Game Name: Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure
Designer: Paul Dennen
Artists: Rayph Beisner, Raul Ramos, and Nate Storm
Genre: A deck building dungeon delve
Players: Two to four players (Solitaire play available through the companion app)
Playing Time: Around sixty minutes
Outside the Box
One of the hottest releases to arrive on the scene over the last year or so is Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure from Renegade Game Studios and it was certainly a title I’ve been looking forward to playing. Even my good buddy, game designer Hermann Luttmann, had been raving about the game and he’s definitely someone who’s opinion I value. Thankfully, Renegade’s Sara Erickson was kind enough to provide me a review copy and I’ve had the opportunity to get Clank! to the table quite a few times in the past month.
Let’s find out if Clank! is worthy of all the buzz and positive word of mouth, shall we?
Of course, the Outside the Box video above shows off the components but I have to say I was immediately struck by the very Eurostyle look of Clank! Most deck building games are usually focused on cards, cards, and more cards. You do run across some deck builders with game boards, or tokens, or a combination of the two (Thunderstone and the Legendary series come immediately to mind) but not normally to the extent we see with Clank! Obviously, I thought to myself, this looks to be something a bit different.
Everything in the box is nicely presented as the dual-sided board is sturdy, the tokens thick, the cards of good stock, and the wooden tokens and cubes solidly produced. I found the draw bag with the stitched dragon logo, as well as the oversized wooden dragon marker, to be especially nice touches. I will mention I found the artwork to be effective yet just a smidge boring. Truthfully though, deck building games aren’t widely known for eye popping artwork to the extent as say a collectible card game. All in all, I feel the production is very well done by Renegade.
The premise of Clank! is that, unlike that hobbit charlatan those dwarves hired a while back, each player is a relatively skilled burglar attempting to sneak into an underground lair in order to make off with various artifacts and loot. Your biggest priority is to snag an artifact and (hopefully) make it back out alive. Whoever escapes with the most valuable treasures and scores the most victory points will be declared the victor. This is easier said than done since there are monsters to be defeated, other burglars to be bested, and a rather cranky and noise sensitive dragon to be dealt with.
Setting up the game will take a little bit of time as there are a lot of specific tokens which must be placed on designated areas of the board. It’s not an extraordinary long set up, since you won’t need to randomly select what cards will be in play (ala Dominion), but you also don’t just grab a bunch of decks to begin as in some card games. Once the tokens are all laid out, you’ll shuffle the one hundred card dungeon deck and deal six of them below the board to form a Dungeon Row. Be sure to replace any card showing a dragon attack icon with one which does not from the deck as you begin. You’ll also set aside small decks of mercenary, explore, and secret tome cards – as well as a single goblin monster card – to be used as the reserve. Next toss all the black dragons cubes into the drawbag and, depending on the number of players, place the dragon token on the appropriate space on her Rage Track.
Finally, all the players take their thirty cubes of a corresponding color to keep nearby while placing their burglar token on the board outside the dungeon. Once the players have shuffled their ten card starting deck and drawn five cards from it you’ll be ready to begin. The rules suggest the sneakiest player at the table is designated the first player but you can choose randomly if you’d like.
An interesting wrinkle to Clank! is the fact there are three resources many of the cards, which will find a way into your deck, may provide: Skill, Swords, and Boots. Skill is used to purchase additional cards, Swords are used to defeat monsters, and Boots allow you to move throughout the dungeon. As with most deck building games, your starter deck will be stocked with relatively weak cards which provide small amounts of these resources. Cards may also contain text which provide additional benefits, or perhaps penalties, when played or if certain prerequisites are achieved during that player’s turn.
Each turn a player may choose play as many of their five cards as they’d like in any order. These cards are resolved in the order played to perform the following actions:
Move about the dungeon – Simply enough you’ll spend Boots in order to traverse along the spaces on the board. Keep your eyes peeled though as some spaces will require two Boots to move into, some are monster tunnels which require you to spend Swords or you take damage, and Crystal Caves prevent further Boots to be spent on your turn. There are also paths which show a padlock which needs a Master Key to pass along. You may also find yourself in an area which contains tokens (Artifacts, Major Secrets, Minor Secrets, or Monkey Idols) and, if so, you can take only one of them.
Buy a card from the Dungeon Row – You just spend Skill to acquire a card from the row. You won’t get to use this card right away as it gets placed in your discard pile. I will mention the Dungeon Row is only refreshed once during the turn so sometimes it’s not a bad idea to purchase cards to simply keep them out of your opponents’ decks.
Fight a monster in the Dungeon Row – Spend those Sword points to lay a beat down on a monster and claim the one-time benefit which is normally found on its card. Once the monster is defeated the card gets placed into the Dungeon discard pile.
Purchase a card from the Reserve – Spend skill to buy a card from one of the three decks in the Reserve. The explore card provides two Boots and a Skill when played; the tome card is worth VPs; the mercenary card provides one Skill and two Swords when played. A player may also smack around the ever present goblin by paying one gold in order to gain two Swords for use that turn. While monsters will show up in the Dungeon Row, it isn’t as if there are a huge number of them so you probably shouldn’t go hog wild buying mercenaries.
Interact with your location in the dungeon – Some spaces will allow you to gain gold or heal health (more on that in a moment) while others are designated as Markets. While there you may buy a master key (to allow you through padlocked paths), a backpack (which allows you to carry an additional artifact), or a crown (worth seven to ten VPs) and all the items in the Market cost a flat rate of seven gold.
