Teaching Destiny, Part 1

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What has drawn so many of us to Star Wars: Destiny is how approachable it is. It’s simple to learn, yet has deep strategy. Games are quick. There’s big, chunky dice that we get to roll around. It’s STAR WARS. Quite simply, the game is great.

But this approachability also brings with it another huge advantage. Destiny is fundamentally straightforward, and fun to play with different people of all skill levels. People get home from a cut-throat tourney, and can play with their kids. And that may, perhaps, be the most exciting thing about this game. Destiny thus presents a unique opportunity that we haven’t had in a long while – an opportunity for bringing brand new players into the world of card games.

CCGs and LCGs can be very difficult to “break in to”, and I don’t just mean from a financial perspective. The ever-prevalent M:TG is completely overwhelming (not just to newbies) and has too many negative-play-experience pitfalls to hook all but the most committed new players. LCGs like Star Wars and Netrunner have much higher initial learning curves that can be off-putting. And, as gorgeous as the L5R reboot looks, it’s pretty clear that game will not be for the inexperienced. The simpler games like Pokemon and Yi-Gi-Oh! have the connotation of being for kids, which can make it harder to grab a more mature player’s interest, especially if that player is unfamiliar with the cartoons.

This is where Destiny stands apart. Not only is it a relatable universe to which most people are familiar, but in less than five minutes a new player can be up and rolling dice and on their way to learning, getting hooked, and loving the game. This is due to far more than just the simplicity of the game basics. Destiny is comfortable; a familiar theme with recognizable characters from a loved universe. The game looks cool, with dice and cards and tokens and guns and lightsabers. Games are quick and engaging. Anyone can win. And the game is just darn fun.

To this end, I have had the opportunity to teach Destiny to several ‘new-to-card game’ players in the last few months, all of varying backgrounds. I quickly realized that this was a task I was unprepared for mentally. Growing up, my friends and I learned games together, making mistakes and developing together. As a young adult, have taught plenty of games to other gamers. But teaching, from scratch, people with little to no background in gaming, much less card games? I needed to pause and re-evaluate my approach.

The purpose of this short series of articles is to share my perspectives on what I found to work, what didn’t, and some strategies that I believe can help when introducing new players to this great game we love. In this article, the focus is on the approach to teaching your new student.

Foreign Concepts

It is important to remember that there are a lot of things that we, as experienced card game players, take for granted. Concepts such as paying a cost, what a deck is, hand size, discarding, and recognizing that terms like ‘action’ and ‘turn’ may in fact have different connotations, are things that we have picked up over the years. Because these concepts are mostly universal in different games, our understanding allows us to ‘skim’ the rules pick up things a lot faster. We don’t even think about them. But to someone who has no experience with such games, this may not be the case.

For example, in the first game with one of my students, she correctly played and resolved an event. But after we resolved the card and her action was over, she picked up her deck and placed the card on the bottom of it. I had failed to explain to her the concept of a discard pile. To me, it was a no-brainer; obviously, used cards go in your ‘used’ pile. But to her, it made perfect sense that she put the card back where it came from.

As a result of my mistake, we now had to pause while I explained the error and showed her where her discard pile would go. The error was, of course, not a big deal at all. But from a learning perspective, she was now aware that she made a mistake. In the best case, the incident had simply disrupted the flow of teaching and distracted her. But in the worst case, it could have diminished her confidence and frustrated her (luckily it did not). 

Start with the Dice

More than anything else in Destiny, the thing that stands out the most and makes the game unique are the dice. Your new player’s first question is almost certainly going to be “when do I get to roll the dice”. So start there, with something like:

“These are your characters, and these are their dice. Your dice are the basic tool with which to win the game. If you roll a gun on Han, then you can use that to do damage to my character. Once my character takes damage equal to this number up here in the corner, he dies. When all of my characters are dead, you win.”

Then let them handle the dice, look at them, and roll a few times. From there, let them drive the learning by asking questions. Things will begin to move pretty naturally from there, but at the student’s own pace. Instead of trying to explain things to them as it makes sense to you, let them discover in the order that they want to.

Their next question will likely be “What do the symbols mean?” to which you can show them the card that came with the starter set, explain the symbols, and let them place it nearby for reference. “What do I use resources for?” leads to explaining the cost of cards from the hand. And so on, until the student is ready to do a dry-run.

Discuss Actions and Turns (Rounds)

The average non-gamer has a very narrow perception of the term ‘Turn’. In board games like Monopoly or in poker-deck card games, you go around the table in a set order, one-by-one, doing things (i.e. ‘taking your turn’). Thus to most, the word ‘Turn’ means “On my turn I get to do something” and “On your turn I sit and wait”.

