Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer: Paul Dennen
  • Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
  • Players: 1 – 4
  • Ages: 12 and Up
  • Time: 30-60 Minutes
  • Times Played: 5

Clank3dBox

Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure has been one of the hottest games of the past few months.  Not only has the game been selling well (many outlets are sold out), but it has repeatedly been atop the BGG Hotness list, and it garnered a few nominations for the Golden Geek awards.  It is increasingly looking like Clank will break into the BGG Top 100 in the next few weeks.  

I’ve been really impressed by my five plays, so I wanted to do a quick review, with comments by more than a dozen other Opinionated Gamers.

The Gameplay

In Clank!, players sneak into a dungeon to steal treasure.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a risk-free adventure: if they make any noise while in the dungeon — represented by clank cubes — then they risk drawing the dragon’s attention and bringing his wrath.  In short, you’re trying to get into the dungeon, steal as much treasure as possible, and then escape before you die from a dragon attack.  

As the name implies, Clank! is a deck-building adventure.  Players start the game with ten cards.  Eight of these offer you valuable resources, but two of them cause you to stumble and make noise, adding clank and potentially drawing the dragon’s ire.

Stumble

Clank!  Stop making so much noise!

On your turn, you draw up five cards from your deck.  Cards tend to have one of three resources: skill (used to buy goods), swords (used to fight the monsters in the dungeon), and/or boots (used to move around the dungeon).  Some cards have other non-resource powers, as demonstrated by the text on the card.  For example, some give you coins, others allow you to draw more cards, etc.  

Burgle

This card gives you two skill to buy other cards.

Once you’ve drawn your cards, you can start using the resources.  You have several options, and you can do option each multiple times, and in any order.

  • You can buy cards with skill from a face-up row of six (called the Dungeon Row).  This is how you build your deck, and any cards you buy go into your discard pile.  The cards in Dungeon Row won’t refresh until the end of your next turn.
  • You can fight any monsters that are in the Dungeon Row.  Beating a monster usually awards you a special one-time benefit, then the card leaves the game (i.e. they don’t go into your discard pile).  
  • You can buy standard cards, which are separate from those in Dungeon Row.  Mercenary Cards have one skill and two attack.  Explore Cards have two skill and one boot.  Secret Tomes don’t give you any resources, but they are worth a respectable number of victory points.  And if you have any leftover sword resources, you can attack the Goblin for one coin.  
  • You can interact with the game board.  Some places are “market” spaces where you can buy crowns (worth victory points), locks (which let you cross through padlock spaces on the game board), or a backpack (which lets you carry an extra artifact).  Other spaces can give you resources like coins or hearts.  
  • You can move around the dungeon.  Each boot generally lets you move one space, but you must stop in crystal caverns if you go to one, and some spaces require two movement.  Additionally, to move through monster spaces, you’ll either need to use swords or take damage.  

When you’re done, you put your used cards in your discard pile and draw five new cards, like in most standard deck-building games.    

Movement is the key to the game.  You go around the game board collecting treasures.  There are several “artifact” spaces below ground.  Without a backpack, you can carry one artifact, and they are worth up to 30 points, depending on how difficult they are to find.  You can also discover various other treasures on other spaces.  

ClankBoard

The Game Board

Of course, as you move around the dungeon, you’ll likely be causing the dragon to get angrier and angrier.  Taking an artifact makes noise, which moves the dragon along the Rage Track (shown on the bottom right of the game board).  This shows how many clank cubes will be drawn during the dragon attack.  This track can also advance if players discover a dragon egg under ground.  

Clank is an important part of the game.  Clank gets put on the banner on the top right of the board when you play a stumble card or certain other cards.  When the Dungeon Row is refreshed, if a card with the dragon symbol is shown, you put all of the accumulated clank cubes in a bag and draw out the number shown on the Rage Track.  The game starts with 24 neutral cubes, so early attacks aren’t so bad, but as players accumulate more and more clank, the attacks become treacherous.  

When clank of your color is drawn, it gets put on the Health Meter on the bottom left of the game board.  When your meter is full, you die.

The point of the game is to go down below ground, get as much treasure as you can, and then escape, accumulating victory points along the way.  The game ends four rounds after the first player escapes by making it to the space on the top left of the game board.  If you escape, you get a 20 VP chip, which is quite valuable since a good score seems to be around 100 points.  

Assuming you make it back above ground before you die or before the game ends, your score will be the sum of your victory point chips and the points on your cards, regardless of whether you escaped.  

Of course, you might not make it above ground, in which case you get no points.  You shouldn’t have made so much noise!

