Quacks of Quedlinburg - In-Depth Review
This is a review of the board game Quacks of Quedlinburg. This is not a review of ducks or that guy who sold me snake oil on eBay last week.
- Kaboom! Enormously fun push-your-luck game
- Everyone plays at the same time - no downtime between turns
- Catch-up mechanic to avoid a runaway winner
- Tokens sometimes get stuck in the corners of the bag
- Unlucky among us are unlikely to win (unless we cheat)
- Cheaters never prosper (but they probably will in Quacks, and it's hard to catch them too)
We love Quacks! When we first got this game, we played nothing else for a straight week. It has been over a year now, and we still get this game to the table often. This is the highest praise I have for a game.
Quacks is a push your luck game. Each player starts out with a bag and some ingredient tokens, most of which are white cherry bombs (evil tokens) with values of 1, 2, and 3. The number on each token determines the number of spaces you move forward from the center of your pot. The further from the center of your pot you get, the more victory points and currency you gain. You draw out as many tokens as you can before you draw out too many white tokens - beware, because your pot blows up when the values shown on all white tokens in your pot is higher than 7. You draw tokens out of a bag until you decide to stop, or until you draw out too many bomb tokens out and blow up.
This game is similar to a deck builder, but you put together a bag of tokens instead of a deck of cards. Once you buy a token, you place it in the bag. You are never able to look into the bag. I’ve forgotten to buy a key portion of my combo, or bought way too many of the same token, because I didn’t remember that I had picked it up yet. Don't play like me! The bag of forgotten ingredients is part of the fun and helps deter probability calculations.
There aren’t that many rules to keep track of in Quacks either. Set up is fast (what takes longest is sorting out the ingredients, but they are color coded), and most players can pick the game up after just a few turns. The position of the tracker determines the number of victory points and the currency that you get at the end of the round. There are only nine rounds in this game, which helps keep the play time in check (and keeps my impatient gamer sister happy). The first few rounds are high risk, low reward, and it's hard for new players to hurt themselves too badly in the first rounds. You don’t have time to buy enough tokens to get a great bag going, and you are much more likely to explode by pushing your luck too far and pulling out too many white tokens. This gets better as the number of beneficial ingredients starts to outweigh the white tokens in your mystery bag (unless, of course, you're not very lucky).
You start out with very few non-explosive tokens and are able to buy more after each round. Different color tokens have different special abilities. This game is highly luck based, but the strategy comes from the tokens you buy. My most effective strategy is to buy a large quantity of the same special tokens that allow for insane combos, so that I am likely to draw one even when my luck is garbage. Maxing out the available buys each round dilutes the pot, making it less likely for you to draw bombs on any given draw.
The best and worst part about Quacks is that everyone takes their turn at the same time. This is great, because there is no downtime between turns. Its not great if everyone you play with is a dirty, miserable cheater. One girl only pulls out the exact token she needs for a super bonus, multiple times a round? She’s cheating. (Editor's note: she actually wasn't). One guy placed their bag under the table to pull the tokens out? He’s cheating. (Editor's note: he probably was.) One guy pinching the corner of the bag? He’s cheating. The later it gets, the more blatant the cheating becomes.
There is a catch up mechanic in this game to prevent a runaway leader. Everyone behind the leader gets "rat tails", which move the starting point of their potion tracker forward for the round. This makes it more likely to end on a high position, helping you catch up to the leader. The further ahead the leader is, the more rat tails the losers get.
We did modify our game. The tokens tend to stick in the corners of the black potion bags (the 3-bomb would most commonly gravitate to the corners - no explanation has been found). We put ours in nickel holders, and now they have a satisfying clink in the bag. They are also easier to shuffle and the void zone of the corner is no longer viable. We also ended up buying the Herb Witches Expansion since we played this so much. Obviously, since I'm writing this for a board game site that sells it, you should buy it too.
The theme is fun. You are an alchemist who wants to make the best potion possible, but you kind of forgot what ingredients to use. You just throw whatever you can into the pot and hope it works. It really ties into the game play and adds to the experience.
What About Remote Play?
This game is highly Zoomable (but cheating intensifies over distance). Each player uses their own board, and there is no need to keep track of other player boards. All we had to track was the number of ingredients left in the shop to buy (just toss them in the box when the other household buys one) and how many points each player had at the end of the round.
Remote play score: 4 out of 4
What our remote score means: Works well over Zoom or your remote video conferencing system of choice.