Wingspan was one of the big games of 2019 – and I’m not just talking about the size of the box (though it is a chonky boi) with several awards and nominations, many for game of the year. I immediately fell in love with the game after a friend taught me how to play using a Tabletop Simulator mod back in early 2020.
The engine building game has each player drawing bird cards and playing them on the board in their respective habitats. To play a bird, you must gather the appropriate foods and eggs which you gather by activating a habitat on your turn. The strategy comes with playing birds with special powers that you can use when they are in the habitat you activate, sometimes letting you draw extra food, lay extra eggs or draw more birds. You have five rounds to meet specific goals randomly drawn at the start of the game, plus a special goal in your hand for the overall game.
As someone new to tabletop games, I am also very new at teaching those games to my family, so I really appreciated Wingspan’s built-in tutorial mode. There is a set of instructions for how to set up your first game, what cards to give everyone, and then step-by-step of how to take your first few turns. It got everyone up to speed quickly and helped explain the mechanics of the game clearer than I could have since it was only my second time playing (and the fist time I was the teaching it).
Another cool thing about Wingspan is that it has a single player mode! You play versus The Automata, which doesn’t play out the same way as the regular game. You draw round goal but the Automata has its own goals and mostly just gets random cards. It’s a little bit confusing when it comes to the scoring but I still think it is a great option for people who just want to chill and play with their bird cards. I’ve only completed one Automata game but that was when I was still new so I’d really like to try it again now that I understand the whole game a lot better.
The artwork on this game is gorgeous and each card is a wealth of information. You have an image of the bird, its name, Latin name, location, wingspan and a “fun fact” (our house rule is each time you play a bird, you read the fact out loud which is why everyone now knows that a Turkey Vulture projectile vomits as self-defense).
Along with the cards, you have the eggs, which look like Easter candies and you have to resist the urge to pop them in your mouth to find out if there is chocolate hidden inside. And, of course, the dice tower, which is shaped like a bird feeder. Dropping the dice through the back and hearing them clatter out is one of the most satisfying experiences.
I bought this game right after the ability to have friends over stopped (thanks 2020) but inside the box was a coupon for a discount off of the official digital game from Steam. I figured what better way to learn the game and strategies than buying this version.
The digital adaptation beautiful in it’s own unique way. It has all the charm of the tabletop game but with a little extra. The bird cards are there, with their gorgeous artwork but the cards are ANIMATED and the birds chirp and sing their little songs. When you play a bird for the first time, a lovely female voice reads the bird fact out-loud (for some reason, I always imagine her as a Park Ranger, putting down her binoculars for a moment after bird-watching to point out the bird on my card).
In addition, the soundtrack is full of beautiful melodies played on flute, piano, strings and other chill instruments that I can’t name as quickly. It has become such a part of my Wingspan experience that even when I play the game in the real world, I have to pull up the soundtrack to have on in the background.
The digital version has multiplayer that you can mix and match with online friends and AI, up to five players total. You can also play a three player online game with the matchmaking system. I’ve done this many times and I’ve only had a few instances where no games were available. It seems someone out there is always waiting to play Wingspan. Asynchronous is also an option, though it is only with three random players, not friends. You have 24 hours to take your turn before the game is forfeited, so make sure you set a reminder if you don’t check your Steam account every day.
The digital game also includes The Automata mode, which is still a challenge to master. Recently the game introduced a weekly “Champ of the Birds” which pits you in a game against the Automata player. The game will always be the same all week long, with the idea that you can try different combinations and strategies since you can plan ahead, knowing what bird cards and dice will be available to you. It is a great challenge for those who feel like they have mastered the player vs player mode.
The physical game already has two expansions out with even MORE bird cards, but I haven’t had a chance to play those yet (even though I impulse purchased the European set…it’s just sitting, unopened…crying sadly in the hutch). As of right now, the digital edition is just the core game, but that is plenty to keep you busy, especially if you’re new to the game.
Both the Wingspan physical and digital get five out of five stars from me. They are both entertaining and fun. The set up of the physical game can look daunting to new comers, but it only takes a couple rounds to grasp how it all works and by the end of the first round, most players have picked up on what they need to do to score. The digital game is a great way to learn all the mechanics and strategy with less of an investment and since it might be awhile before you can have friends over to play, this might be the only way to have five “players” around the table (even if four of them are robots).
Have you played Wingspan? What did you think? Does it remind you of any other games you would recommend? Let me know in the comments! Thank you for reading!