19th Aug2020

‘Clank!’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

People who love deckbuilding games are certainly spoiled for choice these days, with the likes of Dominion, Mage Knight and Legendary all building on the core idea of starting out with a weak deck and building it up to something much more powerful over time, albeit with their own twist. Clank! easily sits alongside (and perhaps even above) these games thanks to the unique way that it builds a hugely entertaining and very competitive race around the core deckbuilding mechanic.

Clank! is set in a very classic fantasy universe, where each of up to four players are tasked with exploring a dungeon that lies beneath their town, collecting the most valuable artifact they can find, and then escaping before the resident dragon catches and kills them. You may recall that I previously reviewed Clank! In! Space! which is actually newer and slightly more complex than Clank!, but my own preference is for fantasy themes over sci-fi if possible, so I’ve been keen to jump into the original game for a while now.

As I mentioned above, the first thing I noticed about playing Clank! having already played a fair bit of Clank! In! Space! was the relative simplicity of the original, even though the two games are mechanically very similar. Each player begins the deck with an identical starter deck of ten cards, which are then shuffled. The players draw five cards to form their starting hands. On the board, relics and other treasures will be drawn and placed randomly depending on the number of players, and a large deck of cards including abilities, companions and monsters will be shuffled, and several cards will be drawn to begin the game.

The players will then take a number of cubes in their colour (indicating noise) and place them into a black bag, along with a number of black dragon cubes. Again, this is largely determined based on the player count, but it’s easy enough to set up and get to grips with. Play then begins with the starting player using any number of their cards in hand to take actions. Cards will usually provide one or more of the three key resources – boots, swords and gold. Boots enable the player character to move into (or out of) the dungeon, whilst swords allow them to vanquish foes, and gold can be used to buy new cards or upgrades from the store.

During the early game, the players will move slowly, generate little gold and can rarely attack effectively. The aim of the game during these early rounds is to build up a a more effective deck so that as you discard, reshuffle and redraw your hand, you become progressively more powerful. By the mid game, you’ll likely be looking for cards that begin to thin your deck so that you can focus only on the cards you really want, whilst at the end, you’ll want to focus on a very small number of specific cards that get you out of the dungeon as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This might go without saying, but the better the card, the more expensive it will likely be to purchase, and there are very few cards that offer resources of more than one, let alone all three kinds. A trade off that Clank! makes that is unique is that of noise – which is the cubes added into the black bag. Powerful cards that generate lots of resources are often noisier, meaning more of your cubes will be added and in turn, some of the cards that are added to the shop will show a dragon symbol.

When such a card is drawn, the player who drew it will then take cubes from the bag – damaging any player who has a cube of their colour drawn. If you end up with enough of your cubes filling up your health track, then you’ll die – and if you’re in the depths of the dungeon, that’s game over. Thankfully, the game features a slightly gentler mechanic for players who have escaped at least half way out of the dungeon, but even though the villagers will rescue you at that point, it will cost you.

The winner of Clank! is always the player who escapes the dungeon and has the most total points on cards, relics and other treasures they have collected, less any potential deductions for being rescued or similar. Some players will do well by choosing to focus on grabbing a high value relic (usually deeper in the dungeon) and then rushing back out without too much concern for other point scoring methods, whilst others might focus more on scoring by defeating enemy minions, then they’ll take a more accessible relic and beat an easier retreat.

There’s no “best” strategy to the best of my knowledge, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Clank! does ask players to choose between a slower, safer approach and a more bombastic one – and in making that choice the game really comes to life. It’s tough to articulate in words how it really feels to play a game like this which uses traditional, turn based mechanics whilst also generating a lot of turn by turn momentum. To put it in as simple terms as I can though, the way I feel about playing Clank! is that I want to rush to (and through) my turn because by the time I am ready to make my escape, I am so immersed in the “pace” of the game that I actually feel compelled to act faster.

In summary, I think Clank! deserves its position as one of the best deckbuilding games out there. I personally prefer it to Clank! In! Space! mainly because of the theme, but also to an extent because it is just so clean and simple. That said, I’d also say that In! Space! is far from complex, so if the theme appeals to you more, you might as well start there. Clank! is a fantastic near-gateway game that would make an excellent introduction to deckbuilding games, whilst at the same time providing a ton of replayability and fun for gamers of all experience levels.

**** 4/5

Clank! is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator.


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