of cards gives Songbirds a richness and beautiful agony to treasure. All in a very simple set of rules.
Read on to learn why we think Songbirds deserves our Spiel of Approval and a place on your table, too!
Written review continues after the break.
You are a forest spirit, delighting in the songbirds around you. But which one is your favorite? Perhaps a little competition among you spirits? Gather your flock and send them out to battle for the sweetest berries! In the end you must choose one species as your own. Can you best your fellow spirits? Find out in Songbirds.
Songbirds contains 28 songbird cards in four colors, numbered from 1-7. Special mention and praise should be given to the art and graphic design of the bird cards. Each card features a different representation of the birds, and if you look at all seven cards of a group, you’ll get a nice little story about that family.
There are ten berry tokens, with values ranging from 5 to 15. There are four berry holder cards, which represent the four types of birds.
For a four player games, you’ll also need one of the two special bird cards, and some mix of the special berry tokens. Also included for an extended game are score cards to track points accumulated over multiple games. Lastly, you’ll find 3 worm tokens, used in a game variant.
Setup to play a game of Songbirds happens as fast as a flit of wings. Mix up the berry tokens face down. Then place five of them face up to make the columns, and the other five face up to form the rows. Now you have a 5x5 grid to make up the play area.
Set the berry holder cards above the top of the grid. Deal the songbird cards out to the players evenly, leaving one bird aside as the starter. Place this bird at the center of the 5x5 grid, and you’re ready to play! The start player now places one card from their hand to the play area. All cards played must follow one rule: a card must touch the top, bottom, or side of a previously placed card.
Play continues in turn order around the table with each player playing one bird to the forest. Each card played must touch another previously played card, and must fit into the 5x5 grid.
As play continues, rows or columns will fill up with five cards. When this occurs, stop play to award the corresponding berry token in the row or column to the loudest type of bird. To do this, add together the values of all the same type of birds and compare each type against the others.
For example, in a row there are two brown birds with values of 2 and 5. Also, two green birds, with 2 and 4, and a single value 3 blue bird. The berry token goes to the brown birds, as their total is higher than the other color’s totals. Place the berry token on the berry holder card for the brown birds.
In case of a tie, all tied colors cancel each other out. Using the previous example, let’s say brown had the 2 and 5 birds, and green a 3 and 4, and the same blue 3. Since brown and green both total 7, they cancel each other out, and the lone blue bird captures the berry.
Of course, it is also possible that all birds might be tied. In this case, no bird collects the berry.
The game ends when all 25 spaces in the forest have been filled, and all the berry tokens have been awarded. Each player will have one card left over: their favorite songbird. Your score is the value of your favorite bird, plus the total value of all berry tokens on your favorite bird’s berry holder card.
For example: Callie has kept the green 6. Adding green’s berry total of 21 gives her 27 points. Tia and Max each kept brown birds, a 2 and a 3, respectively. Brown had 25 points in berries, so Max wins, 28-27-27. Close game!
What Sets This Game Apart
From your very first play of a card in Songbirds, you are deeply involved in a hand management struggle. You realize that every decision you make whittles down your choices as to which bird will remain as your favorite. A card must be played, but which card? And where?
Every bird played is actually a member of two distinct groups: a row, and a column. Each represents a choice with multiple decisions. Which card will I let go? What am I hoping to accomplish with this card? To which row do I need to play? And, within that row, to which column?
All of that sounds daunting, but it really isn’t. Play is as simple as pick a card and place it in the forest. But the richness of that simple act reveals itself as you make small decisions.
At first you might be trying to keep your options open. It’s too soon to pick a favorite before any berry tokens have been awarded. Maybe you keep one card from every color?
You watch your opponents, seeking clues. How are they trying to influence the forest? Have they already picked a favorite? Maybe you can push a row or column in an unexpected direction with a tactical play.
But your hand of birds is so small. As few as 9 in a three player game. With an average distribution, that’s three in one color, and two cards in the other three. Once you play one card of a two card group, the natural question becomes: is this other bird my keeper?
And once you’ve settled on a color, you realize that leaves one fewer bird to go into the forest, to fight for the berry tokens. What if another player is also thinking blue? Now that’s two fewer cards out of a possible seven to play. How good is blue going to be if that’s the case?
This depth of decision, combined with a small hand of cards, gives Songbirds a richness, a beautiful agony, to treasure. And all in a very simple rule set.
Songbirds offers a wonderful variety of challenging decisions and ways to approach the game.
The Early Bird variant uses the worm tokens. Here, players may commit to their favorite bird instead of playing a card to the forest. They place one card face down in front of them, then grab the highest available worm token, which will be added to their bird’s score. They gain the advantage of committing later to the forest, but sacrifice the right to score their favorite bird’s points.
The Extended Game variant lets you play over a series of rounds. To keep track of their running totals, players receive a nifty set of two score cards. Use these to keep a tally and play to a designated total of points or a set number of rounds.
When playing with four players, the special bird cards must be used. Each of these, the crow, hawk, hummingbird, and mockingbird set special forest conditions for scoring. Birds might be awarded a special berry token, worth either positive or negative points. This adds an extra level of consideration when placing a bird in the forest.
A nice way to play with four is to use the Extended Game cards and play four rounds, once with each special bird. Have each player be start player once and highest cumulative score after four rounds wins.
And if that wasn’t enough, the game also comes with a solo play mode. Here, a player pits the score of his favorite bird versus the other three colors. This presents a solid challenge and a negative score is possible. Songbirds even offers a co-op mode of play which builds off solo play.
The heart of any card game lies in how you play your hand. Achieving the maximum out of what you’ve been dealt is the core of play. To this, Songbirds adds the where, the location to which you play. Now, not just the number and suit, but also the spot in the forest matters deeply.
Because of your limited hand size, the importance of the principle of hand management is greatly magnified. This presents a challenging and enjoyable puzzle right from the start. No decision is trivial, as each bird played affects both its row and column.
And yet, the game places no roadblocks to new players. Almost anyone can enjoy a simple little game like this, and rooting for your favorite bird feels like cheering on your team. There’s a feeling of accomplishment when you can say, “My team won, and I helped make that happen”.
Because of its accessibility and its variable types of play experience, we feel Songbirds deserves a place on your table. It’s earned our Spiel of Approval. Give it a try and we’re willing to bet it will earn yours, too!
Written by: Doug Richardson