Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time box cover

Kickstarter Tabletop Review: ‘Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time’

Gaming Kickstarter Reviews Tabletop Games

Natalie and Charlie have been sent to the future with a task: track down and destroy a time machine! You have been given a task: fix the games based on Natalie and Charlie’s story!

What Is Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time?

Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time isn’t a typical game: it’s actually a workbook that includes a time-travel story, along with several broken or incomplete games to play as the story’s characters, and some game design exercises to fix those games. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $40CAD (about $30USD) for a copy of the game, or $60CAD (about $45USD) for the deluxe edition. There are also tiers for an educator edition and options to add a copy to donate to a local educator.

Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time was designed by Blaise Sewell and Jay Cormier and published by Fail Faster, with illustrations by Allan Ohr and graphic design by Sebastian Koziner.

New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.

Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time components
Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time components. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time Components

Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. For instance, the meeple tokens shown in my photo are a generic meeple, but the ones that come with the game will look like the characters.

Here’s what comes in the box, which will be a tuckbox rather than the usual box-and-lid:

  • Spiral-bound book
  • 7 wooden character tokens
  • 4 meeples
  • 4 dice
  • 10 Boot tokens
  • 12 Number tokens
  • 10 Clock tokens
  • 10 Snowflake tokens
  • 4 foldable cards
  • 12 Movement tiles
  • 16 Obstacle tokens
  • 20 blank cards
  • Wet-erase marker (not shown)

The deluxe edition replaces the cardboard tokens with wooden tokens, and also uses a 2-piece box rather than the tuckbox. Stretch goals reached during the campaign, like extra wooden cubes and tokens, will only apply to the deluxe edition.

Since Design Your Destiny is as much a game design kit as a game, the components are designed to be used for multiple purposes. There are meeples for some of the games, but the wooden discs are particularly important for the dexterity flicking game. The various tokens can be used for thematic effects—the snowflake for the freeze ray, for example—but can also be flipped over to be used as generic counters. (The backs are colored but also have different patterns to be color blind–friendly.) And, of course, the blank cards with the wet-erase marker give you even more flexibility when creating your own game.

Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time story
Chapter 1 of the story. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The story is longer than I had expected. If you’re used to a paragraph or two to set the scene in most board games, you may be surprised that this is more like a chapter book, with two chapters between each game design challenge. (You can read the first chapter for yourself here.) While you can play the games and do the design exercises without reading the story, it’s a fun little time travel story about two siblings, Natalie and Charlie, who get zapped into the future with a mission to find and destroy a time machine.

There are a few full-page illustrations to accompany the story, and they remind me a little of those old Rat Fink Hot Rods—not as grungy, but with the bugged-out eyes and gaping mouths. It’s maybe a little intense for a kids’ book, but that’s just my personal taste.

Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time Game 1
The first game, a roll-and-move. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to Use Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time

As I said, this isn’t your typical game, so instead of my usual “how to play” section, I’ll explain how the book works. After reading the first two chapters, you’ll get to your first game: Natalie and Charlie are running through a parking lot, pursued by a guard with a freeze ray. The first page explains how to play the game: players take turns rolling the die and moving their pawns—the guard always shoots a freeze ray straight up at the end of his movement, leaving ice patches that can send the kids backward if they land on them. Their goal is to escape off the top of the page before the guard catches them.

Now, this is a pretty simple roll-and-move game that doesn’t give either of the players any choices: they just roll the die and do what it says. After a single play, most people will be able to tell that it’s not a very fun game, and doesn’t seem balanced between the two players. So then you get a chance to fix the game. The next several pages have spaces for notes, some explanations about the sorts of questions you should ask, and some ideas about what you could change in the game, whether it’s changing elements of the board itself, changing the way that characters move, or tweaking the way the freeze ray works.

Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time design goals
Three design goal questions that it’s important to keep in mind. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

You’re encouraged to change a single element of the gameplay and then try it again—and then see what worked and what didn’t. There are three questions that are highlighted (and repeated throughout the various sections):

  • Is it more fun?
  • Is it fair?
  • Does it add meaningful decisions?
Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time "Earn Stickers" page
As you try different things, you earn stickers. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Each game gives you several tasks: change a rule, fill out the Playtest Notes page, make a change that adds meaningful decisions for the players, and so on. For each task you complete, you get a sticker for that section of the book. At the end of the book, there’s a sticker sheet and a page representing the time machine. Each sticker is an element of the time machine, and as you work your way through the book, you’ll eventually complete the time machine and unlock the story’s ending.

The sample game designs get more complex as you progress. You go from a one-track roll-and-move to a multi-directional roll-and-move to a game that uses various tiles to determine your movement. Then there’s a flicking game (played on the table surface rather than on a page of the book). The last challenge sets up the story and the objectives, but you have to come up with all of the rules yourself, and then playtest it!

Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time sticker page
Okay, so far we have a big blue button! Only 24 stickers to go! (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Why You Should Play Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time

Jay Cormier is the creator of Fail Faster, a game design program with a focus on iteration and playtesting. As he explains in Design Your Destiny, “the goal is always to fail as fast as you can when you’re designing games so that you can move onto your next version of the game.” Design Your Destiny is a kid-friendly—and, I should note, cheaper—introduction to Fail Faster’s concepts. He’s no stranger to game design, either—he has over 20 game designs published, many of them that I reviewed myself for GeekDad!

Near the end of fourth grade earlier this year, my youngest daughter told me she’d been working on a board game design. I saw the single-track board and thought to myself, “Oh, has she designed a roll-and-move?” It was a bit of a surprise because she’s played a lot of different games and I think she knows the importance of giving players a bit of choice. As it turns out, movement was done using a hand of cards, and she came up with a mechanic that was actually a bit like Gravwell, with cards moving you toward or away from the closest other player. We sat down to play it, and then afterward I was helping her with ideas about how to improve it, just doing my best as somebody who has played a lot of games but hasn’t had a lot of experience with actual playtesting.

So when I first heard about Design Your Destiny, I was immediately excited about it: this is something I can share with my daughter so we can learn game design concepts together, and it’s done in a more systematic, incremental way instead of my scattershot ideas. While we haven’t made our way all the way through the book (I read ahead for this review), we did sit down to play a game, then made tweaks and played it again. The book really walks you through the process in an easy-to-digest way that isn’t overwhelming, and the fact that you do work on the same game at least 5 times to earn all the stickers is a good reminder that good game design generally takes more than two iterations!

There’s an educators edition as well for anyone who wants to use this for a class. Instead of the text boxes for people to write directly in the book, those are removed and there are downloadable workbooks and a teacher’s guide. And for those using the regular book, once you’ve gone through it once and filled out the book, you can also download the PDFs to go through the process again. (Instead of a sticker page, the PDF includes the last page as a coloring page so you color in the sections as you earn them.)

Although the story and exercises are kid-friendly, this isn’t something that’s only for kids. Anyone who has played some games has probably had an experience where they felt like the game could be better with a few changes, and there are a lot of house rules that exist because of that. But house rules don’t always get playtested, and sometimes they may make games worse in different ways that weren’t considered. One thing I like about Design Your Destiny is that it shows you the sort of work that goes into refining a game design, and also teaches you that you can do it! If you’ve always wanted to design a game yourself but didn’t really know where to start, this is a cool way to jumpstart that journey. The deluxe edition—especially if the stretch goals are reached—will be a particularly useful kit, with its extra components.

Of course, this being GeekDad, I want to note that it’s a particularly great game to consider if you have kids. Design Your Destiny is a project you can do with your kids, and get them thinking about different aspects of game design whether you’re playing through the exercises in this book or a favorite game from your collection. What makes a game tick? Is it fair? Is it fun? I think it helps you appreciate great games even more, getting a peek under the hood to see how they work.

If Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time does well, the idea is that there will be more Design Your Destiny titles as well, so I look forward to trying those if that happens! (Alas, my own time machine was destroyed so I can’t go check now.)

For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Design Your Destiny: Running Out of Time Kickstarter page!

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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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