One of the things I love to find is a board game that keeps every player engaged and active for as long as possible. This is something The Quacks of Quedlinburg does perfectly.
In The Quacks of Quedlinburg, all players are simultaneously trying to brew potions by pulling ingredients from a bag and adding them to their pots, while trying not to let those potions explode. This leads to one of the most engaging and exciting push your luck board games I’ve played.
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What is The Quacks of Quedlinburg about?
The Quacks of Quedlinburg was designed by Wolfgang Warsch one of the hottest new designers in the board game world. It features artwork and design by Warsch himself along with Dennis Lohausen. It was published in North America by North Star Games.
A game of The Quacks of Quedlinburg plays two to four players taking under an hour for most games. This push your luck bag builder has an MSRP of a very reasonable $39.99 USD.
The Quacks of Quedlinburg has racked up its fair share of accolades including Origins Best Family Game, UK Games Expo People’s Choice, Meeples Choice, Golden Geek Best Family Game, the Keenerspiel Des Jahres and more.
In a game of The Quacks of Quedlinburg, players are quack doctors in a medieval setting each competing to be the most successful charlatan. They do this by brewing up bubbly potions, adding ingredients to their pots, trying to get the thickest and most volatile mixture without it exploding in their face. At the end of each round players score points and get currency to spend to buy new ingredients, each of which does something different when added to your pot. Multiple recipe books are included which provide different mechanics for some of the ingredients making it so you pretty much never have to play the same game twice.
For a look at the components in this push your luck bag builder be sure to check out our The Quacks of Quedlinburg Unboxing Video on YouTube.
The rules for this game are very succinct and well written spanning only eight pages. These pages feature a ton of examples and call out for rules that are easily missed. It also provides a QR code to a Rodney Smith Watch it Played episode you can watch instead of, or in supplement to, these rules.
The game also includes a number of thick cardboard punch boards, containing the scoring track, player boards, flasks, recipe cards and lots and lots of ingredient chips. All of the boards in my box were well cut and a pleasure to punch.
Next, we have the Almanac of Ingredients which explains why the rulebook is so short. Each of the variable ingredients (some stay the same every game) are listed here with detailed rules for the four different versions of each ingredient. These correspond to the rules listed on the recipe cards but feature a lot more detail and text about each.
There’s also a custom, etched six-sided die that is awarded to the player with the thickest brew each turn.
The box also includes a serviceable two-trough cardboard insert covered in thematic artwork, as well as four silky drawstring bags, one for each player. These are plain black and I have to admit I would have preferred if they had something to differentiate them, like maybe drawstrings that match the player colours.
What you do get in the player colours are some wooden tokens for tracking things like the thickness of your initial brew, rat tails and score.
A deck of Fortune Teller cards is included. The card quality here is solid and they look as though they should fit a standard card sleeve for those who like to sleeve their cards.
There are also a number of red plastic gem-like tokens, the kind that I first saw used in Ascension.
Finally, there are a number of baggies included in the box to help you organize all of this stuff.
Overall the quality here is excellent to great. The artwork is fantastic, as is the graphic design. While there is a lot of iconography, all of it is very easy to understand and clear. Plus there’s always the Almanac of Ingredients you can reference if there’s something that isn’t clear.
How do you play The Quacks of Quedlinburg?
To start a game of The Quacks of Quedlinburg each player takes a player board (pot) in their preferred colour along with the flask and all of the wooden tokens in that colour. The blank token and the 50+ scoring marker are placed on the scoring board with the 0 side of the marker showing face up. Each player also starts with one ruby.
Players each take a bag and fill it with the starting ingredients, four level 1 White (Cherry Bombs), two level 2 Whites, 1 level 3 White, one Orange (Pumpkin) and one level 1 Green (Garden Spider).
Players, as a group decide which side of the pots to use. Both are equally valid choices though I do recommend starting with the side without all the vials at the bottom for your first play.
A thickness token (water drop) is placed in the centre of the pot, and the rat token goes in the bowl at the bottom of the board next to the flask which is placed on its stand, filled side up. If you are using the back of the cauldron boards, a second water drop token is placed over the vial furthest to the left on the bottom of the board.
