Quacksalbe (Quackery)

A card game by Volker Tietze, published by Feuer & Flamme, Germany
This review copyright 1998 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated November 15, 1998

Quacksalbe is a quick humorous card game of competing quack doctors for three to five players. The game consists of 5 Doctor identification cards, 20 patient cards, and 50 therapy cards. There is no artwork on the Therapy or Doctor cards, but there are cartoony little monotone drawings on the Patient cards, some with red bouquets of flowers. I have the English edition, in which the rules and the Patient cards are translated, but none of the other cards.

The doctors, with rough English translations of their names and specialties, are:

  • Dr. Kurpfusch (Dr. Cure-bungle): Specialist in Shots
  • Dr. Brimborium (Dr. Foofooraw): Specialist in Electroshock
  • Dr. Scharlatan (Dr. Charlatan): Specialist in Blood-Letting
  • Dr. Pillepalle (Dr. Pillpal): Specialist in Pill-Pushing
  • Dr. Piekfein (Dr. Tip-Top, with a pun on "to puncture"): Specialist in Acupuncture
There are ten Therapy cards for each doctor - each therapy is a different color, as well as having the text on the card. The Therapy cards range in value from 1 to 10, one of each number. If playing with three players, two of the doctors and their appropriate Therapy cards are not used. Likewise, one will not be used in a four-player game. In addition, you only use seven Therapy cards for each player - which seven depends on the number of players, with higher cards being discarded the more players you have.

A Patient card has a title (Private Patient, Health-Plan Patient, Scaredy-Cat, Homeopath, etc.) and a maximum dosage (usually). Some of them also have bouquets of flowers, which means they are worth more points than those without bouquets. Just over half the patients have special instructions relevant to their therapy - the rest are quite straightforward.

Maximum dosage, among those patients who have such a thing, ranges from 9 to 21, with a mean of just under 15.

The game is very simple: shuffle the Patient cards and place them FACE UP IN A SINGLE STACK in the center of the table. Shuffle the cards dictated by the set-up, and deal out five to each player. Place the remaining two per player in the center of the table, face up and spread out. Each player takes one card of those shown of his choice, then a second card in reverse order. Note that you will probably have cards of more than just your own color.

The game is played in four rounds of five patients per round. Without revealing the card below, someone reads off the top Patient card, and the first player plays a card of any color desired. After every player has played one card, the patient is awarded to the Doctor whose therapy total is the highest. In case of a tie, the first color played wins the patient.

Example: the first player plays a Red 4, the second player a Yellow 5, the third player a Blue 10, the fourth player a Yellow 2, and the fifth player a Red 7. The red doctor (Dr. Charlatan, the blood-letting specialist) takes the patient, regardless of which player played which cards.

The catch is that if a single therapy exceeds the maximum dosage, the patient dies. The highest therapy still wins the card, but it's now a corpse, and will count as -1 point at the end of the game. If the maximum dosage is not exceeded, the patient survives, and will count from one to three points at the end of the game.

As a sample turn, say there is a two-point patient up for grabs, with a maximum dosage of 17. I'm the red doctor (blood-letting), and play a red nine. This is just begging for a corpse, because the next player will probably throw on a red eight or ten if he has one, then the third player will tack on a red four or so to seal the patient's death. The game calls this "discrete overdosing to avoid excessive success by your colleagues", by the way.

So instead of leading off with a high number of my own color, I play a high number of another player's color. The second player then has to weigh whether or not to contribute to this therapy, or start a new one. If a second therapy is started, and then a third, the patient will probably live - death occurs only if a single therapy exceeds maximum dosage, not all therapies combined. In this case, whichever therapy is the highest total wins a living patient and victory points towards the end of the game!

After five patients, every player has two cards left. At that point, the Therapy cards are shuffled and dealt out again. Play proceeds until players have only two cards again, and Therapy cards are shuffled and dealt again. The fourth round is the final round, as there are exactly twenty Patients.

Our first game was a three-way game, which ended in a tie of +1 to +1, with the third player (me) coming in at -1. This is out of a possible total of 28 points, if you save all the patients you can in the optimum manner. I guess our "discrete overdosing" got a bit carried away and we had a plethora of corpses on our hands ... Our next game, however, a four-player event, was a much more positive game: the winning score was 4, with two players tied for second at 2 each, and even fourth place broke even at 0 points. Mind you, that's still a lot of corpses, so I guess the title of the game is very appropriate.

All in all, Quacksalbe is a very fun, quick game of the type that is easier to do damage to an opponent than to help yourself. While it's possible to make a positive move in the game, it is much easier to load your opponents with corpses than it is to save the patients. The variety of Patient cards lends a lot to the game - one of them ignores high cards, one ignores low cards, one is a hearse driver (if you get him alive, he'll transport one of your corpses to another doctor), one is a masochist who likes it right near maximum dosage, another is unconscious, and is worth more if you can wake her up, and so on. The three patients without maximum dosage are a corpse (doesn't matter what you play, it's dead - high therapy gets an automatic -1), a cardiac arrest patient who has a minimum dosage of 11 needed to be revived, and a phantom (any therapies played on the phantom actually apply to the Patient underneath, who remains unseen until the round is over!).

Good fun, recommended if you can find a copy. I don't know of any for sale in the USA, alas ...

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