Quacks of Quedlinburg Review

It’s the beginning of the Quedlinburg 9 day festival of health – where totally legitimate medical practitioners offer many sorts of potions and pastes that all claim to miraculously cure whatever might be ailing you. They arrive, bags of ingredients and cauldrons in tow, to setup on the streets, hoping to to brew the best potions, and become the most famous Quack of Quedlinburg!

2-4 Players | 40 Minutes | Designed by Wolfgang Warsch

Upon initially hearing about a duck themed game that was taking the boardgaming world by storm, winning awards all over, and looking great in photos, I was very intrigued. Imagine my sheer disappointment when I was granted the opportunity to play an early import of the game at a local meet up, only to sit down and discover there were no ducks to be seen! I felt betrayed, but I sat through the rules explanation and about halfway through the second round, all had been forgiven, for what the game lacked in ducks, it made up for in push-your-luck chaos!

So many ingredients! All ready for brewing.

How does it work?

Quacks of Quedlinburg is a push your luck, bag building (similar to deck building) game where players compete to brew the best potions in order to build their engines and score the most points. At the beginning of the game, each player is provided with a cauldron to brew their potions in, along with an ingredient starter pack.

Each of the 9 rounds in Quacks plays out the same. First off, a card is drawn from the event deck, and something happens. Then players begin brewing their potions. One by one, players draw ingredients from their bag and add them to their cauldrons. Each ingredient has a number (1-4) on it which determines how much it fills the pot, and the type of the ingredient determines what may happen when it is placed in the pot. Players continue to draw ingredients and place them in their cauldron until they decide to stop, or until their potion explodes!

Each player starts the game with a bag full of cherry bombs, (white chips), which are a crucial ingredient in Quackpot potion making, but unfortunately highly volatile. If at any time the sum value of the white chips in your cauldron exceeds 7, your potion has exploded! If you choose to draw an additional chip to add to your brew and it happens to be a white one that pushes you over this threshold, there’s nothing you can do – your day’s potion brewing is over. Fortunately, the other coloured chips have generally positive effects that may take place during the brewing phase, or after your potion is complete. These include things like allowing you to remove white chips, deciding if you want to place the next chip you draw, or boosting the value of chips to pad out your potion further.

Once everyone has completed their potion for the round (exploded or successfully), end of round bonuses and points are awarded. Players can also buy new chips with currency gained, which is based on the number of ingredients that were added to their potion. If your potion exploded during this round, you will have to forfeit either your points, or your ability to gain new chips. The primary goal of the game is to brew the largest possible potion each round so you can get lots of points and money for more ingredients. In this way players begin each subsequent round with a bag of increasingly powerful ingredients. By the end of the game, potions are highly elaborate and sometimes fill up the cauldron completely! After 9 rounds of play, the biggest Quack is crowned and all the other Quacks must revere them and their potion brewing skills.

A completely full cauldron! Probably a most curative potion.

What do I think?

I’ve played Quacks of Quedlinburg countless times since my first game. I got my own copy soon after playing it at the meetup, and have pulled it out on many occasions. As a light and fun game it has a very wide appeal, and works great at any player count.

