So, as I said in my last post I recently got the chance to play The Quiet Year. I really wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in, but I really had a good time with it.
When The Quiet Year originally launched on indiegogo I was pretty firmly on the fence, leaning towards not interested. However, I did really love the intro movie. Seriously, go watch it if you haven’t. It’s pretty fantastic.
Anyhow, I kept seeing fairly regular updates thanks to G+, Facebook, & Twitter. Eventually I decided to go for it. I like supporting indie developers, and I really like the only other game of Joe McDaldno’s I’m familiar with: Monsterhearts. Plus, the more I thought about it the more my curiosity got the better of me. I really wanted to see how the premise of the game would work and play out.
So, I put my money in and a few weeks ago Joe sent out the pdf of the game. I read over it and was very intrigued to see how it would play out. I’ve enjoyed other GMless games (Fiasco & Durance) and lately I’ve found myself drawn to games with ritualistic components, which this game definitely has.
So, on to the game. The main focus of the game is the map. Everyone contributes to updating the map. But, more so than the map, the game is about community and difficult choices that arise as a community strives to work together and survive.
Players take turns playing out weeks. There’s no scenes per say and players don’t play specific characters. When it’s your turn, you’re speaking for the community.
Each week a few things happen. First is the drawing of a card. 52 cards, 52 weeks. 4 suits, 4 seasons. Starting with Spring and going through some or all of winter. Each card will present the player with a choice. Then they can take an action.
They can start a project, this can be anything from building shelter, to searching for supplies. Maybe even a trial. A time (in weeks) is assigned to the project, and it will decrease each week until completion.
They can hold a discussion. The player can make a declaration or ask a question, then each other player, in turn, can voice their opinion. If the active player asked a question, they get to respond with an answer as well. Each person gets at most a sentence or two. This section of rules also has one of my favorite paragraphs in the game:
A discussion never results in a decision or summation process. Everyone weighs in, and then it’s over. This is how conversations work in communities: they are untidy and inconclusive affairs.
Lastly, they can discover something new. Some sort of new situation, whether it’s a new problem or some sort of opportunity. These new situations tend to open up a discussion on a subsequent turn or the start of a new project. For instance, maybe a dried up well is discovered at the edge of camp, so someone later starts a project to dig down for potable water.
Whatever action is taken, the map is constantly being updated. If something is discovered, it should be represented on the map. When a project is completed, it’s put on a map. When a discussion is had about something a dot is placed on the map to indicate its significance and to keep a record of past discussions. We had a hard time remembering this at some point, so we found ourselves having to remember everything we had discussions about and update appropriately.
If it’s not already obvious there’s a definite economy of actions and words. When it’s not your turn, you get no say, with the exception of weighing in on a discussion and giving input for how long a project should take. Even with those exceptions there’s a limited amount of input you can give. This feels a little weird at first, but it makes a lot of sense within the context of the game. Like I said, you’re not speaking for individual characters. You’re speaking for the community as a whole when it’s your turn. But that doesn’t mean everyone in the community agrees, you’re really just speaking for the majority or the dominant trends.
That brings up the last piece of the game: contempt. “If you ever feel like you weren’t consulted or honored in a decision-making process, you can take a piece of Contempt and place it in front of you.” This is your only outlet for expressing disagreement. The contempt tokens are a reminder of past disagreements and tensions within the community. For example, in the one game I’ve played so far on another player’s turn he decided the community would basically conscript some runaway teenagers. I felt like that was a poor idea, but I had no say. I took a token of contempt.
On the flip-side if someone takes an action that you really support and you feel is good for the community (rebuilding trust, diffusing tension, etc) then you can discard a contempt token to show your support. Alternatively, you can decide to act selfishly (to the detriment of the community). Doing so also lets you discard a contempt token. Chances are this will cause others to take their own contempt tokens.
At first contempt felt a little strange. It didn’t really have any direct bearing on the game, but we followed the rules and we did it. And we’d kind of eye each other any time someone took or gave up a piece of contempt. It actually turned out more interesting than I expected. I think in the future I’ll suggest something to the table: that we consider how much contempt is in play whenever discovering new things and starting projects. Maybe more contempt means more drama within the community and more contentious projects sometimes. Or someone does something to really try to appease everyone and hopefully get some contempt out of play. I suspect this is part of the purpose behind contempt, but it’s not quite that explicit in the book.
Play continues until the King of Spades is drawn. It signifies the arrival of “The Frost Shepherds”. It’s up to the table to decide how well (or not) to define what those are. They could arrive at any time in the winter. They could arrive in the very first winter card, just after fall has finished. It’s an abrupt and slightly messy ending. I have mixed feelings about it. But, not knowing how much time you have is part of the point of the game. When our game ended we had a number of unresolved situations and unfinished projects. Were we in a place to survive the rest of the winter and whatever the Frost Shepherds are? Maybe. It certainly increases the tension as fall comes to an end and you’re not sure how much time there is left to build the community up. Overall, I think I like how the game ends, but I can see how it wouldn’t be for everyone.
And that’s it. Mechanics-wise it’s pretty simple. I think it does an excellent job of simulating trends within a community. The community won’t always do what everyone thinks is right and there will always be contention within the group. Hell, the very first week in our game had a teenager being exiled from the community.
Also it scratches an itch I’ve started to discover lately. I’m really enjoying games with what I consider ritualistic components. In this case the map, the contempt tokens, and the limit on speaking out of turn. I really like the mood those help set.
I will say that I think we could’ve done better about table-talk and how much we spoke out of turn. It’s hard not to. Especially as it was our first time to play. The next time I play, I think I might have some sort of totem available. And you may only speak when you’re holding the totem (idea shamelessly stolen from the intro video). For rules-clarifications, the totem can be set down on the table to pause play until something has been clarified. I think having that physical/visual focus of who’s turn it is would really help that. And after some experience it probably wouldn’t even be necessary.
I can definitely see how this game wouldn’t be for everyone and I’m sure some people would hesitate to call it a game. Whatever you call it (I call it a story game), I very much enjoyed it. I’ll be excited to play it again for sure and I can’t wait to get a physical copy of the books and cards.