Matt: What was that?!
Marc: Are you alright? What’s wrong?
Matt: I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of wallets suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
Marc: Ah yes, that’ll be because of Star Wars: Destiny, the collectible card and dice game recently released by Fantasy Flight Games.
Matt: Uuurrrgghhhh a collectible game! Quick, throw it into The Great Pit of Carkoon!
Marc: Don’t be too hasty! How about I explain the game and in exchange you let me change out of this metal bikini?
Matt: I’m making no promises…
Players: 2 (But there are official 3-4 player rules as well)
Time: 20-30 mins
Designer: Corey Konieczka, Lukas Litzsinger
Artist: N/A (if anyone knows the main artists on this please let me know!)
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games, Asmodee, Asterion Press, Delta Vision Publishing, Edge Entertainment, Galakta, Heidelberger Spieleverlag
Marc: Okay, well in Star Wars: Destiny you and another person will pit teams of Star Wars characters against each other in a fight to the death! You’ll both start the game with a number of character cards, their corresponding dice and a deck of 30 cards. You’ll then take it in turns to play cards from your hand, activate characters (roll their dice) and resolve the dice symbols which are rolled. Once you’ve both finished taking actions characters are refreshed, you draw a new hand of cards and gain some resources before doing it all over again. This will continue until one person’s characters are killed or one person has run out of cards. Just like in the movies.
You may think this sounds simple, and that’s because it is. You don’t have multiple consecutive actions to set up a perfect turn. You take an action, be that play a card, roll some dice or resolve dice symbols, then your opponent can react to your action. The upshot of this is that the game feels fast and reactionary which is exactly what a fist fight with Jango Fett should be! You don’t see Jedis go into battles with any particular plans in the movies, you see them desperately rip off bits of scenery to throw at their enemies. In this way, the game actually captures the feel of Star Wars battles really well.
In my experience there is no such thing as luck
You may be wondering what role the dice play in a game already steeped in the random chance of card draws. Well, I feel they’re used in a way much like the dice in Castles of Burgundy: to limit the options you have available to you on any one turn. This limited decision space is reinforced by you not being able to draw cards as a basic action. On your turn you have the cards in your hand and the dice symbols available to you as your only options besides rolling dice. This helps the game keep moving at a decent pace. The dice in Destiny also offer the designers of the game an interesting way to play around with character design. For example, the characters coming in the second set of cards due to be released in May have dice with more similar sides relative to the character dice currently available, making them more consistent but less flexible. I personally feel that being able to mitigate the luck of the dice is a big part of the game, as if you design your deck properly any symbol you roll will be useful to you. Modifying the symbols you or your opponent rolled is done via the cards you have in your hand, and you can always discard a card to reroll any number of your dice if things really don’t go your way.
That card was our only hope
On the subject of building your deck, Destiny is a customizable game in that you choose your characters and the cards in your deck before you even climb into your X-Wing. I think the deckbuilding in Destiny is intuitive and helps to cement the fantastic theme. You will either make Hero or Villain decks, which can only contain cards of that type, or neutral cards which are available to both sides. Across both sides are three factions: Force users (blue cards), military (red cards) and rogue cards (yellow cards). To include cards of a particular colour in your deck, you need to be using a character of that colour. Some particularly powerful cards require you to still have a character of that colour alive, which makes thematic sense as I’ve never seen a Stormtrooper Force choke an enemy in the films. But it also adds an engaging sense of risk/reward to your play; do I not shield my Force user and risk invalidating a portion of the cards in my deck, or do I defend them?
You can take a number of different strategies with the cards available to you. Do you build a deck which denies your opponent resources? What about a deck which can control your opponent’s dice, meaning they can never hit you? How about discarding cards from your opponent’s hand and deck, causing them to run out of cards and lose the game that way. All these strategies are possible, and deck building allows you to make a deck which you find fun and interesting to play. While this is true of any customizable game, I feel it’s important to point out that the designers are making cards to enable alternative strategies.
I touched on the theming of the game but I want to dedicate a whole paragraph to it, because I was frankly amazed that a seemingly mechanically driven game could evoke the feeling of Star Wars so well. Take Finn.