Clank in Action

Photo Credit: Brandon Kempf

My Thoughts on the Game

I’ve greatly enjoyed my plays of Clank, and I see why the game has been so popular in recent months.  Clank takes the deck-building mechanic and cleverly integrates it into a press-your-luck board game with a cool theme.  This feels like the deck-building of Dominion combined with the press-your-luck element of Deep Sea Adventure, and given how much I like both of those games, it is only natural that I like Clank.  

The fun, at least to me, is in timing the game and deciding how much treasure to go for, while also balancing how much noise you make.  I’ll admit it: I’m that guy that always rushes below ground, grabs as much treasure as he can, and then heads straight for the exit, in hopes of catching his opponents underground.  It isn’t really a winning strategy most of the time (I haven’t won with it), but it is a fun one nonetheless.  

It is especially enjoyable to watch other players sweat out those dragon attacks, and this game always seems to have a tense ending.  I’ve died one space from the exit — just one space! — and I’ve had one game end in that will-they-or-won’t they tension that makes cheer and jeer around the table.  

One of the joys of Clank is just how many viable strategies there are.  You can win buy buying great cards, getting the high-value treasures (and likely not escaping), or taking the bonus 20 points for escaping.  The variety of the cards, and the varying paths on the map, make this a highly replayable game.  

Though I think this is clearly a game for experienced gamers, Clank is surprisingly easy to learn.  The deck-building element comes naturally, especially for those of us that have played Dominion, and the movement around the board is intuitive.  

On the downside, with a string of bad luck, a player can be eliminated a half hour before the game is over.  Additionally, the game doesn’t really have a natural timer, and I’ve had a couple of plays go longer than I felt that they should (although I’ve already admitted that I’m the guy that likes to rush for the exit).  Those concerns make it unlikely that Clank will replace Dominion as my go-to deck-building game, but I’d still say this is a solid example of the genre.  

Overall, I’m impressed.  I’ve greatly enjoyed my five plays, and I’d happily play this again. Clank is deep (no pun intended) and highly replayable, and it deserves the praise heaped upon it in recent months.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Greg S:  I’ve only played once, but was pleasantly surprised.  The deck-builder genre exploded in the wake of Dominion and has probably reached that “Enough!” point for me.  The fantasy, dungeon crawl theme reached that point a LONG, LONG time ago.  So, I wasn’t very keen on giving Clank a try.  After hearing some positive buzz, however, I played and rather enjoyed it.  It is a fun and engaging marriage of mechanism and theme, and I rather enjoyed the race aspect, which adds tension.  While I don’t think it is a great game, it is fun to play.  

Mary P: I played one and a half times (I had an appointment; a friend took over – although I hear they had to drag my dead body from the dungeon so it didn’t go so well for me). I enjoyed the games for the most part. In my first game, the person who set it up and taught it only put one token on each of the “?” spaces instead of 2 (four player game); it was rather harsh. I am really looking forward to playing a full game with the right rules!

Michael W: I’ve enjoyed each my 3 plays. I think there may be a small issue with one of the board’s sides where there’s a treasure space connected to the exit by too few spaces. In each of our games we consciously chose not to race to it and back out just to not hurt our play. I definitely will play again (and might even pick this one up for my own shelf), but will make sure to try the back side next time (the side that Chris took a full picture of).

Alan How: I’ve only played twice but enjoyed both games. I felt that there may be a first player advantage but that was wrong – it just depends how the cards come out. I like the options presented by the cards and with only two games I doubt I’ve seen them all, let alone considered what is the best way to play. I ordered the expansion based on my two games so that might indicate how much I liked the game. On my second game I died (just like Chris) one space from home and I later found out that only two of my cubes were in the bag out of 20+ so I felt that I deserved better luck. Hey-ho and there’s another game to replay and get out with more certainty next time.

Mark Jackson: Evidently, I’m right smack dab in the middle of the target audience… I’ve played 20 times (3 of them with the new Sunken Treasures expansion). Gamer buddies, my 15 year old & 12 year old son… and pretty much everyone who played my copy at Gulf Games were all smitten by this really clever blend of dungeon plunge & deck-building game.

I’m a big fan of the dungeon crawl classic Dungeonquest… and this feels a lot like somebody finally update DQ with modern game design techniques. (Others have mentioned Ascension – this could well be the love child of Dungeonquest & Ascension.)

I want to note a trio of things about the game that we really like:

  • There’s color text… but it’s small and doesn’t make the cards hard to read. (And some of it, especially in the expansion, is pretty clever.)
  • The card graphic design is really smart – they are easy to understand what the card does for you.
  • While the box says it works for 2-4 players, we’ve found that the tension with two players is less and therefore focus on playing with 3 or 4 players.

Finally, I want to say nice things about the expansion (Sunken Treaures)… it adds variety to the game without making overwhelming changes.

