You’re a bird watcher and you’ve embarked on your Big Year. Your goal is to travel the world and see as many birds as possible and see more unique birds than your fellow competitors. Of course, if this sounds too exhausting (or expensive), you can always kick back with the movie The Big Year and Birds of a Feather and just have a big year in your house. Hang a bird feeder outside your window and go to town.
How It Plays
The goal of Birds of a Feather is to score the most points by “seeing” the most birds over the course of the game. To do this, you will play cards and earn points based not only on the cards you play but, potentially, the cards your opponents play, as well.
At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt a hand of cards (the number is determined by the number of players). If you’re playing with 2 or 3 players, you’ll also deal hands to dummy players.
To start a round a round, each player secretly chooses a card to play and then places it face down in front of himself. If you’re playing with dummy players, a random card from the dummy hand is placed face down in front of the dummy. Players then reveal all the chosen cards simultaneously.
Once the cards are revealed, players count how many birds they have seen and mark them on the scoresheet. You will “see” the bird you played, but if other players played cards from the same habitat (habitats are really just card colors), you will also “see” those, as well, and get to mark them off on your scoresheet, as long as it isn’t one you’ve already seen. (A bird can only be “seen” once.)
After all scores are marked, the cards played in the most recent round are pushed into the center of the table and become the “lingering birds.” Any other cards on the table are discarded. Players now repeat the secret choosing and simultaneous revealing of cards. Now you will not only see the bird you played plus (potentially) your opponents’ currently played birds, but also any of the lingering birds that match the habitat you played. Once all seen birds are recorded, repeat the process until all players have one card remaining in hand.
This marks the end of the game. The last card is set aside and not played. Players tally up their points and the player with the most points wins. Not only do you receive points for individual birds, there are extra points available if you see all of the birds in a given habitat. Depending on your score, you can assign yourself a ranking that ranges from “Forgot binoculars,” to “A big year!”
Feather Your Nest With This One or Migrate to Something Else?
Birds of a Feather intrigued me because, while I’m not about to set out on a Big Year, I do enjoy watching the birds that come to my feeders and nest in my birdhouses. So when I saw the artwork for this game, I knew I’d have to try it out.
I wasn’t disappointed. This game is a simple pleasure to play. It’s so quick to learn and suitable for a variety of groups and audiences. You can bring it out with kids (it’s slightly educational), grandparents, and non-gaming coworkers at lunch and they can all easily grasp it. It’s also highly portable and has a small footprint, so it’s good for travel. (We take it camping due to the theme.)
It’s also good for a variety of play situations since it plays from 1 – 7. It doesn’t have the feel of a party game because there’s not a lot of interaction, shouting out answers, or deduction, but it’s useful to have around for those more subdued large gatherings. Varying age groups can play together, as well. It’s not a game that rewards knowledge or talent so, unlike a lot of party games, older, geekier, or more talented players don’t have an advantage. As a solo game, it’s not a bad rainy day activity. It’s not terribly challenging, but it’s a fun way to kill some time.
I found it especially enjoyable for the older members of our clan. Many of them enjoy basic card games like bridge, Canasta, Rook, UNO, etc. and this worked really well for them. Since all you do (at the game’s most basic) is play a card and count up your points, Birds of a Feather wasn’t a stretch for them at all. Plus, the theme is like a magnet. Who doesn’t like cards with lovely birds on them?
Of course, Birds of a Feather isn’t quite as simple as playing a card and counting points, but that’s all you need to know in order to start playing. The strategy, the advanced variants, and the outthinking of your opponents can come later. In that sense it’s one of those games you can slap on the table and say, “Let’s play.”
My biggest (and really, only) gripe with this game is the way the two and three player games are handled. Dummy players are used and their cards are simply drawn randomly and plunked into the display. This takes away the challenge of matching wits against other players. On the other hand, it does add an element of, “You don’t know what’s coming so prepare to make the most of whatever,” to the game.
Whether you like this or not will probably depend on your mood and the type of gamer you are. If you abhor randomness, this will irritate you to no end. However, if you don’t mind going with the flow, you may find it enjoyable. For the light, easy-breezy type of game that Birds is, it’s not too problematic, but gamers looking for a brain burner where everyone at the table is strategizing and making the optimal moves should look elsewhere.
If you play with four or more, however, this concern disappears and it is quite fun to try to second guess what your fellow birders are going to do. Are they going to try to match a habitat that’s already on the board, or are they going to play a new habitat? What cards do they likely have in hand? How close are they to completing a full row and earning the bonus points? What do you have in hand that might combine well with what’s on the board? These questions aren’t brain-frying by any means, but an astute player will think through at least some of these things before they play their next bird.
Birds of a Feather is very light. To me, this is a strong point, but I wasn’t expecting a heavy game, either. It’s a simple little family card game. If you’re looking for something a little harder, there are rule variants that increase the depth a bit. You can play with the raptor rule which allows you to play a raptor card that then “scares off” any lingering birds in that habitat. This can be useful if you think that one of your opponents is building up to a big score. It can be a bit mean, though, so I wouldn’t use it with tender-hearted gamers.
For more strategy at the beginning of the game, you can employ a draft to create the starting hands instead of just taking randomly dealt hands. You can also pass a few cards from a randomly dealt hand to the opponent on your left and add the cards you receive to your hand. Both of these variants give you a bit more agency in the cards you have to play with, plus you have opportunity to try to make things harder for an opponent. However, even playing with some/all of these rules, Birds is still a light game. It’s never going to be a brain burner, so if that’s what you want you’ll need to look elsewhere.
The only other potential negative to this game is that it uses scoresheets. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this, but there are some people who get hives at the very thought. Fortunately, the designers have developed a simple app that removes the score sheets from the equation. Of course, there are also people who balk at the idea of cell phones at the gaming table. If you hate score sheets and apps, well, I don’t know what to tell you.
Birds of a Feather is a game I would heartily recommend to anyone looking for a light, simple card game that plays well in the family setting and which can accommodate a broad spectrum of players (in number, age, and gamer ability). It would make a great gift for anyone with an interest in birds, as well. Since Father’s Day is coming up, if you’ve got a birding dad or granddad, here’s your gift idea. You’re welcome.