The Quiet Year: offside review by Nick Luft
The Quiet Year (TQY) was recommended to me after a friend heard about it in a gaming pod cast. He was intrigued by the open ended structure and the non-gamer friendly nature of the game. Although it is a commercial “game” I thought it was sufficiently interesting to be worth examining with the assistance CLWG members. Jim Wallman, had already played the game and he volunteered to run the game session.
A hybrid game
It is suggested that 4 – 6 players play the game and it should take about 2 to 3 hours. The game format is normally to draw a map – without words – on a large sheet of paper. Jim quickly adapted a blank Conceptboard and we used that. We also used the video conferencing tool in Conceptboard instead of Jtisi, Discord or Zoom. This worked very well and as we only had this one app open, made things work very well, though it did not seem to have the capacity to organise groups of players into teams that Discord does.
The game was hybrid: Jim and I were present in Anerley Hall and Jon Casey attended online. I think the game suited the hybrid system very well. This is partly because we only had three players and because the game is very structured with each player taking their turn to act, speak and resolve issues.
It isn’t really a game
The game is not really a game. It is a structured system that enables the participants to create and tell a collaborative story. There are rules and a setup procedure. But the rest of the game is made up: the scenario, the events, and the resolution of projects, are all made up by the players. The only gaming mechanic is that players can take a “contempt” token if they feel that their ideas, story suggestions, hopes or fears etc. are not being listened to and acted upon by the other players. And even so, these contempt tokens do not have any game mechanical effect, except to demonstrate their is tension in the game.
The scenario of the game is that the players are part of a community of survivors living in a world after some catastrophe. The players do not represent any individual or group in the community, but attempt to represent disparate and changing elements within the community. The setting, the resources, and the scenario are all then collaboratively made by the players suggesting somethings.
In our game we found ourselves living in a desolate seaside town, somewhere on the coast of England. We had an abundance of scrap metal – the pier – and a shortage of clean drinking water. We soon found that we had a herd of Woolly Mammoths on the edge of town, we had problems with rats eating our food supplies, strange moans and voices saying “You’re all doomed” coming in from the windswept coast, a deserted lighthouse worshipped by the Luftists, and a community formed of mostly young people, the old folk, thirty plus, all developing rashes and then dying.
Playing the game
I found playing the game quite challenging.
First it is not easy sketching on Conceptboard. You can see the evidence of our artistic skills in the attached image. Later we discovered there were some free icons in Conceptboard we could use. I did think later that it would have been easier to draw with a pencil using real paper.
But the biggest challenge was being creative. What did the strange yet charismatic girl discover and lead a gang of community members to see? That was one of my events I had to use to make up a story line. How would I resolve the finding of the strange “CLEWGIST Monks”? Why was there a metal grill in the sand dunes? All these required a quick response and to be somehow in keeping with the setting of the scenario.
As the game proceeded I realised that the other difficulty was the need to build onto other people’s story lines. If you didn’t there was a stilted feeling that you created a story line, developed it and resolved it and that felt as interesting and exciting as tossing scrunched-up paper balls into wide mouthed bins.
I was interested in trying out this game because I thought it might suggest another way to build my “Little Bit of Cheese” village game. After failing with my mechanically heavy village game and failing to find another suitable game design I thought that with a little more “game structure” The Quiet Year narrative style of play might give me the game I want.
I know Jim is interested in developing this type of game and has booked a session in Jan 2022.
As a family game
I have mentioned The Quiet Year – in its published form – to my partner, Nicki. She is interested in bringing it to her family over Christmas. As three of them are professional actors I suspect they will take to it very well.
I can’t say that survivalist settings are one which appeals to me but this sounds an interesting format. I think the most creative part would be trying to link other people’s weirdness with one’s own. We did something in this line many years ago in a game style called 1848 (as the concept was originally about the Europe-wide revolutions of that year) where you built on / took advantage of the parts added previously by all the players so effectively another collective stor telling game. Something I’d be interested in pursuing in one form or another.
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