Matt Carlson:  I had heard nothing about this game but my friends were excited at the chance to play it at a recent gaming day.   I do like deckbuilding and thought the linking of deckbuilding and a game board had promise.  (I liked Trains, for example.)  I have only played it once so far and did not enjoy the game. I had fun playing with my friends, but the game played little part of my enjoyment.  I was the last player and felt I was behind the eight ball from the start.  The tableau of cards may or may not be all that useful, but it tends to be a good thing if you can be the first to enter a room.  It took me about three turns before I was able to get somewhere that had not yet been explored, making me feel a turn or two behind for the rest of the game.  Possibly due to a freakish “clank” draw, even though I had the fewest cubes in the sack, I spent the entire game with the most cubes drawn onto the board.  In fact, most of my enjoyment of the game was the dark humor of just how unfavorably my clank cubes were being drawn.  At the end of the game I was almost dead, few others were close and I had possibly one or two cubes left in the bag which held well over a dozen.  I had even gone out of my way to remove my clank though card buys.  Near the end it was clear I couldn’t compete on the board and I was able to start scooping up points via buying cards but it was only enough to catch up to the pack.  The first player won handily with two artifacts and escaping to the surface.  One play is not enough to make a firm judgement on a game, but the random factors in my game seemed to conspire against me.  Thankfully it isn’t an overly-long game, but that isn’t exactly grand praise.  I would be willing to play it again to give it another shot, but I would not be the one to suggest it.  There are too many other games out there I’m much more interested in exploring.

Craig M. (6 plays): Deck building games haven’t grabbed me as a whole. I keep thinking it is an interesting mechanism in search for a really good game and theme. Clank gets closer to this than any previous attempt. The mechanics and theme complement each other and most importantly, it is fun! The struggle between how deep to dig and when to make a run for it creates a nice tension. You have to keep an eye on the other players and their plans. And if you make it out first, there is a something very satisfying watching the dragon attack while everyone scrambles to get above ground. I kept thinking in my initial plays that the game was begging for a licensed theme. Something along the lines of trying to escape from Moria in the Lord of the Rings. I’m sure there are other potential thematic fits as well. I’m happy to play this whenever it is requested.

Dale Y (2 plays): I just got in my first two plays of this at the Gathering of Friends. It’s a pleasant enough game – you get to pretend that you have some control over things with the deckbuilding – though it’s a tactical sort of thing (like Ascension) as the cards on offer change constantly.  It can really suck sometimes when you have a great hand set up and then there aren’t any good cards to be had!  (Of course, it’s just as likely that this happens to your opponents, so you just gotta roll with it).  The randomness of the Clank bag also helps keep things exciting.  This game is a fun dungeon dive with a little bit of deckbuilding thrown in on the side.  Games don’t last too long, so even if you’re hosed by lady luck, it’s not that tough of a pill to swallow.

Tery N (6 plays): I love deckbuilders and I enjoy a good dungeon crawl, so I was excited to give this one a try last November and have enjoyed every play ever since. I have gone first, last and in-between and do not think start position is much of a disadvantage; sure, other players may have picked up some of the bonus tiles along the way, but there is always more than one route into the dungeon and other options along the way. The board is two-sided, with one side being more difficult than the other, depending on the preference of the players. There is a very large deck of cards, so you don’t know what will be coming up; I enjoy the challenge of developing a good strategy based on the cards that are available. The randomness of the Clank bag adds some fun and unpredictability to the game; it’s also usually a good timer that ensures the game doesn’t go on too long.

Brian L (1 play): There is no doubt a fair bit of randomness to this game, but nonetheless I enjoyed my one play with three players. The blending of board movement, deck building and random cube draws from the board gives plenty of moments of good tension that match the theme well. I am looking forward to testing this game as a bit of a gateway with people that I know who are not hardcore gamers, but do dabble into lighter fare. I expect my rating will stay the same or improve.

Eric E (3 plays):  I play almost all the deck builders that come out and this was no different.  I got in a few plays and I have to say it is a good one. The excitement added with the bag draw is enough to keep more mediocre players engaged when otherwise they may tire of the mechanics.  For me, I like it all around.  Good art, fun “hook”, and good mechanics.  I haven’t played it solo yet but want to try it with the app soon.

Fraser (1 play): My first thoughts when playing this was this is Deep Sea Adventure meets Ascension or Dominion with added Dungeon theme.  When reading this I saw that Chris agreed.  So far I have only played it four player and I enjoyed it and would be happy to play it again, it works well.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Mark Jackson, Craig M., Tery N, Erik Arneson, Eric E.
  • I like it.  Chris Wray, Eric M., Nathan Beeler, Mary Prasad, Michael W., Alan How, Dale Y, Brian L., Fraser
  • Neutral. Matt C.
  • Not for me…

 

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Photo Credit: Chris Mruzik

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