A Loud Opinion on The Quiet Year

Alright, let’s talk about The Quiet Year. It’s no stranger to Split The Party listeners that I have not been a fan of “world building” games (henceforth referred to as WBGs). These WBGs typically offer a group of players the opportunity to collaboratively create an interesting setting using a set of guidelines and rules, usually around a specific theme or emotion that the game wants to explore. Some of these games may also facilitate telling a collaborative short story of the inhabitants of these fresh new worlds. The Quite Year by Avery Alder, being a self proclaimed “map-building game”, falls under this somewhat broad category of gaming.

Before last night’s play of the game, the only WBGs that I had played were Questlandia and Dawn of Worlds. Neither of these games I enjoyed very much. If you have listened to episode 24 of the Split The Party podcast, you would know that I found Questlandia very boring and uneventful. I talked about my opinions on Dawn of Worlds in episode 34 and have similar opinions as Questlandia. Both games feel like the “game” aspect was tacked on and sloppily executed. Questlandia settled in at my third least favorite game of all time, while Dawn of Worlds sits nine spots higher thanks to what seemed like an honest attempt to gamify the world building (even if they were sloppy).

When I sat down at the table for The Quiet Year, I was already having lower expectations for my enjoyment of the game.  But when Curtis plopped the game on the table, I immediately had some sort of attraction to the game. I’ll admit probably 90% of this attraction was presentation of the game. I’m a sucker for small packaged games, and even more so when that small package game comes with a portfolio of art I like. But would this love at first sight remain attractive after I got to know it a bit more? Well, I got to know it and, even after discussing it on the podcast, I’m confused. In the podcast I gave The Quiet Year one thumb up out of two (from our thumby rating system this could be converted into a 4/5 rating). While I’m not going to go over the rules in detail, I will highlight the things I liked and disliked.

Let’s start with the things I liked. The Quiet Year’s deck of cards is the heart of the game. This game will ride or die depending on whether or not you have the set of cards that comes with the physical copy of the game. While there is no real conflict resolution mechanism, these cards offer you the opportunity to make a decision. Sometimes these decisions are choosing which item you want describe, while others make you choose the lesser of two evils (a counter point to this claim would be that because this is really just a story game, and no player has real ownership over anything, that these decisions are ultimately meaningless). Another thing I really like about these cards is the springboard of ideas that come from that felt very Rory’s Story Cubes-like.

Projects and contempt where another aspect of the game that I enjoyed. While I can only speculate on how the contempt “mechanism” came about, I used it in conjunction with creating projects to help gamify this WBG to an entertaining point. While probably the most divisive rules this game, and while it probably was never intended to be used as a pseudo social manipulation/deduction element, I enjoyed using it to determine who I wanted to be in control of a project when its due date came.

This observation is where I think I derived most of my enjoyment out of this game. While everyone else at the table was still playing a WBG, I suddenly started playing a Cold War like area control game. I had an agenda that I wanted to have fulfilled by creating projects that completed on players turns who had similar goals in mind. Watching who took contempt and responses to discussions led me to find allies in my endeavor. This little micro game is the seed to a fantastic diplomacy rich area control board game.

{Note: We may have played the project completion rules wrong. According to The Deep Forest, a freely available version of The Quiet Year, it is the responsibility of the project creator when a project spins down to zero unless it is completed early on another player’s turn. During our play of the game, when a project die reached zero it was the responsibility of the current player to narrate the results of the project. If the rules in The Deep Forest match what is actually in The Quiet Year‘s rule book, I don’t think this game would have been nearly as impressive to me as it was.}

I have two major complaints about the game, the chief among them being the overall flow of the game. In my opinion, all WBGs have a funky pacing due to their unique world generation. Whether is spend 2 hours building a world to tell a 1 hour story or having the physical/human terrain shift wildly, the games, to me, never feel rich. The Quiet Year feels richer than the other two WBGs I mentioned earlier due to its smaller picture, but a few of the random events that occur dilutes it down. Another flow issue was that the game felt like it took about 30-60 minutes longer than I would have liked (maybe because I felt like I was playing a board game at some point?).

The other complaint I have is that the game sort of just ends. In a board game this is a great because it allows for competing players to have to make a gamble on strategies based on when they think the end will come. In a WBG, where the players shouldn’t be in conflict with each other, this leads to stories falling incomplete. Maybe this is a theme the game wants to explore?

So after all of this I still sit here with mixed feelings confused about the game. I felt similarly to this when I played Dungeon Crawl Classics at AcadeCon 2017. When I left that game, I did not really have fun but liked the game. Now what I had was the opposite of that where I had fun, but didn’t nessecarily like the game. So here I sit pondering about it and I think I’m going to settle on disappointment.

The Quiet Year is a beautiful steak that the chef decided to turn into ground beef for a pasta sauce. This game has the great ingredients for an A class board game and uses them to create this light cooperative story telling game. If The Quiet Year had a chef that could use the spices in the kitchen to add an extra page of rules and structure, it could elevate this game to something incredible. The Quiet Year is aching to be in the masterful hands of a Ryan Laukat or Jamey Stegmaier who could refine what’s great here into a fantastic board game.

I see so much potential in The Quiet Year that it pains me to know that it’s not what I want out of it. This is where it saddens me to say that I don’t think I’ll enjoy this game upon further play throughs unless it gets a second edition where it can flesh out some of that political deal making and tension. Currently this game feels like it’s having an identity crisis, crying out to be a true area control board game while residing as a narrative WBG. As a WBG, I will recommend The Quiet Year over either Questlandia or Dawn of Worlds, especially if you can work in that social manipulation that I enjoyed during my first play through it.