Time for me to enter the Board Gaming Ring with Favouritefoe, the silent assassin. This month, safe-hands Saggyhead will be the Ace introducing the Favouritefoe Apprentice crew to the push your luck extravaganza that is Quacks of Quedlinburg.
Quacks is a bag building game designed by powerhouse Wolfgang Warsch, and is a game that is suitable for all the family. In Quacks, you play witch doctors making potions to treat the ailments of your patients. You must draw chits from your bag and try not to get a total value of more than seven in white chits or that will cause your pot to explode. Your choice is whether to draw one more chit, and run the risk of explosion, or stop and shelter in safety. Spoiler; I ALWAYS push my luck, and I usually get burned. See my Sheepy Time solo review or playthroughs for further evidence of this!
So in the usual style, why did I pick this game to teach my pal this month?
Publisher: Schmidt Spiele
Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
Player Count: 2-4 Players
Publisher Recommended Age: 10+
Heavyweight: Saggyhead aka “The Potion Master”
Light flyweight: Favouritefoe aka “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”
SAGGYHEAD: Favouritefoe and co. are not known for their push you luck pluckiness. They tend to stray more on the side of Safe Sally than of Kamikaze Kate. Now not that there is anything wrong with being a sensible game-player, but when I play a Push Your Luck, I feel a thrill coursing through my veins. Maybe I’ll shoot for the moon. Will it come off? If it doesn’t, that rush of adrenaline still hits me slap bang in the chops. So after the success of this duo playing (and enjoying) playing real-time stress game Fuse, I thought Quacks could have serious legs.
Thankfully the ever eager gamers were happy, after the previous month’s successes with game suggestions, to take the plunge with me and try out Quacks. It was up to me to work out a way to ensure that the game can be played on Zoom. Turns out there isn’t much that needs to be changed when you have two copies. We just have to vocalise our points and rat tails so that everyone knows where they are at.
The premise of this game is pretty basic, put your hand in the bag and pull out a chit. Place it into your cauldron, a 1 value chit will go in the next available space. A 2 value would miss out a space and then go into the second available space, a 4 value would go into the fourth available space. Buying higher value tokens will both dilute the “bad” white tokens in your bag AND help you round the pot quicker. Each token colour has a special ability shown on cardboard books, there are four available for most of the colours. You can use any combination, but the recommended combinations are denoted by the number of bookmarks shown in the book. This adds huge replayability.
Each round you will draw a fortune card for the group; these may happen immediately or at the end of the round, but they give a little bit of a shake-up. They could be something like if you explode this round your neighbour gets a value 2 chit. Or perhaps everyone gets a free refill of their NOPE flask. If you draw something you don’t wish to place in your cauldron, providing it wouldn’t cause your pot to explode, you can flip over your NOPE flask and put it back into your bag. It is not actually called a NOPE flask, that is my name for it. If I draw that 3 white in the first turn I will likely have to NOPE it.
Quacks is a bag builder, at the end of each round you are able to spend your collected bubble (coins) to buy up to two new tokens for your bag. The token colours each have different powers, and for a higher cost you are able to buy a 2 or a 4 value chit which will help you catapult to a higher pot value next round, of course providing you manage to pull that one out before stopping or busting…
There is a metric ton of replayability in this game, at the end of each round, you will be adding new chits to your bag, changing the makeup of your bag for the next round. Of course there is very high replayability associated with the order in which you are daring tokens from your bag. This will vary, not quite infinitely, but a high enough number that I have no care to try and work it out. There is also the variability added by the book tokens which change the special abilities of each token colour. Then the boards are also double sided, and the fortune cards add in further shake ups. What I am saying is, if you like Quacks, there is no real chance of you feeling like you are “done” with it. Saggy gives this funbox a solid 8/10. It has high replayability, it’s easily mechanically and in real life it is an easy teach as you can catch any mistakes. Over zoom, you need to know a bit more what each different coloured chit does, but it works seamlessly after the first learning game.
