Centurion – Legionaries of Rome is a game by Sword’s Edge Publishing written by Fraser Ronald and published in 2013. This book is 176 pages in a 6×9 format and comes perfect bound with soft cover. Having said that the last four pages are blank, so no content there.
History based games can indeed be very entertaining and also informative. I do like the idea of a game that can teach me a bit of history whilst allowing me to have fun, since it’s something my teachers at school seemed totally opposed to. Nothing more entertaining than reading aloud in class was permitted!
Centurion takes the players back to the times of the Roman Empire and puts them in the place of one of the components of the legion, let it be a soldier, a spy, scout… and delves into what it was to live at that time in history.
Let’s start with the production. The quality of the printing is superb. The paper is thick enough, the printing is sharp, the cover is sturdy enough for a soft cover and the binding is excellent. You’ll have to exercise considerable strength to pull this book’s pages apart.
Illustrations are not all that numerous, around 20 in total and they go from roman-style iconography to some legion member’s pencil style illustrations, some maps and a couple of slightly more painterly illustrations. Although the overall artwork is not cohesive, the illustrations are actually not bad at all. The maps are pretty decent and showcase the territories conquered by Rome at any given time in their history and the soldiers will leave no doubt as to what a centurion would look like. I have no complains there.
The layout is not all that great. A single column layout that makes some pages look like walls of text doesn’t really make the book visually appealing; or easy to read in places. However, they’ve avoided the mistake of bringing the text too close to the bottom of the page and I didn’t notice many orphan lines or similar, so this is a step-up in the right direction compared with previous products from the same publisher.
The mechanics of the game are very intriguing. Characters have abilities that provide a pool of dice. The base die is the d6, but the players can trade up dice in order to get higher dice. For example 2d6 could turn into 1d8, 2d6 into 1d10 and so on. The higher the dice the higher the priority, so d20 get resolved before d12; d12 get resolved before d10s, etc.
Let’s say a player rolls 1d20, 1d8 and 2d6. The opponent rolls 2d20, 1d10 and 1d6. The results of the d20s would be compared first. The higher dice cancels the lower dice and counts as a success. Once the d20s have been resolved, the d10 would be resolved and so on and so forth. That reduces the number of dice in the pool and gives an element of flexibility to the players.
It is a bit confusing to start with, though, and guessing what dice your opponent is going to roll can lead to some unexpected situations. It’s not a bad system, and at the very least is very intriguing, but I think I need to experiment with it a bit more before I decide if I like it or not.
Character creation is a bit confusing. Not because the system itself is complex or difficult, it isn’t, but because the information about how to create the character is all over the book. The mechanics of how to create your character are well condensed, but the information that relates to profession, equipment, rank, etc. are truly scattered all over the place.
The rest of the book is a bit of a mix between history of Rome – without going into too deep detail – through it’s different periods, the social strata, economics, politics… but it’s not well divided.
Chapters will start on “what do you need to play” sort of advice and end up becoming another lesson in Roman history. Sections will start on “what sort of professions are out there” and end up giving yet more history about Rome.
The section on equipment is just as confusing with no item by item lists or stats. There are very few sample characters too and those that are out there have no illustrations. Mind you, there are a fair number of illustrations in the book so getting some sort of reference is not too difficult.
This is a game written by someone who loves Roman history; someone who loves RPGs and wants to give a good insight on Rome’s history without being boring. Of that there is no doubt whatsoever.
In that much the book succeeds. It’s not boring at all. In fact it’s a good read and very informative. I learned a lot of things about Rome in this book.
However, other than the intriguing mechanics, there’s little else to recommend this book for. There’s no specific section about enemies, the character samples are not all that great and it needs better equipment and a bit more lateral thinking. Being part of a legion is all good and proper, but that translates badly to smaller groups, there’s not a lot of variety in the type of characters the players can play and I didn’t feel there was enough emphasis on empowering the players to do their own thing, ignore history and create something cool. Yes, there are some examples of what to do with scouts assassins… and it felt more often than not that those characters would be expected to work alone.
Also there’s a lot of talk about politics and politicians. A lot. And merchants and merchant houses. Which is kinda useless because, unless the players play the personal guard of a merchant or similar, there’s no point in having them.
As a game it needs a great deal more structure and editing. Tautologies are abundant and sometimes I ended up thinking “this part of the book should have been in this other part” making me feel the information was disorganised.
This is a great foundation and, if you like Roman history, this game is certainly for you, though. It’s not a horrible game, but there’s too much room for improvement for me to recommend it to the general gamer.
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