Players next decide which recipe books to use. The Orange (Pumpkin) ingredient only has one option and is the same every game. The Black (African Death’s Head Hawkmoth) recipe is decided by the number of players. Every other ingredient features four options and you place the recipe card out for the option chosen in a place everyone can see it. Note the game recommends you start with the recipes with one bookmark on them before trying the others, and I concur.
All of the ingredient chits are sorted and placed near their recipe cards. Most ingredients come in three levels, one, two and four. This indicates how many gaps you leave on your board when using the ingredient, resulting in higher-level ingredients leading to higher scoring pots. This number can also impact the actual ability of the ingredients.
Play in The Quacks of Quedlinburg is simultaneous with all players acting at the same time. The game is played out over nine rounds.
At the start of each round, the active player draws one card from the Fortune Teller deck and reads it out to all of the players who then act on whatever the card says. These are split between cards that have something happen immediately or cards with effects that stay in play for the round. These effects include all kinds of things, like giving players a chance to increase the thickness of their pots for a cost, or getting free ingredients, or changing the odds that pots will explode and more.
Next, all players brew their potions. Simultaneously players pull chips out of their bags and add them to their player board, starting with the spot next to their thickness token. The number on the chip indicates how far away from that token or from the last ingredient placed you get to place this new chip. A level one chip goes in the next empty spot, whereas a level two would skip over one spot and a level four would skip over three spots.
After placing a chip, any effect that chip has takes place (these effects are listed on the Recipe cards). Players can choose to stop playing chips at any time, and indicate they are done by placing their bag on the table. Stopping can be important because if you ever end up with a total number of cherry bombs (adding their levels together) in your pot that exceeds the number seven your pot explodes!
At any point when drawing a chip, as long as your pot doesn’t explode, you have the option to use your Flask to return the just drawn chip to the bag. If you do this you flip the flask to the empty side and cannot use it again until you refill it either through a Fortune Teller event or by spending rubies in the Evaluation Phase.
Once all players are done brewing you enter the Evaluation Phase. First, you see which player has the thickest, most impressive brew, that didn’t explode. This is indicated by the numbers on each ingredient spot on the player boards, this number is based on the first spot past your last ingredient. The player (or players if tied), whose pot didn’t explode that has the highest number gets to roll the special D6 die and claims whatever benefit it shows. These include getting to thicken your pot, getting some points, getting a free Pumpkin ingredient or gaining a Ruby.
Next players evaluate the Black, Green and Purple chips in their pots, using the recipe cards as a reference. This could lead to players moving things in their pot, scoring points or getting to thicken their pots. When you get to thicken your pot you move the waterdrop one space away from the middle, which leads to you starting further up on the track for all future rounds.
Next up players look at the spot just after their last ingredient to see if it shows a ruby icon and take a ruby if it does.
Then players are awarded points, again based on what’s showing on that final spot.
After this players go shopping for new ingredients. They get an amount to spend based on the spot they stopped on. They then spend this to buy one or two ingredient chips. If they chose to purchase two they must be two different ingredients. The cost of each ingredient is listed on the recipe cards.
If a player’s pot exploded during the round, then they must choose to either score points or go shopping. They can do one of the two but not both. This penalty may not be all that harsh, especially early in the game, where getting a bit more to spend at the cost of only a few points can make explosions worth having. Note, as mentioned earlier, players whose pots have exploded are also ineligible to roll the bonus die.
Finally, players have the option to spend two rubies, if they have them, to either increase the thickness of their pot or to flip their flask over to the full side.
Starting with the second round, Rat Tails come into play. This is a catch-up mechanic where every player compares their place on the score track to the point leader and counts up how many rat tails are on the board between them and that leader They then have the option to add these tails to their pots in order to thicken them. This is represented by placing the Rat token on your board a number of spaces ahead of your thickness token equal to the number of rat tails you earned. This is optional, though I don’t see why you wouldn’t use your rat tails every round.
During rounds two and three, new ingredients are added to those available to purchase. Yellow (Mandrake) unlocks during the second round and Purple (Ghost’s Breath) unlocks on the third round. Also, when you hit round six, every player must add one more level one white token to their bag.
