This is a review of the current version of FATE, recently finished on its Kickstarter, by Evil Hat.
I’ve had a lot of time for the FATE system, writing a fair bit for it (Agents of SWING) and playing it even more in the forms of Starblazer, Dresden Files, Legends of Anglerre and some others. I couldn’t really not back the game and have – as a consequence – gotten a copy of the book.
At 300 digest pages it’s still a hefty tome for a game sold on its ‘lite’ system, especially in hardback. About half that is actual, core rules and much of the rest of it are options, introduction and the expansive explanations for which FATE was already known. Those 150 pages of core content could probably be slimmed down to half that again – or even less. This is a much lighter version of the game than previously published and a large part of that is down to the fact that characters’ stunts are now much more generic, making it much easier to make up your own and doing away with much of the need of writing down a whole bunch of them in any sourcebooks.
It’s hard to quite put one’s finger on what exactly it is that has changed but the whole character of the game has been shifted further away from traditional roleplaying than FATE already was. Conflicts and exchanges end much more quickly (leaving less room for tactics, showboating and creating scene aspects). Things are much more freeform and characters are weaker in one sense (Stress) while being stronger in other ways (skills seem much more effective than they have been.
We played a modern crime game idea I’ve been working on for a while, using the rules pretty much ‘straight’ from the book to see how it worked out. Not especially well when it came to street-fighting and physical opposition, great everywhere else. I can see how it’s fixable but that feels a bit like I’d be working backwards and it might work better to simply use the older versions of the rules set.
It’s laid out well, the explanations are clear. The skills are, perhaps, a little too broad and some areas seem to be missing (healing) – though it’s also possible I’m being a bit blind. It’s a solid game and easily adaptable. It does have a few issues in its default incarnation, especially if you want to do something a bit more gritty or where fights are more than a couple of quick exchanges. You can work around these by adapting it but substantial modification runs the risk of undoing all the changes in the current edition – for better or worse.
The major disappointment for me was the art. It’s competent, but it’s not exciting or engaging. The best art in the book was on the bookmark. The rest just felt a bit dull and didn’t seem to fit the spirit of the game either as an Indie darling or as a fun, freewheeling, heroic rules set.
A solid core game that provides the basis of a toolkit that you can adapt to your own purposes. The downside is that you’ll need to. The book is great for reference but not for inspiration. It’s an engine, but it’s an engine for a car that will need spoilers, airdams and a catalytic converter before it’s really usable. It has lost an ineffable ‘something’ from other incarnations of the game.
- Style: 2
- Substance: 4
- Overall: 3