I’m in Goa on an intensive tai chi course. And I mean intensive! The practice is dragging up pieces of people’s buried past, awakening spine-archived lsd to engender days in an acid haze, generally reconnecting people with weird energy flows and uncomfortable truths. All by waving your arms around in circles and paying attention to your body. Crazy.
So of course, I decide to introduce a story game to unwind. Specifically The Quiet Year, which seems apropos because a significant portion of the course are going on to build a retreat in Guatemala where they will live, and that a general “critique of civilisation” vibe abides. We played it outdoors in a hippy vegetarian cafe space, and then on the front porch of our pal’s room once we were kicked out at 11pm. We finished the game about half-one am – the latest night out on the course so far! The group was a mix of people with trad gaming experience, no gaming and more new-skool design.
Firstly, the game is excellent. The design is elegant, tight and achieves what it needs to do. The physical elements are beautiful and fit the tone of the game perfectly, and the instructions are straightforward and accessible. We had some issues with the game, but they were purely of our own making.
The game was set in a tropical coastal setting not unlike our current surroundings. We aimed to increase the realism and impact of the game by doing so, but in retrospect the ‘mysterious jungle’ quality of it may have begun the road towards gonzo strangeness and mystery. You’ll see how that goes presently. I’m going to focus on the issues we had with the game, and skim over the game content (you had to be there), but these are no slight on the game. I think it might be useful for others to hear about.
What we got right:
-lots of use of the map, which became very rich.
-identifying and speaking for different factions
-extensive use of contempt, signifying our feeling for the community
What we got wrong
–trying to bite off too much within actions: discoveries, and also group discussions. It seemed to take a long while for some members to get that discussion was just to share an opinion, not to introduce facts or determine outcomes. I don’t know why this was, I had to re-explain it nearly a dozen times. Perhaps I’m just bad at explaining. Anyway it’s fundamentally a restraint issue, which the text does point to, but we still had issues with. Never with projects, perhaps because people were aware of the collective time demands consensus needed.
–table talk. I made a bad call at the start of the game: Six people were around the dinner table, all wanted to play. I offered to step out as facilitator, but one couple were keen to be playing as a pair, and another guy thought he might leave early and suggested pairing with me, so that’s what we did – two pairs and two singletons. It turned out to be a bad idea, as it made debate, especially in the other pair, inevitable, with that debate inevitably churning up speculative facts and reactions to other actions that the game is designed to address in other ways.
–overcomplicated following-story approach – a prophecy, something happening on this particular day with that particular person. From my point of view, there was a certain amount of ‘forcing’ the game to be about features that one player/pair found interesting, not maliciously but through enthusiasm/commitment.
–slow gos – related to all of the above. At one point late in the game virtually froze, with one member of the other couple unwilling to take their turn because they wanted to get it right. We basically sat there for 10 minutes, and every encouragement of “there’s no wrong move” “better to do anything than nothing” and “we need to keep this rolling, guys” was met by an affirmation and then back to perusing the mat.
– your standard absurdity curve – the supernatural dial just kept creeping up, and in fact it wasn’t so much supernatural as increasingly cartoonish. I think the instructions warn the facilitator to jump on this, but I didn’t; it was hard to detect the saltational steps (although the possessed possible ‘chosen one’ somehow guzzling the communities year’s supply of jungle honey, swelling to house size as he did so, was probably the moment!)
Even though the session suffered from these factors, we all enjoyed the game a lot, and several players are keen to play it again soon, maybe multiple times. Some are amateur game designers (more in the board/card field) whose minds were blown by the types of mechanics involved. Happy days, and kudos to Joe.
Oh, and I have a specific contempt question that I took to storygames