Spice it up! with Clank!

When Donald X. Vaccarino unleashed Dominion in 2008, the unsuspecting board gaming world tilted a bit on its axis. Finally, someone had invented a way to scratch the itch of building a deck and competing with your friends in a self-contained game system.

Hyperbole? Not really. Even an esteemed card game designer like Mike Fitzgerald has told interviewers that Dominion changed the way he looked at card games. But as the months passed, some gamers complained that Dominion was soulless, just a mechanic gussied up as a game.

Game companies quickly produced numerous clones, but few games to date (Fitzgerald’s Baseball Highlights: 2045 being one shining exception) have realized the potential that the mechanism could bring to the table. Instead of making the deck build the essential element of the game, in what other directions could designers go?

Does your board game group say “ho-hum” anytime you pull out Dominion? Are you looking for a great deck building experience like Baseball Highlights: 2045, but want a fantasy themed adventure instead?

Let’s spice it up — with Clank!

OVERVIEW:

Clank! is a deck building, dungeon diving, adventure game published by Renegade Games in 2016, in conjunction with Dire Wolf Digital. The game was designed  by Paul Dennen, a former online game designer for numerous studio who has turned his attention to the world of tabletop, with art from Rayph BeisnerRaul Ramos, and Nate Storm. It plays two to four players, and is listed at 30 – 60 minutes to play a game, but you will probably find that the average time is closer to 90 minutes especially for your first game.

The game is a twist on your classic dungeon delve where four adventurers are thrust into a world of thievery. The quick, the silent and the cunning will slip into the dark recesses of a cave system guarded by an angry dragon with one goal: Gather as much treasure in artifacts and gold as your backpack (or two) can carry. (A secondary but important goal is to come back in one piece.) The adventurers will try not to “awaken” the dragon by playing too many “noisy” activity cards. The thief who has the most treasure points after everyone has exited the cave or been knocked out is the winner.

Renegade has been making big splashes in the board gaming world recently.  From Fuse to Lanterns to Lotus to Worlds Fair 1893, Renegade has made a lot of noise (clank?) with games near the top of the hotness charts on BGG. Does Renegade have another quirky hit here?

INNOVATION:

Clank! gets my vote as one of the most innovative games of the year. The designer took a tried and true mechanic (deck building), and made it a part of the game rather than the entire game.

Clank! feels different from your average deck builder.  First, this is really at heart a board game. The fact that the players use and build up their deck to move, attack monsters, upgrade their “companions”, and gather resources is definitely unique and an interesting take on the genre. The  deckbuilding mechanic is here to supplement the game, rather than be the focus of the game.

Throw in another innovation, namely the clank mechanic, and you have a very fresh feeling game unlike any other in my collection. (I played Tyrants of the Underdark at Gen Con, and yes it has a similar feel, but Tyrants switches out the exploring mechanic for area control.) The clank threat on some of the cards really makes for some tough decisions as the clank box (and your own health meter) starts to fill up.

Although it has been done in other games, I also really appreciate that the publisher included two separate sides of the board with unique elements.  The added replayability that comes with a wholly different board is a welcome bonus, and I look forward to the new expansion currently in the works, presumably another board based with water elements.

COMPONENTS:

This is a great production.  Opening the box reveals a well done board that is snuggly fit into an insert that accommodates all of the game pieces as well as all of the cards (even when sleeved!)

The card board tokens are sturdy and colorful, and the board itself is well laid out with the cave system and treasure spots.  The artwork is typical cartoony fantasy, but not in a schlocky sort of way. There is almost an element of 80s fantasy in the depictions, and I definitely appreciated the fact that the designer did not just copy some of the cards but instead there is a multitude of different cards that have slightly different abilities.
It is not as lavish as some of the recent productions we have seen, but there is certainly nothing to complain about in this production. I really like the addition of the wooden adventurer meeples and the wooden carved dragon rage token.

