The Quiet Year: A Cliffside Story and a Release Announcement

edited January 2013 in Story Games
(if you're just here for the big news, feel free to skip this actual-play story, my announcement is below it.)

A Year on the Beach

We’ve been living in the narrow beachfront between the ocean and some stark cliffs. It’s been a trying year: the caves took a lot of our energy without yielding much in return, and exposure to the elements took its toll. Still, there have been moments of beauty. A ship washed up on our shore, its hull lined with beautiful textiles. Ever since, we’d been sleeping on persian rugs under tents of silk.

Our biggest problem is the headhunters. They live a couple hours walk from us. We know very little about them, save that their piercings are strange and that we’d sometimes see heads mounted upon poles, in the space between our two encampments. One of our number goes missing, and later we see her head on display.

Weeks go by, and solutions are hotly contested. Some of the community members decide to poison a food offering, in the hopes of a swift decimation of their ranks. The plan fails, and its failure places us in an even more dangerous position. Others form a militia, and plan a midnight raid (a decision I regard with contempt). By stroke of uncanny happenstance, our midnight raiding party encounters one of theirs, and both parties lose a number of lives that night.

“Enough with this violence,” I say. I start a new project: we’ll take some of our finest textiles, fashion them into bridal gowns, and send three of our fairest to their camp as a peace offering. It’s not a decision made lightly, especially given the way that it lent shape to the community’s burgeoning gender politics.

But a card is drawn that causes the project to fail. The wedding-offerings are thwarted. Others begin planning a second military endeavor, this time with explosives. I am heartbroken! We are becoming brutal and unconscionable as a people.

And so it’s my turn again. I solemnly declare a project: some of the elders are going to scale the cliff-face, and as a demonstration of their anti-war stance, fall to their deaths. (Contempt is taken around the table, of course, but this is my final stand, my last effort to remind us of our collective values.) A die is placed on the map, over the cliffs, indicating “1.” It’s going to take but a single week for this project to resolve.

The next player begins their turn. They draw a card and read from it: “Winter elements leave everyone cold, tired, and miserable. Project dice are not reduced this week.” The rain is so wretched that the elders delay their death protest. I feel a whole bunch of emotions about this, as a player. It suddenly feels really personal and real to me, their situation.

The week completes, and the next player beings their turn. Their card reads: “The Frost Shepherds arrive. The game is over.” The siege is never carried out, and we never see the elders jump. Whatever tidy statements we had hoped to make, whatever final stands we had steadied ourselves for, the game had just responded: things aren’t that simple, here.

I’d known it before, but that was the moment that I really thought to myself, “this. This is a powerful game.”

The Quiet Year is Finished!


It's yours to purchase, in three forms -
The PDF costs $6.
The Print Version which comes with a small book and deck of cards, PDF included, costs $25.
The Bag Set, featured in the picture above, costs $40.

It's available at: The Quiet Year.

Also of note is the fact that Tony Dowler helped me put together a little supplement/resource called Charted Areas.

Hurray! That's the whole announcement, one that I've been keen to make for a long time now.
If you've played the game & like it, I'd be delighted if you used this opportunity to say a little about your experience.


  • Oh! While I'm still standing on this soapbox, hawking stories and wares, I should mention:

    Yesterday I wrote a blog post documenting some of the trials and tribulations that came along the way in completing this project. If you like misery tourism, or if you want to learn what publishing can be like some times, then maybe now's the time to read it.
  • Tony: I just noticed the rig and the lighthouse. You sly devil!
  • I first read about this game on Joe's blog. Right away, I emailed him cold to see if I could get a playtest document. He asked me to hold off till the next round of playtests. I kept remembering it and getting all excited again. Finally, the playtest came and I devoured the rules. I had so many questions and ideas and oooooh! Love at first sight.
  • Congratulations. That blog post is why I will never be an entrepreneur.
  • Congratulations, Joe!

    I've played two solo games and have had a great time (despite this method not using the full breadth of rules). I also started a play-by-email game last week.

    I really like the sort of play that emerges from this game; structured but surprising. So far the games have yielded dark mysteries and haunting images; I find myself mulling these communities' stories days later.

    I'll be keeping my copy in my pick-up gaming bag.
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