This morning I went to pick up bagels and two seagulls launched from a power line and flew down the road in front of me – hovering about a hundred feet ahead of me leading the way through the fog for several blocks.
I’m sure that this kind of thing has always happened. But I’ve become cued to observe birds more closely recently. Part of it is the boardgame Wingspan, and I’m spending more time out-of-doors during Covid-19.
Similarly, I’ve spent a lot of time connecting with the Melvin’s catalog recently. Like seeing squirrels, birds and neighborhood cats who come into relief when you are paying attention, the Melvins grow in importance and meaning the more you look for them.
Here are the Melvins in 1993 playing in all their glory at UCLA. Buzz with a savage sound and performance energy. The weirded out passers-by. Dale’s gardening gloves? The drama-stage drum riser that seems to be set up in a car park or something. All captured on VHS glory.
But the winner of the video is Lorax or Lori Black the bass player. Disinterestedly smoking a cigarette, playing that drone string with a herky-jerky chop – fuzzed out bass chords that stop on a dime. Worth a listen.
Long out of print in 2019, I was pleased to get a copy of the boardgame Wingspan this summer. Since it arrived we have played Wingspan almost every two days. Wingspan is one of the best constructed and fun to play games of all time.
Wingspan allows you to build an collection of birds in meadows, forests and wetlands. You operate mostly in solitaire mode, drafting birds, getting food and laying eggs for future generations. The mechanics resemble natural processes and the subject (170+birds) are simply beautiful.
The game play is very pleasing. I find myself lost in my own (almost solitaire-like) joy in strategizing how to get the right food to build a magnificent Golden Eagle or Mississippi Kite, the sense of competition falls away and I’m just in the zone. It is an innovative game mechanic – you finish every game wishing for one more turn.
Wingspan was created by Elizabeth Hargrave who has a robust life as a thoughtful board game intellectual. I’ve watched a few videos where she documents the process of creating Wingspan. She comes across as sincere, thoughtful and aware of issues of representation and power in all aspects of life. The below lecture given at the NYU Game Center is a good example.
Hargrave outlines the creation of the game and the development of the innovative game mechanics. When given the opportunity she also unpacks some of the gendered assumptions about Wingspan (“Am I making games for women?” she asks at 41:20. ) The response includes this great slide:
Hargrave’s talk is for a group of students (MA and BA) who are studying game design. You can watch the video on a number of platforms, but watching it on twitch has the added benefit of seeing the commentary as Hargrave’s lecture unfolds. (This is also a refreshing juxtaposition, traditionally the text chat on the side of a twitch stream would be rapid-fire trolling copy/paste spam, replaced in this case by earnest classmates joking with each other and riffing sincerely on Hargrave’s arguments).
Hargrave is on top of the significance of representation in boardgames. She also shared the tools and strategies she used to build, and publish her game. She shares information about inclusive calls by game companies and scholarships for new designers. She seems earnest in a desire to open up games for new creators and to encourage sincere support for each other.
I appreciate the values expressed by this approach of game design. She also just comes across as cool. At 46:00 when she encourages future boardgame makers to experience wonder by making games about things that they care about or describing her ban on games that include castles, I got the sense that Hargrave would be fun to hang out with and game with.
While praising the game you have to pause at the incredible art that covers the cards of Wingspan. The hundreds of birds illustrated for the game are almost scientific-style drawings, but are really beautiful. You can check out the artwork of Ana M. Martinez and Natalia Rojas on their respective websites.
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