In Wingspan, you are a birder wishing to attract and collect birds into your ecosystem consisting of four different habitats. The game is what more experienced board game fans apparently call an ‘engine building’ game: in it, players construct and hone a system or ‘engine’ specific to it. When it comes to Wingspan, that engine is the biodiversity of your little ecosystem. While accurate, this description is also merely an adorable little story hiding underneath it complex strategy, near-countless amounts of rules and plenty of challenge. My own experience in board games – consisting of children’s games and Monopoly – didn’t prepare me for something like Wingspan even remotely. Luckily the game offers an expansive, detailed tutorial and the learning experience is fun all the way through.
A single game of Wingspan is 1 to 5 players going for four rounds or 26 turns. On each turn you choose actions to take: play birds, draw cards, gather food, or lay eggs on bird cards to fuel their powers. The game takes a little while to really get going, and I sometimes feel the game would flow better if only there were a few more turns tucked in somewhere: by the end of round three I’ve sometimes barely gotten started. The end goal is to gather the most victory points, but in all honesty I never really aim for high points or winning in general – most often I focus on just collecting birds. I tend to shy away from competing against others in games in general, yet Wingspan’s player versus player is so calm and light on actual conflict you could forget there’s competition going on at all. I especially enjoy the asynchronous online game format that makes it easy to play with friends in different time zones: In this game mode everyone can take up to 72 hours on a turn.
I am not the person to discuss strategy, for my motivations for playing are somewhere else entirely. My cards always reflect my love of birds as I lose round after round, playing purely for the fun of collecting new birds. I’m on a birdwatching tour in the comfort of my own home, keeping a digital scrapbook of my new feathered friends and their songs. While this might not be the easiest game to learn (for a novice, at least), the journey of the learning experience is positively enchanting.
Wingspan is, with zero exaggeration, stunningly beautiful. Screenshots could never do it justice, and you need to play it yourself to really appreciate it. The art is incredibly detailed and lifelike, the birds nearly escaping the captivity of my computer screen, and when you play or activate a card you will hear real birdsong. Music in the game is a mix of soft, calming tunes and subtle upbeat notes and fits the atmosphere perfectly. The feedback for my mouse clicks is rich and plentiful. Everything feels effortlessly responsive in just the right ways, and I often find myself clicking on bird cards just for the animations and songs. The game possesses a uniquely chill vibe I’ve ever yet to find anywhere else.
The award-winning board game really comes to life in digital form, very successfully retaining – and maybe even improving – the charm and beauty of its physical predecessor.
Developer: Monster Couch
Publisher: Monster Couch, Stonemaier Games, & indienova
Release date: 17.9.2020
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Android, iOS
Age rating: 10+
Number of players: 1–5
Pictures: Featured image from Wingspan’s homepage https://www.monstercouch.com/wingspan. All other images screenshots from Wingspan taken by the author.
A perpetually talkative being and a fan of all things queer, weird, and transgressive. Enjoys CRPG’s, playing MMO’s alone and games modded beyond recognizablity. When not tending to pixel chickens or traversing some post-apocalyptic landscape, they’re crocheting stuffed animals. Has never played Uno and has no plans to do so.
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