Wingspan Digital (iOS)
Genre: Card-driven Engine-builder
Player Count: 1 – 5
Play Count as of Review: 20+
- The digital version of Wingspan is available on Android, iOS, Steam and the Nintendo Switch but for the purposes of this review, I am looking at the iOS edition but I don’t believe there to be any monumental differences between the editions. I am also not really discussing the gameplay of Wingspan in this review (that can be found in my review of the physical copy of the game) but more how this digital adaptation fares on its own.
- The digital game is absolutely beautiful. Wingspan is sitting in first class while every other board game app is riding coach. I may enjoy or play other digital adaptions more but nothing compares to what what Monster Couch was able to produce. The backgrounds in matches are vivid and alive, the audio (such as the bird noises and bird facts) build an ambiance this is unrivaled, and the smoothness of the actions makes Wingspan a tranquil experience as you relax and play a game or five. I admittedly shudder every time a new board game adaptation comes to a digital platform because I don’t want to spend almost $10 on a digital version of something I already own but if every adaptation looked and played like this? I would not hesitate to add the digital edition to my collection and I will be on the lookout for the next implementation from Monster Couch.
- I have heard complaints that people find the UI crowded, particularly in mid and late game when you have a handful of cards or you take a break from the game and need a refresher on what your last action is. I will call bullocks on that. If you play the tutorial, you will know exactly where to look and where to click for each and every action. Speaking of the tutorial, it’s great. I have played Wingspan a lot but still jumped into the tutorial to ensure I knew where everything was for the digital implementation. After the first game, everything felt intuitive and easy to navigate. Most importantly, if there is an aspect you’re having trouble remembering, the tutorial is broken into sections and you can replay that specific part instead of the entire tutorial again.
- Wingspan offers three different difficulty levels: Easy, Normal and Hard (Beta). With Hard being a Beta version, it takes significantly longer to play a game. It is the equivalent loading time of playing against four other AI bot players. Speaking of difficulty level, easy felt like you were playing against someone who knew what the rules of the game where but not what they were doing. There was little to no planning behind their actions beyond “this bird can be played in the water section and I have the food to feed it, so I should place it there”. Against Normal difficulty AI, you can tell the bot player has a plan (such as playing a bird that allows another of the same time to be played in the same region and having the requisite food/eggs to pay for both) but most of those decisions feel short-sighted. They are not aligned with the end of round goals nor do they seem to be building toward a particular usage (such as gaining the ability to place more eggs but then not placing more eggs on subsequent turns). I will say that I don’t hate this as it allows me to branch out and try different strategies that I would normally try without the repercussion of wasting time getting spanked by an opponent.
- A two-player game against the AI can be played in roughly ten minutes. It’s incredibly quick-paced and the tutorial helps players get quickly accustomed to the interface and makes navigation a breeze. Adding additional AI players adds roughly a minute per AI player. You will notice a slight slow down but nothing insurmountable.
- Online play features real-time games with a five-minute turn limit or asynchronous games with a 24-hour turn limit. These two modes are limited to three-player only games but if you want to play against just a friend or with more players that you know, you can by creating a custom game. You will need to invite someone to play with but you can also add AI opponents if needed. You can also pass and play if you would like. There is also an Automa for solo play for those that like those challenges.
- Speaking of challenges, there are achievements that can be unlocked by completing certain criteria throughout the game as well as a history of all the birds that you have used while playing Wingspan. There is also a ‘Champ of the Birds’ challenge that gives all online players the same scenario and sees who can score the most points based on the same starting position and same card draws. I will say this is a cool inclusion but…I’ve never gotten it to work for me. I have submitted a bug report for this so maybe it’s just me.
- The digital adaptation allows players to have direct and indirect competition towards end of round goals (just like the base game) but after extensive playing (thanks bronchitis) I found that matches are only really competitive when using indirect competition. The AI, regardless of level, tends to fall into completing these end of round goals instead of actively targeting them. The AI is more interested in the immediate reward of building the engine and unlocking the next bonus to make their engine stronger. When playing, the only way that I did not win a direct competition end of round goal was if I just didn’t go after it. There were times where I would put the bare minimum effort into the goal and still win because the AI did literally nothing that aligned with the objective. The only games I lost, regardless of difficulty level, were games with indirect competition and I either failed to plan towards these objectives or the point differential was smaller since I was no longer running away with first place.
- No matter where you are in the app, there is a question mark box in the top left section of the screen that when clicked will produce pop-up text that explains everything on the screen. This is great for new and veteran players alike as they get used to the layout and iconography.
- While I don’t think Wingspan is my favorite game of all time (or even the type of game I typically like to play), I think this digital adaptation is simply phenomenal and has all but replaced the physical version for me. I can play a game quickly against a multitude of opponents, try different challenges and strategies and hear unique bird calls and facts at my fingertips.