Posted on December 12, 2008 by Flames
Annalise offers a new look at a time-honored monster, the vampire. In this game, players take on characters who are somehow influenced or otherwise affected by the story’s vampire, which is always a concept of the story rather than a player. Annalise takes a pinpoint topic–the relationship between a group (the players) and a vampire or vampires–and attempts to make a playable game out of it.
Before I get too involved in this review, let me point out that my review copy is the ashcan that hit the conventions this year. The PDF is 70 pages long with a 6X9 scale. Despite it’s small size, this book isn’t a quick read (more on this later). Although I’ve seen the stunning cover photography, I know nothing of the layout of the final product. The ashcan has no artwork whatsoever, but I assume the PDF for sale does. Since I’m working with the author’s “rough draft,” I’ll be giving it certain liberties. For example, page ten references something called Annalise’s Diary, which I assume would fill up some of the dead space in the running sidebar throughout the game.
Annalise defines itself as a “story game” designed to explore the internal and external struggles the characters have against a vampire. It breaks from traditional tabletop gaming in that the role of Game Master is shared. Each player takes turn being the “Active Player,” “Scene Guide,” and “Audience.” During each round, each player will have a chance to wear each of these hats. Players make one character apiece, which starts the game with two Core Traits.
These traits are Vulnerability and Secret. The first is what draws the vampire to your character while the second can play into what can undo the vampire’s agenda or unlife. Players work through several stages much like the formula for a novel. The chief activity during these stages is character development. The more developed one’s character is by the Confrontation the better their odds are at surviving.
As you may have noticed already, there are lots of terminology to this small game. Because the phrasing is so focused, it would seem like a one-page glossary cheat sheet would have helped the game tremendously. Instead, the author chooses to reword the same concepts throughout the text, making for a repetitive read. I checked www.findannalise.com to see if such a cheat sheet existed as a download there, but it doesn’t. There are some good things on the site though, so it is worth checking out.
Paoletta’s Annalise is well-written, but it does little to grab the reader. It reads like a textbook. Part of its problem is wordiness. On page three, the author explains that “the introduction has three introductions.” These introductions are designed for the novice gamer, experienced traditional gamer, and the experienced story gamer. Trends like this litter the book, causing its 70 pages to read much longer than they are. The book is divided into three sections, which are:
• The Introduction (10 pages)
• The Rules (30 pages)
• Game Play (30 pages)
In looking at the second and third sections, it looks like the two are different; however, they really are not. The second section explains the rules and game terms in degrees of importance while the third section explains the exact same thing in terms of when said rules and terms are likely to come into game play. As said, Paoletta writes well and explains his rules succinctly in the second section. Rewording the second section to make a third just isn’t needed beyond thickening up the book.
One trick the author uses in the book is running two example campaigns in the sidebars. Here, two examples make sense as he shows a modern setting and a fantasy setting. This is a nice touch to the book as the examples are specific and fun to read. These really negate the need for the third chapter. The sidebar is somewhat marred by constant reminders to where things are. Anytime a term is mentioned, it links the second and third sections. The author would have benefited much more by using an index. The links were all but invisible to my by the time I finished the book.
Let’s switch gears and talk about what game play actually consists of. Each character starts with two core traits. Players make their own characters’ Vulnerabilities while Secrets are distributed randomly. Secrets are probably the coolest thing about Annalise since they help gauge what can be brought into the game. An example would be the secret of having telekinesis would allow for psychic characters. This is a neat aspect because I personally enjoy other players having a little input into all the characters.
The game runs on dice and coins (tokens of some nature). The tokens represent how much umph each of the character’s traits possess while the dice handle the randomness of Achievements and Consequences. Rolling high or low isn’t as important as what you rolled. Dice get assigned to certain traits and some of the game mechanics allow for alterations to the dice totals. On the findannalise website, there is a PDF that simplifies this immensely Annalise wants to be a story game that allows players to fully submerge in a vampire story; however, it demands too much in-game “mechanics-talk” for this to happen properly. I’d like to see a way around this because this handicap cripples any reason to play it. The author suggests that this out-of-character chatter will dwindle as the players get used to the mechanics; however, key things such as Claims and Moments demand such talk.
I recently ran another vampire game. At the core of it, was a story about two witches (the players) and the vampire (an NPC) between them. Because my troupe is keen on getting past the rules and delving into the characters this made for some rich roleplaying. On my initial read of this game, I wanted to return to those characters and plug in Annalise’s rules to see how things would pan out. The rules would have allowed for that with no problem. Each player had Vulnerabilities and Secrets ready to go. I wonder if simple roleplaying versus Annalise’s rules would have created a different or more interesting outcome.
Overall, I give Annalise a six out of ten. Certain attributes of the system–Secrets, useful sidebar examples, and subject matter–would call for a higher score, but the overall package
brings the score down for me.
Review by Todd Cash