Quacks of Quedlinburg is not a board game about ducks (alas), but about quack medicine. You and your fellow players are snake-oil doctors in a German town, all competing to lure in unsuspecting buyers with the best potion (we don't know if the real place has a history of quackery). There’s a range of bizarre ingredients for your pot, from Crow Skulls to Ghost Breath but beware: brew too heartily for too long and your potion will explode!
The game won Germany’s prestigious Kennerspiel des Jahres award in 2018. This is a big deal in the gaming hobby but, unlike most recipients, Quacks of Quedlinburg is a very approachable game. Though it's a little to complex to explicitly be one of the best board games for kids, it's certainly kid-friendly overall. It mixes planning long-term strategy with the blind luck of pulling potion ingredients out of a bag. You’ll need a dose of both if you want to win.
Quacks of Quedlinburg board game: Price and who it's for
Although quite simple by hobby game standards, Quacks of Quedlinburg still has a bit of a learning curve. The rules are easy enough, but each game has a mix of potion ingredients, all of which have different effects. Paying attention to what they all do from the start is a bit of a challenge – especially since, if you want, you can change them from game to game. Still, the box says suitable for 10+ and that feels about right.
All the potion ingredients come as little cardboard counters which you have to punch and sort yourself. There are also some nice soft bags to draw them from, and little plastic rubies alongside traditional game components like cards and dice. It’s a good collection for the roughly £35/$45 asking price. It takes from two to four players (you can add a fifth with an expansion), and because your play happens on your own board, there's no downside to playing with two compared to higher player counts, making it a great two-player board game. Since play involves people simultaneously pulling tokens from a bag, it takes a reliable three-quarters of an hour.
This is just as well-suited to groups to groups that don’t like a lot of confrontation to those who love harsh competition. It has a system to help people who are behind get a bit of a boost so they can catch up, helping someone who’s behind not feel like things are hopeless; but for the ultra-competitive, a huge part of the fun is about being tempted you to push your luck for a few extra points, even when it’s a terrible idea.
Quacks of Quedlinburg board game review: How it plays
You'll be pulling a lot of tokens out of a bag in Quacks of Quedlinburg, at the same time as your fellow players. Each one is then laid on a spiral track representing your potion, with higher-value tokens getting moved forward more spaces. The further you go, the more victory points you’ll gain, along with money to buy new tokens to go in your bag for next round (there are eight rounds in total). You can keep on pulling as long as you want, but there’s a catch.
Everyone starts with a number of white “cherry bomb” counters in their bag. If the total of all your white counters ever exceeds seven, your potion explodes. If that happens you have to pick between points *or* money, a nasty choice unless it’s very early in the game. And you’re forced to stop drawing at that point anyway. So with every counter you’re watching that white total, trying to remember what’s left in your bag and pondering the fundamental question: do I dare keep going?
This formula provides a great balance of excitement and strategy. Pushing your luck is always fun and tense, but Quacks gives you enough data to make informed decisions. You’ll know when you might be one counter away from catastrophe, how many white tokens remain in the bag, and you can feel how many tokens you have overall. There’s even a reminder of exactly what tokens you started with at the bottom of your potion. So from all that, you can always make a good guess as to how close you’re skirting to disaster… but the temptation is always there, especially if it’ll get you one space ahead of the competition, since whoever fills their pot the highest each round gets a nice bonus.
You know you’re one white token away from exploding. You know you that token is in your bag, along with three others. Just a one in four chance of if going wrong. Might as well draw another token, right? Right?
Alone, this would make a fun, if shallow game. But the choice of ingredients in Quacks of Quendlinberg is its own secret ingredient for fun. Apart from orange Pumpkins (which are plain), each token has a special power as well as value for filling your pot. And what’s more, that power can vary depending on how you set up the game. There are four flavors for most ingredients, grouped in sets which offer increasing strategy.
In the first set, for example, Crow’s Skulls let you immediately draw a second token from the bag and decide whether you want it in your pot or not. That dovetails well with green Spiders which grant you a bonus if they’re last or next-to-last chip in your pot. Red Toadstools, meanwhile, go more spaces if they’re placed after Pumpkins in the pot, so perhaps you want to buy lots of those and lots of pumpkins as a strategy. These are just a few examples – there are seven different tokens in each game.
You can buy two new tokens each round and add them to your bag. So, piece by piece, you can build up a strategy to try and outpace the opposition. It won’t always work thanks to the randomness of drawing from the bag. You won’t always get spiders as the last chip, nor toadstools after a pumpkin. But by making wise choices you can force the odds in your favor.
And if they still don’t work out for you? Well, it’s frustrating when you’re trying your best only for luck to kick you in the teeth. But playing the odds can be thrilling even when you lose – especially when you lose, for other players – and it’s welcoming for new or younger gamers who stay in with a chance.
The fact there’s almost no downtime waiting for others to take their turns broadens that appeal even more. It’s all action all the way up to the final pull. Of course, with everyone concentrating on their own potion there’s no interaction outside of whining that things aren’t going your way, but that can be a bonus for harmonious family play. Pulling chips from the bag does feel like throwing things into a potion pot. And the element of chance, combined with the opportunity to improve your bag each turn, make it addictive and exciting. At almost an hour’s play time, though, it’s perhaps a little long for a game that can often boil down to pushing your luck.
Quacks of Quedlinburg board game review: Verdict
There’s a wide range of appeal here, from the easy rules, the fun balance of luck and strategy all the way to the fast pace of play. As long as you’re happy varying the ingredients, which in effect changes the rules, it avoids the staleness that often sinks ‘push your luck’ games. As such, it’s a good fit for lots of different people, from kids to hobby gamers.
Those who want deep, hardcore strategy, though, might want to stay away. The game coaxes you in with the promise of strategic ingredient buying. But in reality, the luck of what you draw and when is at least as important as what you purchase.
Quacks of Quedlinburg board game review: Also consider
If you like the idea of mixing luck pushing with a dose of strategy but want a more common theme, another title to consider is dungeon-delving game Clank! In it, you move through a dungeon, looking for treasure, by playing cards. But you can customize the cards in your deck as you go, pursuing different strategies. It also features pulling tokens from a bag to represent the danger of a dragon attack.
For younger gamers, there’s also Deep Blue. This game of diving for treasure is on the same complexity level as Quacks but doesn’t have such varied options, so it’s a bit less confusing. Here you move around the board with a hand of cards you can change during the game. Then, when you dive, you pull your treasure from a bag with the twist that sometimes you may want to go bust to stymie other players who are trying to benefit from your dive site.
Tiny Towns is a fantastic game that’s both easier to learn and more strategic than Quacks. This involves collecting resource tokens to make buildings on a tight grid. On your turn, you choose what resource you want, and everyone gets the same for their towns. It’s not much like Quacks, but there’s still a big dose of working with the unexpected and building toward a goal.