The Winter Sheppard is Coming – A Review of The Quiet Year

The Quiet Year

Author: Avery Alder
Artist: Ariel Norris
Publisher: Buried Without Ceremony
Page count: 32 + Deck of Cards
Binding: Saddle Stitched
Available Format: Pocket booklet w/ Deck of cards and PDF
Cost: PDF-$6 or Print & PDF-$25

 

GAME CONCEPT:
For a long time, we were at war with The Jackals. But now, we’ve driven them off, and we have this – a year of relative peace. One quiet year, with which to build our community up and learn once again how to work together. Come Winter, the Frost Shepherds will arrive and we might not survive beyond that. But we don’t know about that yet. What we know is that right now, in this moment, there is an opportunity to build something.

The Quiet Year is a map game. You define the struggles of a post-apocalyptic community, and attempt to build something good within their quiet year. Every decision and every action is set against a backdrop of dwindling time and rising concern.

The game is played using a deck of cards – each of the 52 cards corresponds to a week during the quiet year. Each card triggers certain events – bringing bad news, good omens, project delays and sudden changes in luck. At the end of the quiet year, the Frost Shepherds will come, ending the game. (From the publisher)

MECHANICAL OVERVIEW
The Quiet Year is played using a rather unique set of rules you won’t find elsewhere in the RPG cosmos. Players assume the role of village elders or in other words, a collective management group of the village or settlement. It is from that perspective the mechanics of the rules are framed. The game is played over a maximum of 52 weeks. Each player’s turn constitutes a week and thus a card draw is part of the player turn. The cards are broken into the four seasons of the year; for added tension as the seasons’ progress, the cards start to take a darker turn.

As part of the game set up, the group works collectively to establish truths about their settlement and they draw crude (simple) representations of these truths on the newly created “map”. The map is not to any scale and the drawings are simple and quickly sketched on purpose. Players will also name one available resource per player and as a group, they will decide which of the names resources is in abundance and the others are relegated to scarcity. Simply put, the named resources and their availability are used as narrative elements later in the game either when starting a project or as directed by a specific card. This will help to add drama and tension to the game especially when combined with the cards.

A player’s turn consists of several phases in a defined order:
 Draw a card, read aloud all the text and resolve only of the available narrative options
 Project Dice are all reduced by one
 Choose one of the following actions to complete:
d10-1 Discover Something New – Define a new truth one the map
d10-2 Start a Project – Solve something, deal with a threat, or simply build a new element within the community
d10-3 Hold a Discussion – A way to introduce or elaborate on new or existing narrative element

Once these phases are completed play passes to the next player.

Contempt tokens are a semi-mechanical aspect of the game wherein a player can take a token and place it in front of them to represent their displeasure with the action of another player. (more below)

The genius of The Quiet Year is how the cards can alter the dynamic of the game with each player’s turn. The cards, in a sense, set the tone and level of drama of a player’s turn. The action performed by the player (potentially driven by the card played) serves as the essence of the turn. Players should take care to remember that they are NOT representing individual members of the village, but instead are working collectively as the elders to help the village survive and try to prepare for the coming shepherds which signal the end of the game. Collectively doesn’t mean absolute harmony among the players.

While it is highly recommended, readers should be aware that you do not need to the official deck of cards to play. A regular deck of poker cards can be substituted. Though the back and forth referencing of each poker card to the corresponding card description found in the PDF will add time to the game.

WHAT I LIKED!
 Innovative and sound game mechanics
 Super easy to learn rules
 Very approachable for new people
 Collaborative community building
 Players not representing one person, but rather the community as a whole
 Scalable game – shorter and longer version when the time is limited
 Requires players to both be an advocate for the community and to be a harbinger of trouble

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE!
 No hyperlinked ToC in the PDFs (minor quibble)
 Contempt tokens – I see no mechanical purpose for them

PRODUCT QUALITY
The production quality of the game is outstanding; keeping in mind that the game is simply a deck of cards and a small pamphlet. The simple line art used in the booklet is thematic appropriate and does give readers a sense of dreariness and bleakness of this post-apocalyptic world. The presentation of the components has changed little since it was first published in 2013 with one exception. One of the earliest versions of the game included contempt tokens and was delivered in a small burlap bag, this is known as the burlap sack version.

The cards, the primary physical component of the game, are really high-quality playing cards. The card deck I own has a beautiful and durable coating that has stood the test of time and repeated table use. The rules booklet has stood up well to repeated use with hardly any noticeable signs of use.

FINAL THOUGHTS
I have been playing The Quiet Year for several years and while it doesn’t get played all that often, it’s a game I enjoy coming back to when I can. It’s very easy to get back into the swing of the game and teach it to new people with any real effort. The rules are intuitive save for the contempt tokens! As I mentioned above, they serve no real mechanical purpose in the game, but rather to show displeasure with another player’s choice(s). My approach to The Quiet Year varies slightly from the rulebook. I don’t use the contempt tokens and I try to make most aspects of the game collaborative. After all, we’re collaboratively telling the story of our community so, why need keep is collaborative all the way through.

If you’re looking for something that is a little different, this is a game you need to check out at least once. It’s very inexpensive and in reality, you only need the rules ($6) and a standard deck of poker cards. Albeit the official deck of cards makes it so much easier to keep the game moving along and really adds to the feel of the game.

~ Modoc

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. aaron.griffin says:

    The game actually doesn’t allow out of turn discussion of anything. It’s part of how communities interact in real life. If you want to talk, you spend your turn on the discussion.

    So, when something doesn’t go your way, you grab a Contempt Token. If something goes your way, you put one back. This way, the others can see how your community is feeling at any time.

    Like

    1. modoc31 says:

      Aaron,

      Thanks for the comment. You’re absolutely right, but when I played it that way, the game was not all that fun. I have modified the way in which I personally play it, so as to increase the player interactions slightly, which increases everyone’s fun. We let the discussions stand as they were intended so as to allow players to raise issues and concerns in line with the developing narrative. Like a city or municipal council. So, in essence, discussion are not help out of turn. Rather players chime in with things like: “oh, I like that idea” in reference to a building project or “That’s going to be a problem latter” in reference to someone discovering a hostile tribe at the edge of the map.

      I hope that make sense.

      ~ Modoc

      Like

  2. auspun says:

    Good review! I agree with the majority of your points. I will also note that I think you may have missed part of the contempt mechanic: that they can be ‘spent’ for actions that are selfish or not to the betterment of the community.

    As you said before, it should be collaborative but not necessarily harmonious. In a game I played, one member of the community took action against an ominous area they didn’t understand by starting a fire. I took a contempt to show how the people of this area didn’t like it, then on my turn used the contempt and had a member of the faction attack in revenge. While it certainly isn’t the best thing for the community, I think it’s a natural reaction and helps build the world more.

    Another part is that contempt can be forgiven as tension is eased. Members of the factions later tried to make peace, and since they were successful in easing a bit of that, I and one of the other players gave up a contempt token each.

    Like

    1. modoc31 says:

      Auspun,

      Thank you for the you comment and how you have successfully used the contempt mechanism in the game.

      ~ Modoc

      Like

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