[Annalise] Sell me on Annalise

edited November 2008 in Directed Promotion
What's so cool about Annalise?


  • Okay, first a disclaimer. I edited this game for money and stuff. I've been paid, though, so further sales don't go into my pocket. When I gush about this game, it's out of love.

    When I first read Annalise, I thought "meh." There isn't a lot to it, it seemed. Then I watched four people play it. Granted, one of them was Nathan, so I'm not 100% sure if I could get the same experience without him at the table, but I saw very few inconsistencies with my impression of how the game was played vs. how they were actually playing. That is, I think that if I played by the rules as I understand them from reading the text, I'd be playing the same game Nathan and company were.

    Seeing the game played opened up my eyes. It's fucking subtle, man. If you've played carry a couple times, you will understand what I mean by Nathan's games having this subtle, but powerful, thing going for them.

    It's been a few months, so I'm stretching my memory here, but here's what I remember about Annalise's coolness.

    First of all, you get to "claim" cool aspects from the fiction and use them later on for mechanical advantage. So I might say as part of my narration, "I look in the mirror and my eyes fall. I am obviously feeling guilty about what I did." You think something I said is particularly interesting thematically. Maybe the mirror. Maybe feeling guilty. You say, "I claim the mirror" and write the word "mirror" on a post-it note and put a coin on it. You can use that mirror element again later in any situation that is appropriate and it gives you a mechanical advantage. Why is this cool? It encourages the players to create recurring themes. The mirror will keep coming up, and it can foreshadow things, or echo previous things and tie together the fiction in a very awesome literary way.

    Second, I like the resolution system. It's a bit strange, but it works well. Without the rules in front of me, I'm totally spacing on how it works, but here's as much as I remember. When a scene comes to a conflict, you capture several win-lose conditions. These are totally orthogonal things. Then you roll a single d6 and see what happens. You can get total success or total failure or several things in between. You start spending coins to shift the die value one way or another. In doing so, you can make certain win conditions fail or succeed, and you can make certain lose conditions fail or succeed. There's this emergent behavior. You end up with combinations of results that you might not have considered, and it complicates the story in juicy ways. Also, in every conflict, it feels like you're making decisions about what is truly important about that conflict. Is it winning this conflict or not losing the other side of that same conflict, or is it about winning or not-losing the second or third conflict?

    None of this gets to "what the hell is this game about?" Annalise is presumptively a vampire game, but I watched four people play for 3-4 hours without any vampire stuff happening. It was more like a tv drama about real people with real problems. In our case -- I say "our" because I did give some input even though I didn't play a character -- the "vampire" was this dark shadowy figure who could have been a normal person. I don't think we really explored any supernatural stuff, but it could have gone that way, or it might have just been a bad person. The vampire just represented darkness in the world. Annalise is about people facing difficult situations, and it works really well for modern stories but could be used for almost anything, I think.
  • edited November 2008
    I hear something about Nathan's games which I worry might present itself as a problem in my games as well: without Nathan there, playing the game might yield a different, less subtly-icky-therapy-tastic. Part of the tone of the new breed of "intimate gaming" really relies on the tone and pacing of play. I think several games of late have taken a strong approach to setting the tone through layout (Lacuna), rich, layered detail (Unknown Armies), and attachment to a theme well understood by many (3:16). I was wondering if/how Nathan has consciously addressed (or chosen not to address) this issue of play in Annalise. Anybody got something for me?
  • Annalise is one of those games that I'm growing increasingly fond of where the game says, "This is a tool kit for making stories about X" and then gives you good tools for making stories about X but totally leaves out any blueprints or patterns. Making a *good* story is 100% the total responsibility of the players. Using the tools will make it easier but it won't do the work for you in a blind mechanized way.

    That said here's what I like about Annalise. Mind, I've only read, I haven't played.

    I like that the emotional commitment dial is customizable. One dial turned by yourself and one dial turned by the rest of the group. The first dial is Vulnerability which is written by each player for their own character. So you can get something kind of light and obvious, "I'm an angry goth kid who thinks he's misunderstood" or something more heavy and personal, "I'm confused about my sexual identity." The other dial is Secrets. Secrets are written by other players and then assigned randomly. Secrets range from, "I inherited a watch from my mysterious uncle that stops time" to "My mysterious uncle sexually abused me when I was five."

    Vulnerabilities and Secrets set at one end of the spectrum can get you a kind of rock-n-roll fantasy horror action flick and setting them at the other end can result in a deeply personal story about victimization. The vampire is similarly tunable but not in any explicit way. Who the vampire is pretty much follows from the tone of the Vulnerabilities and Secrets. And yeah, I totally want to play this where the "Vampire" is just some selfish user/abuser type.

    Structurally everyone takes turns playing their character and someone is basically appointed the GM for that turn. I like the idea that it's "Someone" and not just, "The person to your left" or anything like that. That GM frames a scene for you. You don't frame your own scenes. I like that too. So basically whoever has an idea for your character, they're your GM for the turn. If it turns out to always be the same person for you, awesome, if not that's awesome too.

