Wingspan was originally an award-winning board game designed by Elizabeth Hargrave and published by Stonemaier Games. The digital version extends its feathered nature into video game form, complete with AI opponents, hot-seat play, and online multiplayer.
You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel.
In Wingspan, you are competing with other players to create the most prestigious avian conservation by having the most victory points at the end of the game. There’s a variety of ways to earn points, such as adding birds to various habitats and completing goals.
I’ve never played the board game version of Wingspan, so I wasn’t just finding my wings in the new European Expansion, but the entire game
Wingspan was an interesting experience for me because I largely blew off the physical version of the game. I assumed that one of the best-selling family games was going to be far too lightweight for my tastes, and I never bothered to look beyond that. As it turns out, you can’t always judge a bird by its feathers.
Don’t get me wrong, Wingspan is probably one of the simplest board games I’ve played, digital or otherwise, but it’s an edge case where there’s actually a great deal of depth underneath its simplicity.
|Gideon’s Bias||Wingspan Digital Edition Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: Monster Couch and Stonemaier Games|
|Hours Played: 10+||Type: Full Release (New Expansion)|
|Reviewed On: PC||Platforms: PC, Switch, Mobile, and Xbox Platforms|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Digital Board Game|
|Mode Played: Hard||Price: $19.99 (European Expansion $8.99)|
On the surface, it may look like a game about feeding birds, but the reality is that Wingspan is a game about combos and building a point engine capable of winning you the game. It’s the sheer number of ways you can accomplish this that makes Wingspan the cock of the walk.
You have three habitats where birds can be played, and some birds can only be placed in specific habitats. To play a bird you must pay its cost in food. The kicker is, that every habitat has its own action. The forest allows you to take food from the bird feeder, the grasslands allow you to lay eggs, and the wetlands allow you to draw cards.
Each bird you place in a given habitat strengthens that habitats action, for example, if no birds are in the forest, you may choose one food from the bird feeder, with one bird you choose a food and may discard a card to choose another food, with two birds you simply choose two food, etc. The first bird in every habitat doesn’t cost an egg, but future birds in the same habitat will.
The more you focus on a single habitat, the stronger that action becomes, and it’s rare that you can focus on all three of them. While birds have a point value, they also have numerous abilities. Some are triggered when you play them, others are triggered when another player takes specific actions but most importantly, most of the birds activate when YOU take the habitat action that they are placed in.
This means many of the choices you make are about enhancing the strength of your three core actions. How you decide to go about doing that heavily depends on the point strategy you decide to pursue.
There are several ways to earn points in Wingspan. Every bird has a point value, eggs leftover at the end of the game are worth 1 point each, and special mechanics such as tucking cards or caching food grant points.
You also have personal goals that grant points if they are fulfilled by the end of the game, such as a certain number of birds in your habitats that have colors in their name. But there are also end-of-round objectives that players can compete over.
One round might award varying amounts of points to players who have the most birds in the wetlands, for example. A less competitive variant exists that simply earns you points without competing with the other players to reach the goal.
When combined with the wide variety of birds and their powers, this lends you an incredible amount of freedom about how you build your tableau of birds. You could go with an egg-focused strategy, one that tucks cards behind birds for extra points, and dozens of other strategies that you can mix and match.
The birds that are available to draw are always random, so you have to remain flexible in your pursuit, and that lends the game a great deal of replay value. This isn’t a game where you can find a solvable strategy to win every time, because what you have access to is different in every game.
The breadth of its possibilities extends a great deal past its simplistic nature. It’s approachable by nearly everyone but leaves room for extensive mastery, and that’s seldom seen in a board game lauded as a family title. I definitely understand where Wingspan’s success came from.
What I like
Wingspan uses the digital medium well
Since Wingspan is a digital port of a physical board game, the original game sets the foundation, but its digital implementation can make or break it. In this case, Wingspan is a great adaption. The UI is clean and responsive, the birds have little animations within the cards that look fantastic, and it features a great tutorial that walks you through how to play the game.
Beyond that, one of the biggest strengths a digital adaptation can have over the physical game is the ability to play alone. While Wingspan features both local and online multiplayer, you can also play against several difficulties of AI that play well enough to give you a challenge, and that’s fantastic.
Wingspan has plenty of variability
While Wingspan already featured numerous types of bird cards, the European expansion grows that flock by a significant amount, which increases the overall variety of the game. The sheer number of combinations you can build is pretty staggering, and the way that those combos meld with the ever-increasing power of your habitats is simply brilliant.
On a personal level, I enjoy the core gameplay far more than I was expecting. It’s legitimately fun to puzzle out what birds to play and where in order to maximize the strength of your combos. All while keeping in mind your personal and end-of-round goals.
What I don’t like
Wingspan is largely multiplayer solitaire
There is some slight interaction between players. You choose from the same pool of cards, and the same bird feeder, for example. You also compete for end-of-round point bonuses. But for the most part, the experience between you and other players is disconnected.
There may be times when I occasionally look at another player’s tableau, but it’s rare. I spent most games having no idea what birds they were even playing because it didn’t matter. You remain pretty focused on your own play area, and your win or loss will be dictated solely by who played their own solo game better. I’m not the biggest fan of this style of play when it comes to board games, digital or otherwise.
The online multiplayer is nearly unplayable
While you can play online with matchmaking, I found the experience to be pretty much unusable. Turn timers are set to five minutes which is far too much time. One advantage a digital adaption can have is how much it speeds up the gameplay compared to the physical version. But with that much leeway, it only takes one problematic player to grind the game to a halt, even halfway through a game in progress.
Wingspan is a great digital adaption with a nice onboarding tutorial and cute animations for the already gorgeous artwork. The ability to play against AI opponents or the solo automa from the board game is going to be worth the price of admission alone for any fans of the physical game.
A few other small things do ruffle my feathers, such as how poorly explained the aforementioned automa is. As a board game player that has previous experience with Stonemaier games, I was able to puzzle out how it works. But, any non-board gamer is going to be utterly lost. However, I love that the option to play the automa is there alongside traditional AI opponents.
The game itself is a lovely combo-focused card game, and the European Expansion greatly expands the variety of birds. It’s simple to learn but offers a surprising amount of depth under its wings.
Wingspan already rules the roost when it comes to family games. It carries that same talon sharp gameplay into digital form remarkably well, and with the addition of AI and local play, it might just swoop into the hearts of bird lovers everywhere.
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Pick Up Wingspan from These Stores
- Steam Store
- Nintendo Store
- Microsoft Store
- Humble Bundle (Affiliate Link)
- A great card game about building a tableau of combos
- The AI and Automa make the digital adaption great for people who want to play solo
- Nice animations for an already gorgeous game
- The European Expansion greatly increases the variety of bird cards
- An informative tutorial makes the game easy to learn
- Difficulty settings present
- The automa won’t make sense to non-board-gamers
- The five-minute turn timer makes the online multiplayer hard to stomach
- The lack of player interaction is a bit of a bummer