4 Lessons from Quacks of Quedlinburg for Aspiring Board Game Designers

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In 2018, Quacks of Quedlinburg won the elusive Kennerspiel des Jahres award. It has since remained a hot game on Board Game Geek and a perennial favorite in Pangea Games board game giveaways! So with that in mind, what can we learn from this award-winning board game with a silly name?

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Before we talk about what we can learn from Quacks of Quedlinburg, let’s talk about how the game works. For that, we’ll borrow the following blurb from the game’s Board Game Geek page.

In The Quacks of Quedlinburg, players are charlatans — or quack doctors — each making their own secret brew by adding ingredients one at a time. Take care with what you add, though, for a pinch too much of this or that will spoil the whole mixture!

Each player has their own bag of ingredient chips. During each round, they simultaneously draw chips and add them to their pot. The higher the face value of the drawn chip, the further it is placed in the swirling pattern. Push your luck as far as you can, but if you add too many cherry bombs, your pot explodes!

At the end of each round, players gain victory points and also coins to spend on new ingredients to add to their bags. But players with exploded pots must choose points or coins — not both! The player with the most victory points at the end of nine rounds wins the game.

1. The name is immediately funny, and the theme adds another twist.

When you first heard Quacks of Quedlinburg, you probably chuckled a little bit. The name itself is ridiculous, calling to mind images of ducks wandering the cobblestone pathways of Bavarian towns making a ruckus (as if they were geese). It’s a funny image that warms the hearts of non-gamers who aren’t enticed by the idea of trading wood for stone.

Once you open the box, though, you find out that you’re actually playing as a quack doctor, pushing a different kind of canard! You compete against others to make life-improving elixirs for the uneducated populace. Of course, if you fail, your whole pot will blow up like you dropped Mentos in Diet Coke.

It’s absurd and you can’t help but smile at it. Aspiring board game designers should take note of how the name and the theme tear down barriers that would otherwise keep would-be-gamers out of gaming.

2. It’s an example of push-your-luck par excellence.

Quacks of Quedlinburg is unabashedly, unashamedly push-your-luck. Not everybody is into this kind of mechanic and many find it to be unsatisfying. But this game leans into it, and instead of trying to shoehorn push-your-luck elements into a game where it doesn’t belong, it fully embraces it.

Throughout the whole game, you are building your bag to have different ingredients which you draw at random and add to your potion. You know that adding ingredients gives you a better chance to win, but you also know that adding too many will make the whole thing explode. When playing, you have to constantly ask yourself, “is it worth the risk of adding that one, final ingredient?”

The trade-off is dead simple and couldn’t be more obvious, but it works.

3. Mitigate push-your-luck with a good catch-up mechanic.

Unfortunately, push-your-luck games can quickly become obnoxious. This is because any game that proudly proclaims that it is luck-based runs the risk of becoming unfun very early on. You are, after all, one bad dice roll away from ruin in many push-your-luck games.

Smartly, Quacks of Quedlinburg included rat-tails, which act as a catch-up mechanic. In essence, you will receive an amount of rat-tails proportionate to how far you are lagging behind the first player. The first player, of course, will receive no rat-tails. Without getting into the specifics, the important part here is that losing players receive a handicap that matches the number of rat-tails they receive.

The upshot of all this? The game works to give losing players a chance, not unlike Mario Kart, which gives better items to players who are losing.

4. The time to play each game is matched perfectly to the game’s weight (as suggested by theme).

When you have a game that is proudly luck-driven, you have to keep the play-time short. Even with well-designed catch-up mechanics like rat-tails, luck-based games are like firecrackers. They’re fun for a short amount of time and they fade away quickly.

That is to say, a three-hour luck-based game would be Monopoly intolerable. A forty-five minute luck-based game, such as Quacks of Quedlinburg is much better.

Now that said, one of the common criticisms of Quacks of Quedlinburg is that it runs too long. The game has been generally received as positive, so the time to play is not a particularly nasty issue. That said, if you’re creating a luck-based game, let this be a lesson to you: even with a catch-up mechanic and a fairly short play-time, you will likely receive the same criticism.

Final Thoughts

Quacks of Quedlinburg is a fine example of a heavily luck-driven game done well. It’s enticing to newcomers and has a good sense of humor. The play-time is short, keeping the game from feeling like a long game of roulette. The presence of a catch-up mechanic keeps it from feeling like the die has been cast from turn 1.

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