Game Review – Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure

Game Overview

Designer: Paul Dennen
Artists: Rayph Beisner, Raul Ramos, and Nate Storm
Publisher: Renegade Game Studios and Dire Wolf Digital
MSRP: $60.00
Players: 2–4 (There is also a single-player mode in the free companion app.)
Play Time: 1 hour
Target Age Range: 13+ (I’d say 10+)
Published: 2016

DSC_5934 - shoppedI have very strong mixed feelings about this game. Essentially, I caught myself looking at Clank! from two different perspectives. On the one hand, Clank! is a lot of fun to play, particularly once you get a good handle on the rules and setup. On the other hand, a part of me is naturally looking at the games I play and weighing how well they will work as part of a board game cafe’s library, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Clank! under those criteria. But I’ll go into that later in the review.

Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure took the world by storm in 2016 and has already led to an expansion and a full-on space-themed sequel game. As its subtitle suggests, Clank! is a deck-building game crossed with a classic dungeon delve. Players take the roles of sneaky rogues, competing to enter a dragon’s lair and steal objects of the most value without getting eaten by the dragon. While in the dungeon, they can use Skill points to buy additional cards to improve their decks, Boot points to move through the dungeon, and Sword points to fight monsters. The art is lovely, and most of the components are of high quality. There are an enormous amount of those components, and it suffers from the need to reorganize a lot of cards the same way any deck-building game does, but as a whole, it’s a lot of fun.

Clank! is designed for 2 to 4 players, and I’ve played it with both 2 and 3. It works well at both those counts, and I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work for 4. The free Renegade companion app also provides a single-player option, as well as a mini-expansion. In the mini-expansion, players tap the screen each time any of three actions occurs, and those actions will trigger mini-events at random—certain cards and tokens are destroyed and no longer available to purchase, for example. We only tried the multi-player basic version, though, so I can’t give a full review on either. I did take a fairly close look at both, though, and they do seem like fun.

Gameplay (8.5/10)

So later in this review, I’ll discuss my problems with the setup, as far as gameplay goes, this game is a lot of fun. If you like deck building as a mechanic, Clank! does a great job of implementing it, and even if you’re not a big fan, it’s implemented in such a way that it’s not the entirety of the game. Dominion is the granddaddy of deck building and the game that everyone tends to hold up as a comparison, but Clank! does a great job of differentiating it. There’s a wide enough range of cards in the dungeon deck that you can expect to have a different experience each time you play.

I definitely love the concept of the clank tokens, though, and the idea of drawing them from the bag. If you’re not familiar with the game, here’s how it works. There is a black bag with a dragon on the front that contains 24 small, black, wooden cubes inside. In addition to these, each player has a pool in front of them of 30 cubes matching their meeple’s color indicating a resource called “clank.” On the board is an area labeled “Clank!” and, when played, certain cards force players to add clank from the pool in front of them to this area (or allow them to subtract clank from the area). When certain cards are flipped over, the dragon attacks, and all of the clank on the board is gathered up and put into the bag holding the black cubes. Based on a few different conditions, the player who triggered the dragon attack then shakes up the cubes and draws a number of them from the bag. Any cubes that are drawn from the bag represent damage done to the player whose color matches the cube. (Black cubes mean no damage is done.)

I love this concept because, as the game progresses and black cubes are removed from the bag, it means the danger each player faces grows. It’s a very cool way to play with statistics, and it does a good job of representing the attention that player is drawing from the dragon. Based on that, players have to decide how daring they want to be each game; DSC_5942 - shoppeddo they want to grab the first artifact they see and escape the dungeon, forcing the other players to rush as well, or do they dare to delve deeper and bring back artifacts in greater value and number?

Theme (8/10)

The theme of exploring a dungeon with the ever-present threat of a dragon (or other, smaller monsters) is well handled in this game. There are several reasons for players to add clank to the pool, and they each feel like legitimate reasons their character would draw the dragon’s attention. Because the Secret tokens are shuffled and placed in new locations each game, you never know what you might find, and there are plenty of Secrets to find across the entirety of the dragon’s lair. It definitely feels like you’re in a race with the other players to get in, grab treasure, and get out, so that urgency is well-portrayed. The cube-drawing mechanic feels original and does a great job of representing the growing rage of the dragon at having her lair encroached upon, and there’s definitely a feeling of discovery as you go through both the deck of cards and the different secrets.

Visual/Physical Appeal (8.5/10)

I love the graphical appeal of this game, and although the player meeples are very minimalist, they’re customized to the game just enough that they fit it. The artwork is very high quality, making each of the monsters you face feel well fleshed out. The cards are good quality, too, and I enjoyed playing with them. And even though it’s got a pretty simple design, that dragon marker is pretty cool.

