The Board Game Design Course

Where great games begin

Game Design

Quack if you like board games!

A good friend of mine recently introduced me to the game Quacks of Quedlinburg (Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg). The fine folks at Board Game Coffee, who I met for the second time at Origins, had also mentioned the game and made favorable comparisons between this and my game King of Indecision (which is currently on Kickstarter), so I was excited to try out Quacks for myself.

After playing a four-player game of Quacks, and narrowly losing to my eight-year-old son by one point, we decided this was a game we needed to own.

We’ve played a couple more times since then and I’ve been thinking about what makes this such an interesting game.


The Theme

You play as a quack (or charlatan), conjuring up potions, and trying to make sure they don’t boil over. You do so by adding fun ingredients to your pot, such as spiders, mandrakes, and toadstools.

Every round a reward card is flipped over. This adds new elements and choices to the game.

To add to the fun, my friend made us take turns naming the potion we were creating that round and what its effect would be.


The Mechanics

Quacks is a bag-building game that emphasizes a lot of push your luck. Each round, you draw tokens from your bag one by one and place them on your own player board to create your potion. You can always elect to draw another token or stop.

If you draw one too many bubbles, you’ll boil over. But even so, not all is lost. Besides, you always have a flask you can use to remove the last token you drew. However, you need to spend gems at the end of the round to fill your flask in order to use this ability again in the future.


Catch-up Mechanic

I want to emphasize one mechanic in particular that is quite helpful and clever. On the scoreboard, there are some spaces that are separated by rat tails. For every rat tail between yourself and the leader (assuming you’re not the leader), you get to start your potion further ahead on the next turn.

This gives players who are behind a chance to catch up without this being too powerful.


Rewarding Players Who Play Well

If you are the player who pushes the farthest in making your potion without boiling over, you will not only score more points, you will also get to roll a die and gain a reward, such as one or two points, or moving your starting droplet further ahead.


Not Punishing Players Too Harshly if They Push Their Luck Too Far

As I mentioned, in Quacks, you can push your luck pretty far, which may lead you to boil over. If your flask is full, you can always return the previous token back to the bag as if you hadn’t drawn this token.

However, if your flask is empty or you choose not to use it, all is not lost. However, you’ll have to make a choice. You can either keep the points you’ve earned or purchase new ingredients for your potion, but not both. If you don’t boil over, you gain both rewards. Even when you boil over, you may also still score everything else as usual.

So, there is a consequence if you boil over, but it is not that bad, and you get to make the choice of which main reward you will collect and which one you won’t gain.


Interesting Choices

As a game designer, you always want to create a game where player choices are meaningful, and they really matter.

Quacks does this really well.

Beyond the choice of whether to stop or draw another token, at the end of each round, players can purchase new tokens based on how far they have pushed their luck.

These tokens have values of 1, 2, and 4, representing the number of spaces you advance when you draw them, but also have different powers. Some advance you further, give you rewards, or allow you to draw tokens and choose which one you’d like to next use when drawn.

This allows you to try different strategies, which may change or combo well together as the game progresses.


Replay Value

I’ve only played the base starter game so far but have also seen that many more options are included in the box.

First, the player boards are double-sided. So, once you’re comfortable with playing the game, you can flip it over and try an alternate version.

Quacks also includes variants for each ingredient. So, you can play the game in many different ways where the ingredients will give you a different power.

By including all these options, I’m sure that Quacks will remain interesting for quite some time.

The mechanics are also very simple. This makes it easy to learn and teach. Yet, there is some depth to the strategies you can take.

What’s one of your favourite games and what makes it so great?

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    One small correction, you can’t always return the last white chip to your bag, if that chip caused an explosion. As it states on the rulebook:
    “Important: If the last chip drawn causes the pot to explode, the flask cannot be used!”