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Wingspan mobile board game app

Overall Rating: 9/10

Wingspan (the original, physical game) is known for its beauty, and the app impressively does it justice. With smooth gameplay, an intuitive interface, and a well-crafted tutorial, Wingspan will have even brand new players immersed in their first game in minutes. The app strikes the difficult balance of staying true to the feel of the original game while taking advantage of many features that the digital format enables (though, puzzlingly, leaving out some others we would have liked). Even at its relatively high price tag ($9.99), Wingspan is well worth it.

Why we like this adaptation

First of all: the game is a work of art.

Is it a board game or an art project? | Wingspan mobile board game app
Is it a board game or an art project?

After having played the physical version, I didn’t expect the app to be able to convey a similar aesthetic experience. And while digitizing inevitably reduces the tactile nature of the game (no rolling dice in a physical “bird feeder”, no placing egg-shaped tokens on your cards), the digital adaptation enhances the beautiful card art with animation, sounds, and music, while also placing the entire game in a virtual setting that provides a much nicer template than my game table.

For anyone starting with the tutorial, Wingspan’s is among the best I’ve played — it really feels like you are being walked through the game by an experienced player, smoothly transitioning between rule explanations and examples, reassuring you when you’ll learn more about something later. The tutorial’s sections make it easy to find or revisit topics you’d like to have explained, and if you leave the app partway through you can pick up right where you left off.

Experienced Wingspan players can probably jump right in without the tutorial; the app adopts the physical game’s generally intuitive iconography and layout. You even have the option of either an expanded view (shown above) — which is more aesthetically pleasing and perhaps more intuitive, with the disadvantage of being spread over several screens that the player must toggle between — or a condensed view with everything all in one place (below), more akin to the physical layout of the original game board.

Wingspan's condensed view, while less visually stunning, mimics the physical game's layout | Wingspan mobile board game app
Wingspan's condensed view, while less visually stunning, mimics the physical game's layout

The ability to “undo” an action is often where otherwise well-made digital board games fall down (see: Terraforming Mars, Scythe). Wingspan seamlessly implements undo functionality, sensibly allowing the player to undo actions on their turn as long as no secret information (like a face-down card) has been revealed. Whenever an action would reveal secret information, there is a clear icon reminding you that the action cannot be undone — for example, in the above screenshot, there is a crossed out version of the undo icon next to the option to re-roll the food dice in the bottom right, indicating that I cannot undo if I choose to re-roll.

Wingspan makes it easy to play with friends or other players online, another common challenge. Creating a profile is quick and simple — no need for an email or password. Easily find your friends by username or enter into matchmaking (I was matched immediately for a real-time game). If playing solo, the “automa” from the physical game offers a worthy opponent.

What could have been better

Curiously, this impressive digital implementation does not include two features that I would consider table stakes for digital games: a game log to track players’ actions and a running tally of the score.

When it’s my turn, I get a quick pop up from each player saying something like “I’ve gained food” or “I drew bird cards”. The only way to know what food or which bird cards, however, would be to constantly keep track of which food and cards are available and see what is now missing.

"I've gained food." But what food? I'll never tell. | Wingspan mobile board game app
"I've gained food." But what food? I'll never tell.

Similarly, there is no way to see other players’ current scores (excluding bonus cards which would be kept secret of course). Technically I can add up all of their birds and eggs and so on, same as in the physical game, but that’s a tedious set of calculations. The game does at least keep track of players’ rankings for end-of-round scoring.

I can see an argument for omitting these features by design: neither is strictly necessary to play the game, and including them could risk encouraging players to agonize over every decision in what are supposed to be quick turns.

In my view, though, at least a truncated game log should be added — I don’t need to look up what happened many rounds ago (just like I probably wouldn’t remember that far back if playing in person), but I should be able to see what bird was taken ten seconds ago. And for more competitive players, other players’ actions and scores will absolutely factor into their decisions, especially later in the game (e.g., if I’m going to be able to take more food than I need on my turn, I may choose for the extra to be something you need for the bird you just drew). There’s also the risk that especially obsessive players will do this sort of tracking or score-tallying on their own, which would obviously be much slower than if they were provided with that information already.

Closing thoughts

Wingspan is a delight to play, and will be enjoyed both by players experienced with the tabletop version and those new to the game.


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