Birds on a Wire
List Price: $24.95
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You've heard the old saying: "Birds of a feather flock together"? Well, the same is true when they gather on wires -- that is, before they get zapped and fly away!
On their own power lines, players arrange birds into sets of three, trying to match the same color, the same size, all different colors, or all different sizes.
Birds on a Wire includes two sets of rules: one for families with children 7 and up and another for more advanced play.
Players: 2 - 5
Time: 20 - 30 minutes
Ages: 7 and up
Weight: 542 grams
Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. Manufacturer's rules are printed in English. This is a domestic item.
- 63 Bird Tiles
- 4 Zaps
- 1 Bag
- 5 Power Lines
- 1 Sky
- 1 Rule Booklet
Average Rating: 3.2 in 3 reviews
When I sat down to play “Birds on a Wire” with my wife, she reminded me of this old Pixar short called “For the Birds.” The reason that little Pixar movie reminded us of “Birds on a Wire” is that there's a lot of the same stuff going on. You're trying to get similar birds to sit next to each other on your power line card, and if you get the wrong bird on your card, you turn on the juice and zap the birds so they'll fly away.
“Birds on a Wire” is actually a remarkably simple game - in theory. You pull a bird tile out of a cloth bag, and either put it on your power line card (a four by three grid with blank spots for birds) or you put it in the sky. If you don't keep the first bird, you can draw a second, but you have to keep this one. If you fill up a line on the sky card, you can grab all the birds and place one of them, plus you can usually keep one of the zap cards that will let you shoo your birds back into the sky.
The trick comes when you understand the scoring. You win automatically if you get six of the same bird in a flock on your card - but that's pretty hard to do, since there are only seven in the bag. Most of the time, the game is going to end when somebody fills up their power line card. Then you count the smallest group you've got (not counting single birds) and score one point for every bird in that group, and all the groups of the same size. So if you've got three flocks, and two of them have two each, and the third group has three, you count the little flocks and get four points.
The thing is, if you can finish bigger groups, your score will be higher - but it's always a risk, because a group of two will almost always score, but a group of three will only score if you don't have any groups of two. You could go for broke and get groups of four, but through the clever use of zap cards and migrations, other players could actually force you to get extra birds, leaving you eating crow (see what I did there? It's a bird joke).
So another reason that “Birds on a Wire” reminds me of that Pixar mini-movie is that the birds are total jerks. Only instead of laughing at each other, I'm fairly certain they're laughing at me. When I desperately need a little green bird, all I can get is a fat blue bird, and then he has to go in the sky, so my daughter gets to score the zap, and she gets twelve points and I get nothing because all my birds just flew away so I could clear some room for the little green birds. And as soon as they fly away, the birds also poop on my car.
I didn't think I was going to like this game at all. I broke it out because I got a review copy, and it's been sitting around my house for a month, daring me to try it. I needed a game to write about tonight, so I talked my wife and daughter into trying it - and we loved it. And when I say we loved it, I mean we started playing at 9:30 and stopped at 11:00. And it was a school night. This is especially interesting because each game takes about fifteen minutes - which means we played Birds on a Wire six times in a row. I don't play anything six times in a row, unless it's Hangman while we're at Chili's waiting for our artery-clogging burgers to show up.
Now, a word of caution - if you do get a copy of Birds on a Wire, give it a chance. There are some tricks we found out through trial and error, so don't duplicate my mistakes. First, go straight to the advanced rules, because they're actually fun. Also, play it at least twice before you decide if you like it. You'll probably need at least three games to figure out all the intricacies and subtleties of the game, and until you do, your first few games may be a little confusing.
I don't expect that all my friends would like Birds on a Wire. For one thing, nobody dies. For another, it's a fifteen minute game, and essentially an abstract (though the theme works pretty well, as a game about making birds sit on wires). Some people might call it simple filler, but that's not how we play it. When we play Birds on a Wire, it's a whole evening of entertainment, because we play it for a really long time. It's like potato chips - it's awesome once, but you're going to want more. Once you start, you may end up keeping your kids up an hour past when they ought to be going to bed, especially when they have tests in the morning.
I guess in the end, Birds on a Wire has one critical difference between it and the little cartoon “For The Birds” by Pixar Animation Studios - you'll only need to watch For the Birds once, but you're going to want to go back to Birds on a Wire over and over and over (you might say your family will flock to it, but only if you're a hack writer who isn't nearly as funny as he thinks he is).
Plays so fast, you won't be able to jump up for a snack between turns
Seems so simple, and plays so tricky, that Euro-nerds at BGG will call it elegant
Subtle and deep and full of tricky plays
Just enough luck to keep it interesting
More addictive than illegal narcotics (well, probably not, but way better for you)
The game looks really boring - art is flat and cheap-cartoony. Don't let it fool you. It fooled me.
Design by: Carey Grayson
Published by: Gryphon Games
2 – 5 Players, 20 – 30 minutes
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
Over the past few years, Gryphon Games has expanded its stable of games quite rapidly, introducing a line of bookshelf games that are designed primarily to appeal to families and gamers preferring lighter fare. Most of the games in this numbered line are card games, but there are a few exceptions. For example, Roll through the Ages – a finalist for the prestigious Spiel des Jahre – is primarily a dice game. The subject of this review – Birds on a Wire – is primarily a set-collecting tile game.
