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Review: The Quacks of Quedlinburg: The Herb Witches

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The festival in Quedlinburg is underway, and in order to stay ahead of your competition, you’ve decided you had better call in some help. The herb witches are a little eccentric (and their services are pricey enough that you can’t afford much of their help), but at the right time, they might just give your potions the boost they need.

And if nothing else, the pumpkins they’re selling are the biggest in the land.

How It Works

The Herb Witches is an expansion for the Quacks of Quedlinburg, adding several modules that can be added to the base game as well as components for a fifth player.

The first module includes two new ingredients: a new pumpkin that moves 6 spaces (and has no other power) and a fool’s herb, whose value is calculated dynamically each time it is drawn. There are also new recipe books for each of the base game’s ingredients.

The second module is the overflow bowl, which allows players to keep drawing chips even after their pot is full. Powers of ingredients placed in the overflow bowl do not activate, but they do convert more easily into points.

The third module is the eponymous Herb Witches. One of each color (bronze, silver, and gold) is included in each game, and each player receives one coin of each type. A player may turn in a coin to use the matching herb witch’s power (each power may be used once per game). Powers include things like receiving bonus chips, increased buying power, getting points based on what hasn’t been drawn from the bag, etc. Any coins left until the end of the game score 2 points.

A Perfect Blend of Herbs and Spices

The Quacks of Quedlinburg was one of my favorite games from last year, and my opinion of it has only improved from my first plays. So when I saw the expansion for preorder in Germany at the turn of the year, it was a no-brainer. More stuff for one of my favorite games? Yes, please!

I’ve had the Herb Witches expansion since February, and it does not disappoint. While I have trouble calling any expansion necessary, if you like The Quacks of Quedlinburg, you’re going to want the Herb Witches.

(A quick note: The photos in this review show the German components and my own mock-ups to make them English. An English version will be available in the USA this fall.)

The new pumpkin ingredient book is on the bottom. Super pumpkins, please!

The Herb Witches serves to enhance what you already like about The Quacks of Quedlinburg while offering some new challenges.

First, what I’ll always use: Herb Witches comes with more chips of each type, as well as two additional recipe books for each ingredient. More variety is always a plus for a game of this type.

The Herb Witches expansion now supports five players. Hooray!

In addition to this, Herb Witches comes with two new ingredients: a super pumpkin (with a value of 6 and no special power) and a fool’s herb. I will never play without these, either, because they do not add to the complexity of the game; they only offer additional options.

The 6-value pumpkin is pretty straightforward: it’s just a really great chip for movement. What I love about it is the tension involved with choosing to buy it. It is currently the most expensive chip in the game at 22 coins, meaning it can take a while to get and will cost a pretty penny when you do. Is it really worth spending what might amount to your entire coin haul on one chip? Is it really better than one of the 4-chips with a special power? This is the question players have to consider. But beyond the option, it’s something that players can shoot for at the beginning of the game and when they’re considering whether it’s worth it to keep drawing from the bag. “If I can just get three more coins, that super pumpkin is mine!”

The fool’s herbs have a dynamic value based on factors that change round to round and pull to pull. These are risky, but they could pay off big time.

The fool’s herbs are more of a gamble, and the price reflects this. Yes, all the chips in Quacks are gambles–will you draw them from your bag when you need to?–but the fool’s herbs herbs have a dynamic value based on various factors. One version of the fool’s herb is better the farther behind you are on the score track. For a measly 8 coins, your fool’s herb can become a 4 if you need to catch up! And once you do, it’s no worse than a pumpkin (but it turns out to be an expensive squash if that’s all it is). The other version lets you copy the value and power of the last non-white chip in your pot. That could be the 4-value yellow you’ve got! Or it could be the generic pumpkin, or you could draw it first and just unceremoniously put it in your pot. The fool’s herbs are even more situational than the other chips in the game, but they give players a new way to gamble.

The Herb Witches expansion includes more rubies, because rubies are now a bigger deal. There are more ways to get them and more ways to spend them.

There are also new versions of the death’s head moths, which allow you to place chips in an opponent’s bag, and you get stuff based on whether they’re drawn; or players with the moths get stuff based on when they’re drawn. Both of these are interesting new ways to use the black chips, and they vary the game from set strategies that can develop with the arm’s race of the original moth recipe book.

Herb Witches includes more rubies because there are more ways to get them and, potentially, more opportunities to spend them. I like that the ruby decisions are more interesting with the expansion, and especially so when it comes to the herb witches themselves.

When playing with the Herb Witches module, each player receives a gold, silver, and bronze coin that can be spent once per game for a very cool ability.

Components for a fifth player are included as well. I think the game works well with five players, and the lightheartedness and simultaneous play make this a “the more, the merrier” type game, so this is all to the good. I haven’t noticed my five-player games extending beyond the lunch hour window, even with teaching and new players.

