04th Jan2019

‘The Quacks of Quedlinburg’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

quacks-box

The Quacks of Quedlinburg (which I think I’ll just call Quacks from now on) is a rather unusual bag building and push your luck game that centres on the idea that players are charlatan doctors, selling their wares to the highest bidder. To do this, they’ll use a wide variety of weird and wonderful ingredients – some for taste and some for their potent mystical powers.

Each player begins the game with a handful of volatile components, a single piece of pumpkin and a spider, usually. These goodies are all thrown into a bag and drawn blindly during the first turn. Tokens are placed into a cauldron as they are drawn, with the number shown on the token advancing the potency of the brew (and its associated value) the number of spaces shown. If any player exceeds seven volatile elements in their potion, it will explode, costing them either the victory points or the cash value that their potion would have generated. Any player who reaches the end of the round without an explosion will gain both of these benefits, whilst the player who has pushed their luck further (and has the most potent potion) will also get to roll a bonus die to gain one of several benefits.

In addition to the basic potency of the potion based on the final location of the components on each player board, players who were able to draw special green, purple and black tokens may also have additional bonuses. For example, a green spider might allow players to score a bonus multiplier, whilst the player who has drawn more moth tokens than her neighbours will gain a similar benefit. Once victory points and cash rewards are scored, the players will then be able to spend their earnings on up to two different tokens. At the beginning of the game, only basic ingredients will be available, but as the game progresses, new and more powerful ingredients will be introduced. Every game is based around a particular recipe book of recommended ingredients, meaning that Quacks has several possible variations (or you could of course make up your own.)

All chips (including those) purchased will be put back into the bag of the relevant player and the next round begins. As you can probably imagine, players add more and more tokens to their bag with each turn, meaning that potions inevitably score more and more with each round (unless a particular player is very, very unlucky.) There are a few ways in which more volatile ingredients might be added to a player’s bag, but more often than not, they will want to avoid those tokens.

One of the most important things to note about playing Quacks is that the push your luck element is very well done. Having a potion explode is definitely punitive, but the rewards for pushing your luck further than you might be comfortable with in order to be in with a chance of rolling the bonus die are quite strong. There’s also a built in balancing mechanism that allows players who fall behind on the victory point track to add a rats tail counter into their potion – this adds potency to their potion at the beginning of a round based on their relative position to the leader.

It’s also very interesting that Quacks uses different recipe books to change the benefits that each of the advanced tokens will provide. This variation makes Quacks play in remarkably different ways from one game to the next, whilst also allowing players to create their own custom combos should they wish. The instruction manual (which I should mention is very good) points out the different styles of play that each recipe set will provide, so you’ll be able to make a judgement based on player preference.

Quacks also looks fantastic when laid out, with some really unique components. The boards that each player uses to track the potency of their potion is literally a cauldron that’s cut to shape – including a ladle and a specific space to place oversized potion tokens that allow players to counteract a possible potion explosion. Inside the cauldron, a swirl of victory points, cash and bubbling liquid presents the player with an intuitive and easy to read way to plan their turn, so there’s function as well as form.

A central board tracks the round number and provides a few other bits of key information, such as how the scoring is done at the end of each turn. Below this board, players will usually position the recipe books that relate to each ingredient and explain what they do. Each recipe book is actually a thick piece of card cut in the shape of an open book and clearly marked with the relevant iconography. Having this information presented in such a way is inspired and it is so much better than referring to a manual or an appendix.

Quacks is such a fun and fast game to play, yet it also balances luck and skill to a level that should be pleasing to gamers of all skill levels. A push your luck game can only work if it provides players with one or more incentives to keep putting themselves at risk, yet it’s just as important to ensure that in later rounds, it isn’t possible for someone to win by going too conservative. The incentives in Quacks are strong, whilst the catch up mechanic is powerful enough to matter without ever feeling like it’s a cheat. The fact that Quacks is such a good looking game as well is the icing on the cake. Very highly recommended and it’s no surprises to me that The Quacks of Quedlinburg looks likely to pick up a number of awards this year.

**** 4/5

The Quacks of Quedlinburg is available now from Coiledspring Games.

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