    Claims are cool. They remind me of certain elements of Universalis. Good solid implementation of recurring fictional elements as currency.

    The resolution system side-steps the issue of Conflicts. It refers to units of fiction called "Moments" which are basically group defined as moments of tension where the narrative could go lots of places. If that's a Conflict for your group, awesome, if its something else, that's okay too.

    What I like about it is the clearly delineated authority over who can introduce what when. It's a "negotiation" in the sense that everyone has different kinds of input that interact but no one person can dominate or control it. Basically, the active player authors Achievements they want his character to do and the GM (of the turn) authors Consequences that might occur. The active player then rolls a handful d6s and assigns them to the Achievements and Consequences based on what he's willing to take and leave.

    BUT! After that's done *everyone* has the opportunity to use their Claims to fiddle with those assignments, INCLUDING introducing new Consequences and Achievements. So even though outcomes are explicit there"s (a) always an authority over what is being written when and (b) there's constant tension over what exactly the final combination will be. So none of this "negotiate until everyone is happy and then flip a coin over outcome A or outcome B" thing.


    I really have two concerns. I'm a very in the moment player. I'm a little concerned that the handling time of writing out the Achievements and Consequences might break my stride but maybe not.

    There's no explicit end condition which I don't *think* will be a problem in practice but it does require some thought and attention. Once you're in the Confrontation phase (and the previous phase has no explicit end condition either) there's nothing stopping you from putting, "I stake the bastard." as an Achievement, so you have to be sensitive to whether or not the other players have satisfactorily resolved their Vampire-Vulnerability relationship. But that's the artistry element and it doesn't really worry me too much.

  • What Jesse said. Though, I always want a real vampire.

    Which is funny, because we ought to be reversed on that issue.

    Also, any other niftiness aside, I liked the name "Moment".

    Jarrod, to answer your question, there's some moody text interspersed throughout the book and available here. So, if the players catch that particular vibe, I think that they will be fine.

    I really wanted to play this in October because Annalise feel like a fall game, but maybe it'll still happen in November.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • edited November 2008

    From the writeup here, it sounds like this game has an incredible number of things in common with my game Land of Nodd.

    * Players take turns playing their character, while another player (who may vary from turn to turn) frames scenes for them
    * Stuff in the story is named to become recurring elements
    * "Moments" as opposed to confict resolution (although I don't call them Moments--I like that!)
    * Resolution involves trying to see whether you achieve what you want (the Achievement) and dangerous or story-twisting stuff (Consequences)

    I guess I need to check this out, huh?

    Edit: When I saw the "seasonal games" thread, I also immediately thought my game was a Fall game.
  • read not played,

    Seems at a read to be a well-designed system and economy for telling a certain kind of story with some nice specific touches. Things that struck me as attractive included:

    - your valuable traits as PC all spring from Vulnerability and Secrets (interesting characters);

    - move to play fast once rules digested, character creation is done collectively as part of play and other players gain "resources" from participating in your character's creation;

    - no prep time other than learing rules, so good pick-up game.

    - character sheet is part of play space - put your resources on it to show them (though I think it should probably have a space on it for how many "Holds" the Vampire has on a PC)

    On some comments above, re "meh" on reading, I can see that. Games with rules structured at this level are not about "here's the feat/aspect/stunt for doing this cool thing" and you can immediately imagine "cool things for characters to do reading rules", so rules are 'drier' than a Spirit of Century or TSOY or D&D etc. You can liven up the text with much more "how it's used" writing (e.g., IAWA) but if working within certain overall target of length sacrifice clarity of text (I like that though there is no index, there is constant sidebar referencing back and forth to the sections describing the other elements of rules a given section relates with)

    On Universalis-like, that struck me too. Claims are doing something functionally like Components in Uni - creating a reason to reincorporate elements and keep doing so in order to ensure some consistency in the narrative structure - but "reverse the order", start with narration and decide what's cool to put coins on it, rather than use coins to narrate. I suspect in practice this will move faster than a Universalis approach.

  • Thanks for the kind comments and very clear summaries, everyone! It's very rewarding for me to see this kind of response for this game. I hope you all get to play it!

    Jarrod, I have a response to your concern about it not playing the same if I'm not involved. The game is designed with a lot of dials to set, and there is a lot of flexibility in how to interpret the mechanics based on the fiction the group is generating. I don't expect every game of Annalise to look the same - in fact, I'm looking forwards to seeing where people go with it. I'm not saying that it's perfect, of course, but I really did spend a lot of time thinking about how someone without my play preferences or experiences would approach the game, and making some design decisions accordingly.

    Jesse, for me I found that writing down the Moment stuff was actually really helpful for keeping everyone focused on what was going on, and it helps a lot with the logistics of keeping all of the consequences in mind, then rolling and assigning dice, then modifying them, etc. If you can do all that without the sheet, no reason to keep it around! Though, I do like how I have records of play after a game. Also, as you note, all of the game-ending stuff (really, all of the phase transition stuff) is totally an artistry thing.

    There's also been some good questions over at my Forge forum, if people are looking for more info. Also, the website, obviously.
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