Designer; Wolfgang Warsh
Pubished by; Schmidt
Art by; Dennis Lohausen
Every year when the Spiel des Jahres nominees are announced I read the list, smile and nod or roll my eyes and tut, as I agree or disagree with the jury’s choices. This year – 2018- it was more of a blank puzzled stare. The 2018 nominees contained a significant number of games I couldn’t even pronounce the name of let alone actually played. This is where I first came across Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg, from German designer Wolfgang Walsch.
Set in the medieval marketplace of the town of Quedlinburg in Germany, Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg casts players as Quacksalbers (witch doctors or quacks) making different potions and salves to sell to unsuspecting shoppers.
The heart of this game is a bag building push-your-luck mechanic. Each player has a large player board in front of them with a spiral track representing their cauldron. Players then, in turn, blindly draw ingredients from their bag and place them on the track. The further down the track you get, the greater your reward, both in reputation (victory points) and in terms of money to spend in the market to buy new, more powerful ingredients to add to your bag, ready for the next round. Players can choose to stop drawing at any time, or are free to continue as they like. There is one very big catch however, you bag starts with a large number of special white ingredient chips of varying strengths (1-3). At any time, if the total of all the strengths of the white chips in your cauldron exceeds 7, then your potion explodes, your progress down the track immediately stops and you are hit with a penalty; you must choose between claiming your victory points or buying new ingredients: you can no longer do both. This is a small but very significant penalty.
Once all the players have finished mixing their potions, either exploding or choosing to stop, players enter the phase of the round where they get to gain the rewards of their hard mixed potions. Firstly the player or players who managed to get the farthest down the track get a cheeky bonus decided by a roll of the custom die. Then players take their bonuses for any special ingredients which they have in their potion, followed by gaining rubies then collecting victory points, then spending money to buy more ingredients (remembering players must choose between points or buying ingredients if their potion exploded.) Finally, players can buy bonuses with their rubies. Outside of victory points there are 2 main currencies in the game: Money which you use to buy new ingredients and rubies which are used to buy 2 different bonuses: firstly you can choose to pay 2 rubies to move your drip marker: this marker starts at the beginning of your track and you start placing out ingredients from this marker, if you are able to move it forward a space by paying rubies, you have a permanent upgrade starting you farther down the track.
The game continues like this for a total of 9 rounds, the player with the most victory points at the end of round 9 wins the game. Each round your bag gets better and better as you add more ingredients to it, diluting the unstable white ingredients, and each coloured ingredient granting you different bonuses.
There are some very clever little mechanics that keep the game competitive and interesting. The best being the catch-up mechanic: at the beginning of each round you look at the score track: printed on the track are some rats each player looks at how many rats are between themselves and the leading player: you then get to place your rat token that many spaces down the track giving you a head start for that round only.
It is worthy of note this game is only currently available in German. While the majority of it is well covered with symbols, you will need to download some English rules which are available on boardgamegeek.com. The biggest area in which language becomes a barrier is on a deck of cards which you draw at the beginning of each round. These cards mix things up and grand players different bonuses or conditions for that round: for example, there is a card that increases your white limit from 7 to 9 for that round, or another that doubles the catch-up rat mechanic. These cards really help keep each round and game different and exciting, however, they are a block of text entirely in German. This isn’t a huge problem as the English rules on boardgamegeek.com cover each card with a translation: and it only takes 10 seconds at the beginning of each round to look them up. (I’ve also noticed after a couple of games you remember the cards and can start convincing yourself you can read German!)
So will you like this game? It’s fair to say I love it! Its a raucous laugh with people cheering as they draw good ingredients at the right time to get their bonuses, and groan as they draw yet another white ingredient. However, I can see it won’t be for everybody, although there are many ways to mitigate against it…. This game has a very high luck factor. If you are someone who will get frustrated if all your great planning and preparation can be thrown down the drain with the last round of unlucky drawing, then you will struggle to like this game. For me its that uncertainty that drives the excitement of every draw. The knowledge that despite a commanding lead all can be lost at any moment is what makes the game so great. My wife enjoys the fact that it remains competitive throughout and its impossible for someone to run away with an unassailable lead, making it all to play for, even up to the last draw of the last round…
Review copy supplied by Meeples’ Corner Online board game Shop.
Written By Lewis Jones
Edited by Joel Wright
Photographs by Lewis Jones