FAVOURITEFOE: From our first game, it was clear that Saggy is Quacks for Quacks. I won’t dwell too long on the fact that she didn’t teach us ALL of the rules first go out of the gaming stable…..well, I guess it is the teacher’s prerogative to keep some things back for personal advantage reasons! Haha Slander and lies! [SAGGYHEAD: Actually I don’t remember not teaching you all the rules, but I often forget rules so it is more than likely!]
I do agree that we weren’t trad, push-your-luck players. A lawyer and an engineer tend to take a risk-averse approach to most things for fear of being sued or squashed. Quacks intrigued us, however; the colourful box and promises of magic and mayhem piqued our interest.
I won’t deny that it took us a while to get this to the table, though. Not for want of trying, I promise you that. I actually ordered the game for Shadow Meeple as a Christmas present, placing the order in early December. I was primed and ready with festive wrapping paper, expecting to be able to blow our respective pots under the tree. Fate had a different plan, however. It wasn’t until about May Day that we got the delivery we had eagerly been awaiting.
Thankfully, it was worth the wait! Quacks of Quedlinburg by AEG is a superb mix of bag building and blowing. And it has actually encouraged us to be a little more devil may care when it comes to “should I-shouldn’t I?” game decisions. Helpful not only for this one, but also gives us a much more satisfying experience when playing others of the same ilk (see my Sheepy Time full review here).
From the first play, the pot picking and dropping is exciting. Going “shopping” for new ingredients when you’ve avoided the blow-up-bust is also a lot of fun. Without doubt, however, as the mechanic clearly states, luck plays a massive part in this game. Randomly pulling tokens out of a bag is never going to be anything but a literal example of luck of the draw. But, as what is in your bag is heavily affected by the choices you make in the token laying, and the token buying phase. Not only because of the pretty colours you get to choose of course, but because the variety of ingredient effects (and their values) has a fundamental effect on the game you are playing. With limited resources to spend each turn, you have to think hard about how best to spread the risk. Choose clever pot ingredients, and the randomness can be mitigated to a degree. Not to the point that you are ever confident as to what is going to come out of your bag next. But certainly loading the bag up with non-white ingredients gives me comfort. A measure of light strategy in there as a buffer for my control-freak mind,
Question is then, what do you pick when you have the choice? Do you go for cheaper ingredients that get you powers and more chances to snag bonus dice rolls, but only move you around your pot one spot at a time? Or do you spend your allowances on fewer tokens that get you further around your pot, giving you more VP points and resources next time?
Going bust doesn’t absolve you from decision making either. Even though your pot may have exploded, you still get something for trying; points or the chance to get more ingredients into your pot. It is actually a very generous game; with extra ways to boost your chances of getting points and resources, as well as rubies, the second-chance NOPE flask, and fortune cards that reward all players, it never feels like all hope is gone when someone whizzes around their pot on a specific turn. Lucky ducks can of course romp ahead as there are no negative marking opportunities or hate drafting to cool their jets. But with Quacks, it isn’t about punishing others; it’s about pushing your pot luck!
Having played at different player counts, we find the sweetest spot nestles at 3 plus. Although we can and do play 2-player, the potential to see more pots grow and blow really does make this game shine. And, as each game will be different, replayability is high. Left to our own devices, we will probably still yearn to play quite cautiously as a couple – it is so tempting to stay at 6 each time which obviously impacts on the challenge! However, we are trying to push ourselves more. And if our wider game group has a hankering to go all-in on a push your luck game (virtual works really well too so long as all players have a copy), we get caught up in the drawing delight, and Quacks really does fit the blow your pot bill!
As usual, Saggy did us proud and we are now also Quackers for Quacks! In terms of score, I would say this is a solid favouritefoe 8/10.
SAGGYHEAD: A bob on equal score for this one! We live to box over games another day! Perfect for summer, that typical British weather with pesky game interrupting gusts of wind is no problem for Quacks. If you’re looking for a garden suitable game for the whole family, then take a punt here. If nothing else, punching out all the tokens will take half an hour too!
With scores a draw, we will head into August for another bout in the ring between the Gaming Great and the Gaming Giving-it-their-best!
Stay tuned for August’s pick!