The Good Stuff

  • Quacks is super easy to teach and to learn. I’ve found that once you’ve setup, the easiest way to teach the game is to just start playing a faux round yourself, talking it through. Then when you explode, run through the end of round steps and after a quick explanation of the ingredients you are good to play! The rule book is great – succinct and well written.
  • The game is just really fun to play. The push your luck element creates many tense and hilarious moments. Players generally watch each other playing and agonise over pushing their luck further, and of course exclaim when the 1/5 chance thing happens after all.
  • Gameplay is engaging and interesting throughout the whole game. Potion brewing is done simultaneously, so there is very little waiting around. Even when you explode early, it’s fun to watch others finish their potions, egg on their bad decisions, and whine about how bad your potion was this round.
  • Quackpot homeopaths is a massively underutilised theme in boardgames. So much more fun than some generic fantasy thing.
  • This game represents a good implementation of push your luck, as it has fairly mild consequences when you push too far. I think the way the consequence of exploding is designed, you are far more likely to take risks early on in the game when they have less effect, and the risk goes up as the game goes on.
  • The complexity ramp up of the game is very well done, especially for introducing new players. Gameplay can begin with new players not even knowing what any of the special ingredients do. They can be then inroduced once players understand how brewing works, and a few more ingredients are introduced in subsequent rounds. The way ingredients will interact and affect brewing becomes increasingly interesting as the rounds progress.
  • Quacks promotes good, fun table talk. Everyone tends to vocalise what’s going on while they’re playing, exclaim when things go wrong, cheer when they get a miraculous draw, and rib other players over their misfortune.
  • Everything about the game feels good. It’s all positive. All the event cards give players bonuses and benefits rather than drawbacks. Everyone gets stuff at the end of each round, and you can’t ruin anyone’s day.
  • Playing through each round and seeing your potions come out of the bag is fun even when you don’t win. It can be hilarious to see how bad you go too! I found it surprising on my first plays how invested and excited I was for each round of play, despite how little control you have over what happens.
  • Variability and replayability is great. There are several sets of ingredients available so you can mix and match each game. Because of the large amounts of randomness, no one can really come up with a dominant strategy that relies on certain ingredients being drawn.

The Bad Stuff

  • Luck. This is the big thing with this game and it really depends on your personal preferences for games and what you find enjoyable as to whether you will like this game or not. Quacks is definitely a game where you are more being taken for a ride that you have some input to, than a game you have precise control over what happens. Just like Mario Kart, you can play a perfect game and have done everything right, but that won’t stop 3 blue shells from hitting you just before the end of the race and you coming in last. I think this is the biggest potential drawback of the game but it really depends on the players as to whether they enjoy a ‘Mario Kart’ style game or prefer something much more strategic and controllable. Honestly, after initially thinking I wouldn’t really like this game based on how random it sounded, I am amazed at how much I love the game and how much fun I have playing it.
  • Quacks certainly has a runaway leader issue. In at least half of the games I’ve played, from round 7/8 (of 9) it’s usually pretty clear who is going to win, and there is nothing the other players can do to effect any change on that outcome – it would be literally impossible to get enough points to catch up and you can’t cost other players points either. This can make the last couple of rounds a bit soggy but if everyone takes it in good humour it is fine.
  • Quacks is a game where you stick a bunch of small cardboard chits in a bag and constantly dig around and mix them with your grubby hands. As you might guess this is less than optimal for the condition of the cardboard. After even just 5 games I was beginning to notice wear on the chips and a buildup of muck, especially on the white chips. I ended up getting the BoardGameGeek plastic chips (which are Glorious … if a bit expensive), and my cardboard chips which have lived through maybe 15 games are quite dinged up. There have been numerous responses to this issue – the BGG bits, coin capsules, 3d printed protectors and bits, etc. Unfortunately all of them add cost to the game.
  • I’ve not really had issues with this (I would hope my friends don’t cheat!) but Quacks certainly has a cheating potential, and I’ve read people reporting online about it happening at conventions. Because the brewing phase is carried out in a largely solitaire manner, there are many opportunities to cheat, and to do it discreetly. I suppose this shouldn’t really weigh against the game at all, but, it’s a possibility.
  • No ducks, whatsoever. I was totally expecting anthropomorphic duck people and was massively let down.
  • This game could easily support more players without taking more time. It’s a pity the game didn’t support 6 players, or more!
The game with upgraded bits from BoardGameGeek

Quacks of Quedlinburg is a game that I totally wouldn’t have expected me to enjoy playing, much less buy for myself and then nearly double the cost of the game buying deluxe pieces for, but well, that happened! If that’s not a good endorsment of this game then I don’t know what is. More seriously, Quacks is quite a light game for the big box it comes in, and maybe a tad on the expensive side (especially if you consider the somewhat required upgrades if you end up playing it a lot). I think it’s fantastic but the random nature of the game means that I wouldn’t recommend buying this without playing it or seeing it played first if you don’t like luck in games. I think Quacks is wholly deserving of it’s praise and awards and can’t wait to check out the expansion soon.

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