Genre: Other, Board Game, Strategy, Multiplayer
System: Switch (also on Steam)
Developers | Publishers: Monster Couch
Price: USD $19.99 | UK £17.99 | EU €19,99
Age Rating: US E | UK 3+
Release Date: December 29, 2020
Thank you to Monster Couch for the review code!
Also, special thanks to my gaming group for helping me test the online multiplayer, particularly BrocktheSamson, who is a huge fan of Wingspan and was very patient with repeated cross play games to test everything out.
One major change for me in 2020 has been that spending time out of the house playing board games every weekend has been put on indefinite hold. Fortunately, we’ve managed to find a few digital board games to play while chatting on Skype, but none of them really grabbed us. Not like Legendary, which I swear I had been playing enough to qualify as a part-time job. Well, nothing grabbed our attention like that until Wingspan.
What Is It?
Wingspan is a strategy board game where the goal is to attract birds to your three nature preserves. There are five spaces in each preserve, and you play birds from your hand to these spaces over the course of four rounds. Each preserve also offers abilities such as food acquisition, egg laying, and card drawing. Simple, right? Wrong! In addition to playing the birds, each bird has abilities either when played, when activated by taking an action in the preserve it’s played to, or between turns when certain actions are taken by other players. There are also bonus points to be earned every round, and bonus cards that you get at the beginning of the game and from certain birds throughout (if you’re lucky!). Plus, you earn points for eggs laid; food cached on birds and tucked cards. In short, there is a lot going on!
I found the tutorial to be very informative. In addition, if you press down on the right joystick at any time, it labels everything on the screen for you. Very helpful when you’re first starting out and trying to remember what’s going on.
The only thing the game doesn’t explain is the Automa gameplay. The Switch version of Wingspan allows you to play against AI and human opponents, but it also has an opponent option called Automa. This is based on a variation in the Wingspan tabletop game that allows you to play by yourself. Although we don’t HAVE to understand how the Automa is playing in the Switch version since the computer is running it, it would probably help with game strategy to have a tutorial.
Design and Music
Gorgeous describes all of it. The birds are well drawn, and the cards all have cute animations. I love the chirping sound effects, and the music is so relaxing that I was playing the Steam version of this game extensively while actively working on school projects. It is very calming to have on in the background.
A great little touch is the trivia about the birds you play. You can set it up so that whenever you play a bird for the first time ever, it reads you the trivia.
First the great news: Wingspan for Switch supports cross-play with the Steam version! Simply invite players using their Wingspan game names and you’re all set. I’ve been playing Wingspan on my fairly old laptop for the past month with some friends and am thrilled to be able to play on my Switch instead. My laptop is slow, so this is a huge improvement.
Now the not-so-great news: Online play is buggy. I have yet to encounter a game breaking bug on the Switch (my game group has encountered one once on the Steam version), but it is not uncommon to error out of the game or have the turns fail to advance properly. Fortunately, the fix is very simple: Quit out and come right back in. If you’re playing with a group of friends and chatting on Zoom or Skype at the same time, this is only a minor inconvenience. Basically, expect the following conversation a few times a match:
Player 1: Hey! It’s your turn!
Player 2: No. It says it’s still your turn.
Player 3: It’s telling me it’s your turn Player 1.
*Player 1 grumbles, quits out and comes right back in. Sometimes they must repeat their last turn, but game is otherwise fixed*
Getting kicked out due to an error happens as well. I’ve also had some issues of it freezing on a screen, or not letting me select an item, but nearly every issue we’ve encountered is fixed by quitting out and going right back in. Frankly, I wish all game errors were this simple to fix!
How Disruptive is This?
The issues encountered don’t slow us down much in a normal game. The developer said they are working to patch as many bugs as they can. However, please understand that it is my opinion that Wingspan is FAR from unplayable in its current form. Especially considering how poorly designed and buggy games in the digital tabletop genre can be, I consider this one of the best titles of this genre I’ve played. I can think of only two games in the tabletop online realm where I have never had issues with buggy online play.
Interestingly, I have yet to encounter bugs with either of the random match-up forms of the game. Both play smoothly. There is no in-game chat option, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on your personal preferences.
Who do I Recommend this for?
Everyone who enjoys strategy board games and plans to play single-player, pass and play, or in random online match-ups, as well as game groups who can tolerate easy to fix bugs.
The AI and Automa games work fine, as does the random match-up online play option. Pass and play occasionally doesn’t register a human player when you start. If that happens, just restart the game until it registers.
As for online play with a group you invite: If you’ve been playing a digital board games with a group online recently, then you are probably used to buggy multiplayer. Wingspan has caused much less annoyance than several other games my group has tried. Just take the above notes into consideration when deciding if it’s right for your group. As for us, despite the issues, it’s our favorite right now!
You can’t have the same account in both the Steam and Switch versions (there’s no password so you can only use a name once), but I’ve basically stopped using the Steam version so that’s not a bother for me. Just know that if you already have the Steam version, you’ll have to choose a new account name for the Switch version.
I would also like to point out that unlike many games with text, this is fairly easy to read on the Switch Lite. It’s not perfect, but it certainly exceeds expectations.
This is one of my favorite games of 2020, hands down, and one that I expect will be made even better when they roll out any upcoming patches. If you enjoy strategy board games I 100% recommend looking into Wingspan. And since the publisher mentioned that they do plan to add some expansions down the line (no dates yet) I expect to get hundreds of hours of play out of this gem.
Because of my personal enthusiasm for this game, and the fact that almost all the current bugs are easy to fix during play,
I’m giving Wingspan….
Final Verdict: an enthusiastic Two Thumbs Up