Wingspan – A beautiful and relaxing avian adventure

Posted on September 23, 2020

Wingspan is a strategy card game developed by Monster Couch and published by Stonemaier Games, Monster Couch, and Indienova. It’s a digital adaptation of the popular boardgame of the same name and allows players to play against AI or against friends, both in local co-op and online.

Wingspan’s origin story is perhaps an unusual one: created by scientist and data analyst Elizabeth Hargrave, the idea for Wingspan came from her desire to see more boardgames that intersected with her personal interests. Having been both an avid birder and a fan of boardgames for a long time, she was keen to see a title combining the two. Thus, Wingspan was born.

When Wingspan first hit the market, it was surprisingly popular. Early editions sold out very quickly, and there were even instances of scalpers selling the boardgame on eBay for massively marked up prices. The boardgame exploded into popularity and had a very successful initial run. So much so that the New York Times even published an interview on Wingspan with Elizabeth Hardgrave late last year. Since then, Hargrave has released a European expansion for the game and has an Oceania one on the way.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that the digital edition has garnered so much praise over the last few months. Having been exhibited through online events like the Steam Festival and, more recently, PAX Online, the game seems to spark interest with fans across the globe. On 18 September, the game was finally released on Steam in full, and so far the reviews are very positive.

Once you get stuck into the game, it’s easy to see why people are drawn to it. With hand-drawn art and a soothing soundtrack, Wingspan might just be the most thoroughly relaxing game I’ve played all year. Gameplay-wise, the digital edition of Wingspan has stayed loyal to its physical counterpart. Like in the boardgame, every player plays as bird enthusiast with their own nature reserve. To win the game, you must populate your nature reserve with as many birds as possible.

While this sounds like a straightforward aim, the gameplay mechanics of Wingspan are surprisingly intricate. Wingspan is often described as an engine-building game where players will need to complete certain actions and aggregate resources slowly in order to achieve bigger goals. For Wingspan, this mostly translates into collecting food and eggs, which in turn enable you to add birds to your habitats in the form of bird cards that you can play. Every bird has a food cost which will need to be paid in order to play it. Other actions – like drawing more bird cards or gaining more food – need to be paid for with eggs.

“…Wingspan might just be the most thoroughly relaxing game I’ve played all year.”

In practice, this generates an incredibly complex user interface which will see you switching between habitats, a bird feeder with dice, a habitat to lay eggs in, and more. The learning curve for Wingspan is definitely a steep one, and you’ll need some perseverance if you want to get the hang of things. While the game’s tutorial does a good job of getting you up and running, things are mostly explained through a barrage of text boxes. This meant that I was quite often overwhelmed, and I ended up restarting the tutorial a few times over a few days before finally completing it.

That said, once you understand the different actions available to you in Wingspan, it’s smooth sailing. Playing a full game of Wingspan against AI can take anywhere between twenty minutes and an hour, which makes it a great fit for strategy fans who enjoy a casual game to dip into every now and then. The game has several difficulty settings for its AI, and the variety of different ways in which you can win a game makes for high replay value.

In short, if you enjoy boardgames, strategy, and card games, Wingspan will be a great game for your library. With its delightful bird sounds in the background, it’s easy to feel like you’ve just woken up in the middle of a gorgeous forest. Especially while we’re in the middle of isolation, that’s a great way to while away the hours.

Wingspan is now available on Steam.