Originally released under the name of Birdie Fight in Japan in 2016, today I am looking at the card game Songbirds. When I first saw Songbirds the thing that stood out was the amazing artwork. Looking into the game some more it looked like an interesting concept of an area control game mixed with a secret role mechanic all wrapped up into a quick card game. I was curious on how these different mechanics would work together. In the end Songbirds does a great job balancing accessibility with strategy to create a surprisingly enjoyable filler card game.
We would like to thank Daily Magic Games for the review copy of Songbirds used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
How to Play Songbirds
- Shuffle the berry tokens (face down). Randomly place five tokens along the top of the play area and five down the left side of the play area. Once all of the berry tokens are placed they are flipped over so you can see the numbers.
- Place the two score cards (featuring two birds) above the berry tokens.
- Choose whether you are going to use the Owl card. If you are using it, it will be shuffled with the rest of the bird cards. If not it will be placed back into the box.
- If you are playing with four players place the crow card in the middle of the forest. You can place either side face up. If you are playing with two or three players the crow card is not used in the game. Instead you will shuffle the bird cards and randomly place one of them in the center of the board.
- Once the bird cards have been shuffled deal out the cards depending on the number of players. All extra cards are not used in this round.
- 2 players: 13 cards each
- 3 players: 9 cards each
- 4 players: 7 cards each
- The last player to win a game will start the game.
Playing the Game
On a player’s turn they will place one of their cards into the forest. When placing a card a player can only place a card in a spot next to another card that has already been played.
Each player will end up playing all but one of their cards. The card left in a player’s hand at the end of the round is the color that they will score points for.
If the players choose to keep the Owl card in the game, it has a special ability when it is played. When a player plays the Owl card they place it on any space already occupied by a bird. The bird that previously occupied that space then is moved to a different space in the forest. The Owl doesn’t count for any of the colors at the end of the round and is worth zero points if you keep it as your last card.
Players will keep taking turns adding one card at a time to the forest until the 5 x 5 forest is completely filled. When the forest is filled the round is finished and you move onto scoring.
In the scoring phase you will look at each column and row separately. You will add up the total for each color in the row/column. The color with the highest total wins the row/column and receives the corresponding berry token.
If there is a tie for the strongest color in a row/column, the two tied colors cancel each other out and the next strongest color will receive the berry token. If all of the colors end up being canceled out, the berry token is not rewarded to any of the colors.
If you are playing the four player game there is an additional step to the scoring phase. Depending on which side of the crow card you used, some of the colors will receive negative points. Negative points will be given to the strongest color in certain directions of the crow card dependent on what side you chose. If you use the side featuring four numbers; the strongest color above the crow will lose two points, to the right will lose four points, below will lose five points, and to the left will lose three points.
If you are using the crow card with only two numbers, the strongest color above and to the right of the crow as well as the strongest color below and to the left will lose four points.
Above and to the right of the crow has nine for white, five for red and one for green. White will lose the four points. In the bottom left green has nine, white has seven and red has four. Green will receive the negative four points.When a color wins a berry token, the berry token is placed on the corresponding score card so it is easier to calculate the total for each color. Each player will then reveal the card left in their hand. Each player will score points equal to the value of the card they kept along with the number of points that the card’s color scored in the round.
If you have only played one round, set up the game for another round. The game ends after you have completed the second round.
End of Game
Once two rounds have been played players compare the number of points that they have scored. The player who scored the most points wins the game.
My Thoughts on Songbirds
If you are looking for a filler game or a game for people that don’t play a lot of board/card games I think Songbirds may be the game for you. This is due to the game being pretty straightforward since it only has a couple mechanics that are pretty easy to explain. I think you should be able to explain the game to new players within a couple minutes. In addition to being quick to pick up it also plays pretty quickly. I would say most rounds should only take 10-15 minutes unless one of the players seriously suffer from analysis paralysis.