The cards are just okay from a production standpoint, but the artwork  on the cards is perfect — a little cartoony / whimsical, with just the right gravitas for what is essentially a game more focused on fun than cut throat strategy.

GAMEPLAY:

Players start out at the top of the dungeon / cave with a goal of going as far as they dare down into the depths to steal treasure, and come back out alive. The goal is accomplished with the help of a starter deck of low level (and in some cases, noise-inducing) cards that come standard for each player.  Players get the opportunity to use “skill points” (one of the currencies in the game) to purchase ever more powerful cards. They can also use “swords”, which are found on some of the attacking cards, to face some of the denizens of the deep and earn rewards like extra gold or extra cards.

Being quiet and not making clank! (noise) is important. One of the interesting twists in the game is that your most powerful moves (and some times unintended mistakes) produce something called “Clank!” Each player is given a pile of colored cubes that must be placed onto the clank section of the board if demanded by the cards.

Apparently, the dragon that guards the enormous horde of treasure is alert and aware that there are adventurers afoot.   Whenever an event triggers a dragon attack, the players must throw all of the clank into a beautiful felt bag (emblazoned with the dragon’s image), and then randomly draw clank cubes out.

The dragon’s bag already contains a bunch of black cubes, which represents the dragon being focused away from the thieves (or maybe missing them in an attack?), but if the player pulls colored cubes instead of black ones, then these will go on the  health track corresponding to that player’s color.  Too many hits, and the player is “knocked out” and unable to continue to collect treasure.

Once all players are accounted for (either exiting or being knocked out), then the points (the accumulation of gold, artifacts, treasure, and victory point cards purchased during the game) are tallied and a winner is chosen.

The game is very easy to teach, especially if the players are already familiar with the deck building mechanic. The board is well laid out with treasure and market spaces, which allow you to purchase equipment that can allow you to carry more artifacts, move through locked doors, or score big points.

Players can get bonus wealth by stealing treasure from various rooms or defeating monsters along the way, but you have to be careful. This is essentially a push your luck game, where players will try to gather as much treasure before the dragon wakes up and knocks out everyone still underneath the castle basement. If you can get out with the required artifact that sent you to the castle in the first place, then you are “eligible” to win the game and get a bonus, assuming you scored enough points to beat everyone. Even if the dragon wakes up and knocks you out before you can get out, as long as you have an artifact in hand and are above the dragon’s cave system, then you will have a chance at the win if you have enough treasure in hand.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I love deck builders. Baseball Highlights: 2045 is one of my favorite all time games, definitely in my top ten. But sometimes, I just want to harken back to those early days of playing D&D with my friends, exploring giant cave systems, stealing the dragon’s loot, and racing to get out while punching baddies along the way.

After my first couple of plays, I realized that someone had finally improved a game from my youth. What the designer did here was improve that old chestnut, Dungeon! by TSR.  I had so much fun playing this game as a youth in the 80s, but it has not held up very well. Clank! does everything Dungeon! did (fighting monsters, exploring caves, and getting treasure) but does it a lot better. For me, Clank! fires Dungeon! easily (even though I haven’t really played Dungeon! except when I purchased it off Ebay to show my boys when I was introducing them into the board gaming hobby.)

There’s a lot of juicy tension in Clank! that isn’t present in a lot of dungeon games. The addition of the push your luck mechanics with the clank cubes really adds some fun stress to the game, without making it overly competitive. It is definitely appropriate for a family game night, as long as the family is old enough to understand how deck building works.

If I have a complaint, it is that there so far has been very many cards to come out that give you the ability to cull your deck. We’ve seen a few here and there, but a game like this really screams for more deck stripping, because fighting, looting and movement are so critical. As I explore the game with more plays, I am seeing other strategies for affecting the results of card shuffles, so there are ways to mitigate the bad luck of pulling your clank creating cards, but a few more deck cleansing cards would be helpful.

So if your game nights are getting bland, and your game group is looking for that next step up from Dominion (or your family has outgrown Dungeon!) get down to your local game store, and pick up a copy of Clank!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.