Dale Yu: Review of Destination X

 

Destination X

  • Designers: Kristian A. Ostby and Bard S. Tuseth
  • Publisher: Aporta Games
  • Players: 2-10
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 20 minutes/game
  • Times played: 11 sessions, each with multiple rounds, with review copy provided by Aporta

Destination X is a new cooperative (or perhaps better stated “all versus one”) game from Aporta Games, a new-ish company from Norway which has had a number of solid releases in the past few years.  In this game, one player is the spy – a spy who is trying to escape with a secret file.  The rest of the players are the detectives who are trying to capture said spy.  As the story goes, the spy is known to be at the airport, and there are six (or maybe eight) flights which have just recently left.  The detectives use informants to try to figure out which of the possible destinations was the one chosen by the spy.

The game is supposed to be played over a number of rounds – and the game is won by the first side (either the spy or the detectives) which is first to win three rounds.  To start each round, the deck of destination cards is shuffled and 6 cards are dealt face up to the table.  The flag side is placed up on the table – so that everyone can see the name of the country, the national flag and the country’s location on the globe.  There are 197 cards in the deck – corresponding to the 193 countries currently in the United Nations as well as 4 other states which currently claim sovereignty: Kosovo, Taiwan, the Vatican and Palestine.

The other side of the card has thirteen data points about the country (population, area, language, currency, neighbors, etc) – but the detectives can’t see this information.  There is a printed handbook which replicates the card back information for each country.  This book is given to the spy.  The spy looks at the destination options and secretly chooses one of them for the round. He flips to the appropriate page in the book so that he can refer to the information about his chosen destination.

There is also a deck of informant cards – generally 16 in the regular game (though there are some additional cards which are used in a variants).  Each of these cards has an icon on it that poses a single question – such as:

  •         Population size
  •         First letter of the capital city
  •         Major religion
  •         Type of government
  •         GDP per inhabitant

Each detective is dealt a hand of three cards from the deck.  The rest of the cards form a deck of informant cards that is left on the table.

The detective to the left of the detective is the first player to go.   He plays an informant card from his hand, and the spy then must truthfully read the matching information from handbook entry on his chosen destination country.  Then, the detectives discuss the new information and then, as a group, they eliminate a single destination card that they do think IS NOT the spy’s chosen destination.  They flip the card over, and then the spy tells them whether the detectives were right or wrong.  The detective who played a card draws a new one from the informant deck (if there are any left).

IF the detectives were wrong – that is, they flipped over the card of the spy’s chosen destination – the round is over and the detectives lose the round.  If the detectives were correct, the game continues on and the next player then plays a card from his hand to repeat the whole procedure.

At any point, the detectives can attempt to make an arrest. When they do this, they tell the spy that they wish to arrest him and name the country where they think he is in.  If they are correct, the round ends and the detectives are victorious.  If they are wrong, the round still ends, but unsurprisingly, the spy wins.

Again, the game ends immediately when one side has won three rounds.  If the game is not yet over when a round ends, all of the current destination cards are discarded as well as any informant cards played in the round.  The players keep all of their hands – these are NOT discarded.  This is important not to screw up because the detectives are limited to only 16 informant cards for the ENTIRE game (which will be between 3 and 5 rounds).  If the detectives use their last card and are not able to successfully arrest the spy for the third time, the spy is the overall winner of the game.

There are a number of variants included in the rules which change up the game a bit.  We have played once with the Open Assets variant – in this form of the game, the informant cards are not dealt out to the detectives.  Instead, four Informant cards are dealt face up to the table, and the detective in charge for the turn must simply choose one of those cards.  After the question is posed, a new card is revealed from the deck.  There is also a set of informant cards marked with a red star which can be included/substituted into the deck to make the game even more challenging.

My thoughts on the game

When I first read the rules for the game, I thought that the game would be a simple diversion.  However, after playing a few rounds, I’ve been surprised by just how challenging a game this can be (well, at least depending on the destination cards which are dealt out). We’ve only played three and four player games, but the game can really handle almost any number of players.  I would think that as you add more detectives, you’ll have more people that can possibly know facts about the lesser known countries.  We have found that the size of our family gives us a nice challenge.

The difficulty of any game is, in part, based on the countries dealt out.  The trick for the spy is to pick out a country which cannot be easily distinguished from the others.  Of course, the spy doesn’t know which informant cards are held by the detectives at the start of the game, but the spy can remember which questions have already been played in later rounds to help make his capture more difficult.

The detectives have to manage the Informant cards carefully. First, they only have sixteen total cards for the entire game, and some of the cards are better than others.  As each card can only be used once, there is a certain skill in choosing which cards are best used at the right time – both to help eliminate choices from the table as well as trying to get important information to help the detectives make an early arrest.

another traveling spy has snuck into our review!

