Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Wingspan is the digital adaptation of the popular boardgame that takes a bit of time to learn the ins and outs of, but once you do get the hang of its various rules, proves to be well worth the effort. The visuals and sound are charming, the gameplay is surprisingly deep and far too often I found myself taking that ‘Just one more game’ approach that kept me up quite multiple nights in a row.
Boardgames brought to PC and console are hardly new, but it feels as though developers have been getting better and better at it over the last couple of years. Wingspan is one such example of how a surprisingly deep card game can still translate well to the digital medium. This is ably assisted by a fantastic tutorial. I am no stranger to card games, but Wingspan took me a little bit of time to fully wrap my head around. The systems in place are unique, but also quite well-balanced once you understand how they work with one another.
For those unfamiliar with the premise, my quick rundown here will likely not do Wingspan’s depth any true justice, but I’ll give it a go. Essentially, Wingspan is all about playing birds. This is a card game with resource management at its heart. So when you first play, you pick from a handful of random bird cards, objective cards and food resources. Food is used to summon most birds (there are a few exceptions that don’t require a food cost). There are three rows where you can play birds, each one a different habitat. The top habitat is woods, the second fields and the bottom watery. This is important because the first bird you play in each habitat has the least amount of cost – you have to pay food and nothing more. However, as you add additional birds, you have to use another resource to play them: eggs. As you play more birds, the cost in eggs go up. However, as you play more birds, what each habitat provides also goes up.
Not only does each of the three habitats provide different places where you can play birds (some birds can only be played on a particular type of habitat. Other birds can be played on two or even all three habitats), but each one provides a different kind of resource. When you play the forest habitat, you draw food for summoning birds. When you play the middle habitat, you gain eggs to place on your birds. Lastly the water habitat is how you go about drawing new bird cards. You can however, only play a power from a single habitat or cast a single bird (in most instances) in a single turn. It is a pretty dense game overall, and I haven’t even touched on other aspects such as the four different rounds (each comprised of multiple turns) and their related, randomized goals, the scoring system or even how laying eggs on birds works. Suffice to say, Wingspan is a dense game with far greater depth than I would have guessed when learning about its premise.
The aforementioned tutorial is a big help however, in learning the basics. And like many boardgames, I went into my first couple of games thinking I knew what I was doing, but in reality was simply learning more nuance about the various systems and mechanics. The AI is pretty sharp here as well. Even on easiest setting, I found the 1-on-1 matches to be pretty challenging. You can have multiple live and computer players in a game. To be fair, I found the larger games of five players to be more fun, even with just four AI opponents, because the gameplay was considerably more unpredictable. If there’s a gripe here, it’s that the turns do feel just a bit bogged down when you start adding more players (especially if they’re people versus AI, but both situations slow the proceedings).
In terms of the presentation, the word ‘lovely’ comes to mind when I think about Wingspan. The visuals have a nicely hand-drawn quality to them, and the animated birds on the cards are certainly a nice touch you wouldn’t see in the actual boardgame. The music is slow, soft and fits the mood of trying to build you preserve as well. Summoning a bird gives you a brief audio clip giving you some information about it, and often leads to a series of quick, realistic bird chirping sounds. At least, my cats thought they were realistic enough. One of my kittens was perched on my lap snuggling as I played, and about two out of every three bird summonings caused her to poke her head up and look around with wide-eyed curiosity. It cracked me up, to say the least.
Wingspan is an interesting game. There is a good deal of strategy to it, and a lot of depth to the gameplay. It is certainly a more relaxing, less directly competitive type of game than many of them out there, making it one I particularly enjoy in the evenings when I am trying to wind down. Being based on a boardgame, there is an element of random luck in there that can subvert even the best strategies, but careful planning can certainly help pave the path to a win. All in all, Wingspan is a charming game that strategy fans should enjoy.Score: 8 / 10