Rob: Tuck in your tail feathers and stretch out your wings, because today we’re… doing… I dunno, something bird-related I guess. No, wait, I remember now! We’re checking out Flocks & Flyways: “A strategic game of survival and migration” from Shark & Shark Games and designers Matthew Hickman and Stephanie Palmero.
[Note: I’ve known Stephanie for several years via work and I did back this game on Kickstarter.]
Flocks & Flyways is a card game where two to four players collect sets of birds, play groups (“flocks,” if you will) of matching birds together to start a migration, then collect points as their
tiny winged armies lay waste to I mean as their birds reach their destination. It all comes in a nice little package that, admittedly, drives me a little nuts due to the conflicting orientations on the front of the box (horizontal) versus the back (vertical). Other than that the components are fairly nice, with some pleasant artwork and even a Monty Python joke tossed in for good measure. I do wish the imagery for the different flyways was a little more distinct and that the colors used to show which flyways a bird’s card can use were a bit more vibrant, though. As-is they’re kind of blah; especially the grayed-out areas. Also the orange and yellow player cards look really similar.
First, everyone takes turns drawing either two bird cards or one action card from the offer (which is refilled after each player chooses their cards, of course). The number of matching cards needed to complete a flock is displayed in the bird silhouette icon along the left side of each card, while the icon in the top-left shows which of the four flyways they can use for travel along with how many turns it’ll take for them to finish the trip. Every turn spent in a flyway earns a migration (i.e. point) token, and all the tokens on a flock are collected by their owner once a migration ends.
Of course things can’t just be that simple. A big part of Flocks & Flyways’ strategy comes from the limitation of only having four different flyways to place flocks into. If a flyway is already occupied you won’t be able to play a flock to it, but certain action cards can push flocks around so that you can make room for your own. Then you have other action cards that allow you to increase the size of a flock for more points, speed up a migration, and so on. It’s fairly simple and straightforward in concept, but you do need to put some thought into your actions as longer migrations earn more points but also take more time to cash in. Once the token pool is empty everyone gathers up whatever might be sitting on their flocks, counts out their totals, and the player with the most points wins.
In all honesty, Flocks & Flyways didn’t gel with me at first. Even when playing with two people it seemed a bit too likely to get locked out of placing any flocks because of those flyway limitations. I was actually dreading playing with a full compliment of four players for that same reason. However it turns out we got one crucial part of the turn order wrong on that first game, which made a huge difference. We thought it went “pick cards, play flocks, play actions, pass to next player” when in reality everyone takes a turn picking cards first and then everyone takes a turn playing actions. It’s a small adjustment but it had a significant impact on the flow of the game, which resulted in everything making more sense and a much smaller gap between scores at the end.
This tiny misunderstanding on my part ended up completely changing my opinion on Flocks & Flyways. Once we had a proper rhythm down it ended up being quite a bit of lighthearted, low-impact fun. Even with four players. Especially with four players. So much so that the next day I went to a craft store and purchased more glass tokens to use for migration points – so that we could play an even longer game if we wanted to.
I can say without hesitation that Flocks & Flyways is the best card game about bird migrations I’ve ever played – probably because it’s the only card game about bird migrations I’ve ever played – but it’s also a fun, light game about set collection that’s easy to enjoy. Whether it’s because of the unconventional theme or the potential as a filler/ice breaker game, Flocks & Flyways is definitely worth a look.
If Flocks & Flyways is the word (Get it? Because “birds!”), you can order a copy directly from the Shark & Shark website.