The Quacks of Quedlinburg Breakdown
Author: Geoffrey Heffernan
What is it?
Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
Publisher: North Star Games
Artist: Dennis Lohausen and Wolfgang Warsch
Year of publication: 2019
Number of players: 2-4
Play time: 45-60 min
Price: $80 AUD
Push your luck 50%
Bag Building 50%
In Quacks players simultaneously draw ingredients from a bag and place them into their cauldron until either, they choose to stop, or their potion explodes. Each round the strongest potion gives a bonus, as do certain ingredients that may be drawn. Players also score points and resources based on the strength of their potion, unless their potion has exploded in which case they must choose between either the points or the resources alone. Resources are used each round to purchase 1 or 2 different ingredients to put into your bag that my be drawn in subsequent rounds. Aside from the basic pumpkin, each ingredient has a different special ability that may either, trigger immediate effects to help the players during a round, or score them a bonus at the end of the round. Trailing players are potentially given a bonus head start to the strength of their potion at the start of each round. After the 9th round players can cash in unused resources for more points and the highest points wins.
The theme is very tongue in cheek and the whimsical art style perfectly reflects this, art is of very good quality, as is the punch board and card stock. Not a huge amount is actually in the box for what you pay, so this is definitely one where you are paying for the quality of the design rather than the toy value. Given the amount of dead space in the box and complete lack of any relevant insert for organising, the game could have easily been produced in a much smaller box.
Why play it?
Quacks is a light weight family game that doesn't take itself too seriously, it is unashamedly random and attempts to tread that delicate line of being easy to learn and play, but still offering some entertaining decisions along the way.
The key success of quacks is an incredibly high play-ability due to the casual friendly pacing of the necessity for comprehension of the rules, You can quite comfortably play the first round of play without needing to explain the rules for most of what happens after. Once you have done so, the relevance of each ingredient you may purchase is readily apparent, because you have already got a feel for the basic mechanisms. More ingredients become available on rounds 2 and 3 and the catch up mechanism usually only kicks in slowly, further reducing the necessity for a front loaded rules explanation.
Speaking of the catch up mechanism, it does a brilliant job of allowing players to take risks early without being too heavily punished for bombing out. In a push your luck game it's critical that It is not always the best decision to play conservatively and avoid failure. Pushing for an outside chance of success must be a viable tactical option a relevant amount of the time, in order for the decision to carry any weight. In quacks the loss of only half your reward and the bonus head start for trailing players, protects the decision space for the most skilled players, cleverly the mitigation simultaneously applies equally to a weaker player keeping them in the hunt just as long as the stronger players who have been unlucky, ultimately though the stronger player still has a greater chance of rebounding.
The player count is refreshingly irrelevant with the game playing exactly the same irrespective of the amount of players.
Player interaction is a possible stumbling block for the design, the game isn’t entirely solitaire, but interaction is limited to the occasional glance at what your opponents are up to just in case it affects your decisions, which it certainly does on occasion, but is far from a major feature of the game.
Who is it for?
Those who prefer light weight games will almost certainly get a lot out of Quacks, even if you already own many light games quacks is unique enough in theme and mechanisms to earn a place in your regular play cycle.
It's worth noting that the game works amazingly well with very small children, who will just enjoy the tactile involvement of pulling the chips out of the bag on behalf of the team when playing in pairs with an adult.
If you are more serious gamer that also plays with family or non-gamer friends, you will probably find quacks is one of your go to’s in those scenarios. It is also a good one for that situation where you need a lighthearted break between heavy games, or have a sub 1 hour time slot and you need a game that plays reliably within that time.
I doubt any die hard fan of heavy games would ever list Quacks as an all time favorite, but it will certainly allow them to get an enjoyable game in, whilst playing with a diverse group. There is a decent enough edge in really understanding your choices of ingredients and the probability of success/fail vs risk/reward to give a better player a much higher chance to win.
If you cannot stand high variance in your games, then it's definitely one to avoid. This is, by design, not a game that makes any attempt to be deterministic and has a very real chance of frustrating players some players who are not used to a bit of chance.
Where does it fit?
If you liked CV you will enjoy this game as it shares a comparably light hearted theme paired with some engine building.
The theme here is comparable to Alchemists or Potion Explosion so if you enjoyed being a mad scientist whipping up random potions in those games, then you might get that same buzz from quacks.
Standout: This is a much better than average game, one I would choose to play regularly and have no problem getting to the table.