An Interview With Designer Elizabeth Hargrave

Wingspan was born and tested in College Park.

Elizabeth Hargrave came up with the idea of developing a board game based on her time birding in places like Lake Artemesia.

But when it came time to test it, she headed to nearby Board and Brew, a coffee shop where customers can play a variety of board games.

“Wingspan wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for countless hours in the back corner of the Board and Brew,” she told the Hyattsville Wire.

Hargrove, who lives in Silver Spring, spoke recently with the Hyattsville Wire about how she developed Wingspan.

How did you first come across the idea of making your own board game? 

I really enjoy board games and had been playing since 2005. About five years ago I was getting increasingly dissatisfied with the themes that board games were based on.

A lot of American games were coming out with zombies and other horror themes that don’t appeal to me, and a lot of European games had these dry, vaguely historical themes around trading goods and building castles.

I realized if I wanted a game to be about something I was actually interested in, I might have to make it myself. 

How hard was it to create a game? Which part took the most time?

I think most people don’t give a thought to how much work goes into making a game. In a sense you shouldn’t think about it, because a good game will come across as effortless. But designing a game is a long, iterative process.

I made something, I played it, I tried some things to make it better, I played it again. Repeat that literally hundreds of times, over several years.

There was a lot of work that went into the basic structure of the Wingspan, refining it so all the pieces work seamlessly together and present players with interesting decisions. And, once the structure was set, a lot of work went into developing the deck of 170 bird cards.

Did you test the game with friends?

Yes, but I quickly learned I couldn’t just rely on friends to test it enough to really make it a good game. Luckily there are quite a few game designers in the D.C.-Baltimore region so it’s possible to find people to trade playtests with rather than burning my friends out.

Once a month there’s an event at the Board and Brew in College Park that’s open to the public, called Break My Game. People come out and play unpublished games with the designers.  And I playtest almost weekly with Matthew O’Malley, who has several published games. 

Wingspan wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for countless hours in the back corner of the Board and Brew and at Matthew’s dining room table! There is no other way to refine a game other than getting it to the table and playing it. 

What are your favorite spots to go birding along the Route 1 corridor?

Lake Artemesia is a gem. In the winter, you get a great variety of duck species, and the layout of the lake makes them easy to see. And almost every time I go I see wood ducks and a bald eagle, which are both just stunning birds.

On the other end of the corridor, if you’ll let me stray a little further south than Brentwood, I also really like birding at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and the trails along the Anacostia there. Especially when the lotuses are in bloom!

Do you have any tips for amateur birders just starting out?

Get the best pair of binoculars you can for under $100 and just start looking. You can learn a good set of birds in your backyard, and once you have those down everything gets easier because you have some birds to compare things to. 

Audubon and Merlin are both excellent free apps that you can get for bird ID, but I still find a hard copy of Sibley’s bird guide helpful to page through.

I also love keeping track of all the birds I see in the eBird app. It’s just fun to look at your list and to be able to know, for example, that I’ve seen 78 bird species so far this year in Prince George’s County.

But best is to get out with more experienced birders who can help you along. It’s a lot easier than having to look every single bird up!  Prince George’s Audubon Society has regular outings. 

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