Gush – Verb – Speak or write effusively or with exaggerated enthusiasm.
This week we’re going to gush over the potion producing, pot popping push-your-luck game, The Quacks of Quedlinburg, by Wolfgang Warsch.
With a name like that, we could be in for a whole host of spelling mistakes, so let’s cut it down to Quacks for everyone’s sake.
THE LOW DOWN
Quacks is a game for 1 – 4 potion making charlatans of pretty much all ages and abilities. It’s easy to teach, and quick to play; as turns are simultaneous, there’s no boring waiting around. Huzzah!
Players find themselves blindly rummaging through lovely velvety ingredient bags, pulling out pretty chits one by one to add to their ever-growing pots of frothy delight.
This delight can quickly turn to disgust, however; add one too many cherry bombs, and 💥BOOM💥 – your cauldron explodes!
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Oh no, what ever will the judges think when it comes to scoring your monstrous creation?!
At the end of each round, enjoy a spot of shopping for exciting new ingredients with unique abilities to spice up future pots. Claim your victory points, and prepare yourself for the next day of brewing.
Rinse and repeat for a total of nine rounds, with a finale akin to a game of ‘Chicken’, and you’ve quintessentially created The Quacks of Quedlinburg!
A GROWING MYSTERY
Everyone starts off with the same sacks of ingredients, but over time their set of ingredients become curiously unique. By round nine, who knows what the hell you have in your bag – not you, that’s for sure!
You just know it’s got to be good stuff; hopefully good enough to make a grand potion and travel incredibly far up your spiralling cauldron player mat.
Being a push-your-luck game, lady luck can be a cruel mistress.
Nothing can stop you from drawing all your cherry bombs regardless of how vast and extravagant your selection of ingredients are…
You’d think this would be frustrating – and it can be – but as you’re making nine potions over the course of the game, today’s failures are soon replaced with anticipation of a better, brighter tomorrow.
EXCITEMENT & DREAD
This game is a rollercoaster of emotions.
I think Matt Lees from Shut Up & Sit Down demonstrates it better than I could with his incredibly accurate scientific chart on the matter.
Quacks is never boring.
There are no ‘meh’ things to pull out of your bag. Even the relatively benign pumpkins bring with it a fresh relief filled sigh of “thank goodness it wasn’t a pot exploding cherry bomb”.
When things go right, they go so right. When things go wrong, it can feel cataclysmic.
Most of the time, however, you’ll be yo-yoing between a light state of hope and despair, and it’s really fun because it’s classic drama 101.
Luckily, even if things go horribly wrong (and oh boy, they will), you’re never truly out of the game, which leads me on to…
PUNISHMENT & REDEMPTION
When a pot explodes in Quacks, it’s annoying (though sometimes you only have yourself to blame, you overzealous witch).
The first few times it happened to my friends and me, we’d all share the same disappointed feeling, especially as people expect a cruel punishment for such a heinous crime.
Luckily, bad feelings are fleeting when players actually receive their punishment. Turns out, blowing up isn’t actually that bad…
Usually, you get rewarded with money and victory points for your finished pot. Explode, however; you simply pick one or the other.
In the early rounds, that usually means keeping the money to upgrade your ingredient collection, and missing out on a few victory points. Not so bad, especially considering the catch-up mechanics that will get you back with the pack in a snap.
In the later rounds, it may be too risky to give up the victory points, meaning you miss out on a round of shopping to keep up on the score track. Luckily, by this point, you should still have a bag full of inspiring ingredients to not be too screwed over.
It all adds up to what feels like a fair punishment, but not something that’s going to kick your ass each time your pot explodes.
RUBBER-BANDING (The Good Kind)
In games where you’re competing for a high score, no one likes it when a player rushes ahead on the scoreboard. If they climb totally out of reach, it can destroy hope for everyone else; and when hope dies, your game can die with it.
Then if you’re the winner, it can feel a bit anti-climactic. Hell, you might even feel bad for killing the momentum of the game…
A fix to this is to add catch-up mechanics to keep things alive. When done wrong, catch up mechanics can feel cheap and arbitrary, but when done right – like it is here – it keeps the game tight and encourages players not to rush too far ahead of the pack.
Quacks is very generous when it comes to its catch up mechanics.
The further behind from first place you are, the more rats-tails you add to your pot, filling out your pot and rocketing you up your potion track. That alone can net you enough cash to get the ingredients you need to remain a strong competitor, let alone the vast victory points you’ll claim too.
It’s a fun system to be on the receiving end of. One crap pot can immediately be followed by the best one you’ve ever had; keeping the delicate flicker of hope in the game constantly a-burnin’.
QUALITY & QUANTITY
The components in Quacks are delightfully illustrated and put together.
Everything is vibrant, from the cauldron player mats to the various ingredient books.
The plastic gems, wooden reward die, and super soft ingredient bags add to this experience, and it’s a joy to use them.
The only thing is the chits can be a bit difficult to pull out of your bag at times – I’m hoping for a 3D plastic ingredient set like Azul’s resin tiles to be released in the future.
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All this loveliness is in addition to the quantity of choice you have when mixing the game up.
Each ingredient book is double-sided, and the base game comes with two of each book. You can play them as specific sets, or totally mix and match them for your own wild combinations.
Also, once you’re comfortable with the rules of the game, each player mat can be flipped to add an extra layer of choice to the pot.
The result is a game that can still feel spicy over and over again, and will only get hotter with the upcoming Herb Witch expansion.
SAME STROKES, DIFFERENT FOLKS
Finally, I play games with a wide variety of people, all with their own interests and gaming acumen. Sometimes I can misjudge their interest or ability; slamming down a meaty worker placement in front of someone more attuned with a lighter introduction to the gaming hobby.
Quacks though, I’d play that with anyone.
Hell, it’s a game I could bring to a table of 8-year-olds and 88-year-olds, and be confident everyone would have a great time.
Being a luck game, it’s not punishing to those less experienced players. The choices are straight forward, but meaningful; do I pull another chip out of my bag? Which ingredients should I buy next? Should I use my bottle on this cherry bomb, or save it for later?
Everything points to an experience that anyone could enjoy; especially appealing when I’m bringing it to a table consisting of a die-hard strategist, a light puzzle gamer, and a total boardgaming newbie.
With accessibility like that, I’m always happy to bring it to the table, which is a critical factor when it comes to designing a game people will repeatedly enjoy.
I can love a game all I want, but if it never ever sees play, it’s just taking up shelf space, really.
Quacks is definitely not just going to collect dust on my shelf, and will be seeing much more table time whenever we’re at 4 players.
It’s just such a fun experience I want to share with anyone who comes over.
It’s the game to inspire this series too, so thanks Wolfgang Warsch for another fantastic addition to my collection!
I hope you enjoyed my first Gush about Games; There are games aplenty that will be getting the GAG treatment in the future.
If you’re a fan of this series, drop me a comment on my Instagram, and here’s to another week of tabletop titillation.
– Rob Sparks (@boardgamebud)