Words by David C. Obenour
Forest Spirits are playful and fickle creatures. Involving themselves in everyday aspects of the forest’s life, they play favorites only to turn around and whisper secrets to those they had just ignored.
In Birdie Fight players take on the role of these mischievous woodland sprites, as they direct their favorite groups of birds to the forest’s many stashes of berries. Taking turns, players play a card from their hand into an empty grid. When a row or column is complete, it’s berry is awarded to the loudest birds. With one card left over to represent their favorite birds, players then score the collected berry points – unless the other players saved a louder bird of that color!
Designed by Japanese game designer Yuo with wonderful illustrations from Kotori Neiko, Daily Magic Games has reissued the game with English rules and under the new name of Songbirds.
Off Shelf: While designing and play-testing Songbirds, what were the parts of play or strategy that got you really excited about the game?
Yuo: I plan which card to leave at the end, that is, which color is my score, but the thinking is changed frequently by the board’s situation. So I say every time I put out a card, “The age is blue!”, “No no no, it’s red!”, I like such jokes. I think that active conversation between players is the most important point in analog games.
OS: I’m always curious when it comes to puzzley games, did the game mechanics or did the theme of Songbirds fighting over forest berries come to you first?
Y: I originally intended to create a trick-taking game. It is trick taking of the bird, a feeble joke with “Trick” and “Tori,” which is bird in Japanese. So the theme was decided from a beginning.
However I was unwilling to make a general trick taking, so I searched for a different kind of trick taking. In particular, I searched for something that shows the difference of the play scene and I found Origin of Failing Water by Ryokusuitei Monogatari. I was impressed by that the trick was decided after all cards had been played, and decided to adopt that policy.
OS: How did you connect with Songbirds illustrator Kotori Neiko?
Y: When I lamented that I wanted a friend on Twitter, she raised her hand. The first collaboration was at the time of Tarot Storia in 2015. Because she is good at bird paintings, I was thinking of making a bird game.
OS: Were you involved with her process in making art for the game? Did you have any guidance or direction that you gave?
Y: The kind of bird was decided by me. Since it is better to match the image of the numbers and the strength, I suggested to increase the number of birds as the numbers increased. It is her idea that a bird grows up with the strength number. What she did was great! It was more than expected.
OS: Can you tell us about the name change from Birdie Fight to Songbirds for the English release?
Y: I liked the nuances of fighting, but the publisher instructed that it would be better to bring the lovely to the front. Exactly. I agreed.
OS: Speaking of the lovely, there are obvious classic examples like Tokaido, but I’ve noticed a growing number of very pleasant or relaxed feeling games being published currently. What do you find appealing about games like this? Do you think they serve any particular role for the players?
Y: I feel that relaxing visual games are suitable for families and being out in public places. In addition, it is well suited for posting on social media. I guess it’s similar to putting photos of travel destinations.
OS: What do you see as the advantages of a shorter game?
Y: It is easy to make at a lower cost and a relatively easier challenge. It can make an idea come to shape quickly. It is of course still important to think about a game for a long time, but it is also difficult to keep running long distances. I think that it is better to challenge a large-scale game according to a career as a game designer. If a person has confidence, he may try from the beginning, but this has been my approach.
OS: Songbirds is an enjoyable game at 2 and 3 players, but a lot of it’s twists and turns come out with 4 players. Was adding in the Special Cards (Crow, Hawk, Hummingbird and Mockingbird) a matter of play-testing and balancing?
Y: Special cards were actually the publisher’s ideas. The rule changed because the original rules for an Owl was too powerful. However, I also think that the rules for special cards are complicated. At the time, I did not get a good balance adjustment plan for the 4 players. I think it’s a good idea to bring in the missing 1 card at the case of 4 players from outside the play card and put it first. However, if I put emphasis on simplicity, it might have been better to design a card of 0, not any color. Then let the start player decide the position to put it, not limited to the center. There are lots of different ways to look at it even still.
OS: Do you think Songbirds is optimally played with 4 players?
Y: As the number of player increases, it becomes more uncontrollable. The situation changes too much in one round. Recently, I feel that it is better to make a doubles game for 4 players.