She Invented a Board Game With Scientific Integrity. It’s Taking Off.

She Invented a Board Game With Scientific Integrity. It’s Taking Off.


Ms. Hargrave also has a card game, Tussie Mussie, about the Victorian language of flowers, launching in May, and a game about monarch butterflies, with the working title Mariposas, due for release next year. She is among the few women in game design — which was something she planned to research, until last December, when she noticed a newly published study exploring exactly that: “Assessing Gender and Racial Representation in the Board Game Industry.”

During the hundreds of Wingspan play tests, some gamers scratched their heads and said, “Birds? Really!?” They expressed concern that our feathered friends might not resonate with a community usually drawn to zombies, dragons, spaceships, farming, civilizations and (of course) trains.

But during the pre-order period in January, more than 5,000 games sold in a week; the game is now on its third print run, with a total of 30,000 games in English, and 14,000 in various foreign-language editions. On official release day, demand so exceeded supply that the publisher issued a public apology. Between birders and gamers, and the birder-gamer hybrid, Wingspan has found its followers — especially, naturally, on Twitter.

Ms. Hargrave’s home habitat, which she shares with her landscape-designer husband, Matt Cohen, is its own nature reserve, with vegetables in the backyard and a row of blueberry bushes out front. Inside, her watercolor paintings, of mushrooms and wildflowers, hang on the walls, complemented here and there with shells, snake skins and animal skulls.

The idea for Wingspan came to her after a game night with friends. They got talking about why there weren’t any board games tied to subjects they found interesting. Ms. Hargrave loves the game Castles of Burgundy, but pretending to be an aristocrat in high medieval France isn’t exactly her thing. She wondered, “Wouldn’t it be great if we had Race for the Galaxy” — another game that often hits her table, about building galactic civilizations — “but with birds?”

Wingspan bills itself as a card-driven, engine-building board game: players start with limited strength and slowly assemble their gameplay mechanism, which becomes more powerful with each turn. A classic example is Monopoly, in which players accrete real-estate empires, although hobby gamers would point to more sophisticated examples, such as Terraforming Mars.





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