My overall thoughts on The Quiet Year are that this is a pretty great map-making game. So long as you have a good idea in mind for the setting, you can pretty much make a fun story out of it. As a solo game, however, it is rather difficult to figure out a way to play this solo without betraying the core rules of the game.
While the base of the cards and the rules surrounding them make for good worldbuilding, playing the game as written solo is a different story altogether. Not only did I have to invent a new rule (the Shadow Action), but also reinvented how the Contempt Tokens worked. The end result is essentially a different beast altogether.
For one, the rule of having NPCs to interact with ended up limiting the number of major characters down to seven characters barring the Frost Shepherds which I will get to later: the Tiedal Patriarch, the Patriarch’s daughter, the Wabu family, the boy and his genie, and lastly my own character. As a result, this inverts what was suggested in the rulebook, which discourages the game from being about the individual.
I can see where the rules are coming from. There was a widely packed populace of people, and outside of that one group who wanted to get the robots, there wasn’t an overall focus on community. They were literally fodder for the Tiedal’s sacrifice.
The Frost Shepherds were also something I betrayed with the Quiet Year, where the rules were basically “don’t speculate on who they are until after the game”. As a whole, the Quiet Year plays kinda like a microscope, where you look at how micro-organisms function for a brief moment before you have to put it away. You don’t get to observe the aftermath, you only see it for that window of time and then, it’s gone.
I guess I ironically did that by having my character be axed off. Though, again, I feel as though I betrayed the spirit of the Quiet Year with that, since I wasn’t supposed to play a single character… But, it unfolded that way.
At this point, you might ask me why I’m bringing up short comings in this review for this game. Part of Week 4’s challenge is talking about how well a game can be adapted into solo play. This entire site’s core point is that any game can be played solo, but the real challenge is figuring out a way to do so. Some games make it easy by being either solo-friendly or made with solo in mind. Other games, however, require some balancing or artificial “weights” (i.e. playing a party of four characters). This game, however, plays differently.
It’s a game made to explore both an emerging community of people as well as debates that disappear as quickly as they appear. The Contempt tokens are a significant example of this. They don’t do anything, but are rather a token sign of contempt. There’s no clear “plot” to it, with the Frost Shepherds not counting due to their nature.
As a result, one of its features, “Hold a Discussion”, won’t work as the rules intended… Unless you want to set up a mannequin and roleplay yourself holding a debate. Thankfully, one of the perks of being a solo roleplayer is having a toolkit to fill in those gaps. That said, it changes the “theme” of the game to something else entirely.
I would compare my game of The Quiet Year to something akin to, say, a story driven scenario in Civilization or SimCity. You’re overlooking a place to the best of your ability and you have advisors come up to you, handing you objectives. It’s still a good solo experience and some moments I will remember pretty well, but part of me feels like I hadn’t captured the experience the Quiet Year wanted me to get.
Using the Bartle model, this game uses Spades first, Hearts second. That is, it prioritizes on exploration first and foremost, then socialization second. However, I flipped the two, using the NPC socialization first and the exploration of the world second. I keep bringing up these sorts of “gaming models” for these games, because knowing what player base the game is trying to appeal to will give you an idea of how the game is played.
Dungeons and Dragons is a really good go-to example, since its origins are based in fantasy wargaming. As such, while it tries to spread itself to every player base by including something for everyone (i.e. 5E’s Background feature to try and encourage roleplaying), at its core, it’s rules and way of playing appeals to the kind of players who want to play cooperative games of exploring dungeons and slaying dragons. A Flower for Mara (my favorite RPG), by contrast, is a LARP about grieving the loss of life and involves a core gameplay element where you include your own grief. In other words, this game appeals to a more emotional player base who don’t mind ripping open old wounds and let the feelings out in a narrative.
You can get a feel for what these games are about by reading the rules and looking into how they’re written. With the Quiet Year, looking at the way the rules are written and their emphasis on certain elements, the game wholeheartedly encourages players to simulate a community coming together and take up the role of scientists conducting an experiment.
To make a long story short on this front, the game can be played solo. The one thing you would need to take care of is the “hold discussion” action, which can be just as simple as not having it outright if you wish to avoid changing up how the game is played. Don’t worry, I’ll write up rules for playing the Quiet Year solo the way I did it soon.
As for what I liked and disliked about it… I made it no secret that I enjoy prompt-based gameplay. 52 cards are split into four seasons and each one has a different theme with the 13 cards determining the way the world turns. It can be rather inventive and some of them even invite some form of strategy, as some would interfere with the projects you are trying to enact on the village or mess with the abundances and scarcities.
Drawing a map is also really fun, especially when you make discoveries and expand the world as you see fit. Hell, by the end of things, there’s no rules saying that you can’t reuse the map for future games. In fact, I think it’s rather encouraged, since the endgame invites the further exploration of the story. I can definitely see this being used to kickstart, say, an Ironsworn game.
There are some downsides, though. The Contempt Tokens, on their own, mean nothing in the grand scheme of things and are just there to show people are mad. There’s no real gameplay impact and I felt like it can be as simple as using a Contempt to make things harder for the community overall, or reducing the number of cards in a season to get to the endgame. At the same time, I understand if those could break the overall balance of the game.
But that’s the only downside I can think of that is within reason. This game is pretty solid overall and is nice to get into, whether you’re just starting out with roleplaying or if you’re a veteran looking for a break from the usual. As a solo game, it definitely has its merits of creating a setting for future adventures, but playing it on its own can be fun in of itself as well in spite of the changes made to accommodate for it. Well, bon voyage, gamers.