Destinies is a game full of potential. It features some novel game mechanisms and some strong, app-based story telling that, when hearing about it, made me want to go out and buy the game, and so, here we are.
I’ve played three or four games now and I’ll tell you, that so far, I feel a bit let down. But, before I go into that, let me summaries what Destinies is all about.
Destinies is billed as an RPG-like exploration adventure game, which is app-driven, but unlike many of its ilk, this one is competitive, it’s also, unusually, for 1-3 players. The playing area is built up using cards and the players only have a vague idea of their immediate surroundings until they move around – exploring flips a card over to reveal the full location. The app will give a brief introduction to the current scenario – the first is a standalone, think tutorial, adventure, whilst the other four are linked into a campaign – then the players select their character and receive a unique destiny card. They take their dice and place the skill tokens on their player board – more of these shortly.
After reading their destiny card, play begins with the app revealing the current location and any adjacent ones, though these are ‘fogged’ until explored. The players then start their adventure in order to fulfil their personal destiny.
There’s a lot to like in the way the game plays. The location cards are nicely illustrated, the miniatures are good quality if a little small (many are straight out of Time of Legends: Joan of Arc), and, as I mentioned, the story telling and plots are all rather good. My favourite thing, though, is the way the game uses skills.
Each character has three skills, Intelligence, Dexterity, and Power. The app will tell you how many skill marker tokens you have for each skill and where they are to be placed on the associated track. For example, the Nun may have three marker tokens for power, placed at 5, 8, and 11, but four for Intelligence, placed at 4, 7, 10, and 11.
When you come to test a skill, you take your two main dice, adding any effort dice you have available and wish to use, and then roll them. Total all the dice up and compare it to the skill marker tokens on the track of the ability tested. All markers equal or less than the roll count as a success. During play, and this is the best bit, you get the chance to move markers on the tracks, sometimes you’ll get a bonus and get to move one of your markers down, and other times, you’ll get penalised and have to move one up, you get the choice of which marker on the track you move.
Now, this opens up some strategic thinking. Do I try to move all my markers slowly down and try to increase the number of successes I get with a single roll? Or do I ensure I always get at least one success by continually moving my lowest marker until it gets to 1?
It’s a really interesting and innovative mechanism, which has so much potential, unfortunately, I found it fell flat throughout the game. Effort dice, of which you have three, become exhausted when used, and you get to refresh one die at the start of your turn, though there are other means of refreshing them. If used wisely, I found passing skill rolls pretty easy, because they were just that, easy to do, other than right at the end of the scenarios when things suddenly ramped up.
I also found that opportunities to move your markers down were often given when you failed a test, and this often outweighed the bonus you’d be given for passing. For example: there was one occasion where I failed a test, and the app gave me a brief description of what happened and told me to move two, let’s say, Dexterity marker down. I had a good laugh, because my opponent had just done the exact same test and passed and was rewarded by being told to move one of her markers down – how much sense does that make!
This continuity between passing and failing cropped up time and again. I think the fact that you can make progress into the branch of story that test is involved in by passing it, is the main bonus, but I still can’t understand why you should be rewarded for making a pig’s ear of it – no offence to pigs meant!
The story and its many plotlines are actually quite good and interesting, but again, it falls short of what could have been done. For the main bulk of the game, all players are playing within the same world, and by that, I mean what one does, generally affects the world as a whole – If I sell something to a peddler then that item is available for the other players to then buy. However, when you reach the point of triggering your destiny plotline, then things start to get a bit strange.
At this point you go off down your own path, providing you with your own version of the story climax. This will differ to what the other players will be doing, don’t forget this is a competitive game, and it made it feel like the world was now my own, no longer shared by the others.
This is because the story, when viewed as a whole, now has no continuity. For example: I may be leading the townspeople to overcome a monster in a castle, I break down the door and storm inside. Meanwhile, one of the other characters is fighting alongside the monster, but in his version of the story he held the townsfolk off at the drawbridge, let alone allowed near the castle doors. This really grated on me.
I feel the designers have missed a beat here. Wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting if the players were competing against one another instead of the story? Allowed what one character does to directly affect the others. So, in my example, I lead the townsfolk to the drawbridge, where we meet the other player setting a defence with the monster’s minions. We could individually roll skill checks, the outcome of which decides how the story goes. Maybe I come out on top and force the other character and their horde back to the castle doors, where they manage to hold us off, forcing me to look for another way in – now that, to me, would have been a much better climax to the game!
Finally, one other misgiving about the game, and that’s how easy I found it. The plots, whilst being well written and interesting, are a bit obvious. It’s obvious what you need to do to advance your destiny and it’s fairly obvious how you need to do it, it usually comes down to hunting around the board until you find what you’re looking for and following the rather simplistic clues put in your path. Looking for a specific item? Talk to the non-player characters about your destiny and they’ll usually point you in the right direction – there’s very little deduction needed by the players and again, I felt like a trick had been missed here.
Overall, I enjoyed the first game or two but then found it all a bit, well, boring! I knew I had to go rooting around the board for such and such but couldn’t really be bothered. I knew I’d pass the tests needed on the way, because I was careful with my energy dice – in other words I can do math – and the tests only ramped up towards the end, once you’d activated your destiny storyline. To that note, I doubt I’ll get around to doing a full review because at the moment I don’t want to play it enough to give it a fair shout.
But, and here’s the thing, Yasmin, my daughter, really enjoyed the game. I think it’s because she took it for what it was, an adventure around a fantasy world that, to give it its due, cracked along at pace and she got to roll plenty of dice. So, there’s obviously gamers out there that this will suit. If you’re looking for a simplistic, RPG-like, romp that isn’t at all complicated and doesn’t involve learning lots of rules, then this might float your boat. Personally, I’d play a couple of games before buying.