Wingspan Digital Review (Steam version)

Wingspan digital

Wingspan is one of the most successful games of 2019. Having an original bird theme and engaging gameplay it proved to be one of the biggest successes of Stonemaier Games, followed by two expansions, the European Expansion (2019) and the Oceania Expansion (2020). Therefore it was a matter of time for a digital version to be released. The long wait is over, as Wingspan Digital is finally here and it’s available on Steam (iOS, Android, and Switch are coming soon). Let’s see if it is par to its acclaimed tabletop version. As always, we will use our special review sections for digital games: Graphics, Gameplay, UI (User Interface), Learning Curve, AI (Artificial Intelligence), Multiplayer and Replayability

Graphics

The graphics of the game are really impressive. The background pictures during play are really beautifull hand-drawn pictures that help making you feel part of nature. All habitats actually form one beautiful picture and one of the features I mostly like is that when you focus to a specific habitat, the background changes focus to the specific habitat in the picture. There are also great animations of every bird played during the game, a feature that all bird lovers (but even those who are not) will be delighted with. Each player in hot-seat mode may customize his/her portrait, background and color at the start of a custom game, a feature which is rather enjoying. Players’ portraits vary from birds to humans and even humanoid birds. 9/10

Choosing a player portrait

Gameplay

Wingspan has made a name on the board game market mainly due to its original theme and beautiful implentation as a tabletop game. Its digital counterpart maintains a flawless gameplay, while offering some features that only a digital game could.

Players have a variety of game modes to choose from, namely online or offline play, hot seat games with friends or AI players of varied difficulty. I have never found it difficult to find an online game to participate in, which was quite a relief as we all are experiencing a unique time in our lives which prevents us to be close to friends and family and hinders us from enjoying those board game nights that always were a spark of light at the end of our work week. In case you don’t feel like socializing, the AI players (varying in difficulty from easy, to normal and even hard) pose a significant challenge. Moreover, you can choose to play with the Automa, a special AI engine, developed and used in the original tabletop game.

Another feature implemented in the game is a trivia for each bird played, which is optional and can be turned off in the game settings. You can also choose to hear it for every new bird played instead of all. Some pretty cool information for every bird is available this way, which combined with the bird animations and bird sounds will be a thrill for every bird enthusiast. Did I mention, that you hear the actual bird’s voice after playing it and whenever you want after that point by just tapping on it? That is a wonderful feature, showing a way that a digital game can beat its tabletop counterpart. An equally beautiful animation of each bird played appears on the bird cards, enhancing the game’s presentation and feel.

Checking out your score can easily be done anytime by pressing a single button. You can see scoring in all categories and the progress you have made at that point towards end of round goals.

Finally, there is a card library with information for every bird card that has already been played. This is a way to study the different birds and maybe develop some strategies, however only the birds you have already played are shown here. (A motivation to play more?) 7/10

Card Library

UI (User Interface)

The user interface of Wingspan digital is pretty straight-forward. Players may choose to use a mouse, keyboard or gamepad to control the game. Personally, I found the mouse, the most convenient way to play this game.

Comparing Wingspan digital to the tabletop game, one can immediately see a slight difference in the way information is presented. In the tabletop game, one can directly see all habitats and birds played in them. In the digital version one can focus to only one of the habitats each time and not have the whole picture at hand. I found this feature tiresome , as you have to constantly scroll from one habitat to another to examine all aspects of play. I understand that having all this information on screen would force all the animations and game information to appear smaller but it would be much more informative.

Focus on Forest Habitat

On the other hand, a habitats overview is present and it is easily accessed from the main screen. Here you can see all habitats with all birds played, the birdfeeder contents, you hands and the cards available to draw. It would be nice if this overview was also fully functional for playing the game from there and players could choose to use either interface according to their taste.

