We returned to the Quiet Year by Avery Alder this week to play as a colony of ants just emerged from a war with Ant Lion packs known as the Jackals. Our anthill sat on the ravaged side of a river in a forest, so we lacked leaves and sweets, and suffered from a shortage of ant-power after our numbers had been depleted during the war. Luckily as ants, we never suffer from a lack of cooperation to coordinate our actions and address problems. We do not have family units, but work, eat, and sleep together in troops that share a single mission.
Our story begins when we send a line of ants across the river to the standing forest to collect leaves and restock our stores. During the weeks of the gathering expeditions, heavy rains collapse one side of the hill, endangering our queen. Far from our hill, scouts find a strange rusted-out metallic hulk with round rubber objects at each corner, and some two-legged creatures come to the cabin across the river. Closer to home, the grasshopper peddler comes through, trading us sweets for some of our new leaf stores, but the anteater is spotted not far from our mound.
We begin building new quarters for the queen deeper in the mound, to observe the two-legs, and to explore the mysterious hulk. Tragedy strikes when the troop sent to observe are captured by the two-legs instead; they are never heard from again. It turns out the rusted hulk provides excellent shelter to all underneath it. The queen and eggs are relocated to safer quarters, but the colony begins to wonder if we should become polygenic and set up a second queen for additional safety. While we grapple with these existential questions, other insects displaced by the war arrive at our mound seeking shelter, and we decide to welcome them and put them to work to alleviate our short-handedness. To accommodate these newcomers, we begin building new guest quarters to house them all.
Around this time, the two-legs plant an apple tree on our side of the river to honor a previous generation, and a troop of soldiers are lost to the anteater. We pledge to drive off the anteater and manage to redirect its attention across the river. We also decide that rather than becoming a single polygenic colony, we will send a second queen to create a new colony under the rusted hulk. The effort to build the guest quarters is repurposed to create a nursery to populate the new colony, a nursery run but the newcomers, who aren’t that skilled at food collection. A group of disgruntled troops tries to sabotage these efforts, but the tensions are eased somewhat when the newcomers share their rations with the dissidents. Another group builds a Summer Shrine near the rusted hulk to protect the colonies from the coming frosts and keep us warm.
After a new group of strangers, clearly infected with a fungal disease, have to be barred from entering our community, the shriners decide to hold a festival at the Summer Shrine obelisk. But things keep delaying the festival: the harshness of winter creates turmoil, we reject the festival organizer when he demands too much of the colony’s food, and the search for the missing grasshopper occupies the entire colony. We find the grasshopper, but before the festival can continue, the Frost Shepherds arrive, and our story ends.