Table of Contents
|Name||The Quacks of Quedlinburg (2018)|
|Accessibility Report||Meeple Like Us|
|Complexity||Medium Light [1.95]|
|BGG Rank||57 [7.85]|
|Buy it!||Amazon Link|
Quacks of Quedlinburg is a push your luck game where fortune winks and says ‘Oh wow, you’re so brave, good for you kiddo!’. This, despite knowing full well, that this is gambling with the training wheels on. The risk built into its mechanisms is illusory, and as a result it’s about as friendly a take on the concept as I can imagine. That means it lacks the edge I like to see in games. I like the creases in a design to be sharp enough to draw blood. That’s why we gave Quacks a lukewarm three stars in our review.
That means though it’s more approachable in its sensibilities than a lot of games I might consider part of this niche. That probably bodes well for an accessibility analysis, but we’ll see for sure when we make it to the end of the text.
Let’s see what we can brew up.
Each of the tokens you draw has its own indicative icon that shows what it represents, and the coloured ingredient books that show their effects are likewise double-coded with art. Really the colours don’t matter much – they’re more for decoration. All of that is fine.
There is a problem though when it comes to tracking player position on the score board, because we see the usual quad of colours – red, green, blue and yellow. For your own droplet token and rat tails it doesn’t matter. And likewise it doesn’t matter for the colour of your cauldron. It does that matter when looking at who is where on the board:
This is more than just ‘I need to ask who is where’ because those behind the leader are entitled to thicken their potion with a number of rat tails based on the distance between them and the first player. As such, correctly identifying how many of those you’ll get is important. It’s not likely to be the case that a player will make long term decisions based on where they are in the tracker but they certainly want to make sure they’re getting their fair share, and (if they’re honest) that they aren’t taking more tails than their entitlement.
This isn’t a critical issue, but the weird thing is that it’s actually solved sort of with the rat and droplet tokens., Thehave icons printed onto the surface. If it can be done there, it could surely have been done to uniquely identify each score token with an icon of its own.
Anyway, as is usually the case you can replace the circular scoring discs with anything you like. All the other discs live safely on your personal board.
We’ll recommend, just, Quacks of Quedlinburg in this category.
Oh boy, every part of the game is a problem in this category. It’s at the point that I don’t think it’s possible to play without considerable support from the table, perhaps even a dedicated support player. The more severe a visual impairment is, the more that becomes the only feasible option.
Let’s begin with drawing tokens from the bag. While they are all vibrantly coloured, they each have the same form factor and they can’t be differentiated by touch. That’s inevitable, otherwise people could simply pull whatever token they like out of the bag. But what that means is that every time a blind player draws a token they’ll either need to do some close examination or have someone else tell them what it is. That’s not great. Although the contrast on the tokens is good, they’re still quite small.
Having identified a token, it then has to be placed. Exploring the board by touch is unlikely to be a great idea because while you can certainly tell where the tokens are you’ll end up moving them around. They sit atop the cauldron rather than slot into it. Counting for the token you’re about to place begins from the space adjacent to that which was last placed. The potion track is going to have gaps in it (because the larger the number you place, the further along the track it goes) and since it’s in a spiral you need some fixed anchor point to know where that spiral heads off. Again, close inspection might be sufficient here but I don’t think so. I, as a sighted player, often find it difficult to follow those spirals/ Some tokens have a very pointed ability to ‘blend into the foreground’ like Granny Weatherwax in the Discworld novels. It’s some combination of the amount of contrast and the way the eyes can become ‘unmoored’ from the flow of the spiral patterns.
Still, any excuse to make a Terry Pratchett reference, eh?
Your droplet might count as a kind of anchor point, but it moves around the spirals as you power it up, and again it’s easy to nudge it where it shouldn’t be to your own benefit or detriment.
But let’s say you place the token. Now you need to action it… sometimes. Only some of the placed ingredients have an ‘on placement’ effect, so you need to remember what they are and what the effect is. The power associated with each ingredient is variable. For set one, the blue crow skull lets you draw tokens from your bag and choose whether to place one of them (bringing you back to the issue with drawing tokens). For set two, if the next drawn token explodes your potion you still get points and money instead of one or the other. So that adds in a cross-reference that gets more troublesome the more powerful a token you drew. Set three gives you a ruby each time you cover an appropriate space with a token (which means you need to investigate the board even more closely with each placement). Set four is the same except you get victory points rather that rubies. Red tokens also have a similar ‘on placement’ system. So you need to remember the specific set you’re playing with, interpret it according to the token you drew, and sometimes compare that against the token you cover on the board.