For those you haven’t watched The Force Awakens, Finn is a Stormtrooper who defected to the Rebellion. The way this is represented in Destiny is his card ability, which lets you break the usual deck building restrictions and include military vehicles and weapons from the Villain card pool in your deck! Stormtroopers aren’t known for their accuracy in Star Wars, but how is this represented in Destiny? By them having two blank sides on their dice compared to the usual one! One With The Force is an upgrade card which you attach to a Force user character to give them a powerful extra die. When that character dies the upgrade stays in play, representing the ‘Force ghosts’ you see in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. These nods to the Star Wars universe, combined with the to-and-fro action structure of the duel, do a surprisingly good job of recreating the feel of Star Wars in a collection of cards of dice.
No, there is another
And another… And another! It would be remiss of me to write this review without mentioning the distribution model of Destiny. Destiny is a collectible game, which means that you buy packs of five random cards. These cards range in rarity, so that in a pack you are guaranteed to get three ‘common’ cards, one ‘uncommon’ card and either a ‘rare’ or ‘legendary’ card, the latter of which will always come with their corresponding die. Aside from these booster packs, there are also two starter decks available which each contain a 20 card preconstructed deck (which isn’t random), two characters, all corresponding dice, the tokens you need to play and a rules reference. This way of distributing the game is very different to Fantasy Flight’s other card games, such as Game of Thrones or Netrunner, but will be all too familiar to people who play Magic: The Gathering.
Personally, I’m not a fan. With Netrunner, I think about a particular game plan I would like to try and then go and buy the expansions with cards which complement that game plan. With Destiny, I think about a game plan I would like to try, then have to hope that the booster packs I get contain the cards I want. Sure, I could buy the cards I need on the secondary market, but the day I spend £25 on a Luke Skywalker card is the day Mustafar freezes over! The random nature of acquiring cards is also a little frustrating as a result of how the deckbuilding works with characters and using cards of particular colours. If you’re starting your collection and get a really cool red Hero card you want to play, you can’t as the starter Hero deck doesn’t have a red character. Likewise, you can play a character with either 1 dice or 2 dice. Getting a character in a pack is exciting, but you might not be able to fully utilise them until you happen to get the same character again to get the second die.
If I was pushed to give a positive thought about the distribution model, it would be that the cards you get restrain your deckbuilding, forcing you to play in ways you might not have otherwise. The designer has also said that they take into account the rarity of the cards when designing them, with the rarer cards being more complex or nuanced in the effect they have. It is reassuring that there are many useful and powerful cards in the game so far that are either common or uncommon, so at least the rarity of a card isn’t currently being factored into the power of said card.
You might be wondering why I even bothered to get into Destiny, if I’m opposed to the distribution model. Well, firstly the game is just that good. Second, the way I’m playing the game is with me playing a Hero deck against my girlfriend who plays a Villain deck. (Matt: Not a metaphor for their relationship, I’m sure) The cards we buy go into a pool of cards which we construct our decks from. Playing Destiny like this I have none of the reservations I have about playing Destiny competitively, as I know that both of our decks aren’t fully tuned.
Thankfully Fantasy Flight Games have been quite open about how they plan to distribute Destiny in the future. Destiny is being released in expansion sets, with each set consisting of a certain number of cards released in booster packs. From what we know at the moment, Fantasy Flight Games are going to settle into a routine of releasing two expansion sets and a base set every year. Each expansion set will only get a single print run, so when the packs are gone they’re gone. You’ll then have to rely on getting the cards you want off the black market, that is, eBay. The base sets released every year will consist of two starter decks and a set of booster packs which will remain in print until the next base set is released the following year, giving you plenty of time to acquire the cards. Personally, this news has only cemented my decision to play ‘kitchen table’ Destiny. There is no way I’ll be able to keep up with buying all the new cards so my plan is to expand my collection by buying the occasional booster pack and the annual starter decks.
If reading this review has whet your appetite for Destiny, I would recommend buying the two starter decks and having at it! The starter decks on their own give you a good feel for the game, and I think just buying the starter decks and leaving it at that will give you a fun 2 player filler game. If you’re curious about the deck building side of the game, I recommend picking up 6-8 booster packs of cards alongside the starter decks. That gives you a decent pool of cards to make decks from and potentially play around with building decks which take different approaches to winning. If you’re the type of person who wants to play Destiny competitively, I’d still start with the starter decks to see if you actually like the game, and then probably your most cost-effective strategy is to buy a whole booster feeder. You’re guaranteed 6 legendary rarity cards in a whole box and will almost certainly allow you to construct very competitive decks as you’ll have a lot of cards to choose from.
Okay, so how about I take off this bikini then?
Matt: I will not give up my favourite decoration.
Marc: Sure you don’t mean “my favourite dec-kbuilder”?
Matt: You actually expect to be released with puns like that?!