While Songbirds is pretty simple, that does not mean that the game lacks strategy. Songbirds is the perfect example of the type of games that I enjoy most. It might not have as much strategy as some other games but it is the perfect blend of strategy and accessibility. The game is simple enough that everyone can play it but also has enough strategy to keep everyone interested many games later.
Most of the strategy in Songbirds comes from choosing a color. Since you will only score points from the color you choose, this decision will ultimately determine how well you do in the game. At the beginning of the game you might have an inclination of what color you are going to choose but you have to be flexible and willing to change your color at any moment. If you are not flexible you are going to have to hope that the other players play cards in a way that helps out your color or you otherwise are going to be in trouble. If you are flexible though you can roll with the punches more and adapt to what the other players are doing.
Being flexible in Songbirds is key so I think you should try to keep your options open for as long as possible. I personally would recommend keeping at least three colors available for most of the round because it will give you the flexibility to change your color choice if the other players ruin the value of your chosen color too much. If you narrow your color choice too quickly, the other players could mess with those colors and there is nothing you can do about it. Towards the end of a round you are going to have to eventually commit to a color but the longer you can hold off on that decision the more options you have in the game.
Other than choosing your color the next biggest decision in the game is deciding whether you want to keep or play your high value cards. Songbirds actually has an interesting dilemma when it comes to this decision. Keeping a high value card gives you more guaranteed points at the end of a round. This is especially helpful if you and another player end up choosing the same color as you likely will score more points than them in the round. On the other hand though if you keep a high value card you can’t use that number to help you score more points for your color. Keeping one of the highest valued cards of a color likely means that you might lose out on a berry the color otherwise could have gotten. Whether you choose to keep a high or low card can be crucial in determining who will score the most points in a round.
Heading into the game I didn’t know whether it was going to be better to keep a low or high card. While I can see the benefits of both options, I think it will usually be better to keep the higher card. The reason that I think it is better keeping the higher card is that in a lot of cases it is going to score you more points. While I can see the merits of keeping a low card, to fully benefit from it you have to choose a color that none of the other players choose. Otherwise if you keep a low card of a color and another player keeps a higher card of that same color they are guaranteed to score more points than you. By playing your higher valued card you are helping out the other player.
If you are in a situation where you know that you are the only player that still holds cards of a color though it could make a lot of sense playing the higher card. If you can use the card to win a berry worth more than the card you played, you will gain more points by playing it. The problem is you likely won’t know this until the very end of a round which means you likely will have to commit to a color early and hope no other players also keep the color.
While playing Songbirds the game kind of plays differently at the beginning and end of a round. In the early game players are quicker to make moves as it is too early to truly know how any placement is going to impact the game. You should make moves towards a specific goal but there is no way you are going to know how the round is ultimately going to end. There really is no reason to spend too much time on any card placement since so many things are going to change before the end of the round. For your last couple of turns though things are going to be much different. There is actually a lot to analyze before placing your last two or three cards. You have to calculate which color is winning each row/column and how the cards in your hand can change it. You need to figure out which of your cards is currently worth the most points and how the other cards you play will impact the points of each color. This part of the game actually feels kind of “mathy”. I actually like this part of the game but it might turn off some people. For people that suffer from analysis paralysis, the last couple of turns could take quite a while.
Songbirds has two different special cards and I have mixed feelings about them.
First comes the crow card which is officially only used in the four player game. The crow card is always placed in the middle of the board and it adds an interesting twist to the game. Basically the crow card gives players the opportunity to hurt colors that they don’t intend on picking. If you have a high value card for a color you don’t plan on keeping, you can place it in one of the sections to score that color negative points. I was actually surprised by how much strategy this card added to the game as players fight over giving the negative points to colors they don’t plan on keeping. This is why I don’t understand why the card is only used in four player games. I am actually curious on how it would work in the two and three player game.
