Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday, 5 January 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- The Quacks of Quedlinburg

Game: The Quacks of Quedlinburg

Publisher: Schmidt Spiele

Designer: Wolfgang Warsch

Year: 2018

As far as designers go, 2019 felt like the year of Wolfgang Warsch. With three games nominated across the Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel (expert game) award, it was The Quacks of Quedlinburg that took home the accolade of expert game of the year. At that time, it was a game that only seemed to be available in German, but die hard board gamers made paste-ups to tide themselves over until Schmidt Spiele released an English version for Europe and North Star Games took the game to North America.

Now that it's a pretty easy game to get hold of, we've had the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about. In The Quacks of Quedlinburg you are in the business of offering 'interesting' ointments and potions as medicines. The more weird and wonderful ingredients you can add to your potion, the more notorious you will become, so grab some spiders, pumpkins and some dubious looking mushrooms and let's see what you can cook up!

Gameplay

The Quacks of Quedlinburg consists of 9 rounds each of which has 2 phases. The first phase where you draw a special rules card and then brew your potions, and the second phase where you purchase new ingredients and gain points. The core of the game is in the first phase where you will have a number of ingredients in an opaque bag and draw them 1 at a time. Every time you draw a token you add it to the spiraling track in your potion kettle. If you draw a 1 then you place it in the next available space, if you draw a 2 then you place it 2 spaces along and so on. You can stop drawing tokens at any time, but if you ever draw a total of 8 or more in white tokens then your potion explodes! Fortunately an exploded potion isn't useless, but in the next phase you can only use it for points *or* income rather than both.


During the second phase rewards are dished out based on how well potions were brewed. The player(s) who got the furthest along their potion track without causing an explosion will get to roll the dice of rewards (giving everything from points to new ingredients). Players will then gain bonuses based on placed ingredients with special rules, a ruby if they managed to finish their potion on a ruby space and finally a number of victory points and an income to spend on new ingredients both based on the success of their potion.

Each player can only buy 2 ingredients a round, and more powerful ingredients will cost more money. While there are always some basic ingredients available, more advanced resources appear as the game goes on. On top of that each ingredient has a special rule which varies form game to game, some might let you get more rubies, while others might make better potions when placed directly after another ingredient etc. Customising your bag is a big element of the game and the decision between 2 weaker ingredients and 1 stronger ingredient is a hard one to make.

Finally players get to spend rubies; a pair of rubies will push forward your start marker in your potion, giving you a 1 point head start. If you start getting behind in points you also get given some rat tails to mix into your potion with the same, though temporary, effect of advancing your start marker. Alternatively, a pair of rubies can brew an elixir which can be drunk to put the last drawn token back in the bag - very useful when your first draw is the dreaded white 3! At the end of the 9th round the player with the most points wins.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

Quacks was a very pleasant surprise to me, while it obviously has a huge push your luck element, especially in the early phases when your bags aren't customised at all. The feeling of the progression as you slowly crawl further and further along the track in immensely satisfying. Given that you know you start the game with four white 1s, two 2s and one 3 token, you immediately know if it is safe to keep drawing from your bag, and there's nothing wrong with trying to take no risks. But there's always that next reward, that ruby you didn't quite reach or that big token you know is still in your bag that spurs you on to make mistakes and blow up your own potion.


Another huge element is the ingredients themselves, from the boring, yet cheap pumpkins to the rewarding moths everything has it's place. A lot of the special rules trigger regardless of the size of the token, so you have to choose between buying the expensive big numbers, or grabbing multiple cheaper tokens and going for the special powers. The bag building aspect adds a huge amount of customisation, I just wish that you had a little money to spend at the start of the game so the first round wasn't just pure luck!

The rat tails as a catch up mechanic is both disgustingly thematic and a wonderful balancing tool, the more points you are behind the more reward you get. The reward isn't so high that you will find it easy to come back from behind, but it's enough that you could, and it makes you feel powerful when you are doing badly, which is never a bad thing! This does clash with the reward dice given to the best potion maker each turn, which can offer great rewards (such as your start token moving forward) and can cause a bit of a "rich get richer" situation, especially at lower player counts.

Overall Quacks is a fantastic game, and while you are sure to be cursing your luck as you play it, any game that remains fun while you are doing badly is a winner for me. The ability to mix up ingredient powers leads to huge replayability, as well as tailoring an "easy game" for now players or using more complex powers for an experienced game group.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

Bag building in games like Orleans, or Automobiles is a mechanism I am growing to love, as a close relation to one of my favourites - deck-building. However, the Quacks of Quedlinburg might be the first game I've played where the game is all about the bag building, rather than being just one part of a game. This makes it kind of like a Dominion of deck-building - a very pure and distilled use of the mechanic.

What's great about a game with a single mechanism is that it's super easy to teach to almost anyone. What can be less fun for more frequent gamers is that it can get old quickly. Fortunately Quacks of Quedlinburg adds plenty of variety with four different powers for every potion ingredient, meaning that the setup is different every game. In addition, the fortune teller cards are key in giving each game and each round a slightly different feel, with some bonus resources or a different special goal to strive for.


As a push your luck style game, there is, of course, some luck in the game. You might draw all of your white tokens early and your potion can explode. Your bag building strategy can definitely start to feed into your probability of bad luck. If you buy lots of low value ingredients then you might be slow at progressing around the spiral track in your pot, but at least the concentration of white tokens is diluted. You also have one chance to put a token back in the bag, but you need rubies in order to keep using the potion over the course of the game. The design of the track and the frequency of the victory point rewards combined with the ruby rewards really adds to the push your luck feel in the game. If you're desperate for rubies, but your next token draw might cause an explosion, you'd be more likely to take the risk. However, you always have the option to play it safe.

Quacks of Quedlinburg really puts the player in charge of their own luck. You could spend the game calculating all of your probabilities, but so long as you don't analyse things too much, you'll be able to enjoy a really fun combination of the bag building and push your luck, that I think makes a brilliant game for families or gamers alike.


You Might Like...
  • It's great to see a push your luck game that doesn't rely on dice rolling. The bag building gives you much more control.
  • There's lots of variety with the different abilities of the coloured ingredient tokens in each game.
  • The fortune teller cards are a great addition to the game, making you feel really powerful and giving you more chances to have great turns.
You Might Not Like...
  • You can sometimes be the victim of bad luck in the game.
  • Although there is a good catch-up mechanism, if you're the only player who busts in a 2-player game, it can feel like your opponent is doubly rewarded.
The Verdict

8/10 Quacks of Quedlinburg is a fantastic combination of bag building and push your luck mechanisms. It's accessible to new players, but has enough variety and mechanisms for experienced gamers too. It's quick to play, with simultaneous actions and is a really satisfying 40 minute game.


The Quacks of Quedlinburg was a review copy kindly provided to us by CoiledSpring Games.

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