And let’s say you did that. Knowing whether you should stop or go for broke is – at least in part – based on what the value of the next uncovered space is going to be.
It’s an awful lot of visual processing with no easily interrogable tactile game state. The act of physically investigating will usually randomise, to some extent, the game state.
Now, all of this is of no issue if someone can read the tokens and boards, even if it means they place things more slowly and carefully than other players. However, all players are doing this simultaneously and it’s going to be really disruptive of flow if a visually impaired player needs to ask ‘what is this’ and ‘where do I put it’ for every draw of a token. Especially since some draws may leads to others. One solution is that the player with visual impairments waits until everyone else is done and actions their turn, but that seems somewhat stigmatic and strategically exploitable.
For those with minor visual impairments then, the game might be okay but it gets progressively harder to recommend as the severity of impairment increases. Even at its best we’d say there are better choices, so we don’t recommend Quacks of Quedlinburg in this category.
Probabilities and bag composition are the key strategic considerations in a game of Quacks. Really the only decisions of consequence you make are about what to add to the bag and when to stop drawing ingredients but both parts of that are informed by a formal arithmetic that implies a fair amount of numeracy. Even just buying ingredients requires addition and subtraction – you never get ‘coins’ in the game. You get a budget that you need to balance against the combination of tokens you want to buy.
That said, when it comes to dealing with the bag it’s cognitively less demanding than it might seem because really it’s a case of ‘how dangerous is it to draw my next token’ as opposed to ‘what are the chances I get the token I really want here?’. If the game is working properly, your fate is already set by the time you begin drawing. The tracks are laid and you’re on the train until you choose to get off. Its destination is fixed. So all you need to think about is ‘should I get off here?’
And in that respect, it depends on if you have a journey ender in your bag. If you have four white ones on the board, you’re safe for at least the next draw. If you have a total of five whites on the board, you’re safe for at least the next draw if the three is out of the bag. You have a reminder of your bag composition on the board and so you can play at a reasonably high level by simply relying on that rule of thumb. Balance / blend of ingredients doesn’t really come into it for effective play. That’s good news both in terms of cognitive complexity and memory requirements.
At a higher level of play players will want to be thinking about the ‘density’ of particular ingredients in their bag and that depends on the set powers in play. For example, if you have the ‘see the future’ power for blue ingredients you may want to go in deep on those because they permit you a regular risk-free way to improve your score. On the other hand if a player has gone deeply into the black tokens (which have an effect based on how many black tokens other players have drawn) that may influence you down a different route. It reminds me a bit of Star Realms really in that you don’t make a lot of choices during the game, you just create the circumstances under which alchemy can happen. It’s not something as heavily pronounced here though and even if you just buy ingredients largely at random you’ll still reap the percentage effects of diluting the danger in your bag.
Believe it or not then, I think I might be okay in recommending Quacks of Quedlinburg in both of our categories of cognitive accessibility even though the review contains lookup tables of stats. You might need to home rule some bits (like mixing and matching sets into their simplest forms) and maybe write up a lookup table of ‘is it safe to hit?’ for those that find the arithmetic too difficult to do in real time. But yeah – I think it’s a recommend.
Let me know if your experiences differ!
It’s real bad here. Drawing from the bag is infuriatingly difficult to do even if you’re fully able. The cardboard sticks against the material. There are never enough tokens in the bag to make the shuffling satisfying, or the extraction fluid. And, because you need to be unaware of what tokens are there to be drawn, other alternatives such as bowls or cups aren’t appropriate.
Onto that you need to layer the way the board requires you to place these tokens in a way that can be easily disturbed. Placement needs to be quite precise and the spaces are not generously proportioned. And, given the way that the scoring works, you’re sometimes in the position where you need to try to ‘adjust’ tokens to enact particular effects. For example, if you trigger the death’s head hawkmoth effect you get to move your droplet on by one space, which means moving it up the spiral and potentially dislodging existing tokens. You can leave the movement phase until you’ve dealt with all the other ingredient and scoring rules, but then there’s a risk you’ll forget. It’s a minor issue but one that has an impact in this category in particular.
As with the section on visual accessibility, the problem is especially pronounced if play with support is required because everyone acts simultaneously. It is flow breaking for someone to try to handle two cauldrons at the same time, and stigmatic if someone has to wait for everyone else to finish. Or indeed, is forced to go first and set the benchmark against which everyone can compare themselves.