On the other hand I don’t particularly care for the Owl card. I like the card’s potential but it ends up being way too powerful. The ability to move a card to a different part of the board can have a huge impact on the game. You can easily use the ability to change which color wins a row/column. If you leave the owl until the end of a round this could totally change how much each color scores. I like that the card adds quite a bit of strategy to the game but it is overpowered. The player who gets dealt the card gets huge advantage in the game since they likely will be able to use it to get at least one more berry token. If all of the players could have one it wouldn’t be so bad but that would lead to a chaotic mess at the end of the game. I personally don’t plan on using the Owl card in future games of Songbirds.
I had a lot of fun playing Songbirds and I think most people will also enjoy the game. The game is not quite perfect though as it has a couple problems.
I would say that the biggest problem that I had with Songbirds is that it is one of those games where you don’t have a ton of control over your fate in the game. You can obviously make bad moves that will hurt you but none of the players have enough control in the game to win by themselves. Unless you are only playing with two players you are going to have to rely on the other players making moves that help you out. If the other players don’t end up being cooperative, there really isn’t much you can do to improve your odds in the game. This reliance on the other players adds more luck to the game than I was expecting. There is quite a bit of strategy in the game but you are going to need luck on your side to win.
I think this lack of control somewhat comes from the number of players. I ended up playing the game with four players. While the game plays fine with four players I would probably recommend playing with less players. I think the game will be better with less players because each player will then have more control over the game since each player will play more of the cards. That likely would lead to less luck and more strategy in the game as you don’t have to rely on other players making moves beneficial to you. With four players it is also quite likely that at least two of the players will end up choosing the same color. In this situation the player who chooses to keep the lower value card will automatically receive less points in the round.
While it is a small complaint, I don’t know if I totally agree with only playing two rounds. Personally I would recommend playing as many rounds as there are players. I am guessing that the game only has you playing two rounds in order to shorten the game. I think playing more rounds is better for a couple reasons though. If you play as many rounds as there are players each player will get to start one round and end another round. There are some benefits to playing first and last and I think it would be best to let all of the players have the same opportunity.
The other reason I prefer more rounds is that it gives players more opportunities to distance themselves from other players. With only two rounds it is hard to really distance yourself from the other players. For example another player and I ended choosing the same color in both rounds. Since that player kept a higher card then I did in the first round, I had no chance at winning the game once we both choose the same color in the second round. We ended up as first and second which means the other player only beat me because they kept a higher valued card in the first round. While we could have ended up choosing the same color in additional rounds, the odds would have dropped significantly.
I usually wouldn’t have a lot to say about the components for a game like Songbirds. The game only comes with cards and some tokens after all. I really have to commend the game’s components though due to the game’s artwork. Simply put the game’s artwork is beautiful. The artwork does a fantastic job supporting the game’s laid back feel. The bird’s are all really cute and the artwork has a lot of neat little details. Outside of the artwork the cards themselves are of a high quality. The only small complaint I have with the components is that the berry tokens could have done a better job distinguishing between the 6’s and 9’s.
Should You Buy Songbirds?
Overall I really enjoyed Songbirds. The game does a really good job mixing an accessible game with a surprising amount of strategy. You can learn the game in minutes but it is a game that will take a long time to master. There is actually a lot to think about with regards to what card you want to play and where you want to play it. Songbirds is not going to be the type of game that is going to be for everyone but I had a lot of fun with it. The biggest complaint that I have for Songbirds is the fact that you don’t have as much control in the game as I would have liked. This leads to the game relying more on luck than I would have preferred. Playing with less players should reduce this though.
If the game’s concept doesn’t really appeal to you I don’t think Songbirds is going to be the game for you. If you are intrigued by the game’s concept though I think you will enjoy Songbirds quite a bit and I would recommend you pick it up.
The Kickstarter campaign for Songbirds has begun and runs until April 3rd, 2018. If you would like to check out the Kickstarter page you can find it here.