The Quiet Century

Hey you lot; it’s been an EXCITING week. Just found employment at the local community college, teaching English composition, rocking out. Escaping from the Halls of Retail. It’s a sweet gig, so I spent yesterday celebrating, but that’s no excuse to not come out with a Game Mechanic of the Week, now is it?

Today, it’s from a little game called The Quiet Year by Joe Mcdaldno. I know, I know, I did one about the Quiet Year before, in which I lauded the game’s economy of contempt tokens and the way it reflected the difficulty for a community to come to a collective decision. Now I’m going to talk about a different clever mechanic, but I’m really only using it as a springboard into a hack I’d like to try out.

Quiet year. Chapter 3, the mechanic holding my interest today:

The basic unit of play in The Quiet Year is the week.

Every turn one player draws a card, and it reflects the events of that week. Then they decide what else happens that week, whether it’s discovery, discussion, or the beginning of a project. Point it, it’s a game about the passage of time as reflected through weeks.

Pacing is a difficult thing indeed; it’s something I have been struggling with while working on Synanthropes, but it’s something that the Quiet Year does a fine job with, because it’s able to make that pacing absolute. Every turn, one card, one week. There’s only so much you are able to do in a turn, there’s only so long it can last, and the arrival of the Frost Shepherds is on the horizon, and time is moving implacably forward. Sometimes it seems too long, sometimes it seems too short, but it never actually changes pace. It’s really effective, and works, well, just like actual time in that fashion, ticking along at one second per second but never quite seeming like it is.

But tell me then, because I like to think about these things… imagine if we changed nothing else about the Quiet Year, but altered that basic unit of play.

The basic unit of play in The Quiet Century is the year.

(Well, the Quiet Half-Century, but who’s counting cards, right?)

A minor change, which makes the game last fifty times longer in terms of narrative, while covering the same time in the real world. Suddenly, change happens quickly, society rises and falls in a blink, and people can be children at the beginning of the game and dead at the end without it being a tragedy. True, the Quiet Year doesn’t really do characters, per se, but it is common to have a list of figures who become relevant and recurring, names that keep popping up, often attached to specific modes of thought. It’s useful to keep track of, for instance, that charismatic young girl who causes so much fuss, because she may be related to other causes of fuss later on.

The Quiet Century? Well, the next time you see her, she might be thirty years older. Or the matriarch of an entire clan or rebel group. That’s interesting. That’s one way in which we fit in a LOT of change in the same two- to three-minute turns (because remember, we’re changing nothing else. Yeah, that means seasons last thirteen years wherever we are. I don’t know, it works for Game of Thrones, so deal. Or just call them metaphorical seasons, that works too).

Of course, filling in the blanks is what The Quiet Year is about, metaphorically AND literally, but these year-long gaps will mean the blanks are MUCH larger, so filling them in becomes really, really important. Every event has to be notable… it’s not just some guy who goes missing, it’s that fellow who everybody knows for some reason, maybe he’s the richest man in town, or the mayor. He’s all everyone seems to talk about that year. Every discovery must be huge, because that was the only thing worth discovering for an entire year! Every discussion is going to be of massive import, because it signifies a year in which nothing happened except argument (imagine the horror of spending all year to talk about what to do about those folks in the next town over, only to realize that we were all in agreement the entire time!). And every project, well, instead of being something that takes weeks to occur, it’s something that takes years. Every project is, thus, an Undertaking. We’re not talking about repairing the old truck, we’re talking about erecting viaducts, constructing entire villages, inventing new technologies from scratch.

Scarcities too take on more power, because if we’ve been scarce on food for a few turns, we’ve been hungry for years! That’s not just a lack of food as a physical thing on our plates, it means there is a huge logistical problem in supplying our people with what they need. The longer it goes unaddressed, the more people are suffering, for YEARS.

At the same time, you lose a lot of the little interactions. It’s really easy for discoveries to get lost in the shuffle. The other community on the map? In a turn’s time they could be extinct, they could be indoctrinated, they could be the first leg of the empire. The world becomes divided into the extremely short-lived and the extremely long-lasting, because of the scale of the thing. And of course, though you might be suffering from scarcities, you would lose that sense of life on the edge… no matter how much things suck right now, we know society is stable enough to keep trucking for a few more years at least.

(That said, you can put in a lot of civil unrest, coups, instability on the personal level. We’ll just know that SOMETHING will continue, even if it is much changed over the course of a decade.)

If I were to play the Quiet Century, I’d probably be tempted to give folks an extra activity every turn… I know, I know, this is violating my “only change the basic unit of play” rule but… well. I’m spitballing. Roll with me. It would be “Check in on a situation.” Checking in is like discovering something new, except instead of putting an actual new thing on the map, you alter something that is already there to reflect the passage of time. It keeps the world from being too darn static, it happens after the card is drawn but before the action for that year.

The money question is this: Will this function as a game? Will it be FUN?

Answer: I don’t know. I’d like to try it. I don’t think it would take any real manipulation of the standard Quiet Year cards to be a viable game, either… a little creative interpretation as necessary, but even then, only a little, mostly come winter when events start feeling a bit immediate. Even then, only a bit.

I think if nothing else, it would be nice to give it a try.

(Those of you who follow me on the Twitter, @EddlyT, will likely know that hacking Quiet Year has been on my mind of late. Keep your eyes peeled for more on this topic in the near future.)

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