Updated: Mar 26
WBG Score: 8/10
Player Count: 2-5 players
Published by: Schmidt Spiele
Designed by: Wolfgang Warsch
I know this won’t be very popular, but I didn’t love Quacks of Quedlinburg. I know! Sorry! But, to cut to the chase, I love this expansion. If you are a fan of the base game you will love it too. And if like me, you didn’t get on with the base game, well then, this could fix all your problems too. Related to this game I mean. It won’t sort your ear worms.
In Quacks, you are looking to create the most wonderful and 'point-worthy' potion. This is a push-your-luck game where you are pulling potion ingredients out of a bag one by one, in unison with the other players. Looking to build on your existing brew and fill your cauldron as best you can. But watch out! In your bag are the nasty Cherry Bomb white chips. Too many of those in your concoction and kaboom! Your potion will explode! At this point, you must either sacrifice the points you had scored, or the money you had earnt. Also, now, you cannot roll the bonus dice. The loss seemed too great to me. The risk too high. I know I am in the minority here, but let me explain.
Pulling the chips out one by one can be excruciating! You have no idea what will come other than guess work. You can develop your bag each round. Adding ingredients you want into it. Thus, reducing the risk, but it is still blind luck what comes out, and in what order. There is no control here and when you draw cherry bomb after cherry bomb, round after round it can be a little annoying from some. Whilst your opposing players are pulling pumpkins, spiders and the like, you are blowing up. It can be frustrating.
Push It Real Good!
Now I know this is the nature of a push-your-luck game. But there are few push-your-luck games where the game lasts this long. Or the effects of pushing-your-luck too far are this great. Or the lack of control has no mitigating options. I usually love this mechanic. I enjoy pushing my luck and the sense of exciting when it pays off is huge! But with Quacks, I was often left frustrated as for me, it has all three of these issues and the pay off wasn't ever enough to make up for the frustration of the loss. A loss you couldn't control with anything other than luck or conservative play.
As such, we have created a few house rules to make it more fun. And let’s be honest, this is not a serious heavy game. Shouldn’t it be more fun? For example, there is a vile you can use to put back any chip you pull out that you don’t want. But you cannot do this if the chip you pulled would have caused you to explode. We changed that. We also amended a few other rules, and I am not saying it was better for it. But it was better suited to my family. But I do prefer to play the proper rules so did dream for an expansion to fix it.
With the first expansion for this game, a few extra bits were brought to the table. But these two issues where not addressed. But with this second expansion, they both are! And I was very excited to try it out. Spoilers! I was not dissapointed.
First let’s look at the luck-based element of the game. Now, this is a major part of the game. You don’t want to completely remove it. It is a huge part of the fun! Drawing things from a bag that will cause success or failure has some genuine tension. You don’t want to remove that. But having zero control makes the game dull for me.
There is minimal strategy. This can be disheartening for players. Especially younger ones, if they keep pulling things you don’t want.
With 'The Alchemists', they have created opportunities to have some of your chips pulled from the bag before the round starts. When it comes to pulling out a new chip, you can either pull as usual, or place one of the chips you have out already instead. Giving you some choice. Some control. Some sense that you can manipulate your destiny. Even if only a little bit.
I like this opportunity to add some control to the game. But it is not given for free. That would not be right. You need to earn this power, and your opportunity to do this increases with time, round by round. This works brilliantly with the game. As your bag fills up, you will be building larger and larger potions. Your opportunity to control this a little more each time grows at the same rate. It is a very clever system.
So, what about the high-risk nature of blowing up and losing too much if you do? Well, this has been addressed in a way I never imagined! Now, on occasions, you may want to blow up! You still lose the same things as before. But now, there are times when you can also gain things from this 'failure'. It makes the events of your potion making so much more enjoyable. Still tense. But not annoying. Now, success or failure. Win or lose. It is a more fun experience.
Let me explain how this all works.
In 'The Alchemists', you are presented with an extra choice at the beginning of the game. Three from eight patients are chosen at random before play begins. Then each player chooses which patient they will try to cure. This is done by placing the relevant essence card into their flask. Each aliment will bring the player a different potential extra power if they can cook the right potion.
In the first round, nothing changes. But then each subsequent round, and growing each time, you are able to control your destiny a little more. At the end of the preparation phase, you will move your essence marker along a certain number of spaces. One space for each different colour chip you pulled that round. Another space if your neighbour’s cauldron exploded. And another space if the white chips in your cauldron totals exactly seven! The amount needed to explode. So, now you gain a benefit from exploding but only if you explode perfectly! Not a huge benefit, but something.
This is a clever rule. If you got this bonus on the essence track simply from exploding, players would not care if they exploded as much, if at all. But to say you gain the benefit from a total of seven white chips only is a smart touch. It makes pulling extra chips when on four white chips or more so much more exciting. And less stressful. Seven white chips can now be something to aim for!
The powers available on the essence cards are varied and fun. You can add more rats tails into your cauldron, extra points, dice rolls, chips, ruby’s and even refill your flask. But most enticingly, the chance to pull chips out of the bag before the next preparation phase starts. If you score high enough on the essence tracks, in a later round you can have up to 10 chips pre-pulled. You put any firecrackers you pull out back into the bag but lay the rest out in front of you. During the next preparation phase, you can then decide to either pull from the bag as usual or one from here.
Each patient brings different powers and opportunities. If the above does not sound appealing, don’t chose it. There are eight different patients as I said. You will only ever have three in each game, but each player only ever tries to help one patient. So, it is up to each player what they want to add to their game.
It is a clever way to bring these new powers into the game. I can imagine a few of you who have read the above have thought it fixes an issue that did not exist. I know many love the base game as it. I understand that and so too do the designers of this expansion. You pick the powers you want.
But for me, it made a game I so wanted to love, but found large issues with, so much better. It turns this from a sometimes unpayable six into a joyous eight. That is a large jump for me. I am less than enthusiastic about some expansions. But here, with 'The Alchemists', something wonderful has been conjured up.
Quacks of Quedlinburg: The Alchemists expansion is out now and available at all good retailers.