Use a Device – Device cards are purchased from the Dungeon Row but aren’t added to a player’s deck. These items are kept on the side until a player wishes to use the one shot ability it provides and then the card is placed in the Dungeon discard.
As each player’s turn progresses it’s possible the cards they play will generate noise (thus the name Clank!) either for themselves or for their opponents. For each point of Clank that player will place a cube from their inventory into a special area of the board. Some cards will actually allow you to remove cubes from the area as well and you’ll want to try to have as few Clank cubes in that area when the dragon attacks.
You didn’t think I forgot about that dragon did you?
Nictotraxian (or Nicki for short) is the queen of Dragon Keep and she’s an especially nasty sort. Not only will stealing her artifacts, and possibly her eggs, enrage her but she’ll be more apt to deal damage to noisier thieves. Each time a player snags an artifact or dragon egg, the dragon marker will advance along the track. This marker shows how many cubes will be drawn for that attack. Whenever the cards in the Dungeon Row are refreshed and a new card shows a dragon icon an attack takes place. There’s only one attack regardless of how many cards show an icon though. When the attack is initiated all of the cubes are taken from the Clank! area of the board and placed into the draw bag. The number of cubes drawn from the bag (two to five) are determined by where the dragon token is on the Rage Track.
Black cubes drawn during the attack have no effect but if a player’s cube is pulled it will be placed on their health track on the board. That represents the damage they’ve taken and once a thief reaches ten cubes on their track they are knocked out. This is why doing your best to not generate Clank (or aiming to dish out Clank to other players) is very important; more colored cubes in the drawbag means a higher likelihood damage will be dealt to the burglars as the cubes drawn are not returned to the bag.
You may recall the object of Clank! is to grab the loot and escape from the keep. At some point in the game, one of the players is going to decide it’s time to make a getaway while the getting is good or going to be knocked out. Either of these triggers the end game. The player who exited first, or was KO’ed, will place their token on the Countdown Track. From here on out that player will effectively no longer take a turn but will move their token along this track instead. The other players will still take their turns as normal but it’s probably a good idea for them to begin making their way back to the surface because, once the countdown begins, a dragon attack will take place every turn with an increase in the number of cubes drawn each time. On the fourth turn of the countdown any player who has not escaped the keep is knocked out.
It’s important to note being knocked out doesn’t necessarily mean you lose the game. The board is clearly marked to show both above ground and below ground areas. If a player is KO’ed above ground the villagers will find the thief and save them so that player will still score VPs for their loot. On the other hand, if a player is KO’ed below ground then it’s so long burglar and the player scores nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Actually escaping the keep in one piece also nets that player an extra twenty victory points.
Once everyone has escaped or been knocked out, eligible players will calculate their VPs from the artifacts, idols, secrets, merchant items, cards purchased if they scow victory points, and gold (each gold is worth one VP) to get a final score. The highest total is the winner and, in the case of a tie, the player with the most valuable artifact is named the greatest thief in the land!
I have to report we’ve had a blast playing Clank! While I can’t say any one particular mechanic of the design stands out as new or revolutionary, since we have seen them before, the way they all mesh together certainly is a breath of fresh air. I especially love the variety of approaches and tactics one can utilize in order to try and come away with the win. Do you want to focus on “zipping in and zipping out” to leave your opponents in the dust? Feel free. Perhaps you want to push your luck more than most and aim for the big scores? You can. Maybe you’re the type of player who loves to be a fly in the ointment to everyone else around the table and have Nicki beat them up? Check. You can also try for a balanced strategy where you can try and react to someone else’s tactics as they emerge as well.
I will note a couple members of the Gang felt the end game of Clank was a bit weaker than they would have liked when the Countdown is initiated but I personally had no issue with it. Granted, they also made a mad dash to the exit once the timing mechanism began rather than considering there may have been a bigger VP haul by hitting a few more stops along the way to getting above ground. My only real quibble with the design is the fact it’s a bit harder to cull cards from your deck in Clank! than it is in most other deck building games. I tend to do my best to tune a deck into a lean and mean victory machine and, while there are ways to burn cards from your deck, I felt there was still a bit of bloat to my deck every time I played. In the end, just a quibble and not a real knock on the design.
Lastly, I’ll mention Clank! scales exceptionally well regardless of how many players you have and I had just as much fun with two players as I did with three or four. I did notice a two player game seems to boil down more toward a one upsmanship experience as each of us seemed to push our luck to get more valuable loot as opposed to simply making a dash to the surface. With three and four players, our gameplay trended toward one player going just far enough to grab some sweet VPs before becoming a free for all race to the egress.
I can certainly see why Clank! has received such positive word of mouth since its release as it’s a whole ton of fun! Some folks might be a little concerned with the retail price but I can assure them that this is a game just packed with replay value as not only do you have a variety of strategies you can try out at the table but there’s also two dungeons to explore which will suit your skill level. If you do pick up the game don’t forget to download the Renegade companion app as well since it enhances your game and even includes a solo mode.
I absolutely love Clank! and I’m chopping at the bit to see what Sunken Treasures and the upcoming Clank! In Space will add to the proceedings. Although I can’t recommend the game enough, I do have a bone to pick with Renegade Game Studios and Direwolf Digital. They’ve made my life as a reviewer harder because, now when I bring new games from other companies to the table, the rest of the Gang keeps asking to play more Clank!