First thing’s first, let’s get the disclaimers out of the way. I received a free copy of this book (as well as two related titles I’ll be discussing in the next couple of months) in exchange for my honest review. I have read it in its entirety but haven’t actually played it yet. I do plan to come back later with thoughts on the gameplay with both an experienced group of roleplayers and a group of beginners. But this review is based just on the text.
There are things I really like about this book and things I really don’t, and a lot in the middle. On the positive side, it’s probably the most straight-forward game I’ve seen so far. Pre-generated characters (that you can read more about in the fiction based on it!) and quick-start scenarios make it easy to jump in with little to no experience, perfect for families or kids. The rating suggestions give ideas for adapting the game to make it slightly more mature or even easier for children to understand. And the concept for creating your own characters is simple even for fate, the same built-in origin story for everyone so you can focus on building a full and interesting character rather than justifying abilities.
On the other side, I’m not thrilled with that origin and was wincing through most of the section explaining it. The player characters in Young Centurions are special and good-aligned because of when they were born. The enemies are also special but bad-aligned because they were born a tiny bit earlier. (They are bright hope of the ones born right at the start of a new century and the disappointing shadows of the ones born at the end of the last, respectively.) Ouch. The book makes a point of saying that these things aren’t set in stone and Shadows can become good, but the odds are against them. I don’t like that. Not at all.
It does offer the potential challenge of adapting the material in a way that will work better for me. As it is, I would definitely not feel comfortable using this in a religious education context because I think it directly contradicts UU principles. (And that’s a big part of my interest in the game, so that’s disappointing.) But what if that was part of the project? Challenge kids to work towards redemption stories rather than straight-forward good and evil. Create scenarios that require Centurions and Shadows to work together to overcome common obstacles. That’s something I personally would find much more interesting and valuable.
There are a few other adaptations I would make. One of the requirements given for playing this game is that you have to be able to read and write so that you can fill out a character sheet and easily follow the aspects in play. But is that really necessary? How else could someone get around that to include younger children or people with motor issues who might find writing difficult?
Off the top of my head I’m thinking pictograms, possibly combined with something like flash cards or even trading/collectible cards. (Imagine a Pinkie Pie card to show that a character is always ready to celebrate, a Pikachu card to represent the tendency to shock people when provoked, an Iron Man card for invention and creativity, etc. Mix and match to come up with a “hand” of your five character Aspects and lay them out in front of you so others can see and use them.)
There are almost certainly other options and some trial and error might be involved, and not everyone will have a reason to adapt the game this way. I’m mostly just pointing out that there are always options and you shouldn’t let the game rules (for this one or any other) become a cage. You should always feel comfortable making changes to better fit a game to your goals, and Fate is built for that kind of flexibility.
I love that Sally Slick characters are included throughout this book both as sample characters and in short stories for illustration. The tie-in novels provide a way to see the principles behind the game in action and gain familiarity with the setting. And it means that if you do take advantage of the provided characters and stories, a lot of the work is done for you and beginners or shy players can focus on copying the character and trying to match their style rather than coming up with something completely from scratch.
The GM tips are great. I like that there’s an emphasis on the freedom for a group and game master to explore the things they want to explore but also a responsibility to make it interesting and fun for everyone. Winning all the time might seem fun, but if there’s no challenge it would likely become boring and you lose out on a sense of accomplishment at overcoming difficult situations. Occasional failure isn’t a bad thing, the book reminds us, as long as you gain something from it. Making sure the players are able to get something out of a failure is a big part of the GM’s job.
All in all, I think this is a great starter game and a good introduction to the Fate system. It’s built to appeal to a wide range of ages, making it adaptable to a variety of groups and in particular very accessible for inter-generational or mentoring groups. It’s a fun concept and a good starting point you can use to help jump-start your own ideas and stories.
I’m most looking forward to playing it with my family. I have a sister who has played a one-on-one game with me and knows a bit but hasn’t had much chance to try it with a group, a mom who likes games but has never done roleplaying, and a dad who hates games. Should be interesting! I honestly do think this game probably has the best chance of offering something for all of them.
Unfortunately, I won’t get a chance to put that to the test until March. But I’ll be reviewing the Sally Slick books and hopefully playing with my regular gaming group before that. Stay tuned!