Let’s play a game. I’m going to list off a bunch of words and you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. Okay, here we go.
Thanks to some basic psychology I can learn a lot about you based off your answers. If you said ‘banana’ for ‘yellow’, it means you’re hungry. On the other hand, if you said ‘sun’ it probably means you live an active lifestyle. For ‘dream’ I bet you said something like ‘sleep’ if you’ve had a long day and ‘big’ if you’ve got a goal you’re pursuing. Odds are 99% of people are going to answer the same for ‘quack’. If you answered with ‘duck’ it’s ok, you’re not entirely wrong. But between you and me, the better answer would have ‘Quedlinburg’.
For those of us haven’t been to the city of Quedlinburg, apparently it is overrun with ducks. Excuse me, not ducks. I meant to say doctors. Whether it has to do with a lack of proper medical schools or an overpopulous of mandrake roots, these doctors have a more altruistic approach to treating their patients. They’ve traded in their stethoscopes for cauldrons and set up shop in the local bazaar. Everyone is looking for the latest remedy, so sales are easy. They just have to play it cool and avoid any embarrassing mishaps and fame and fortune will undoubtable be theirs.
The Quacks of Quedlinburg is a bag building, push your luck game brought to us here in the states by North Star Games. While the game is still fairly new to gamers here it has actually been out for quite some time over seas under the German title, Die Quacksalber Von Quedlinburg. It was designed by Wolfgang Warsch and was good enough torn him the Kennerspiel des Jahres last year. Online retailers as well as brick and mortar stores have had a hard time keeping it in stock and with each successive print run it seems to become more and more popular.
The game is played over the course of nine rounds, with each round playing out pretty much the same way. First an event card is drawn. In Quacks these events are surprisingly and refreshingly positive. Almost always granting players with some sort of bonus or advantage for the round. Then players begin creating their next great concoction. To do so each player simultaneously draws ingredient chips out fo their bag and adds them into their pot. Each ingredient has a strength value ranging from 1-4. This number indicates how far along the bubbly path the token is placed from the drawn ingredient.
The goal of each round, like any good yellow brick road, is to get as far down this path as possible before everything goes wrong. You see, each player has a number of cherry bomb ingredients in their bag, and upon drawing a total value greater than seven of these, the player’s pot immediately explodes ending their round and limiting their rewards. Players are allowed to stop pulling tokens at any time, thus awarding them both the points and income from the next open spot. But should a players pot explode, they must choose whether to take the points or the income, but not both.
Every time you reach into your little cloth bag and grab a single chit to pull out your heart starts racing just a little bit. As you get closer to busting, your hand may start to get a little clammy as you fumble around for what feels like anything but that 3 value cherry bomb. You’ll sigh a huge sigh of relief when it’s not, and you’re able to add it to your pot. But I can guarantee you the celebration is short lived because before you know it you’re already trying to justify reaching into you bag just one more time. Why stop now? How could could you when you’ve got the magic touch? As you slowly reveal you’re next pull…BAM! It’s that dreaded 3 white cherry bomb. As you publicly scold yourself you ask yourself, “What were the odds of that?” But upon a quick inspection you realize you knew the odds all along. It was 1 in 4. Why in the heck did you risk it with those odds? Some things you’ll just never know.
You’re probably thinking to yourself that pulling tokens out of a bag for 60 minutes sounds a lot more like a 4th grade lesson in probability and less like a game. Well you’re probably right. Thankfully there is actually a good amount of game left to be explained. As mentioned earlier, one of your possible rewards is income. The amount of income you earn each round is what you use to purchase new, better chips to throw into your bag. There are 5 different types of chips, most with different values, and each one will give you some sort of special ability or bonus when drawn at the right time.
For example, the green chips will provide you with powerful rubies when drawn last or second to last. The red ones move additional steps down your bubble trail based on how many pumpkin tokens you’ve previously drawn. Some will merely award you victory points while others might let you toss your last drawn white token back into your bag. How you choose to build out your bag is a fun and strategic puzzle. What makes the game even better is that there are 4 different sets of rules and abilities for each different type of token. I’ve now played the game a couple of times, just with one of these sets of abilities, yet every game has still felt unique and exciting. And if you really feel like you need more variability an expansion has already been announced for later this year.
It’s worth noting too that the game has a fantastic catch up mechanic. There are a number of rats just chilling around the score track, and for each rat tail that a player is behind the leader they get to temporary boost to where they start on their swirling bubble track. This keeps the game exciting for everyone, even as a player may start to pull ahead. It’s safe to say designer Wolfgang Warsch deserves the praise he’s received for such an exciting and accessible design.
If you are in the market for a game that’s fun for the whole family, yet exciting enough to pull out at your next big game night, I highly recommend The Quacks of Quedlinburg. Each and ever pull from your bag will add to the nearly palpable tension that will undoubtably fill the room. And when all is said and done, and the final scores tallied, the cries of frustration and the sighs of relief will be enough to make everyone feel like a winner.