Destination: Great Family Games for Casual Gamers

Games GeekMom

Destination Games © Sophie Brown

Destination is a British board game which places players in the role of a taxi driver attempting to visit all of his or her destinations and return to the taxi rank first.

It’s a deceptively simple idea made all the more tricky by the need for fuel and the twisting roads that make planning out a route harder than you might imagine. For this review I was playing the London edition of Destination; many different cities and a number of special edition versions have also been released but we’ll come back to those later.

Destination is a game with very few rules that are all easy to explain. It is perfect for game night, with more casual gamer friends & family, or with kids. The game comes packaged in a tiny box and the board is assembled jigsaw style from four pieces to form a map of the city you’ve chosen. While clearly not to scale, the map tries to be at least close to geographically accurate. The London edition shows the Thames curving through the city and there are lots of illustrated landmarks to spot: Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and The British Museum are among those found on the board. Before you even start playing it’s fun trying to recognize each of the 40 numbered destinations from their location and surrounding pictures.

The Destination London Board © Sophie Brown

At the beginning of a game, each player is given seven destination cards from the deck and two fuel cards, each of which is valid to get the player to one destination. Each player places their taxi in the rank and the game is off as the players race to reach each of their destinations and return to the rank first. There is a lot of simple strategy involved: To reach a destination you must have a fuel card in your hand. This means planning routes that will take you past the garage to fill up with more fuel cards (up to a maximum of four in your hand at any time), trying to avoid doubling back on yourself which wastes time, and trying to plan a logical route through the city. Landing on traffic lights forces you to pick up a traffic light card which has a chance of helping or hindering you. You might have all your fuel stolen, be forced to the garage (helpful if you need fuel but irritating if you’re sent there from the other side of the city when you don’t), or get free fuel.

Whatever happens, these cards can significantly alter your approach so you can’t go planning your strategies too far in advance. To win the game, you must be the first player to visit all your destinations and return to the taxi rank by exact count.

One of the best things about Destination is the variety of editions available. Over 15 different cities and regions have now been released and the games manufacturers hope to one day produce enough editions to create a map of the entire UK. There’s something appealing about playing on a map of familiar landmarks. It’s the same lure that has made the thousands of Monopoly variants bestsellers in their respective regions.

While pretending to drive around Norwich wouldn’t mean much to the majority of us, for locals (and possibly even more for ex-locals) there’s a clear nostalgia factor involved. I can guarantee you that if and when Destination releases a game of my home city of Manchester I will be buying it. The simplicity of the underlying game mechanic has also made it possible for themes to be easily overlaid giving rise to special editions for Pixar, London 2012, and Harry Potter.

The Harry Potter edition of Destination, actually titled Destination Hogwarts, plays slightly differently to the standard edition of the game. In the original you visit your seven destinations and race back to the start to win, but in Hogwarts once you reach a destination you collect a number of house points (paper notes akin to Monopoly money) and then take a new destination from the pile to replace it. The game only ends after every destination has been visited. Once you have visited all your destinations and there are none left in the pile you race back to your common room (dependent on which character you are playing as) and the first player back wins an extra 150 house points, however as in Quidditch that may not be enough to secure their victory.

The Destination Hogwarts Board © Sophie Brown

Destination Hogwarts also removes the need for fuel cards (or at least some sort of magical replacement, broom servicing kits perhaps?) which results in a much simpler and less strategic game. The traffic light cards are still there as Dark Mark cards that affect your house points. Examples include: receiving a howler from home, being burnt by a blast-ended skrewt and sent to the hospital wing, or conjuring a patronus to save another pupil from a dementor; but these do little in regards to affecting your strategy. This is however one Dark Mark card you really want to avoid; if you are caught with a copy of The Quibbler you are expelled and instantly lose the game!

This brings up another issue with Destination Hogwarts, the ambiguity of several rules.

As you travel around the beautiful Hogwarts board you move through the school, the grounds, the Forbidden Forest, and the lake via boats. Normally you throw two dice but the rules state that “if you choose to travel by boat you may only use one die” and that “you may only use one die when you enter the Forbidden Forest.” That’s fine if you’re already there, but what if you’re not? If I’m one space away from the boats then surely I’m “choosing to travel by boat” but I’m still technically on land so do I throw one die or two? It’s even more of an issue the further away you are. I could easily be well within Hogwarts, but with two dice, end up rolling a large enough number to end up in the lake or forest. Do I need to stop my turn before I enter them and roll again with one on my next go? It’s up for debate. The same goes for the Quibbler expulsion rule. If I am holding an invisibility cloak “get out of trouble” card can I use it to avoid being expelled or does the Quibbler rule override it. You might find that you need to lay down some of your own rules prior to playing.

My final issue with Destination Hogwarts was pretty much the first thing I noticed when I unpacked the game. The very first sentence in the rules instructs each player to “select a piece and [be] sorted into a Hogwarts house.” Here are the pieces, I’ll give you a moment to spot the problem:

Playable Characters in Destination Hogwarts © Sophie Brown

Where is Hufflepuff? I know the house isn’t exactly the most popular but to completely omit one of the four houses from a Hogwarts themed game is simply ludicrous. Even Ravenclaw only manages one showing. I know Gryffindor will always be the most popular option, especially in a game aimed at children, but would it really have been so difficult to even out the character options a little bit?

The Destination Games are highly enjoyable if very simple for more experienced gamers. They’re great for playing with kids or casual/non-gamers who would be overwhelmed with highly strategic or rules-heavy games. Hogwarts is a stunningly beautiful game that will heavily appeal to Potter fans willing to overlook the obvious flaws and play for the sheer enjoyment of running around Hogwarts attempting to win the House Cup. Neither of these games will set you on fire with their brilliance but sometimes great theming is enough to carry a game and that’s what Destination pulls off. Despite the issues in the game-play, the themes are so beautifully captured that I wouldn’t hesitate to buy more variants of the game if the right ones came along. I’m already imagining Destination Star Trek, Star Wars, and X-Files among the thousands of possibilities out there. Please make it so!

GeekMom received these items for review purposes.

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