While most of the game is played with players playing at their own pace and only paying attention to their own boards (players are strongly discouraged from looking at other players’ pots) this changes for the final round. The ninth round is still played simultaneously but players all pull out just one ingredient at a time and resolve it before everyone pulls out another. Players indicate that they are done drawing by pulling out an empty hand from their bag. In this round, and this round only, players are encouraged to look at other players’ pots and use that information to determine if they should keep pulling or not.
In the final evaluation phase, instead of buying new ingredients, players’ purchase power is instead converted to points on a five to one basis. Players also sell all of their rubies for one point per pair of gems.
The player with the most points wins!
Of course, the big thing I didn’t get into here is the various ingredient effects. There are a total of eight different ingredients most of which have four different powers. Here’s a list of each of them and a couple of the abilities each have:
Orange (Pumpkin) – Don’t do anything on their own but do fill the pot and are cheap. Only available at level one.
Blue (Crow Skull) – Abilities include getting to draw bonus ingredients, picking one to place in your pot, and giving you rubies if you are lucky enough to place a blue chip on a spot showing a ruby.
Red (Toadstool) – Skip spots based on the number of Pumpkins already in your pot and combining with white chips to make them even more potent.
Yellow (Mandrake) – Give you a chance to return white chips to your bag and increasing your explosion threshold.
Black (African Deaths Head Hawkmoon) – Ability set by the number of players and allows players who have the most black chips in their pot to earn rubies and/or increase the thickness of their pots. Only comes in one level.
Green (Garden Spider) – Rewards you for green being the last or second last ingredient in your pot and letting you thicken your pot by spending rubies.
Purple (Ghost’s Breath) – Getting rewarded for having one, two or three purple chips in your pot and awarding points for where in your pot your purple chips end up.
White (Cherry Bombs) – These are the chips that make your pot explode and yes we know they don’t look like cherries, that is due to the fact that they are actually German Snowberries or Knallerbsen, which is also the German word for “bang snaps.” So the name and image make sense in German. You can call them Bang Snaps if you prefer. I won’t tell anyone.
As noted earlier, there is a second side to each player board. On that board, at the bottom are a number of vials filled with different liquids. When starting the game on this side of the board you place your second thickness token over the leftmost empty vial. Then, while playing, whenever you get to thicken your pot, you can choose which of your two tokens to move, the one in the cauldron or the one on the vials. When you chose to move the token on the vials, you get the reward shown on the vial you move onto. These rewards include points, free ingredients and rubies.
Does The Quacks of Quedlinburg Live Up To The Hype?
There has been a ton of hype for The Quacks of Quedlinburg since it was first published. This is one popular game! A game that, due to its popularity, has come in and out of print a number of times already. There have been times when you just couldn’t get the game anywhere and that’s one of the main reasons it took me so long to finally get a copy, which I received for my birthday this year.
Now that I have played the game multiple times, including at least three game nights where we played a few times in a row, I will say straight up that yes The Quacks of Quedlinburg lives up to the hype. All of the hype.
That said it’s not perfect, but it is really damn good.
My biggest complaint about this game is the bag and the chips. At first, they seem great. Nice thick cardboard and a decent-sized bag that’s easy to get your hands into. The problem is that the bag wants to be flat and has corners. It’s not as easy as it should be to make sure the chits in your bag are well mixed and most annoyingly chits get stuck in the corners.
The other issue that players have raised while playing this game with me is the very high random factor. While it is possible and encouraged for players to memorize what’s in their bags (and potentially what’s in their opponent’s bags) and figure out the odds of pulling specific tiles and the odds of exploding each round, there’s always a chance things don’t play to the odds. This can be very frustrating for highly strategic players who want to win or lose a game based on their own abilities and not the vagaries of the bag pull. Added to this randomness is the bonus die and the fortune cards.
Of course, there are some ways to mitigate this randomness somewhat, through tactical use of your flask and purchasing ingredients that let you increase your explosion limit, place white tokens back in your bag, select from a number of tokens etc. Regardless this is very much a push your luck game, and while it does feature some solid strategic elements and a very Euro-style scoring system, luck still plays a big part in The Quacks of Quedlinburg.
