Step up! Step up, my friend! What ails you? Stinky feet? Poor circulation? Problems in the bedroom? Never fear, my miracle elixir cures all three of these conditions and more. Just a few pieces of silver will get you a whole bottle…all purchases are final.
For nine days every year, the town of Quedlingburg become a bustling destination for the most talented miracle doctors, and the most persistent charlatan salesmen to hock their wares on the unsuspecting and failing townsfolk. Who knows, your latest concoction may be the right combination to cure what ails, but be careful. Too many ingredients and you just might bust!
In Quacks of Quedlinburg, you take on the role of a quack doctor spending nine days (or rounds) in town working on your different recipes. The only catch is that you’re adding your ingredients blind…what? How do you cook?
You will start with your own pot and a bag full of relatively lowly ingredients. The bag consists of a level-1 Spider, a level-1 Pumpkin, four level-1 White tokens (I’m going to call them Snowberries, since that’s what I came up with when I something-searched white berries), two level-2 Snowberries, and one level-3 Snowberry. A Water Drop marks your starting point in your pot, but it can be advanced throughout the game letting you start further along the track. Finally you have a Flask that can be used to return an unwanted Snowberry back to the bag.
Each round, all the players simultaneously reach into their bags and draw out an ingredient to add to their pot, or when they’ve mixed enough, reveal an empty hand. The pots consist of a swirling ascending track to place drawn ingredients on. Starting from the first space, you add new ingredients as many spaces further along the track as the value of the ingredient. So, if you draw a level-1 Spider, it goes on the first place on the track after your Water Drop.A level-2 Snowberry will go two spaces past the Spider and so on.
Now you want to get as far along the track as possible each round. The further you get, the more points and buying power you will receive. You might even earn yourself a ruby with a little luck. However, there is a risk every time you pull from the bag. Your pot can only hold up to a seven value of Snowberries. Any combination of those ingredients that keep you at or below seven is safe, but if you go over, you bust for that round. You must stop pulling from your bag and suffer a dire consequence. Which we’ll get into more soon.
Once each player has either passed or busted, the round ends with an Evaluation phase. The person or people who have advanced the furthest on the track get to roll a bonus die for points, a Ruby, to move their Water Drop, or a Pumpkin to add to their bag. There are some ingredients that are assessed at the end of the round like the African Death’s Head Hawkmoth, the Garden Spider, and Ghost’s Breath.The effect they might have on the game is variable. After they are resolved, any player that ended in front of a track space with a Ruby can take one from the supply. Then, it’s time to collect points and buy new ingredients. This is where Quacks gets really fun. If you were smart, and lucky, and didn’t bust, you get to take points for how far you got in the pot track and purchase new ingredients as well. If you did bust, you only get to do one of the two. At least you get to decide for yourself.
Buying new ingredients is the really important decision in the game. You might have earned a whole bunch of buying power in the round, but you can only buy a max of two ingredients and they have to be of different types. You’ve heard aboutPumpkins, Spiders, Moths and Ghosts’ Breath. There’s also Crow Skulls, MandrakeRoots, and Toadstools. Most of those ingredients come in levels of 1,2, or 4, but how they work changes from game to game. Most of the different ingredients have four different ways to use them. You choose what their effect will be before the game starts, but with so many different combinations to play, you never know how the flow of the game will work.
For example, the Crow Skull can be used in one game to allow you to cycle through your bag more safely. A level-1 Skull allows you to draw an ingredient and decide to put it in the pot or return it to your bag. A level-2 Skull allows you to draw two and choose one to place or put them both back. The level-4Skull is so powerful! You can pull four ingredients and choose one to place in the pot. With that many options you’re sure to find something useful to add. Ina different game, the Crow Skull might offer you some protection from busting on subsequent draws, or might provide you with instant rewards like points orRubies.
The Pumpkinis always just a Pumpkin and they only come in level-1. Same thing with the Moth, it will allow you to move your Water Drops ahead if you have more than your opponents, but functions in the same way each game and only comes in level-1. Each other ingredient has four different functions, making for some fun and challenging different ways to play and keeping the game fresh.
When purchasing new ingredients, you have to consider how they will function with the other items in your bag and what will be the most effective thing to add.Of course, you also have to consider what it is that you can afford.
In the final decision of the Evaluation phase you can spend two Rubies to either flip your Flask back to the active side or move one of your Water Drops ahead by one space.
Now if there isn’t enough there to keep you on your toes, just wait. The pot boards are double-sided, so you can choose to play on a variant side. This adds a second Water Drop you can choose to move for various bonuses. Also, each round starts by flipping a card that will change the rules in some small way. TheseFortune Teller cards have an effect that will either take place immediately (if purple) or last for the enter round (if blue). The cards are usually something that can help you out somehow, like allowing everyone to roll the bonus die or earning you extra ingredients to put in your bag.
Quacks has a very neat catch up mechanic. At the start of each round, you check to see where everyone is on the scoreboard in relation to the leader. Scattered across the scoring track are little rats whose tails mark thresholds. However many rat tails you are behind the leader, you get to move your rat token onto the pot track and start with a little bit of an advantage.
Quacks of Quedlingburg won the 2018 Kennerspiel des Jahres and I have to say that it’s well deserved. Aside from the incredible, built-in replayability, the game also finds the perfect balance of push-your-luck and strategic planning. If you are the type of player that hates chance in their game Quacks might not be for you. Luck plays an important role, and when you’ve pulled a bunch a Snowberries despite your best bag building efforts, it can be frustrating. However, if you don’t mind a little bit of randomness in your fun, you’ll find a lot to love.
A copy of Quacks of Quedlinburg was provided by NorthStar Games for this review.