Let me make this short and sweet.
The game in short: You are a Power, a living, once-human (or once-animal) representative of a noun (abstract concept, piece of furniture, color, state of being, etc.)You live in two worlds at the same time: Prosaic Reality (what most humans live in) and the spirit or mythic reality. You have been given this responsibility (and all the gifts and heartaches that go with it) because both worlds are under assault from Excrucians, beings who want to steal your concept from this world and make it their own, with disastrous results for you and the world you live in. Your Imperator (a deity-like concept-entity from the spiritual world who represents groups of things and who gave you your brand new life)is holding down the fort, so to speak, in the spirit world; s/he's left you to make sure everything runs smoothly in prosaic reality. You have tremendous gifts and abilities as a Power: you're most likely very hard to kill, most likely able to do things normal humans can't do, and most likely have near-miraculous control over your Estate (that noun you represent.)
So life is peachy, right? Nope. first, different powers believe different things. Some embody Good, some embody Evil, some embody Wild, and some embody downright unique principles of thought. So while all feuds are dropped when an Excrucian is in the area, they start up again quickly when the threat dies down. Plus, you can't go hog-wild with your powers in front of the mortals, or they go insane, and then Lord Entropy, the most powerful Imperator your Powers (or Nobles) will ever meet, will punish you slowly and make you regret your extended lifespan. Entropy's Code of Fidelitatis (those rules of do's and dont's that all Powers live and die by) is harsh, beginning with "Thou shalt Not Love Another" and ending with "Serve thy Imperator before the War, and the War before Thyself." It's best comparison is to that of a group of backstabbing courtiers trying to score points with the King, not have any points scored on them, and survive the machinations of a rival kingdom. To top it off, when you're fighting enemies who are as immortal and ethereal as you are, straightforward combat is next to useless, and you have to be able to fight them symbolically. (Actually, now that I think about it, it's more like roleplaying a group of middle managers trying to kiss up to the CEO while keeping their company floating and engaging in their own petty personal politics, except the whole fate of Reality Itself is at stake.) So, if your true enemies don't get you, and your rivals don't trip you up, and Lord Entropy doesn't catch you breaking his Code, then your Imperator might unknowingly send you on a suicide mission for reasons you can't begin to fathom, or your squabbling with your fellow Power-group (your Familia, who are linked to you through your Imperator)causes you to overlook something crucial. And in between, you try to keep your personal balance between y9ur spiritual side and human side, or else risk losing power and/or going mad. It's a world as mythical and beautiful as Everway, as weird as Over the Edge, and as brutal as Kult.
Good points: Atmospheric text that doesn't get in the way of the game rules, but does a good job of letting you know just how alien in mentality the Powers can be. Fairly solid diceless system, with a well-thought out character creation system and a resolution system that, while diceless, allows for some variability and doesn't put the burden for everything on the GM (known in this game as the Hollyhock God.) Unique setting; I've never seen anything quite like it in all the 20+ years Ive been gaming. Well-written; each paragraph is full of useful information. Also, it's a wealth of ideas for other, more mystically-oriented games.
Bad points: I never thought I'd say that a game needed a bit *more* padding, but Nobilis does. The information is packed in there very densely, and you need to read the book at least eight times before the relevant data flows together. For a diceless system that's designed to be rules-light, this is an impressive accomplishment, but nonetheless taxing unless you're an experienced GM/player. I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say you should hire a rabbi who's been working on deciphering the Talmud to help you organize your Nobilis game. Also, like Over the Edge and Everway, it leaves quite a bit of adjudication in the hands of the HG (Hollyhock God). A bit more comparisons, explanations, and examples would have been helpful, and this is one of the few times I'd actually demand an example campaign for the sourcebook, so at least the HG's can get a rough idea of how to get a campaign set up, as well as how to rank the difficulty of miracles, an important consideration in a game where, given enough preparation, the characters could shoot the sun out of the sky with a rifle. Not to mention that more space could have been spared for how miracles can counter each other, especially if the players haven't played games that require a lot of imagination and improvising.
So it's a good game, but maybe not for inexperienced players and game masters.Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)