Backyard Birding is designed to be picked up and played quickly and easily. Once you learn the rules, a single game should take about 15 to 20 minutes to play through.
Check out our two videos below featuring game designer and project lead Jeff Morgenroth. In the first one, Jeff walks through the rules and mechanics of the game, offering explanations paired with a few sample hands of gameplay. In the second, Jeff plays through the game with an opponent to demonstrate the game in real time.
Backyard Birding - How to Play
Backyard Birding - Demo Gameplay
If text is more your style, read on for a visual walkthrough of a single round of play.
Step 1: Sort and Shuffle the Cards
First, sort and shuffle the decks into their three types: Season, Bird, and Backyard. The Bird and Backyard decks should be placed face down next to each other in the center of the play area, so all players can have easy access to them.
Step 2: Pick a Season Card
Each game starts with one player choosing one of the four Season cards. The season tells you how many points each bird will be worth during the game. Birds that are in-season are worth the most points because they are more likely to visit your backyard. Keep in mind that points distribution is unique for each Season. This changes the priority of which birds you’ll want to attract most with each game.
Each bird card has an icon in the upper right corner telling the players in which season it's worth the most. For example, The American Wigeon below is worth the most in Autumn because it carries the icon for Autumn. We did our best to assign each bird with a season as accurately as possible so the game could help players learn what birds are most likely to be seen in the real world during a given time of year.
Some birds, such as the Anna's Hummingbird below, are residents of the Pacific Northwest year round and are marked with a House icon. These resident birds are worth the same no matter the season.
Step 3: Draw Backyard Cards
At the beginning of a new game, each player is dealt three Backyard cards, face down. These are kept in each player's hand, out of view of the other players. These cards will form each player's Backyard, which is how players will attract birds.
Step 4: Build the Flock
The first step of each turn is to reveal two Bird cards from the bird deck and place them face up for all players to see. This is the Flock and serves as the collection of birds available for players to attract. As play progresses, each player will reveal two Bird cards in the same way, thereby increasing the size of the Flock. So long as a bird remains in play, any player may attempt to attract them. Next, the player whose turn it is draws two Backyard cards into their hand, thereby keeping their supply of Backyard cards replenished.
Step 5: Build Your Backyard
Each turn you must play two Backyard cards by choosing them from your hand and placing them face up in front of you for all to see. These revealed cards become your Backyard.
Here's where the strategy of the game comes in. You'll want to pay attention to the birds revealed into the Flock and see what Backyard cards of yours you'll want to play to make your Backyard most attractive to the birds in the Flock. This will make attracting birds in the next step more likely!
You’ll always get more Backyard cards throughout play, and there’s no limit to the amount of cards that can be put into your Backyard.
Step 6: Attract a Bird
Pick a bird in the flock to attract and announce it so the other players know which one you're going after. You can only attract a bird if you have at least one card in your Backyard with an icon matching those on the Bird card. Each bird wants food and habitat; if you have both, the bird will be easier to attract. Remember: going after in-season birds will get you the most points.
In the scenario below, the Golden-crowned Sparrow is the best bird to go after since you have at least one of the backyard cards it needs (Seeds) and it's worth more than the Great Blue Heron. This is because the White-crowned Sparrow is a Winter bird and the Season card is Autumn, which means all Winter birds are worth three points. The Great Blue Heron would only be worth two points in this scenario.
Then—roll the dice! The reference card included with the game will tell you what number you need, based on how many Backyard cards you have that the bird requires. If you succeed, you collect the bird by removing it from the Flock and placing it in a pile near your Backyard. Birds you attract will be counted up for points at the end of the game. In the scenario below, you would need a dice roll of four or better to attract the Golden-crowned Sparrow, since you only have one Backyard card it needs.
A successful roll also means you discard all cards the cards you used to attract the bird. In this example, you'd discard your Seeds card if you successfully rolled for the Golden-crowned Sparrow. If you unsuccessfully roll, you neither attract the target bird nor have to discard any Backyard cards.
Step 7: Fly Away!
Just like in real life, birds in Backyard Birding have a way of flying away after a while. At the end of each turn, roll the dice. Any bird in the flock with a Takes Flight number that matches your result is discarded. Look to the bottom of each each Bird card to see what rolled number would cause it to fly away. These Bird cards would be discarded. After this Flight roll is resolved, the next player takes their turn.
Ending the Game and Scoring
Play continues until there are no more Bird cards (a total of 23 player turns). Once the last bird is collected or flies away, it’s time to score the game.
Check the Season icon for each bird in your collection. Each bird gives you points based on the values shown on the Season card. The player with the most points is the winner.