Star Wars: Destiny - An Amazing Game You Probably Can't Buy (Right Now)
In celebration of Star Wars Day, we're going to take a look at Star Wars: Destiny, the all-star battle of blasters and force throws you never knew you wanted. Destiny asks players to dream up the most ridiculous or bad-ass Star Wars universe matchups and put them to the test. Who would win: Jango Fett or Darth Vader? Chewbacca or Jabba? In Destiny, you can prove to your friends that Admiral Ackbar and Princess Leia make an unstoppable team that can turn anything and everything into Swiss cheese. If that doesn't sound fun already, then this game probably isn't for you. But I assure you, as someone who doesn't consider themselves a Star Wars fan, Destiny is outrageous fun.
Destiny is a newish collectible card game (CCG) frm Fantasy Flight Games that dropped in November 2016. It should feel familiar to those who have played Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone or any other similar CCG. It has the expected conventions: play cards, do damage, kill your opponent. What really sets this game apart from it's contemporaries is it's liberal use of dice. Yes, six-sided dice. My first impression of these dice, was that they looked cheap and childish with their loud primary colors and rounded edges. I thought that randomness as a core mechanic in a CCG was just asking for trouble. It had dice, a CCG business model and the Star Wars brand; I had completely dismissed this game almost immediately.
I had just gotten over playing Hearthstone because it was a money pit to play competitively, a lesson I apparently didn't learn after I stopped playing Magic for the same reason, among many others. I looked at Destiny and said, "Pass."
It wasn't until months later that I got a chance to play Destiny after a good friend, and huge Star Wars fan, bought the starter decks against my "professional" opinion. Everything I thought I knew was wrong.
Destiny works like this: Players start the game with characters already in play. These characters each have a certain number of health points; when you defeat your opponents characters, you win. You achieve this by rolling dice and playing cards. Each character has their own dice. Equip your characters with upgrades and they get more dice. Sounds simple, right? It is, but it's deep.
Destiny has this really unique boardgamey feel to it where, instead of taking long-winded turns triggering card effects, playing spells, and yada-yada-yada like you do in Magic, Destiny operates on a clock of one-action turns within a series of rounds. I take an action, then you take an action, and we go back-and-forth until we both pass. At the end of the round, we ready our characters and do it again.
There is a very small selection of actions you can take on a turn. This is one aspect that helps makes Destiny so approachable, yet deeply challenging. As an action, you can activate a character to exhaust their card and roll in their dice. You can resolve these dice as an action on a future turn. Resolving dice with blaster icons does ranged damage. Resolving resource results gets you currency to play more cards. Resolving other results can force your opponent to discard resources or cards. There are even "special ability" results that allow you to activate a character's or upgrade's special effect which can really swing the round in your favor.
The dice and game mechanics make Destiny feel like a duel or shootout. Imagine I setup a strong attack when I activate my character. The turn passes over to you. Now, before I can resolve all my potential damage, you have a chance to respond by removing my dice or shielding your characters through the use of your own dice or cards. It's a fantastic system that lets you see what your opponent is up to and respond.
But what if your dice roll sucks?
Well, as a future action, you can discard a card to reroll any number of dice in your pool. Or you can play a card to turn your die to a specific side. There are so many ways to control dice that it rarely feels like you got screwed by randomness. There are even cards that interact with blanks!
Destiny is a game of timing and anticipation so finding the right time to re-roll, or force a die-result is integral to a winning strategy. It's a game of action-and-reaction that feels very thematic and interactive. What really turned me off from Magic were combo-decks that were ultimately just Magic solitaire for the person playing them. Decks with infinite combos that, when pulled off, meant they would simply win and you were expected to scoop up your cards and forfeit the round. That lack of interaction isn't something you should expect in a game of Destiny. Each game feels like the story of a battle is being told as you play it; Finn fires his blaster, but Kylo Ren deflects the shots back at him.
The other thing that drew me to Destiny was the relatively small pool of cards to choose from when making a deck. It's a very approachable list of cards with clear archetypes made even simpler by splitting the cards by faction; Heroes, Villains, and Neutral. I learned to play Magic just two years ago and my time with it was very brief. It was daunting to learn 4 sets of cards, each set consisting of about 200 cards, and building a sixty card deck that worked well. Then, I had to learn the other decks people were taking to my local Friday-night tourneys. I didn't have to play competitive Magic, but at the time that was what a friend had introduced me to. It was a lot of information and I didn't have the effort or the money to keep up with it.
Destiny asks players to build a svelte 30 card deck from a much smaller list of cards. As Destiny grows, I may experience the same problems I had with Magic. But, right now it suits me perfectly. Building a deck of thirty cards that compliment your characters is a fun challenge. My deck has Princess Leia and Admiral Ackbar and it's hilarious. My favorite moment is always playing "It's a Trap!" for massive damage. My friend's deck runs a small army of Stormtroopers who pick up each other's guns and keep fighting when one dies. It all feels so thematic. Except when Admiral Ackbar is holding three blaster pistols at the same time and gunning everyone down. That's just funny, and that's why I love it!
That's not to say Destiny is Magic-Lite. It's a deeply strategic game with its own competitive meta and tournaments around the country. However, limited availability of boosters and starter decks really stifled the hype and excitement around the game after it was released. Fantasy Flight had issued a statement that they were not expecting the game to be as popular and in-demand as it has been. They have since made plans to bring more product to the masses but I expect it to be swallowed up just as quickly given how starved the community has been. Spirit of Rebellion, the new Destiny set was just released today and I don't think it'll be in stores much longer. (We were lucky enough to snag a box today and we'll have an "un-boxing" soon.)
All this fun doesn't come without a price. If you can embrace the CCG model and the cost of cards on a secondary market, there's a lot to enjoy. You get a whole lot of game through the two starter decks for $15 each and you could maybe spend a bit on a couple boosters for $3 a piece. For the cost of a good board game you'd get just as much mileage with the potential for more as new sets are released. Of course, you could just abolish all self control and buy a whole box of boosters for yourself because your friend has better cards than you and you just need that second Vader and a couple more rares to bring your deck together so you may as well just invest in the resale value of the extra stuff you don't need and oh my god help me.