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Die QUACKSALBER von QUEDLINBURG
Wolfgang Warsch for Schmidt / North Star Games   Kennerspiel des Jahres 2018 Kritikpreis
2-4 Players   aged 10+     Games Take About 45 minutes     Retails around €35.00

This is a fun game of portent potion preparation in the bazaar of Quedlinburg. Each player (Quack) is out to make the best potions that will give them fame, fortune and cash in hand but mostly Victory Points; have the most VPs at the end of the ninth Turn and you are the winner of the game. However in my opinion simply having the game to play makes you a winner.

Every good witch, wizard or quack has their own cauldron for brewing their potions in (as well as cooking their lunch) and each user of the special arts also has a bag in which they keep the herbs, spiders-legs, frogs feet, eyes of newt, gems and other ingredients and resources - a bag which you cannot afford to be without; players of Quacksalber have their own Cauldrons and Sacks. The other most important thing for a user of magic, apart from a magic wand and pointy hat of course, are the magician's Spell Books, in this case they are called Recipe or Ingredient Books.

 
The Ingredient Books come into play at predetermined intervals during play, decided by the Round marker on the Score Track board. The Round Marker being a Flame token that is moved from hanging lantern to hanging lantern at the end of each Round - each lantern shows if and which Ingredient Books will be added. How easy or difficult you want to play is determined by the Ingredient Books you include in the game. The Black and Orange books take part in every game other than these one set of Ingredient Books is used per game, the strength of these being shown by the number of Bookmarks. Each set also contains 5 Ingredients comprising of Green, Blue, Red, Yellow and Purple Tokens.
 
Each player has their own Cauldron (board) which shows the swirling path their Droplet markers (player's markers are shaped like a drop of liquid) will slowly take. All of the movement spaces are numbered, numerically upwards, and most show a VP value and or a VP value and Gemstone (Ruby) - the space directly after the space where the player's last ingredient is placed is the space taken into account - this has to be remembered when planning each move for sometimes it is better to not move quite as far as possible so that the reward is better. Every cauldron has a space (a trivet) where the quack places their mixing flask, their very important and extremely useful mixing flask. Each Round begins with the flipping face up and reading aloud of a Fortune Telling card, it's actions/events affecting all players.

 

The game play is fun, semi random, and includes great mechanics to keep the balance without hindering either the leading player or assisting the lowest scoring player to the point of unfairness. To begin with you are trying to get as many useful ingredients into your bag as possible so that when drawn out they move your droplet further round the swirly track. There is also an element of greed or gambling (or both) as it is possible to push your luck when drawing the ingredient Tokens from your bag and placing them on your track. Every coloured chit has its own effect but white Tokens being the most plentiful and available and also the least required, which is why the game mechanic automatically adds them to every player's bag at the start of certain Rounds - the more white Tokens in your bag the more likely you are to pull one out. Players know what Tokens they have put into their bags but are never allowed to look through them or the bag.

Swirly tracks can only have a white chit value of 7 in total, going over this causes the cauldren to explode in a way that still allows the owning player to perform one useful act. We like this idea a lot as it means there is always a reason to push but similarly there is a reason not to take the chance on drawing a chit once the 7 points of white chit are on display.

 

The space in front of your droplet has several effects, as you might remember, and one of these is the number of points you have to spend on buying ingredients for your bag. You may buy only one or two Tokens (not 2 in value) and not more than one per ingredient, thus you could gain a Red 4 for 16pts and an Orange 1 for 3 points, but any 'money' unspent is lost, you cannot save it for the next Round. The ingredients are 'bought' from the available Ingredient Books, thus as more Ingredient Books come into play so do more ingredients. The ingredients Tokens are available as 1s, 2s and 4s (white Tokens also have a 3 value) and buying in bulk has a couple of advantages and one disadvantage. 

When a chit (any colour) is drawn out it is placed on the space away from the Droplet equal to the number on the chit, thus a 4 value chit drawn first would be placed 4 spaces away from the Droplet, the next chit would be positioned it's value away from the previous chit and so on. As more ingredients are added to the bag the further along the swirly path the players will proceed, most possibly giving them more bonus VPs (if they are lucky also a Ruby) and definitely more points to spend on new ingredients. It is really well worked out how many of the components have multiple uses and values. Other advantages are the effects of the chit placed, though sometimes if luck isn't with you their effect is lost due to previous circumstances.

 

The disadvantages of the ingredient Tokens are for example; when you draw out a '1' you do not gain much headway on your track and thus your points to spend may not be that many, and if you draw out a '4' you gain 4 spaces on your track but as it is still only one chit you have less chance of pulling it out of the bag. This makes for grins and groans throughout play but generally a fun time for all.

Players who are not in the lead may get to place a Rat's Tail (you just cannot have a cauldron without a Rat's Tail) in front of their Droplet, thus starting them a little further along the track and evening up the advantage the lead player has. How far ahead of their Droplet they are placed is determined by the number (if any) of Rat's Tails between the players score markers on the score track.Again, this isn't too much of a disadvantage to the leader but it prevents the other players getting despondant or from being left so far behind they cannot be bothered to play the next Round with enthusiasm. After each Round the ingredients are replaced in their owner's bag. Rounds always begin with an almost clean cauldron, the exception being the Droplet Token.

 

The cauldrons, from top down view, look like a vegan pizza, all green and pale and by adding the ingredients the Tokens add colour, just like building the plate up with peppers and toppings. What you are doing when adding the Tokens to the cauldron is making a Potion. There are no turns or turn order, all players are playing for themselves so build their Potion in their own time. Some Tokens activate when played, others activate at the end of the Round, but it is all down to the luck of the draw which ones come out first. This is why you should think carefully and clearly when purchasing new ingredient Tokens for your bag. White Tokens can be sent back to the bag under certain conditions, such as if a Yellow chit is drawn and placed immediately after one, or by flipping over your flask to empty, which will return the last drawn white chit - this can be done to prevent the white chit score reaching 7 or as it goes over 7. At the beginning of the next Round/End of the current Round you can spend 2 Rubies to refill (flip back over) your Flask (bottle). If the value of White Tokens goes over 7 then the cauldron explodes and the player may not draw another Token from their bag, unless circumstances allow. Players can always decide to stop drawing after placing the tile they just drew - they cannot look at it and then change their mind and put it back.

 

This is a fast, free flowing, fun game. It is interesting to view and clever in its play. It has the Euro-game quality of being playable on a level that occasional-players and families can understand, but also with strategic possibilities that core and regular boardgames players will appreciate. 

There have been a lot of thoroughly enjoyable games available in late 2017 and throughout 2018 and this is without a doubt high up on any list of favourites I might comprise.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015