I measured my heartrate while playing Wingspan: 58 bpm. I can pretty much guarantee I’ve never had a more relaxing gaming experience. For the first couple of minutes, it was almost unsettling. I’ve grown so used to being screamed at through tinny microphones or berated via text that I almost didn’t know how to behave. After I settled into the sweet solace of Wingspan, something remarkable happened: I had a lot of fun. To inveterate board game fans, this should come as no surprise. Wingspan was popular long before it ported to Steam. But to me, a born and bred FPS player, I never dreamed I could enjoy such a slow-paced game.
As well as holding the crown for ‘most relaxing game I’ve ever played’, Wingspan might also hold the dual title of most confusing game I’ve ever played. The in-game tutorial left me more bamboozled than ever, so I headed online to trusty YouTube to try to sort out the mechanics. When this endeavour left me even more lost, I decided to just jump in. Learn from my mistakes; just jump in.
Wingspan is fairly easy to play once you understand it. It’s a card game where your deck is composed of a myriad of birds from all over the world. Like most games, you want the most points to win. The difficult part to understand, though, is the scoring system: you gain points for birds played, eggs laid on each bird, bonus objectives, etc. The confusion arises because most of the tokens serve multiple functions. For instance, food can be used to play a bird card (sort of like energy or land requirements in Pokemon or MTG), but food can also be cached (stored) on a played bird card for points. Obviously, Wingspan is not a game that is easily understood by reading, but if you dive in, you’ll get the hang of it relatively quickly. It is only intimidating from the outside looking in.
I began my immersion therapy with an online game. You can play either synchronous, with five minute turns per player, or asynchronous where you can close the game and return to make your turn later. As I researched the game, I noticed that the majority of negative feedback surrounding Wingspan were directed towards the online game mode. There were complaints saying that the game had skipped their turn, closed at random, or the like. I experienced none of this. In my first game; however, one of the other players left and was replaced by an AI. My only issue with this feature was that the player was in last place and the AI quickly caught up and won the match. I don’t want to sound like a sore loser, but it is, in my opinion, better to learn alongside other new players who are struggling their way through the match. The other human player and I had no chance once the AI got going.
Forward-thinking defines Wingspan. You have to be several steps ahead. There are four rounds and each is marked by a specific objective that will gain you more points. For instance, the first round’s objective could be to have eggs on the wetland habitat. Well, if you have no birds played on the wetland habitat, you may elect to simply concede this goal and focus on subsequent rounds. It might not be worth your time to try and play catch-up. Instead, if the second round’s objective is points for birds that consume fish, you may want to start playing as many of those types of birds as possible.
The game is also rather unique in that you do not craft your own deck. Instead, you draw from a massive pile that ensures almost no two games are the same. This eliminates the ability to lean on premeditated tactics and builds. Still, veteran players will be able to determine quickly which cards to take and which to discard, as well as which habitats and birds to focus on. I found myself slowly developing a method that worked for me. I decided I was the type of player who liked to get as many bird cards as possible on the table and allow their abilities to accrue for massive benefits. While it didn’t pay off for me very often, I enjoyed the ability to carve out a unique playstyle without feeling railroaded. There really is no set way to play Wingspan.
Beyond the actual gameplay, Wingspan oozes charm. It has a delightful, relaxing (there it is again) soundtrack. It’s sort of repetitive, but you never really notice it. It’s true background noise. As well, from the main menu you can access information on any birds you have encountered including small factoids pertaining to them, their habitat, and their calls. The game is far from educational, but a short description is given of each bird as you play it, and you’ll slowly learn just by virtue of sinking hours into the game.
For doubters, look through this review and count how many times I said ‘relaxing’ or mentioned the ‘slow-pace’ of the game. If this appeals to you, go out and buy Wingspan. That’s exactly what it is. It’s a beautifully designed and truly unique card game. This Steam port clearly builds off of a solid foundation from its board game progenitor. If my endorsement means anything, this game couldn’t deviate further from my normal interests, and I loved every second of it.