We’d like to put forward the suggestion that Wingspan is the most relaxing game on the Xbox. Sitting down to play it, the bird calls, soothing guitar music and gentle decision-making lulls us into a meditative trance. It’s a head massage with birds, which sounds terrifying, but is anything but. The only tension we feel is noticing that it’s 1am and we’ve been playing for four hours.
Hallelujah, then, for the European Expansion DLC, which feels like someone has just bought us a spa gift card. We get to return somewhere that represents a state of bliss, and we couldn’t wait.
On a personal note, the European Expansion DLC also helped us out a wee bit. There’s an ornithologist in our house, and we thought that they would be all over Wingspan when it first came out. But they sneered and rolled their eyes as we slapped down a hoopoe. “Ugh, American birds? Not interested.” Well, this was the opportunity to get them playing: an expansion dedicated to birds from our side of the pond. It has magpies, mute swans and pigeons. Take that, elitist bird watcher.
The European Expansion DLC isn’t a fantastically far-reaching lump of content, but it does a couple of things extremely well. It brings you birds, and achievements for playing those birds. There are new mechanics on those birds – and more on those in a moment – but there are no new game modes, ways to play, opponents or anything like that. Nothing about the surrounding cage of Wingspan has changed: this is just a delivery of dozens of birds.
Which is the tiniest of disappointments – barely even wren-sized. For a reasonably sizable £8.39 we hoped to play Wingspan differently. That’s not to say that Wingspan’s structure has gotten tiresome or worn out: it’s still as brilliant as ever. But there was an opportunity to mix things up, and Wingspan didn’t take the bait.
Instead you get an absolute ton of birds. As you’d expect, you can opt to include or not include them in a game (no option to solely play with them, sadly), and they get shuffled into the deck. They spread evenly over the three biomes, and they’re roughly a quarter of the birds that you will see, which means the opening hand and the draw piles are likely to display one or two for you to try out.
The European Expansion DLC comes with a wee tutorial, but I’m not convinced that they needed to bother. The new concepts are all clear from the cards, and they are no more complicated than the abilities that already exist in the game. But it’s nice that it’s there: just don’t feel like it’s essential to play it, particularly if you’re a seasoned Wingspanner.
The birds look great as ever: bouncing lithographs with a short description on the cards with an introduction from a breathy narrator. An ‘EE’ sash on the cards makes it easy to tell which cards are from the expansion – important as the game comes with a new set of achievements, including one for a complete ‘Pokedex’ of birds. As a note, the achievements are as brilliantly made as before, encouraging you to play in a completely different manner than you might be accustomed to. Win by having zero eggs at the end of the game? Sure, we can do that.
But it’s the new mechanics that make the new expansion sing. There are a fair few, and they each get you playing differently. There are End of Round abilities, which only trigger – as you’d expect – at the end of each of the game’s four rounds. That’s not particularly often, which means they can be super-powerful, rinsing a bowl of food, or adding eggs to every bird in a biome.
The predators get bolstered, with a mechanic that lets you pay for them, not with food, but by eating other birds. Some allow you to discard birds to cover their cost, while others swoop down and simply replace a bird on the table. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a red kite eat a bald eagle. There’s a whole lot more ‘tucking’ mechanics (heaven knows how you can unlock the ‘Tuck 70 cards’ achievement, as we give zero tucks virtually every game). And there’s the opportunity to steal resources from other players, scuppering their best laid plans.
These mechanics are all rather fantastic. There are some that seem less viable than others (the predators in particular), but we’re so reassured by the quality of Wingspan’s design, that we’ve come to the conclusion that we just haven’t spotted a synergy yet. But we’re using them and folding them into our tactics: it’s hard not to pop down an End of Round bird at the start of the game to maximise its four triggers, for example.
Altogether, the Wingspan: European Expansion DLC isn’t a particularly disruptive flock of birds. It doesn’t add new ways to play, or send you spiralling off, trying out wildly different tactics. But in the area that matters – the birds – it delivers. They look great, sound authentic, and offer plenty of ways to tinker with your approach.
It’s a hefty addition to the most relaxing game on this generation of consoles. If only we could play the Xbox in the bath, we’d be in a state of utter bliss.
You can buy Wingspan: European Expansion DLC from the Xbox Store