Today we played The Quiet Year in a 6th Grade classroom learning about civilizations.  It is an amazing game that I recommend for any language arts or Social Science class learning about civilizations, how they function, and how they succeed.  It’s a game about trying to build a civilization from scratch in one year collectively as a group.  In the game, you build projects, increase resources and deal with challenging encounters as a society.  Many problems come from in your society and some from without.  The game is all about how you handle them.

I love this game because it is super easy to run with a classroom.  It’s Game Masterless requires is about six, six-sided dice, sheets of blank white paper, a deck of cards, and random tokens you can use for spite.  Once you have that you are good to go.  The game’s instructions are super easy to read and as you read them students get it.

In summary, your teams start by drawing out geographically where their society is located.  Then they decide what resources they want in their society.  Then they have to decide which one resource is abundant and discuss how all others are scarce.  Once they are done with this the game begins.

It’s a very easy game of flipping over cards and letting students describe how they deal with random scenarios that happen to their society (they start very nice and grow progressively more distressful as the game goes on).  What’s amazing about the scenarios though is they are not detailed, they are just questions.  The players need to fill in the details themselves.  The scenarios ask a question like “What group has the highest status in the community? What must people do to gain inclusion in this group?”.  The players then decide how to answer it as they shape their own society.  It creates amazingly varied societies the way they answer and very colorful stories.  After the players choose how to improve their society, typically by creating projects which help improve their resources.  This continues until the game hits winter and invaders attack your society.  At which point the groups have to reflect if they worked together enough to survive.

The premise of the game is simple and easy to run with students.  I particularly like that it has parts where it actually says “read this aloud’.  It makes it easy to know what to tell students and not.  Since it’s a game meant for groups of 4-6 without any leader of the game it’s easy to run in a classroom.  I recommend the following tweaks to use in a classroom.

  1. Use a timer-  The game has recommended times for each step and I would grab out a timer and stick to them.  If it says the group should have around 2 minutes to decide on what their geography is like then give the entire class 2 minutes. If it says it should take 3-4 minutes to answer a scenario and start a project give them 4 minutes unless they all finish early.  Use a timer and make sure everyone does everything at the same time.
  2.  The teacher draws the scenario card-  For simplicity, the teacher always draws the scenario card and each society has their own way they deal with it.  This separates the game into easy rounds and the teacher can add comments and feedback when needed to correct the game between rounds.
  3. Emphasize over, and over, and over that it is one player turn at a time-  The game is meant to be in turns and players should not be able to interfere with a persons turn.  They shouldn’t be even able to influence their turn.  In fact, if someone doesn’t like what a player does remind them of the rules about SPITE tokens.  OH YEAH, THIS GAME HAS SPITE TOKENS.   Students love spite tokens.  Let them have them.  Remind them repeatedly though that no matter how much they might hate what another player does it’s their right to do it and they have to deal with it.  This leads to scenarios like we had where players where weapon huts get burned down repeatedly between anti-war and pro-war factions (A salient talking point about societies agreeing and disagreeing on policies).
  4. Let students create their stories and worlds and embrace it.  No matter how crazy their society is (we had unicorns in one and a reckless built rollercoaster in another) the rules will still always lead back to a society by principle regardless of flavor.

The Quiet Year is a game by Avery Alder.  I recommend everyone try it with their classes.  Check out these twitter posts below if you’d like to see some video of student’s playing.  Enjoy, and I can’t wait to hear your experiences with the game.

(Video 1)(Video 2)(Video 3)