Released last year (2019) Wingspan quickly became one of the most popular board games in the industry. A game about attracting birds to your nature preserve might not sound all that interesting at first. The game succeeds though because it creates an interesting blend of mechanics chock full of strategy and yet still being easier to play than you would expect. I checked out the board game version of the game around a year ago and loved it. Since its release there have been a couple video game adaptations on Tabletop Simulator and Tabletopia which just digitally recreate the board game components. Well the official digital adaptation of the board game finally released yesterday on Mac, Nintendo Switch, and PC. As I am a big fan of the board game I was definitely interested in checking out the digital version when I was given the opportunity. The video game adaptation of Wingspan is pretty much everything you could want from a digital version of the board game.
As I did a thorough review of the board game a while back, I am not going to go into a deep dive of how the game is played. Instead I am going to give you a brief introduction into how the game is played. In the game you play as a person in charge of a wildlife preserve with the objective of attracting the most and rarest birds to your preserve. The objective of the game is to score the most points. On each turn you can choose one of four actions. You can draw cards, play cards, gather food, or lay eggs. After taking your action you will also get to take the special actions from all of the cards that you have played to the corresponding section of your preserve. This basically creates a chain reaction of actions as you build combos of cards that work together to help you score more points.
In my review of the board game I already discussed my thoughts on the board game. Instead of wasting a bunch of time rehashing the same comments I will just give a brief overview. Wingspan is a fantastic board game. The game succeeds because it does a great job blending a number of mechanics together into a truly unique experience. Building out your habitats is really satisfying. It is so rewarding and exciting when you are able to create a chain reaction that lets you take several actions on your turn. The game is more difficult than your typical mainstream game, but once you get a hang of it the game is quite easy to play. I wouldn’t really consider myself to be much of a bird watcher, but even the theme works really well. I would have a hard time not recommending the game.
Instead of spending a bunch of time talking about what I liked about the board game, I want to talk about the things that are exclusive to the video game adaptation.
Lets begin with the overall interface as this is one area where many video game adaptations struggle. I will admit that the interface does take a little time to adjust to. For this reason I would recommend playing the tutorial even if you are familiar with the board game. While the tutorial is a little long I thought it did a good job introducing you to the interface. Even with the tutorial it still takes a while to adapt to the interface. The game actually includes two different interfaces. One pretty faithfully recreates the boards from the board game. The other more visually appealing interface separates the different actions into different screens. With either interface you need to press a button to see the other player(s) layout.
I would say that it will take most players around a game to fully grasp the interface. After that point though it works really well. Once you know what you are doing you will be able to easily navigate the various screens of the game to perform your desired action. The interface is designed in a way where it doesn’t crowd the screen with so much information that you have information overload. There might have been a few tweaks that I would have made, but I think the game did the best it could with all of the different things that you have to access at any given time.
I think the best thing about the interface is that it does a good job creating a clean atmosphere. I actually thought the game did a really good job with the atmosphere. As the game is based off a board game there were some limits on what the game could look like. The game’s cards seem to be exact replicas of the cards from the board game. The cards in the board game are fantastic so I have no problem with that. The game even added some little animations to each card when they are selected/played. Outside of the cards the game adds some mellow elements that make it feel like you are in your nature preserve. The game really excels at creating a relaxing mood between the visuals and audio. The game even has a narrator that reads off the flavor text of each bird card that you play. This can be informative and does a good job reinforcing the atmosphere (you can turn it off if you don’t want to listen to it).
As for the game modes it seems to feature all of the elements of the board game. When you create your game you can choose a number of settings which includes the variant rules/scoring from the board game. The game includes the main game and even includes the “automa mode”. As for opponents you have a number of different options. The game includes both local and online multiplayer which supports up to five players. I didn’t spend a lot of time with the multiplayer, but it seems to work fine. With how popular Wingspan is I would guess that the game will develop a pretty strong community which should really help with the game’s longevity.
One thing that is unique about the video game adaptation is that it has the ability to include an AI outside of the automa mode. I am usually pretty skeptical of AI for board game adaptations as it can really vary between games. The AI in many adaptations is either really bad or they are too good where it feels like they are cheating. I have to say that I was genuinely surprised by Wingspan’s AI. I am far from an expert at Wingspan, but I would say that I am no slouch either. The easy difficulty seems a little too easy as I was able to blow out the computer even when I didn’t play a perfect game. The normal difficulty is quite a bit more challenging though. It puts up a legitimate challenge where it was actually able to beat me. I don’t know how if it will hold up to someone who is an expert at the game, but I think it is challenging enough to keep most players engaged. The game is probably better against other human players, but the AI is strong enough that those who prefer solitary games or whose friends are otherwise busy should still have plenty of fun playing against the computer.
As for the Wingspan’s length it is basically unlimited. There are plenty of people who have played the board game hundreds of times and still enjoy it. I haven’t played the game even close to that many times and yet I don’t anticipate getting bored with it anytime soon. The length of each game is going to depend on a couple of factors. First the number of players (especially human players) is going to have a huge impact on the game. How much time players take to make their decision is going to have a pretty big impact on the length as well. Outside of saving some time with the automatic scoring, I would say that the digital adaptation will still take a little longer than playing the physical board game. I would guess most games will take between one and two hours. With the number of different cards and strategies that you can implement you could play a lot of games before Wingspan even starts to get repetitive. If the online game maintains a large player base (likely with how popular the physical game is) I could see the replay value being almost limitless. With the game retailing for $20 it is also considerably cheaper than the board game if you are looking for a more affordable option.
The digital adaptation of Wingspan is not quite perfect, but it is a fantastic adaptation of the board game. The video game adaptation keeps everything that is so enjoyable about the board game. The game is pretty easy to play, after you learn it, and it features a ton of strategy. As for the features exclusive to the video game I thought it did about as good of job as you could expect. The interface does take a while to get used to as it had to separate things into different screens to prevent information overload. Once you get used to it though it is really easy to navigate. The game also does a really good job with the atmosphere sprucing things up a little by taking advantage of the technology. The game features every mode from the board game including online multiplayer and AI competitors. I have to say that I was genuinely impressed by the AI as it is considerably more challenging than I was expecting. Basically the video game adaptation gives you everything you could want from the board game.
Just like the board game that it is based on, I would highly recommend Wingspan. If you dislike the original version or board games in general it probably won’t be for you. If you love the original game and want a digital version, or you are looking for a good digital board game you should really enjoy your time with the Wingspan video game.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Monster Couch, Stonemaier Games, and indienova for the review copy of Wingspan used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.