Nobilis seems to be pretty confusing for most players. It’s a beautiful coffee table book that segues seamlessly between rules and setting description, most of it delivered to at least some degree in-character, detailing a completely fantastical take on the modern world in which players are expected to portray modern godlings that participate in a war for reality via their mastery of metaphorical concepts and skill with semantics. That is, there’s a lot going on.
The system for the game is entirely purpose-built for its task, and, in many ways, must be understood as an integral part of the hard-to-fathom setting. You’d have a hard time running the setting with another system, and you’d have a hard time using the system for any other setting (though I’ve heard tell experiments were made with Justice League-level superheros). Ultimately, the reality of the game world is so completely defined by the system that it’s hard to figure out when an issue with the system isn’t just an issue with the setting itself.
That said, perhaps what is most interesting about Nobilis is that it seemed to ride in ahead of the wave of indie game design that took off over the last decade via the help of the internet. Was it just an early adopter of some of its features, or did it actually inspire some degree of change in how certain things were handled? As mentioned previously, Nobilis is the first system I encountered that suggested rewarding players when their flaws caused the character grief in play, rather than giving an up front bonus that encouraged players to actually take flaws that they hoped wouldn’t ever hurt them. Most systems I’m aware of that were released since Nobilis do it that way. While less completely innovative, the focus on assembling abilities and environment as a form of player and GM collaboration (Nobilis’ Gifts and Chancels) seems to have taken off since its release.
There’s a new edition of Nobilis due out soon, and I’m interested to see whether it will involve more refinement of 2nd edition (the same stuff, only easier to understand and play) or whether it will lay out another series of innovations that will be confusing at first, but gradually come into common use over the next decade.