The back-and-forth actions within Destiny are thus ‘Turns’ – even though we don’t call them that – and actions reside within a larger ‘Round’. It is, admittedly, easy to see why this could be initially confusing. Before moving on to any sort of teaching game, I find it worth taking a pause to point out the difference between an Action and a Round. It only takes a few seconds to explain, but will set your student up for success as they start reading cards and playing the game.

Play a few Rounds with Hands Exposed

This is a tried-and-true method of teaching a card game, even to CCG veterans. Once you’ve covered the very basics, set up a quick-and-dirty game and start walking them through it. Explain the options available to them, explain why you are doing what you are doing, and work together to move through the game.

The key here, however, is to avoid the pitfall of over-explaining the options in their hand. At this point, combos and ‘tricks’ are a bad thing. Your goal is for them to understand the concept that on their turn they can play something from their hand, go through the actions of paying for it, and seeing the resolution. Nine times out of ten you are going to want to open by explaining “you generally want to play your upgrades first, before you roll your characters”. Then choose an upgrade from their hand, have them play it, and then take your action. Then, let them do what they’ve been waiting for – exhaust and roll in!

At this point, again, let things develop at their pace. At some point they will ask “Can I resolve all my dice at the same time?” which will lead into an explanation of how you can resolve any of a single symbol. They will likely ask “When can I use this card?” (referring to a card in their hand) which leads to the process of playing it and resolving it.

Where I have gone wrong before was playing the ‘hands-down’ game out to completion and eating up valuable time that led to boredom and/or burn-out. Playing a full game in this manner isn’t necessary; it only takes 2-3 rounds for them to get down the routine of drawing, playing back-and-forth, resolving, trading damage, and ending the turn and resetting. When they seem ready, just tell them “You’re picking this up quick, let’s do a real game”.

Don’t force the Battlefield

I have consistently found that stopping to explain the concept of the Battlefield before playing greatly disrupts the flow of learning. Instead, the battlefield is another concept that should be introduced naturally.

You don’t actually need the battlefield to begin playing. Roll for who goes first, and then start blasting each other. Trade actions back and forth, rolling, coaching, and learning. Eventually your student will run out of things to do, and will say something to the effect of “Do I just keep passing?”

This is thus a natural and ideal time to introduce the battlefield. They student is done thinking about rolling and playing cards, and has hit a mental pause. This new concept can be added without distraction and with minimal disruption to flow.

It’s not about Winning – for either of you

A lot of people will tell you to let your student win their first game. I respectfully disagree because I consider this to be insulting to the student. If you have decided to invest your time and energy into teaching your friend the game, you clearly must respect their intelligence. Blatantly throwing the game insults that intelligence, and their character – it’s as if you think they are not smart enough to win on their own, or that you think they can be ‘tricked’ into liking the game by merely winning.

Besides, let’s be honest. If your student is the type that has to win in order to maintain interest, this game isn’t for them. The only certainty in their future is a rage-quit over uncooperative dice.

You can of course (and should) facilitate their learning by doing little things like not playing removal, and perhaps going after a non-optimal character first. But if you ‘god-roll’, hit them with it. Make some overly big show about how awesome the roll is, have a mutual laugh about it, and keep going. That’s Destiny.

Don’t Confuse by Talking Strategy

In most cases a new player’s primary concern is playing the game correctly. At the start they won’t be looking for combos. Instead, they will be focusing on the order in which things happen, what the cards in their hand can do, who their cards can be played on and when, and how things fit together.

Frustration is the enemy of learning. Humans become inherently frustrated by two things: being confused, and making mistakes. Moving too fast when teaching can lead to both of these, which can then start feeding off of each other. If they keep making mistakes, they will get frustrated and likely not want to proceed. So it is your job to set up an environment which minimizes potential mistakes.

And this is, perhaps, the hardest part of teaching Destiny. You are going to be excited to explain how a Vibroknife on Rey allows you to stack actions. You’ll want to demonstrate how One with the Force works. Being excited is great, as the student will feed off of your enthusiasm. But the risk of rushing into combos and strategy is that things can start moving too quickly, or a key concept can get overlooked. The result can be very damaging to the learning process.

Your student will hit their ‘Aha!’ moment – and getting there on their own is important. Guide your student along, positively correct mistakes, and let things unfold at the student’s own pace.

Wrap-Up

How we approach teaching Destiny can directly impact our students’ perceptions of the game. In this article the focus was on the “method” of interaction with our student. In the next article, we will discuss how to properly prepare for a teaching session, and how to shift our own mindsets to set our students up for success.

Until next time.

-Andrew S. Heintz

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