Beyond this stuff that I’ll include in every game, even with new players, there are two other modules: the overflow bowl and the herb witches. If players know what they’re doing and are comfortable with the game, I will include these most of the time.

The overflow bowl connects perfectly with the player boards (it’s double-sided to look good connected to either side).

The overflow bowl is simple: even a good round would automatically end for a player once they reached the final space of their pot. Now, with the overflow bowl, players can keep drawing chips, potentially earning lots of points (although chips in the overflow bowl no longer provide their function but can still cause your pot to explode). I like the overflow bowl because it gives players who are already experiencing momentum the possibility of having an amazing turn, which feels good and can also act as a catch-up mechanism for players who have fallen behind. Of course, the reverse of this is that if a player is in the lead, it can cause that lead to be extended even further. With some of the wacky powers of the herb witches, having a bigger pot lets players enjoy the largesse of their more powerful engines.

The four bronze witches. (The right side are my quick-and-dirty printouts for English-speaking players.)

The other module is the herb witches–and I love this one, although, again, I prefer to use it with players who are already comfortable with the base game. The herb witches offer three one-time-use superpowers to all players in the game. The trick is knowing when to use them.

The silver witches. Only one witch of each type is in each game.

In one game, the superpower in effect was to double the value of your coins for the round. This is incredible. I used mine pretty early in the game when I had a decent amount of cash so I could buy two 4-value chips. My thought process was, the earlier I use the witch’s power, the more that power will help me snowball. And before the final round, I had a 20-point lead over the nearest challenger.

This other player chose to use this power in the very last round, doubling the coins she had available to buy points. And with luck on her side, she managed to overcome my lead and beat me by 2 points! (It didn’t hurt that my pot exploded…but such is the life of a quack!)

The gold witches.

In another game, the herb witch’s power allowed players to spend one ruby to advance their drop or refill their flask instead of two. I had amassed a small pile of rubies in the first few rounds, so I decided to use the power early. We were playing on the test tube side of the board, so I got some hefty bonuses early in the game. I wanted to wait until I could afford a 4-value blue chip, which in this game granted rubies if there were white chips in the last 1/2/4 chips, but that seemed a long way off.

Unfortunately, in the very next round, through the card that was turned over for the round, we were all given the opportunity to get a 4-value chip of our choice free. Gratis. Another player got the 4-value blue and amassed an even larger collection of rubies, gaining a huge lead through his use of the herb witch at what turned out to be an even more opportune time.

And that’s what I love about them: yes, they have the potential to make the game swingier, but they also offer some strategic tension that fits well within the framework of the game. Quacks has always been a gambling game of taking big risks, and the herb witches feel quite at home here. They allow for huge catch-ups and grander, more epic moments. In a traditional Euro game, I probably wouldn’t like them much. In Quacks? Bring. Them. On.

The base game chips and the expansion chips, all stowed in a Plano organizer. I’ve also put my ingredients in coin capsules for extra heft and clinking.

So, to recap: I will always use the super pumpkin, fool’s herb ingredients, and fifth player components. The new recipe books I will use as mood and situation dictate. I will, as often as I am able, use the herb witches module. And I will use the overflow bowl as I feel like it. That sounds like a pretty great expansion to me.

The components in the expansion are more of the same, at least if you have the English edition or a more recent German printing. I had a first-edition German copy of the base game (with a shiny finish on the chips), so my expansion chips were noticeably different in feel. Despite this, there wasn’t much difference in gameplay (we all forgot about it once we started playing), and if you have an English copy of the game, this won’t be an issue at all. Still, I chose to put my chips in coin cases to remove any discrepancy.

But really, I invested in the coin cases because The Quacks of Quedlinburg is one of my very favorite games (I now rate it a 10), and the Herb Witches expansion is an excellent addition to it. I plan to wear out my copy in the years to come. And if future expansions for the game are as good as Herb Witches, my box will keep getting heavier and heavier, because variety is the spice of life, and Herb Witches is a mostly seamless integration into an already great game.

  • Rating: 9.0
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Summary

Pros:

More of everything I love about the base game
New ingredients, recipe books, and fifth player components I'm willing to use in every game
Herb witches add more strategic choices and more epic moments to an already great game

Cons:

Herb witches are probably best used with experienced players
The overflow bowl enables both big catch-ups and runaway leaders

9.0 Perfectly Seasoned

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. FarmerLenny,

    Great review! This is one of those titles that falls squarely in to my “Absolutely play; not part of my collection” type of game. I thoroughly enjoy the game, but as more than 85% of my games also play solo, this is not one I can get to the Gaming Table for solo play. Otherwise, I love many of the things that this does…Push Your Luck; a great bag-building mechanic; and the artwork is stunning.

    Cheers,
    Joe

  2. Great review! Can’t wait to get my expansion as well. I’ve put all my chips in coin cases too (so much a more hefty and clinky feel in the bag) I got my partner to sew curves in the bottom of the bags too.. gives easy access to all your chips and none gets stuck in the corners. Love Quacks!

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