Of course, some people are going to love this about Quacks. I personally really enjoy it. I love that decision point of to pull or not to pull. I love quickly trying to remember what is left in my bag and the odds of exploding. It’s a very dramatic moment and can feel very rewarding when it works out for the best. Along with that, even when things don’t work out and you end up exploding it’s not that bad.
One of the best aspects of The Quacks of Quedlinburg is the fact that you aren’t punished too severely for having your pot explode. When it does explode you may lose out on a bonus die roll and you will have to choose between purchasing new ingredients or scoring points. Early in the game your pot probably isn’t getting thick enough for the points to be worth it, whereas later in the game your bag is already pretty full and you may not need to go shopping for more ingredients. Of course not blowing up is always better than blowing up, but I love that it’s not overly punishing when you do.
Another aspect that comes into play here is the Rat Tail catchup mechanic. I think this is very well done with all players but the leader getting to “artificially thicken” their pot at the start of each round. The only part of this that doesn’t make sense to me is why you wouldn’t do this every chance you get.
Everything else about the game I like or love. The rules are clear and it’s easy to teach. A big part of this is the fact that the mechanics are tied really well into the theme. I love explaining this theme as part of the rules when teaching Quacks and saying things like “You want to add cherry bombs because they make your pot bubble more which gets people’s attention, but then you don’t want it bubbling so much it explodes,” and “You can add rat tails to make your potion thicker.” All of this just makes sense both thematically and mechanically to new players.
The player boards are very well designed and the iconography here, on the scoring track and on the recipe cards, all make sense. I don’t think I had to reference the rulebook after our first game was done, though I do still use the Almanac every game as we like to mix up the ingredients each time we play.
The fact that many of the ingredients feature four different versions is another aspect I love about this game.
Which ingredients you use greatly changes up the feel of the game and the selection of ingredients can actually act as a dial allowing you to adjust the amount of randomness. Want less eandomness? Use the blue ingredient that lets you pull multiple ingredients from your bag and pick which chit to play. Try combining this with the red ingredient that lets you save up your chips between rounds and the yellow one that gives you a chance to put back cherry bombs.
Another thing I appreciate is the simultaneous play aspect of the game. While there can be some downtime if you finish pulling first (or your pot blows up), most of the time everyone is playing and active. Even if you are eliminated from a round early it can still be a ton of fun watching other people play this game.
While leads me to another benefit of The Quacks of Quedlinburg and that is its ability to draw a crowd. The push your luck nature of this game tends to get people excited with exclamations of joy when they get just the right pull from their bags and sounds of frustration when their pot blows up. At a public play event, this is great for catching the eye of people passing by.
Overall, I really dig this game. While I do have some very minor complaints about the way the bags work with the chips, and while the push your luck element may not be for everyone, this is a fantastic game. One of the best games I’ve played this year. My only real regret is that I didn’t get to try it sooner.
If you dig push your luck style games, rush out and pick up The Quacks of Quedlinburg as soon as you can. This is by far one of the best games in that genre replacing Dead Man Tell No Tales as my top choice for a push your luck game.
If you like the theme of quack doctors brewing up snake oil, dig games that tie the theme very well into the mechanics and don’t mind a bit of luck being involved, then you should check this game out.
For people who want a loud and raucous game that’s a step above a party game but still plays in under an hour, this could be the perfect fit. I know we’ve had some great times combing this one with some craft beers. Though the player count of only four players does mean it’s not great for a larger party.
Now if you are a gamer who likes to be totally in control of your own destiny and digs games with perfect information where you can plan multiple turns ahead of time, The Quacks of Quedlinburg is probably not for you. Though you never know, it may just win you over.
I’m guessing the majority of you fall somewhere in the middle here. For you, I recommend looking for a way try this game out. Play a friend’s copy, ask the FLGS if they have a demo copy, or try it out at a con. This game is designed so well and can be so much fun that I think it’s going to appeal to a broad range of gamers and not just fans of push your luck games.
The Quacks of Quedlinburg isn’t a new game, but it’s new to me and my biggest regret is not trying it sooner. I had a similar feeling with the last Stonemaier game I got, which you can read about in my Tapestry review.
What’s a game that you ended up loving that took you far too long to get around to actually trying? Tell us about it in the comments!