Quackery: Medieval Mind Games


This weeks board game review is about a little game called “Quackery: The Game of Medieval Medicine” (2009) by Tangent Games provided to me thanks to the services of Board Game Exchange.

I’ll admit, in a sense this is more of a card game than it is a board game- however I’m going to let this slide because you can’t really play this without a flat surface/table.

In any case, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of a medical game but I was pleasantly surprised. Let me say this is not Operation- it is much more complex and definitely features that competitive edge you always hope a game will be have. Much like Oh Gnome You Don’t, the air of strategy occurs to you after you’ve played a couple rounds- and once it does the entire game takes on a new meaning.

The Basics

Quackery 1Quackery (n): The practice of fraudulent medicine, usually in order to gain wealth or power, or simply for ego gratification.

Quack (n): A fraudulent healer or incompetent doctor of medicine; an imposter who claims to have the qualifications necessary to practice medicine.

When you open the game and read the instructions, the definitions above are the first thing you’ll read. Before even getting into gameplay, it becomes clear that the players in this game may or may not become “quacks”.  Each “physician” uses their “knowledge” of medicine to treat royal patients in order to either heal them, or to make them too sick to be cured.  The goal is to cure enough patients to become the next Royal Physician.

To set up the game,  you shuffle the Patient cards and place them face down on the table. There are four Humour cards: Black Bile, Phlegm, Yellow Bile and Blood- which need to be placed between all the players- and four status cards which will sit atop each Humour card. Players also each receive one Quack Agenda card, which outlines the goals that particular player needs to accomplish in order to win the game. For example, when I played, my agenda was to cure 8 male royal patients.

Getting into the Game

The game is broken up into 2 phases: the Initial Diagnosis phase and the Treatment phase. The Diagnosing “Quack” turns over the top card from the patient stack and places it face up on “their side” of the patient draw pile. Each patient card lists the levels of each Humor- and the Quack must adjust each status card accordingly, sliding it upwards for elevated conditions and downward for falling.

Quackery Cards

Clockwise: Patient “draw” pile, 4 Humour cards (Black Bile, Phlegm, Yellow Bile, Blood) with their status cards, treatment action draw pile.

There is a draw pile of “treatment action” cards- each player can only hold two in their hands at any time. Each card references a medieval remedy to help or heal (and stabilize) one of the humors.

The diagnosing Quack and each player thereafter then have the opportunity to make one treatment action. A player may choose to do one of the following:

Quackery Patient Card

The Patient card describes the status of each Humour and the consequences of death.

1. Basic treatment- Move the status of 1 humour of your choice 1 step in any direction.
2. Advanced treatment- Play 1 card from your hand that says it may be played as a treatment action.
3. Specialist treatment (optional)- Versions of this game that include the Promotional Quack Cards will have the option to use the card given to them at the beginning (indicating a particular specialty). Players can use their card just one time to completely cure one humour no matter where the status level lies.

Patients will either be completely cured, or will succumb to their illness. The last diagnosing physician to cure the patient will put the card on their side of the table. If the patient dies, the card will indicate consequences that either affect the player directly or the entire group. Each time a humor is balanced, the player may take another card from the draw pile. If that means they end up with 3 cards, they can choose which to discard so they only have 2.


The promotional “Quack cards” … Each player is given one a ‘specialty’, and will feature a one time treatment to be used on any turn.

Players win by either fulfilling their “Quack Agenda” before anyone else or by running out of patients- at which point players add up/subtract the “value” assigned to each patient they either cured or killed.

It WILL get ‘Cutthroat’

Halfway through the game I started to realize how smart the creators were. At first, your main goal is to cure as many patients as is possible by adjusting the humors that are closest to being balanced… but eventually your main goal is to thwart your opponents.

Quackery Draw Pile Card

From the “draw” pile: An example of a “treatment action”, in this case a Phlegm balancer.

You start to analyze each potential move, and where your turn will fall in the rotation.  You realize that if you balance the blood, your opponent just has to fix the Yellow Bile and they’ll “win” the patient card… You can’t have that, so instead you further lower the level of the patients Phlegm, just so you get the chance to actually cure them and therefore collect the patient card.

In some cases, if you’re playing with just 2 people, you will find each other in an endless back and forth
– putting the patients health at risk. It makes sense because the game implies your motives aren’t based on the health of the patient, but your ability to conquer and rise. This is one of the main reasons why I enjoyed this game, although it is sad to imagine there being doctors out there even remotely similar…

Final Takeaway

Quackery Agenda

Win the game! Complete your Quack Agenda before your opponents, and become the next Royal Physician!

I’ll admit, when I opened up the game I was concerned by the fact that it was just a stack of different cards (and, I hate the word Phlegm.. so…).  I’m generally a fan of the elaborate colors, artwork and props that bring the games to another level but the element of strategy here definitely kept me intrigued. I felt as though the actual subject matter of the game was a tad bit gruesome for me personally but definitely original and unique. It was interesting, putting myself in the context of medieval medicine because let’s face it, I don’t often think about what doctors had to deal with back in the day. I enjoy games that make you think out of the typical box.

Would I purchase this game? I’m not sure if it honestly has enough going on, enough mystery if you will- to keep me coming back time and time again but I would certainly recommend every game enthusiast give it a shot. Those who care less about bells and whistles and more about competition/mind games should take a liking to this. As long as you have a flat surface and a decent amount of time to devote (mostly if you’re playing with 2 people) you can play this game! This is a very good way to get your family and friends away from their screens. Overall to be 100% honest, I wouldn’t rush to play it again but am very glad I had it available to me to try because gave me a fun evening, playing and laughing with people I love.

Rating Break-down
1-4 Too Much Awful
5-7.5- Not So Awesome
7.6-8.5 Almost Awesome
8.6-9.4 – Awesome!
9.5-10- Too Much Awesome!
7.9 Almost Awesome

Quackery: A game of Medieval Medicine, is just that- a game about medieval medicine. It is a simple set up, a good game (and quite small/portable) to bring on a vacation with the family. It gets your mind cranking and has a fun concept. It isn't necessarily presenting pleasant imagery at times and may not appeal to everyone but it is certainly worth playing if it's available to you. Make sure you have a decent chunk of time to play- as it could take a little while to either get through all of the patient cards/meet the criteria of your agenda!

  • Concept: 8
  • Presentation: 7
  • Longevity: 8
  • Gameplay: 8.5

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