The final round of the game is supposed to be a kind of ‘hidden simultaneous draw’ that has extreme accessibility implications but honestly I found it actually made the game worse so I wouldn’t even worry about it. Just ignore that rule.
We don’t recommend Quacks of Quedlinburg in this category.
I’ve said many times here that this is push-your-luck with the edges sanded down so nobody gets hurt. That has an extremely positive effect in this part of the teardown. Sure, you can have a bad run of draws that means you don’t get to play for long in a round but the catch-up mechanism implemented through rat tails does have a mitigating effect on how much of a problem that is. One bad round might turn out to lead to an excellent rat-taily round and so it all sort of evens out.
One thing I will mention though is that the end of each round the player with the best potion gets to roll a dice and gain a benefit – and that’s sort of the reverse of a catch-up mechanism. On the plus side though, it’s based on the potion you just made rather than a reward for the person best placed on the scoring chart. It doesn’t create a runaway leader effect – at least, not all that much – but it also sort of counteracts the rat-tail system. Some players will like it, other will feel that it ‘double dips’ from the bag of rewards when someone has done well in a round.
Regardless of all this, we strongly recommend Quacks of Quedlinburg in this category.
The cover of the box shows a pretty heavy dose of Smurfette Syndrome. There’s certainly a female ‘quack’ passing on a potion to a balding older man. Presumably it’s some kind of hair tonic, and I’d be grateful if she could send me her recipe. Of six visibly identifiable people though she’s the only one. She doesn’t get much of a showing in the manual either. It looks like an effort has been made though to show at least a little ethnic diversity, although again it’s not exactly ‘best in class’. The manual makes use of gender neutral language and the example text makes use of both male and female names. 3.6 roentgen. Not great, not terrible.
It can be picked up for about £35 in the UK, which is a very reasonable prince in this day and age. I think it’s fair to say that you get your money’s worth with that, although since the highest player count is four it’ll make an occasionally awkward game given it’s best considered a low-impact family title.
We’ll recommend, just, Quacks of Quedlinburg in this category.
There’s no formal need for communication, but there is some requirement for literacy. Ingredient books contain explanatory text (which is good, because the iconographic language is likely to be baffling on its own) and fortune cards likewise explain in written form what their effect should be. As long as one person is passingly fluent in the language of the game though it would be fine.
We’ll recommend Quacks of Quedlinburg in this category.
Usually when we see a recommendation in the cognitive accessibility categories I have something of value to say here because it’s such a powerfully impactful area. Oddly though – not really for Quacks. The only passing note I would make is that if one isn’t fluent in the language of the game, having to remember and enact the set bonuses for each ingredient may be a problem area. In extreme circumstances, it might be enough to make the game unplayable. Beyond that though, I don’t see anything that gets my figurative dander up.
Quacks plays reasonably quickly, and since most of the game is handled simultaneously it scales really well. It’s a forty-five minute or so game that doesn’t really move much beyond that time-frame when you go from two to four. Some extra time is needed for handling score and such but even that can be done independently. It does though take up a lot of table space, and the time for setup and teardown isn’t trivial. Players can drop out of play reasonably easily, and I think you could even survive a drop down to a single player even if the outcome is unlikely to be a surprise.
Well, this didn’t go quite the way I expected. I expected to be more critical. I guess it’s worth noting that there’s a lot of minus marks on these grades. Probably more than for any other game I’ve looked at.
I should point out though, particularly in relation to the cognitive accessibility category, I’m genuinely unsure – more than usual – about where it should land. This is the result of a fair amount of hand-wringing and as such if it changes from a recommendation to otherwise over the course of time it wouldn’t at all be surprising to me. And thus, shouldn’t be to you. I advise you to take all recommendation grades with a pinch of salt. Those ones maybe need a handful.
Quacks of Quedlinburg – like many of the games I’ve looked at in the past few months – didn’t really set my bits aflame with longing. I guess that’s for the best – my relationship to board games is already weird enough. But it’s always vaguely disappointing to see something that rides this high up in the BGG Top 100 and find it fails to make any kind of meaningful impact. Still, its performance here is intermittently good and you’ll find plenty of people willing to go to bat for why you should play it. Don’t listen to me, there is literally no reason to give me your trust.
A Disclaimer About Teardowns
Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.
Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.
Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.