2018 seems to be the year for Wolfgang Warsch, designer of The Mind and Ganz Schön Clever (both of which had nominations in the Spiel Des Jahre). He seems to have produced games that have been incredibly well received and have also created a fair amount of buzz, especially with The Mind! His big box game for 2018 was no exception, the fantastically named Quacks of Quedlinburg!
How to play
What the devil is Quacks of Quedlinburg, I hear you cry!? Well, in The Quacks of Quedlinburg, players take on the role of quack doctors, attending a 9-day festival where you must compete with each other to produce the best potions to sell to the peasants.
Each round, you will draw ingredients from your bag (blindly) and then place these into your bubbling cauldron. Each ingredient will have a number on it, dictating how many spaces along you can place it. The more points you get, the more you can spend on new ingredients and the more victory points you will obtain.
Be careful though! If you draw out the white “cherry bombs” and the numbers on their tiles exceeds 7, your cauldron will explode! When every player has passed or their cauldron has exploded, you then score your potion, the player with the most points rolling the dice and then you all collect points and buy new ingredients to add to your bag. If your cauldron has exploded, you will have to decide to take the points or the money.
How does it play?
This blind bag-builder has started my 2019 off with bang (quite literally). It seems weird that one could find such joy from pulling out these ingredients blindly from a bag but Warsch somehow manages to make it riveting! Of course, during the buying phase, you can purchase either one or two ingredients to add to your bag. While this seems mundane, you find yourself filled with excitement at the prospect of not only pulling out one of these new ingredients, but also pulling them out at the right time so as to chain their effects together!
For example, if you pull out a mandrake, and the last chip placed in the cauldron was a white “cherry bomb”, you get to remove that white chip from the board and put it back in your bag, before placing the mandrake! The sheer excitement of waiting to pull one of your new ingredients out is weirdly satisfying.
Of course, if you end up putting too many cherry bombs into your cauldron, you are going to find that your potion and your cauldron explode! When I first player this, I thought it wasn’t going to be too bad if it happened, but it can be catastrophic! You need to choose between either taking the VP or using the money to buy new ingredients.
I guarantee that 99% of the time you will take the points, meaning you must forgo your buying phase. This, while it may seem insignificant, means the odds of pulling various ingredients remains the same and you will find yourself in a similar situation as before, trying to get back into he game by taking risks and those risks not paying off! I loved this element! It kept the game interesting and competitive, everyone I played with getting massively engaged with the gameplay and frantically picking out ingredients, hoping for the best ones!
What Warsch has created here is a game that is simple and easy to play, but gives you a certain satisfaction that I didn’t think it could ever give! While you may have a vague idea, when playing, of what ingredients you have in your bag, you will never be 100% sure, and this keeps players guessing, hoping that they can continue without exploding.
Quacks of Quedlinburg is also beautifully balanced. You will not find anyone streaking ahead in terms of Victory Points thanks to the rat tails. Around the score track, one will find rats placed between certain points. Each player that finds themselves behind the leader will be able to count the amount of rats between them and then start that many spaces ahead of the lead player in their cauldron. Warsch has thought of everything in this game and this just adds to the competitiveness and engagement!
I will be honest, when I first came across Quacks of Quedlinburg, I wasn’t too taken aback. It looked interesting but I wasn’t racing to play it. Please don’t do what I do! You will regret it! Quacks of Quedlinburg is absolutely fantastic. It has all the elements that keeps a game interesting and various mechanics work in perfect harmony, producing a beautiful product.
As soon as we finished our very first game of Quacks, we were straight back to it, ready for the next game! We just wanted to try our luck again and aim to fill the cauldron track. There was this need to try different combos of ingredients to boost us along and we wanted to see what else we could do to try and win! This, to me, demonstrates how beautifully crafted this game is. If a board game has you wanting more as soon as you’ve finished, then what you have is a winner!
Quacks of Quedlinburg is just that, a winner, and I would be inclined to say that this game may well be my most played game throughout 2019 (its already my most-played game this month)! Yet again, this is another gem from the legend, Wolfgang Warsch, and one that you should really pick up as soon as you can!