Designed by Wolfgang Warsch
Release Year: 2018 Complexity: Low-Medium
👥 2-4 Players ⏰ 45-60 min 💸 ~$50 🔗 Buy
Note that the pictures in this review show the “GeekUp” upgraded chips that replace the original cardboard ingredients with thick, quality plastic tokens. These aren’t a necessary purchase, and they aren’t cheap either, but I won’t lie: they also might be our favorite component upgrade we’ve ever made to a game. You can find them in the BGG store.
In the Quacks of Quedlinberg, you are a “quack doctor” trying to create the best potions over a 9-day festival in Quedlinburg. Each round, you draw ingredients from your bag and add them to your potion. Many of the chips have special abilities that trigger when they are placed, and the more ingredients you add, the more victory points you receive, as well as coins for buying new ingredients for future rounds. But be careful — not all ingredients are beneficial. If the numbers on your white chips add up to more than 7, your potion immediately explodes, forcing you to forfeit either your victory points or coins for that round. After resolving scoring points and buying new ingredients, everything resets for a new round. After 9 rounds of potion-making, the player with the most points wins!
Quacks of Quedlingburg has two distinct decision spaces: pushing your luck while making your potion, and choosing which ingredients to purchase. With the lure of greater rewards, you will constantly be computing your odds of busting and evaluating if continuing is worth the risk. Not only does going further yield you more points and coins, but the furthest non-exploding player also gets to roll a bonus die for a random reward. Other variables add interest such as a flask that can be used to return a white chip that was just drawn, or specific spaces that will earn a ruby if you end in front of them. Rubies can prove hugely valuable in the long run as spending two can either refill your flask or permanently move your starting space forward by one.
Once you have stopped or exploded, the strategy shifts to evaluating the best chips to buy based on your available coins. Do you load up on pumpkins and red chips that go further when pumpkins are in your potion? Or do you try to focus on buying high-value chips so that you can combo them with a yellow chip that could double their value? Do you spend all your coins on a single high-value chip, or buy two cheaper chips of different colors? Every game has a custom set of ingredient abilities, presenting a new puzzle of how to best approach the customization of your personal bag.
Player Counts - The Quacks of Quedlinburg plays great with 3 and 4 players, as well as 5 if you pick up the Herb Witches expansion. 2 player is fine, but you lose some of the group dynamic and a runaway leader feels even worse when you are the only player losing. It is worth noting that we have actually had great success playing with more than 5 players by teaming up. It is fun to collaborate with a partner on when to push your luck and which ingredients to buy — I have played multiple 10-player games with five teams of two, and the groups have had a great time.
Abstract vs. Thematic - The theme in Quacks is quirky and fun, but ultimately a bit of an afterthought as you focus on the mechanisms while playing.
Luck vs. Skill - The random drawing of chips from the bag is going to introduce a heavy luck factor, but you might be surprised how much skill plays a part in the final outcome. A lot of decisions are made over the course of the game that can improve your odds of winning, and in the long run, better players tend to win more often.
Multiplayer Solitaire vs. Highly Interactive - With the bulk of the game consisting of drawing from your bags simultaneously, there is not a lot of player interaction. There are a few ingredients, however, such as the black chips, that have you compare to your neighbors to determine rewards, as well as the bonus die for going the furthest without busting, that mix in some interaction.
Short Setup vs. Long Setup - Setting up Quacks isn’t too bad, but does require you to select ingredient books, arrange all the piles of chips around the table, and make sure players have all of their player pieces. Getting small containers for the ingredients can be helpful in speeding up the process.
Easy to Teach vs. Hard to Teach - While Quacks is not particularly complicated, it is also very different than games most people have played, so it can take a bit for new players to wrap their heads around the mechanisms. Additionally, the ingredient abilities being used that game need to all be explained.
Low Setup Variability vs. High Setup Variability - Setup Variability is fairly high, mainly due to the various ingredient books that can be used. The Fortune Teller deck also does a nice job of adding some unique spice into each round.
Things to Like
✅ Addictive Potion-Making - One of the best things about The Quacks of Quedlinburg is just how addictive it is to build your potion. Each draw from the bag is like a little rush of dopamine as you hope for your chips to come out in the best order. The chip abilities enhance this feeling as there are many times that your strategy excels if chips are drawn in a certain order, or you might want to push your luck further since you know one of your best chips is still in your bag.
✅ Simultaneous Play - Additionally, almost the entire game is played simultaneously, so you are never waiting on other players’ turns to have your own exciting moments. There is a great energy at the table as everyone is drawing from their bags and making little comments as they draw the perfect chip or get super unlucky.
✅ Great Ingredient Variety - The variety of ingredient abilities add some really nice strategic choices in the buying phase, and allow each player to build their bag to fit their own play style. The base game includes four different abilities for each chip color, allowing for near limitless combinations of the abilities in play for each game.
✅ Fun Fortune Teller Effects - Every round begins with a random fortune teller effect, and these spice up the game in fun ways with either immediate benefits to the players or a rule change for that round. The fact that these almost always are positive effects just adds more fun moments onto a game that’s already filled with them.
✅ Feel-Good Catch-Up Mechanism - And there are even feel-good moments when you are losing! Trailing players gain “rat tails” that allow them to start further in their pot the farther they are behind the leader. Even though it is a sign that you are not likely to win, we can’t deny that it feels good and players get excited when they get a bunch of rat tails.
Things to Dislike
❌ Luck of the Draw Can Ruin You - While the random drawing of chips is much of what makes Quacks fun, the side effect is that sometimes randomness can be really swingy. I have had a game where the last two rounds, when my bag was filled with great ingredients acquired throughout the game, I busted having only drawn a single non-white chip. My frustration was eased by the fact that I have played the game so many times with the majority of the experiences being very positive, but that could be a huge downer for someone on their first play. And some players are simply going to be really put off by the potential of the winner being determined by an exceptional case of randomness.
❌ Low Quality Chip Components - While the cardboard used for the chips is pretty standard for board games, the fact that they are going to be constantly handled and drawn means they will wear out fairly quickly. Especially the white chips that are always in use, it will likely only take 5-10 games before they are really looking beat up. Our recommendation is to play at least 5 times to decide if you love the game, and if so, make the splurge on the awesome GeekUp chip set. But the fact that the upgrade costs almost as much as the game itself, yet feels necessary to give the game longevity in your collection, definitely is a downside.
❌ Intimidating for New Players - Quacks is a game that we have had great success introducing to non-gamers, but there is definitely a barrier with how complicated it looks on the table and the need to explain all the chip abilities before you get going. A small thing, but that perceived difference in complexity can make it a little harder to introduce it to new players that really would love it if they gave it a chance.
❌ Overpowered Ingredients - It doesn’t come up too often, but there are some chip abilities or combinations that can feel overpowered to the point that players are all pursuing the same strategy. Specifically, we feel the blue chip ability that lets you draw chips equal to its number and pick one to add is too strong, to the point where we choose not to include it in our games. Perhaps it is more of an issue of groupthink and a perceived overpowered ability, but it still can have a negative impact on the experience.
Ryan (38 Plays) - 9 Daniel (23 Plays) - 9
Is It For You?
If having your strategy not pan out due to bad luck makes you want to tear your hair out and not talk to your friends, Quacks may not be the best choice for you. 👎
However, if you love the excitement of pushing your luck, enjoy the strategic customization that comes from deck or bag-building games, and want a game that is accessible enough to teach to most people, we think The Quacks of Quedlinburg is best in class. 👍