DSC_5940 - shoppedThe tokens feel just a little bit flimsy, though not overly so. With there being so many of them (and believe me, there are a ton of them), I understand the need to cut costs a bit, though, and the artwork on them is vibrant and makes up for it a bit. It’s a minor complaint, but it’s worth mentioning.

The faux velvet bag is a nice tough, and it does feel kind of cool each time you reach into the bag to see who gets attacked by the dragon, but I do wish it had been just a tad nicer quality. (It felt a bit stiff in my hands.) But as a whole? A very high production quality for this game.

The insert does a lot of things really well, but then drops the ball in a big way. I love that there are three slots for the cards, because for a quick setup, you need to have the cards divided into three sections—the cards that go in the players’ starter decks, the cards for the reserve row, and the cards for the dungeon deck. Being able to store them separately is awesome. There are also small bags included to keep each color’s clank cubes separate from the rest. There’s even a cool little notch to fit the dragon marker.

DSC_5956 - shopped

My problem, though, is the rest of the tokens. All of the other tokens are kept in a single bag, but they need to be sorted before each game. That includes the following:

  • 7 artifacts
  • 11 major secrets
  • 18 minor secrets
  • 7 items for purchase in the market section of the dungeon
    • 2 master keys
    • 2 backpacks
    • 3 crowns
  • 3 monkey idols
  • 4 mastery tokens
  • bunch of gold (which is the same relative size as the minor secrets, and some minor secrets even show gold on one side)

DSC_5939 - shopped

It delays the setup of the game significantly. This is definitely a game I would want to get a custom insert for.

 

Setup Time (10–15 minutes)/Play Time (~30–60 minutes)

This is my biggest beef with this game, and I’ll admit, with a shorter setup time, the overall score for the game would probably be an 8.5. That said, the setup time was almost enough to make me drop it to a 7.5, because it’s long. I suspect that, if you have more than one player who’s familiar with the setup, that can be cut down quite a bit, though, so take that as you will.

The long setup time is due to just how many tiny pieces there are for this game, and all of them are incredibly easy to lose. Each of these tokens has to be set in the proper place before the game begins. Then, in addition to the tokens listed above, there are also 144 small wooden “clank” cubes (30 for each player, plus 24 dragon cubes). Meanwhile, the game includes 173 cards that have to be sorted at the beginning of the game, but which get thoroughly mixed into players’ decks over the course of play.

Because there are (in addition to the board) multiple rows of cards that need to be laid out for players, as well as 5 discard piles (one for each player, and one for the dungeon deck), each player’s personal stash of gold, treasures, and secrets, and each player’s personal supply of Clank cubes, the game takes up quite a bit of real estate. If possible, you’ll want a table with plenty of space.

Complexity (Rank 6)/Teach Time (~10 minutes)

The game is complex, but it’s also pretty straightforward once you’ve learned it. There are a lot of little things to explain, which is what makes the teach time long, but once you’ve got the rules under your belt, there’s not much to it. A good teacher might be able to cut down that teach time, but I’d be rather impressed if they did. The game’s weakness here actually arises from one of its strengths. It’s such an interesting looking game that it’s easy to get impatient while learning and setting up the game. You don’t want to waste time learning—you want to play, darn it!

Replayability (8/10)

There’s a lot of opportunity for variation each time you play, what with all the randomization. There are major secrets that could be in any of 11 slots. There are minor secrets that could show up almost anywhere, and some might not even be in the game. If there are fewer than 4 players, one or two artifacts are removed from play. Some cards only have an effect if you have collected a particular treasure or bought another card. The dragon’s attacks are always the luck of the draw, and the board is double-sided to give you a completely different experience. Excellent job there, Renegade.

Overall (8/10)

When it comes to actually sitting down and playing this game, I really loved it. My complaints have nothing to do with the gameplay, and everything to do with the setup times and the number of pieces that are so easy to lose. And that’s the main reason I would recommend this for someone’s personal collection but not for a board game cafe’s library. Those pieces are far too easy to lose, and setting up the board and teaching the game to patrons who have never played it before would take way too long.

That said, I enjoy this game a lot, and I’m very interested in checking out both the expansion, Clank! Sunken Treasure, and the sequel game that came out recently, Clank! In! Space! I’ll definitely keep it in my personal collection, and I’ll probably have it available in an archive area of my cafe—but probably just for patrons who are already familiar with it. I’m still looking forward to playing it again, though!

— The Innkeeper

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