The Quiet Year, Joe Mcdaldno
Joe Mcdaldno has successfully taken more than three games from initial genesis to physical form, making him the kind of crazy that enriches our lives and complicates our gaming vocabularies. I’ve publicly denounced, scorned and otherwise expressed extreme dislike for most post-apocalyptic narratives, particularly in games. But Joe’s game Monsterhearts caused a number of complex, emotional and intense reactions on my part. So, when the IndieGoGo for The Quiet Year came up, I decided to throw my money in the jar. It’s rare outside his games that I will ever pay for the experience of being made deeply uncomfortable.
In The Quiet Year, a community that exists after the end of all we know has been at war with a force they call The Jackals. Having driven them off, they have a year without the constancy of war to live with. This community does know this peace is fragile; Frost Shepherds will come when winter does. That they may not survive this co-occurrence of events. Players know that it’s coming, that an end is near and its final form is unpredictable. But you play with the innocence of the community, to use your quiet year as well as you can, or fail to build something that may last the coming frost.
My copy came to me while I was gone for the weekend. Inside the small envelop was a diminutive notebook, and a deck of cards. I’ve only seen Monsterhearts and Perfect Unrevised in person, of Mcdaldno’s games. The Quiet Year outshines them both in terms of its physical presence. Though the notebook that contains the game (printed by Scout Books) is hardly bigger than my wallet, it perfectly suites the tone and theme. The Ariel Norris illustrations are some of the best line art I’ve seen in a game text; I’d be willing to say the best line art I’ve seen in some time. Cartographer/illustrator Tony Dowler collaborated with Mcdaldno on a .pdf supplement of sorts, Charted Areas.
Something that delighted me the moment I opened the book was Mcdaldno’s starting with gentle direction to read before playing on the first page.
As the facilitator, read this entire book and complete the tasks outlined in this chapter prior to inviting others to join you at the table.
That tone of guidance is persistent, from start to finish. The additional materials required for the game are brief.
- A blank piece of letter-sized paper
- Pencils, erasers, and an index card
- Six dice (smaller is better)
- 20 Contempt Tokens (possibly stones or glass beads)
- A deck of The Quiet Year cards
- At least one copy of the summary card
Requiring 2-4 players for a game, The Quiet Year takes 2-4 hours to complete, with a tendency to run 3-4 hours. To speed the game, an option is listed in the notebook; a specific reduction of the cards used to play will shorten the duration of the game.
The directions for the game’s facilitator are clear. Something I like about how they’re written is that they only showcase what the players need to know, right now. There’s no picking and choosing or trying to reword/rework things. The game requires a mix of unemotional and passionate actions. No one plays one person the same way they would in a ‘standard’ tabletop game, or acts out conflicts. The game is an abstracted but emotional representation of the situation. This community has a year to learn how to work together in a time of peace. That may be easy, or quite difficult depending on the community. Players help introduce elements of the world, sharing narrative authority with each other. As details are added, they go into the map the table shares. Resources are abundant or scarce, and decisions about which is which will drive many of the desires of the community. The 52 cards represent weeks, but at any moment the Frost Shepherds could arrive, ending the game.
The Quiet Year has specific mechanics, pacing and advice. As the game progresses, Contempt may build. It’s specific mechanic which exists to represent the hurt and anger we feel in communities when actions make us feel excluded, unconsulted. Projects, challenges and discussions occur as the game is played, some of which complete (not all of them happily.) I don’t want to deep-discuss the rules so as not to rob anyone of the discovery elements, but I found it particularly intriguing on first read. I’m looking forward to pulling together some friends, and embarking on our own journey through The Quiet Year.