While it’s possible for the detectives to win a round by playing five cards and eliminating a destination each turn – but this leaves very little margin for error.  In order to have enough cards to play four or five rounds, it will be necessary to make an early arrest somewhere along the line.  An early arrest also keeps Informant cards in your hand which gives you better possible choices to choose from when hunting down the spy.

The cards are well organized, and the information is easy to find.  There really isn’t much art to comment on as the bulk of the art is simply national flags and icons for the information classes.  One thing that we noticed is that an astute detective can also use the handbook to help figure out where the spy is hiding.  The reason for this is that the countries are listed in alphabetical order in the book, and as a result, if you can see approximately where in the book the spy is reading from, you can then infer what portion of the alphabet he is hiding in!  We have since added a handy clipboard which obscures the edges of the handbook so that no additional information is given away while the spy is looking up information.

 

One thing that I worry about is the currency of the cards – and I don’t mean their monetary value.  The information on the cards is mostly correct for 2017 (or better said, they are correct from whenever the source material collected the values).  For the next few years, that should be great.  But who knows what will happen in the future?  Come 2027, you can play this game, but then it will be a combination of geography and history because you’ll have to know what a particular value was back in 2017.  Yes, I know, most of the things don’t change.  But countries change capital cities occasionally, boundaries can move, or natural resources can run out…

The game is rated for 10 years and older, but I honestly don’t know if that’s a great age to start with.  The players need to have a decent grasp of geographic information in order to make meaningful deductions here – and I’m not sure that your average fifth grader is going to be able to deal with the average GDP per person to help them choose between Cameroon, Mexico and Thailand.  One thought is to let the younger players play the role of the spy – but again, without some basic geography bee knowledge – the spy might not be able to choose a suitably difficult destination each round.  However, this is all supposition as I’ve been playing with my teenaged kids, and we’ve found it to be just right for us.

 

This is a game that would be awesome if it were on a phone app.  This could keep me busy on many a long car trip, and I would learn something along the way!  As I’ve been the fugitive for 9 of my 11 plays so far, I’ve come to learn that the spy has very limited chances to make any decisions.  Once you choose your country for each round, you’re merely a machine to answer the questions.  Sure, it’s pretty entertaining to listen to the other players talk about their theories and what they know (correctly or not) about the geographical facts, but other than that, there’s not a lot to do.  I can totally see this as an engrossing solo experience with a phone app though.  Aporta has provided electronic versions of some of their previous games, and here’s to hoping that this one gets that treatment as well.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Joe Huber (1 play): This is a fine game, and a nice use of geographic facts – but it’s a cooperative game, and as such falls into the typical “happy to play, don’t need to” bucket for me.  I thought Länder toppen! did more with similar facts, in blending them into a twelve-tricks-at-once trick taking game – but some of that preference is simply my general preference for such games.  Because of the structure of that game, it’s also one that will work better as the facts become less current, another significant advantage in my book – and, in fact, a plus for me, for the same reasons I enjoy playing decades-old US election games.

 

Jeff Lingwall (2 plays): I quite enjoyed my two plays. It definitely rewards a knowledge of geography, but also hand management and the educated guess. As Dale notes, probably not for younger kids: rated M for “More geography than most kids will know.”

 

Chris Wray (1 play): What a cool combination of trivia and deduction.  It reminded me of a video game from my childhood — Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? — although my memory of the video game is admittedly rusty.  I fully agree with Dale’s review, and I look forward to buying a copy when this comes out.

 

Craig V (5 plays): I was excited about Destination X when I first heard about it and I’m happy to report that the game did not disappoint. It was slightly different than I originally expected since I was hoping for it to be more like the old Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? computer game that I loved as a kid. While it isn’t quite that, it still contains enough of that vibe to make me happy. Destination X is an interesting and fun combination of trivia, teamwork, and strategy. The many versus many works well and I really enjoyed the attractive graphic design, cooperative gameplay, and educational bits. I particularly enjoyed the variant in which a pool of Informat cards is placed face up and the detectives must choose from those each turn. This variant seems to make the game more strategic and a bit more difficult for the detectives, thus encouraging discussion and planning. Destination X would be a good party/social game since knowing exact facts isn’t necessary and pooling group knowledge is part of the game. I definitely look forward to giving Destination X a try with my wife and a few other couples during a casual game night.

 

Note: As Dale mentioned, the countries are in alphabetical order in the handbook which makes it a bit trickier for the spy to hide the country he chose because the detectives can see the section of the book he’s looking at. It’s too bad that the countries weren’t just in a random order with an index at the front or back. We used a lid from another game to help the spy hide the handbook, but there is also now a PDF version of the it available for digital devices that should help eliminate this concern as well.

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Craig V
  • I like it. Dale Y, Jeff L., Chris W., John P
  • Neutral. Joe H.
  • Not for me…

 

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About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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