This is the third in the series of articles about GMless games. This week’s game is pretty special and unlike anything else I’ve had the pleasure of playing. As you go, everyone works together to tell stories. They are stories of community and the triumphs and difficulties of belonging to one. Often times, it’s not tidy or conclusive, just like real communities and discussions. You don’t know much about it when you start. All you really have to count on is that you have one quiet year.
Created by the prolific Avery Alder, The Quiet Year is a game about an post apocalyptic community and what they build during one quiet year. We know they were locked into a struggle with the jackals before this and we know the frost shepherds will come at the end, but for now they have time to build and create. They will have their own difficulties, however. With luck, they will also have their own triumphs.
The Quiet year consists of a rule book and 54 cards. You’ll also need some tokens, an index cards for notes, a paper for a map, some pencils, and a few six sided dice. To set the game up, you make some decisions about your community, including its basic environment and what resources are abundant and scarce. Then everyone gets to sketch them onto your map, creating a groundwork for what is to come.
On each players turn, they draw a card. The card gives them two situations to pick from. The player gets to choose which one is more to their liking and then gets to resolve it. For instance, one of the cards prompts you to decide what the most beautiful feature is in your community. Once the player in question decides, they get to draw it on the map. Because of this, the map is ever expanding, getting more and more fleshed out with new features and little symbols. It gets to be a beautiful little mess by the time you are done.
After the player in question attends to the card, they then get to take their turn. They have three options as to what action they can take: The player can discover something new, they can start a project, or they can start a discussion. Each one is fulfills a specific roll in the game and is governed by its own mechanics.
Discovering something new allows you to do just that. It can be a situation, such as monsters hovering on your boarders, or even a new geographical feature. Last game I played, we discovered wild goats. It was quite the happy time. Discoveries give you something to contend with.
Starting a project can be so many things. Building a house or starting a warband are all examples of starting a project. When the player decides on what project to start, they set a six sided dice on it which represents how many weeks the project will take. Once the dice ticks down to zero, the player who made the project gets to decide how it went. Did the house actually get built? Cool. Draw that on the map. Sometimes things don’t always go well, however…
Then there is starting a discussion. This was a particularly pleasing part of the game. The Quiet Year discourages meta game talk. If you want to discuss the future of your community, this is the action you must take. The player who starts the discussion begins with a proclamation or question. Everyone else gets to make a one or two sentence reply.
That’s it. There is no resolution. The game emphasizes that discussions in communities are untidy things. It certainly feels like it after having some in this game. While you can take everyone’s opinions into consideration when you start your projects or discover things, there are no mechanics of the discussion that means you must.
If you feel you’ve been slighted or not consulted, you can always take one of the tokens on the table. They represent hard feelings you have toward some part of the community. While they have no direct mechanical effect, the taking of the token is a powerful visual symbolic act.
The game ends when you reach winter and the frost shepherds card is drawn. Winter starts to feel like a frantic race as you try and finish your last projects and tie up loose ends. Often, just like in real life, you won’t get that chance. There is a great sense of finality to it all. When its done, you can pack it away. Winter has happened and all is settled.
This is a great game. Sketching crude maps and telling stories about your created community is a delightfully intimate way of role playing. There are times of great joy and times when the game feels remarkably heavy. Each time, I look forward to playing again, and meeting the new community that is created.
I always have hope that they can be more than the last one was.
If you are interested in the PDF of this game, click here.