I was lucky enough to play a number of great new tabletop games last year, but the most fun I had was playing an unusual bag-building, push-your-luck game called The Quacks of Quedlinburg (age 10 and older, two to four players), designed by Wolfgang Warsch. I was not alone in my adoration of this gem: It won the 2018 Kennerspiel des Jahres, or Gamer’s Game-of-the-Year, one of the most prestigious boardgaming awards in the world.
In Quacks, each player represents a “quack doctor” who is trying to brew the most impressive potion. You create your potion by adding secret ingredients into your cauldron, but you have to be careful not to overdo it or your potion will explode.
The Basics of How to Play
Each player starts the game with a player board depicting a pot and a bag filled with a number of weak potion ingredient chips. During the round, players simultaneously draw chips one at a time out of their bags without peeking and place them on their cauldron. The higher the value on the chip, the more your potion will earn, both in coins and victory points. But you have a number of bombs chips in your bag, and pulling too many will explode your pot, causing you to forfeit either your coins or your victory points for the round.
Because you are blindly drawing ingredient chips, this entire process is an exciting push-your-luck gamble. A pull might give you a valuable ingredient chip that will earn you more coins, or you could draw a dreaded bomb and blow up your pot.
After players finish creating their potion for the round, they use their earned coins to buy better, more powerful ingredient chips and add them to their bag. Newly purchased chips have special powers that can alter how players build their potions. For example, some ingredients allow you to preview your next draw (to help you avoid a bomb) and some chips allow you to increase the value of your potion at a quicker pace. Because of the array of exciting powers available, players need to consider which new ingredients to purchase. A clever combination of new chips can allow players to create potent potions which will earn a great deal of coins and victory points.
After nine rounds of making potions, the player with the most total victory points wins. A typical game takes about 45 minutes and offers enough variety that you can play multiple games with different potion ingredients.
Although having your pot explode can be momentarily frustrating, the penalty only costs you a few points, so your entire game is not ruined. Better yet, the rules include a catch-up mechanism. If your score falls seriously behind the other players, you get a temporary boost on your next potion.
Why Quacks is the Best
I selected The Quacks of Quedlinburg as my favorite game of 2018 for one simple reason: it is fun to play. I am the type of gamer that relishes a strategic challenge or a long dungeon crawl with my Dungeons & Dragons group, but I found that the game that consistently delivered the most straight-up fun was Quacks.
I played many times throughout the last year and always had great fun, even when I lost. When the final scores were tallied, no matter my score, I was itching to set the game back up so I could pick new ingredients and try again.
The Quacks of Quedlinburg offers the perfect balance of luck and strategy. Because players build their potion by simultaneously drawing chips from their bags, there is very little down time. You never get bored because everyone is fully engaged during the entire game. And the mechanism of building up your bag with ingredients of your choice and then blind drawing to see if you can make the best potion is simply fun. There is something delightful about gambling on just one more draw. When your pull works, you laugh with joy. When your pot explodes, you groan but quickly recover, eager for another chance with the next potion.
A Note Regarding Online Purchases. Because of the runaway popularity of Quacks, it can be a bit tricky to find a reasonably priced copy of the game. My secret is to visit a website called www.boardgameprices.com. This website not only tells you which websites have the game available to purchase, but also where you can find some real bargains. Of course, another option is to visit your friendly local game store. There you will find helpful people who are happy to order you a copy.
Sylvester is an associate professor in the creative writing program at Lewis-Clark State College. He is the co-author of “Legends of the Lost Causes” series, a rip-roaring adventure set in the fantasy west, available now. Questions about tabletop games? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.