Habitats overview

The main playing screen of the game, shown above (Focus on Forest Habitat) is divided in several sections. On the upper left of the screen are buttons for game settings and choice of activating help in the form of balloons. On the upper centre are icons for each player, that are clickable and from there you can check the game state for every player. On the upper right, you can see end of round goals. On the left you can see icons of the different habitats. You can change focus from one to another by clicking on these icons or simply scrolling with the mouse. On the center of the screen you can see a specific habitat, the birds played on it and available actions. On the bottom are the bird cards in your hand and, depending on the habitat that has the focus, extra information, i.e. the birdfeeder in the forest habitat. All in all, the user interface of the game is well organized and easy to navigate apart from the problem with the focus on a specific habitat. 7/10

Learning curve

Wingspan rules of play are pretty straight forward, however help is available on every step of the game. A special interface, stating what each section or button in the screen is about, can be easily turned on or off anytime during play.

Help balloons for each element of the game can easily be turned on or off

New players will find most helpful the available tutorial which will guide them through the basics of the game. Typically one can easily learn to play within a few rounds. 8/10

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

AI, as I wrote earlier in the “gameplay” section, is coded successfully and poses a significant opponent in case one cannot find (or don’t want to find) any physical or digital real friends to play with. Three levels of difficulty are available: easy, normal and hard (beta version). Except from standard AI opponents, player may choose the Automa opponent, which is a special AI opponent, used in the tabletop version of the game. This also has the same 3 levels of difficulty (with hard being a standard (not beta version)). 8/10

Multiplayer

If you would like to play this game with real opponents and not the AI, you can choose to play either online or in hot-seat mode with friends using the same device. You can also create a custom hot-seat game, using a mix of real and AI players.

Creating a custom game

Online players are currently always available. There are 2 options for matchmaking: The first is for real-time play with turns lasting up to 5 minutes and the second is for asynchronous play (where turns will last up to 24 hours). Both modes are useful, depending on your preference.

Unfortunately, there is no ranking system for online play. However there is a special mode called “Champ of the Birds” which puts you up against the automa in a game where everything is predetermined. This way, you can hone your skills, by playing the same game again and again for a whole week. If you manage to win and have the most points among online players, at the end of the week, you become the Champ of the Birds.

All in all, the multiplayer mode of Wingspan offers the basic ability to play online without further motivation other than the “Champ of the Birds” challenge. A better structured online mode could significantly boost, replayability of this digital version. 7/10

Online play options

Replayability

The crucial question, as always, is: Would you play Wingspan digital in a regular basis? The answer, is not a simple one. Wingspan is a game with easy rules but quite challenging to tuckle. Becoming an expert player, requires spending many hours with the game but I can say that this digital implentation surely makes it a lot of fun. If I ever found enough spare time, I would surely like to delve more into this bird-loving game. 7/10

Final Verdict

If you can overcome the somewhat weird and not very informative user-interface of the main playing screen, this is a game that can keep you entertained for many hours and I can highly recommend it to all funs of the tabletop game, bird enthusiasts and board game lovers. The high-quality graphics and audio, as well as the challenging mechanics and the flawless gameplay present a unique experience of a digital board game implementation.

Recommended for:  Bird enthusiasts, Strategy game fans  

According to our scoring system, scoring categories have different weights. Graphics have 10% weight, Gameplay 25%, Learning curve 5%, User Interface 15%, AI 15%, Multiplayer 15%, Replayability 15%. According to this system and the above scoring in each category, overall weighted scoring of the game is:

Overall:  8.5    

I would like to thank Monster Couch for providing a review key of the game.

Good
  • Great graphics with bird animations and sounds!
  • Friendly User Interface
  • Online players availability
  • Options for Hot-Seat, A.I. and Automa play
  • Challenging mechanics
  • Challenging A.I.
Bad
  • Not very informative main gameplay screen
  • No online ranking system available
8
Great
Graphics - 9
Gameplay - 7
User Interface - 7
Learning Curve - 8
A.I. - 8
Multiplayer - 7
Replayability - 7
Written by
Maria is an avid board gamer, interested also in video games, movies and tennis. She is also an accomplished surveying engineer and a proud mum.

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