The Quiet Year comes in a small, rough burlap sack tied with a thick cord. Inside, you'll find a deck of cards, six dice, twenty tokens, a turn summary card and an instruction booklet that contains the following prompt:
For a long time, we were at war with The Jackals. But now, we’ve driven them off, and we have this – a year of relative peace. One quiet year, with which to build our community up and learn once again how to work together. Come Winter, the Frost Shepherds will arrive and we might not survive beyond that. But we don’t know about that yet. What we know is that right now, in this moment, there is an opportunity to build something.
Who were the Jackals? What are the Frost Shepherds? What kind of community will you build? Everything is up to YOU. Don't let the agrarian appearance of the game fool you, the contents of this bag are whatever you want them to be. You can set your quiet year in a high fantasy, magical world; you can live in an underwater world; you can be paleolithic man; you can be on an interstellar craft, searching for a new frontier. It's all up to you and your friends.
When you start off, you'll determine the general framework of your setting, which you'll draw on a communal map. Then you'll go player-by-player to introduce a geographic feature. Next, your table will determine what your community has for abundances and scarcities. And then it's on to the game.
On your turn, you will draw a card from a deck. 52 cards with 4 sets; 52 weeks in a year with 4 seasons. There's no such thing as a coincidence. Your card will offer you two prompts from which the active player will choose to resolve. The types of prompts will vary season-to-season and be things like: "Where does everyone sleep? Who is unhappy with this arrangement, and why? OR... What natural predators roam this area? Are you safe?" There is no group input on this part of the turn. The active player is the only one who gets to choose and resolve these prompts, drawing the consequences on the communal map. Once this is determined, the active player will decide whether to start a new project (this can be ANYTHING, from looking for food to starting a religion to fortifying the town... or something more creative than I can come up with this second. The table decides how long in weeks this project will take to finish), discover something new (Look, you guys! I found a well that spits coins/a tribe of otterfolk/a waterfall in the forest) or call a discussion. The discussion is the only point during a turn in which the rest of the table can voice their input. (But that's all they can do. Discussions in The Quiet Year -- as in real life -- rarely result in a satisfying conclusion.) If you disagree with something that the active player has done, you can take a token to make your displeasure known.
And then it's on to the next player. Draw a card, pick one of the two options and draw the result on the map, pick from one of three actions, on to the next player.
And at the end of the year, with the coming of the Frost Shepherds, the game is over. And you're left with a bespoke, unique community -- complete with map! -- with rich, collaborative lore that you can use however you'd like. Do you want to pull up your favourite roleplaying system and play out the Frost Shepherds? Do it! Do you want to take the map and embroider it on a kitchen towel? DO IT.
Whatever you do after The Quiet Year, much like the game itself, is up to you.