Designed by Carey Grayson – author of Tumblin' Dice, 24 / 7 and Bridgetown Races – Birds on a Wire is a light family game wherein players attempt to gather birds of like groups on their power lines. While there are two versions of the game – family and advanced – there really isn't anything terribly more advanced or difficult with the advanced game, so it is the version that I tend to prefer.
Players each receive a board depicting two telephone poles with a 4x3 grid stretched along the wires between those two poles. The central "sky" board has space for twelve birds, as well as four "zap" tiles. The 63 tiles depict nine different types of birds. The object is to collect birds in sets, gathering them into like groups on your power lines. Be careful, though, as only the smallest groupings of birds will score points.
Game play is very simple. A player's turn consists of drawing a random tile from the bag and deciding whether to keep the bird, placing it on an open space on his telephone wires, or placing it on the central sky board instead. If the player opts to place the bird on the sky card, he may draw another tile from the bag, but then he must keep this one, placing it on his wires.
When placing a bird onto his wires, the bird must be placed adjacent to another bird of the same color and shape. If there are no identical birds present – or if the player is unable to place the bird adjacent to identical birds – the bird may be placed on any open space. Again, the idea is to gather identical birds into a flock. However, only the smallest groupings score, so players must attempt to manipulate their placements so as to form numerous groupings of identical size.
Migrations are what make the game interesting. When one of the columns or rows on the sky card is filled, those birds will migrate. The player causing the migration takes all birds in that row or column, as well as any zap tile that is present in that row or column. The player must keep and place all birds that match birds currently on his wires. Any remaining birds migrate to the next player, who also must place any birds onto his wire that match birds currently there. This continues until all birds are placed. Any birds unable to be placed must be placed on the active player's power lines, so beware when you cause a migration. Migrations are a clever process wherein the active player can acquire needed birds by forcing a migration. Additionally, an astute player can force an opponent to take an unwanted bird or two.
What about those zap tiles? A player may use a zap tile on any turn. Instead of drawing a bird tile from the bag, the player may place a zap tile on any wire on an opponent's board. All but one bird on that particular wire will flee the suddenly hot wire, following the migration pattern described above. The one remaining bird tile is flipped, the reverse side showing an amusing illustration of the bird delicately balancing on one foot, thereby avoiding the sudden power surge! As with the normal migration process, this is a clever way to acquire a needed bird or break- up an opponent's sets.
The game ends in one of two ways:
1)One player collects a matching set of six birds, thereby winning immediately.
This is VERY difficult as there is only seven of each type.
2) When a player completely fills his board with birds. The game ends immediately and layers tally their scores.
Each player determines their smallest grouping of identical birds. Each set of this size scores one point for each bird in those sets. Additionally, the player earns one point for each bird standing on one leg, so being zapped does have its benefits! Of course, the player with the most points is victorious.
The family game is a bit friendlier, varying from the advanced game in a few aspects. When placing a bird onto a wire, it may be placed anywhere; there is no requirement to place it next to an identical bird. During a migration, a player may elect to keep one bird, but is never forced to do so. Birds continue to migrate in the fashion described above, with all unclaimed birds being placed on the active player's board. Finally, scoring is different, as players score points for sets of three or more birds that have either NO attributes alike, one attribute alike (color or shape) or all attributes alike. So, forming scoring sets is far easier. The advanced version does add more strategic elements to the game, but it is still accessible by everyone but the youngest of players.
Even when playing the advanced game, Birds on a Wire is lighter fare, more suitable for family gaming rather than serious gamers. The decisions to be made are not taxing, and the slight edge of nastiness due to forced migrations and zaps are not too offensive, even for young children. Strategies are few. Place birds so as to give you maximum flexibility and avoid forming large flocks. Secure a zap tile or two and use them at optimum times to gain a needed bird or split an opponent's flock. Trigger a migration to gain a desired bird or force an opponent or two to take unwanted birds. In short, there is not much here to test your thinking skills or give rise to stunningly clever moves.
Birds on a Wire is quite likely the lightest game in the Gryphon bookshelf game series. Families with young children will likely find it to be a pleasant pastime. Serious gamers, however, will likely take flight quickly.
I concede that my first few plays of this game were somewhat disappointing. The theme sounded novel enough: based on the Pixar short "For the Birds", players draw and place bird tiles on their boards, trying to create point-scoring sets. The game comes with two sets of rules, and our first experience with the Family Game rules didn't quite live up to expectations.
But that all changed when we played with the Advanced Game rules. Quick game play allowed for playing a series of games in one sitting, and choices became more tense and interesting. There's also some interesting and well-themed twists revolving around the mechanics of Zapping and Migration. I think the game has been hurt somewhat by people starting with the Family Game rules, and finding the experience a bit "meh". Play with the Advanced Game rules folks - and trust me, they're not really that "Advanced"!
It's not the most outstanding game in the Gryphon Games bookshelf series by any means, but I'll still pull it out from time to time. Not for everyone though, and maybe more suited for families than die-hard gamers. In short, this is a game with a cute "birdy" theme and components, and is a reasonable diversion when played quickly with the Advanced Game rules.