I love The Quacks of Quedlinburg. I admit it. The themeless chaos of pulling chips from a bag (especially the super-expensive upgraded chips). The rush of adrenaline when you definitely pull one too many chips, but somehow grab the exact one you needed. It’s a simple and addictive game. Do I still prefer Euro games with colored cubes that represent generic concepts like “ore” and “cloth”? Of course I do, but there’s just something about Quacks that hits the right nerve of my gaming tastes.
Suffice it to say, I was eager to test out The Quacks of Quedlinburg: The Alchemists, the newest expansion for one of my most-played games. It adds a new board, some new mechanics, and, finally, some patients for the titular Quacks to experiment on.
The Alchemists expansion adds a new track that sits above each player’s cauldron. This flask track will represent each player’s individual essence level and will interact with gameplay at various points. At the start of the game, three random patients will be displayed, and players can choose one of these three patients that they will try to treat for the duration of the game. There’s no restriction on which patient each player can pick, and multiple players can pick the same one. Players will then place the patient’s essence card on their alchemist flask board.
The mechanics from the base game are the same although certain patients will offer players additional choices during the preparation phase (which is the game’s fancy name for the “pulling stuff out of your bag” phase). For instance, the patient suffering from a Witch’s Hump allows players to spend some of their essence during the preparation phase to get bonuses such as rubies or free chips. Other patients provide no benefit during the Preparation Phase but will give a bonus at the end of the round based on how far along the essence track players are able to advance.
Your essence value is calculated at the end of the Preparation Phase, which adds a small bit of upkeep every turn. Players accumulate essence based on how many different colored chips are in their pot and will receive bonus essence if their white chip total (or cherry bomb total, which is way more thematic) is exactly seven and if neighboring opponents busted during the round. This essence will remain locked at that total until the start of the next Essence Phase.
Any essence you need to spend to trigger patient powers comes from this total, while patients who only give one-time essence bonuses won’t interact with this track during the preparation phase. (It’s more there for trash-talking purposes at that point. “I have way more essence than you do.” That sort of thing.)
The expansion also adds a few new versions of the locoweed ingredient that was introduced in The Herb Witches and a bunch more fortune teller cards that highlight specific mechanics from this expansion (namely the essence level). Game-end conditions and final scoring are largely unchanged from the base game, but players will get additional points depending on how far they advanced in their alchemist flask during the final round.
Game Experience with the Expansion:
The Quacks of Quedlinburg is a fairly straightforward push your luck endeavor. There are really only two choices in the game. The first and most important is deciding how long to push your luck during the preparation phase and the second is which chips to buy at the end of the round. (There’s also an additional choice that pops up if players bust because they’ll have to decide between taking victory points or purchasing chips for that round. Seeing as I am a reckless game player, I tend to bust on every turn and always take the option to buy more chips so there’s really no decision there at all.)
The Herb Witches—the game’s essential first expansion—didn’t really increase the decision space of the base game. It did add another chip you could buy but mostly it mitigated the effect of bad luck by providing helpful once-per-game powers players could invoke at various points. The Alchemists expansion, however, actually increases the decisions players can make throughout the game.
Not only is there the option of which patient they will try to treat at the start of the game, but players also must decide when to invoke their patient’s specific powers. Some of the patients are reward-based (like the patient with Vampirism, who will just give players lots of free chips throughout the game), but the ones that allow players to spend previously gained essence add another decision during the Preparation Phase. (It’s almost a push your luck game inside a push your luck game; will you spend that essence now because you’re afraid you’re going to bust or save it because some of the rewards become more beneficial the further you progress in your cauldron?)
On a basic level, the very existence of the essence changes the overall structure of the purchasing decisions because having a variety of chips in one’s ingredient bag is a surefire way to boost essence over the course of the game. I have played Quacks quite a bit and have never encountered players who purchase the same chip round after round as an actual strategy, but I suppose if someone keeps adding the same colors to their bag, this is a way to balance that out.
In terms of things that aren’t successful, I did find it strange that there was no “bidding” mechanic at the start of the game to decide which patients players could treat. I’m inclined to say that the patient abilities are generally balanced, but some play very differently so it will be difficult for many to understand the practical advantages of chasing one patient’s abilities over another. It’s also strange that multiple players can treat the same patient with no restriction.
This expansion plays the same with or without the previous expansion as the decisions and options available aren’t really impacted by things that The Herb Witches includes. (Although, as I said, The Herb Witches should always be included in games of Quacks.)
While I don’t consider The Alchemists an essential expansion for The Quacks of Quedlinburg, I do think it adds enough interesting decisions and fun mechanics to recommend it as a purchase. I will qualify this opinion by saying this isn’t the type of expansion that makes sense to throw into early plays of the game or if it’s being taught to new players. The Alchemists serves as more of “variety variant” that many players will feel adds enough to be used all the time.
• Difficult to tell if the patients are balanced