Destinies is an app-driven role-playing game designed by Michal Goblębiowski and Filip Miluński and produced by Lucky Duck Games. Each player takes on the role of a character with the aim of fulfilling their destinies. Each character has two different destinies allowing the players to choose their path. Once a player completes one of their destinies, it triggers their finale. The first player to complete their finale wins.
This description may make the game sound simple. Although it is very easy to get into and has a fast start-up time, this game is so much more than the brief synopsis suggests. This game is special. It is a game that will draw you in and stay with you long after you pack the pieces away in the beautiful box.
It's What's On The Inside That Counts
Once you open the Destinies box, you're presented with something that promises to be special. The inserts are well designed to keep everything organised and to make the most of the modest-sized box. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. This makes the game easier to set up and keep all the components organised. It also means that you can leave in the box the components not currently in use as they can easily be accessed later. A word of warning - make sure you take a photo of where the miniatures belong before you take them all out. Trying to work out which one goes where without a reference is quite a challenge.
This is a good point to talk about the component quality. The player boards are well designed with insets for the skill pegs and a recess to store active dice. The notches on the bottom help to organise your item cards and are a nice little touch.
There are lots of miniatures and they are fairly well detailed. They do not all feel high-end but they definitely add to the feel of the game. The larger miniatures look impressive on the board and provide a sense of scale. The majority of the miniatures are very small, though. The tiny size may help them to fit comfortably on the map tiles but they can be hard to distinguish between. At the end of one game, I realised I had been moving the blacksmith around instead of my playable character.
The cardboard tokens are worthy of a special mention as they are some of the thickest I've seen. This gives them a more substantial feel and suggests that they will be durable. If only the same could be said for the map tiles. There may be a lot of them but they are almost paper-thin. This means that they require careful handling so as not to bend or crease.
Overall, everything in Destinies looks beautiful and there is a high production value. The artwork is atmospheric and striking. Everything suggests that this is a game that is more expensive than its price tag, particularly if you buy it from Zatu!
How It Plays
Destinies has five scenarios, each with a different story and different characters. Once a scenario is chosen, the app guides you through character set-up and tells you which map tiles to place. As the players explore the map, more map tiles are revealed with points of interest to explore.
On their turn, each player can choose to interact with a point of interest. The app then provides the player with decisions to be made. How the player navigates those decisions, impacts on future events. The choices can range from engaging in conversation with NPCs to trying to steal artefacts. Often, you will be asked to complete a skill test.
The skill test is a clever mechanic and is perhaps the only thing you need to learn before starting the game. There are three skills - intelligence, dexterity and power. Each player board has three skill tracks, one for each type of skill. At the start of the game, the app will tell each player where to place wooden pegs on each skill track. Each track will have a total of 3-4 pegs. The higher up the track a peg is placed, the harder it will be to be successful.
When asked to complete a skill test, the player chooses to roll a combination of white and purple dice. The two white (main) dice are always rolled but the player can choose to also roll up to three purple (effort) dice. When you use purple dice, they are exhausted and cannot be used again until the app tells a player to refresh them. The player tallies up the score on the dice and finds that number on the corresponding skill track. Any wooden pegs that are at or below that number count as successes. Some tasks require more successes than others to pass but you are never told exactly how many are needed. This adds some more strategy to the game as you have to decide when to use the effort dice and when to hold back.
There is also the opportunity to improve your character's chance of passing skill tests. Certain decisions result in you moving a skill peg to the left of the track. This increases the chances of success. If a player has acquired an experience token, this can be traded in to move one peg two spaces left or two pegs one space left. This can make your character stronger over time. This means you may have more chances to pass trickier skill tests that you may have failed before. This is a nice levelling up mechanic. It feels like your character continues to develop throughout the game.
When my first game of Destinies ended, I was devastated. Not because I didn't win (I came last) but because I wanted the story to continue. This game entraps you with its narrative. The app works seamlessly with the physical components to create a totally immersive game. Because your decisions and the path you choose shapes the story, you become part of it.
You feel completely invested in the game. I have played app-driven games before and really enjoyed them. There are similarities to games such as Mansions Of Madness or Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth, both fantastic games but I haven't felt this involved before. Maybe it is the well-written story, maybe the atmospheric sound effects or maybe because you help create your character's story. The app does a fantastic job of the admin side of things. This allows you to focus on gameplay and making decisions and keeps you immersed in the game. This game has something special that just works. It makes you want to return at the earliest opportunity.
There is a really good balance to the game. Even when I came last, I felt that I had travelled significantly on my characters' journey. It is also forgiving in nature. If you fail a skill test there may be a small penalty but you also receive an experience token. This can be used to make future skill tests easier. The game wants you to move through the story. You may have to work for it at times but it makes the reward even more satisfying.
I think what helps to immerse the player is the unknown nature of certain elements. You are never told how many successes you need to pass a skill test. You never know what will be the consequence of a choice you are asked to make. This adds to the tension and suspense as you wait for the result. It also impacts your strategy. Will I sacrifice my effort dice or can I pass with fewer successes? Somehow it mirrors real-life decisions as you feel that there are no guarantees to what you decide. It just seems to matter more.
The Not So Good?
There are elements to the gameplay of Destinies that could have been perceived as negative. For one, there can be considerable downtime between turns. This doesn't seem to matter as you have a real interest in your opponents' stories and what they do. This is largely due to the fact that their actions can impact what you do.
It can be a bit fiddly finding the correct miniatures, tiles or item cards when directed by the app. This can be overcome to some degree by keeping the components organised. It can break the flow of the story when you have to sort out 10 different item cards to set up a market or you are struggling to identify the correct miniature.
The game is only a 1-3 player game and this could limit how often it gets to the table. It is possible for players to play in teams and this may add a different element to the game. The opportunity to discuss choices and destinies could add more depth but may hinder the flow. I have yet to play in teams but I like the idea of more people being able to join in with the experience.
The fantasy medieval theme is very much embedded within the game and this may not appeal to everyone. The experience outweighs this but I can understand that it may put some people off which is a shame. There will be expansions available with alternative themes.
I have played the first scenario three times. This is because I wanted others to experience it and I wanted to try it solo. Most importantly, I wanted to see each characters' story through to the end. Despite playing the same scenario, there were enough differences to keep me engaged. There are a total of five scenarios, each with three characters and each character having 2 destinies. That's a total of 30 different endings. Some people may not have the desire to see each possible outcome but I know I want to explore this game to the fullest. It should keep me going for a while.
I cannot recommend Destinies enough. This is a totally immersive game with a quick start-up time and is easy to learn. Whether you are new to board games or experienced, you can be up and playing in ten minutes. The app works so well to guide you through the game and involve you in the narrative. Your decisions really seem to matter and there feels so much to explore. This game will take you on a memorable journey that you and your friends will want to experience again and again.