Sound Chaser--A Double-Take Review of Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure

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Dragons. Notoriously grumpy, and not fans of people swiping their gold. Well too bad, dragon! We’re coming for your stuff! In Clank! players are heading down to the depths of the dungeon to get as much loot as possible and make it out before the dragon wakes up. It’s a mix of push-your-luck mechanisms and deck-building. So does Clank! make a joyful noise, or does it bring the noise AND the funk? (Funk being terrible.) Let’s find out!


 Embroidragon!

Embroidragon!

The Components

  • 1 double-sided game board

  • 4 player pawns

  • Reserve cards—15 each of Mercenary, Explore, Secret Tome; 1 Goblin

  • Four 10-card starting decks

  • 100 Dungeon cards

  • 120 wooden Clank! cubes (30 in each player color)

  • 24 Dragon cubes

  • 1 Dragon bag

  • 1 Dragon marker

  • Gold tokens

  • Other tokens, for Artifacts, Secrets, Idols and Store items


The Setup

 The famous golden bananas…

The famous golden bananas…

  • Place Artifacts on the designated spots on the board. If you’re playing with fewer players than 4, you’ll randomly remove some before placing them.

  • Place a random Major Secret on each of their spaces, and place 2 random Minor Secrets on each of their spaces.

  • Place the Market items on the Market area, and the three Monkey Idols on their spaces.

  • Place the Dragon marker on the appropriate space of the Rage track for the number of players. Place all of the Dragon cubes in the Dragon bag and set it aside.

  • Set out the Reserve cards into piles, and place the Goblin card out.

  • Shuffle the Dungeon deck and deal out six cards in a row. If any of the cards have Dragon Attack symbol, set that card aside and draw a new one. Then shuffle the deck again, including any Dragon Attack cards you set aside.

  • Each player places his or her pawn on the space outside the dungeon, shuffles their starting deck, and draws five cards.

  • Choose a start player, and then each player places a number of Clank! cubes into the Clank! area of the board based on turn order.


 Starter Cards

Starter Cards

The Gameplay

As with most conventional deck-builders, you play out your cards and spend any “currency” as you wish. In Clank!, there are three different currencies.

Skill—You use this to buy Dungeon cards from the lineup. Most cards go into your discard and will help you later as you draw and play them. There are a few Dungeon cards that are purple, and considered Devices. You pay for and use these cards once for their ability, and discard them.

Boot—For each Boot on your cards you can move from one room to the next, via passages. There are a few restrictions on this.

 dungeon cards

dungeon cards

  • Some passages have a Footprint icon on them, and you’ll have to use two Boot icons to move through them.

  • Some passages have a Monster icon on them, and you’ll also have to spend a Sword (the third currency) to pass it, or take a damage.

  • Some passages have a Lock icon on them, and you can ONLY use that passage if you’ve purchased the Master Key from the Market.

  • Some passages have arrows on them, and you can only move through that passage in the direction of the arrow.

  • Some rooms are made of Crystal, and if you move into one of those you have to stop, even if you have more Boots. (You spend time wandering around these vast caverns, so lose your walking mojo.)

 the brutal side of the board

the brutal side of the board

If you get to a room and there’s an Artifact, Idol, or Minor or Major Secret, you can take one token there and put it in front of you. You can only hold one Artifact (unless you purchase the Backpack from the Market), so you can choose not to take an Artifact in the hopes of getting a more valuable one later. If you do take an Artifact, move the Dragon marker up one space on the Rage track. We’ll talk about what that means a little later.

Swords—Sometimes Monsters will appear in the Dungeon card lineup. They each take a certain number of Swords to defeat. If you have enough to “spend,” you take the reward listed on the card and then discard it. As I said, some passages make you spend a Sword to traverse them, or you take a damage.

ClankMonsters.jpg

Much like an earlier deck-builder, Ascension, there’s a whipping boy you can always beat up on if you have spare Swords. The hapless Goblin is always out and will give you 1 coin for every 2 Swords you spend.

Some cards cause you to gain Clank! when you play them, so you’ll add the appropriate number of your own cubes to the Clank! area of the game board.

There’s a set of four spaces that constitute The Market. If you’re on one of those spaces, you can spend 7 Gold to buy:

  • A Master Key, which lets you traverse tunnels with the lock icon, and is worth 5 VPs at game end.

  • A Backpack, which lets you carry two Artifacts, and is worth 5 VPs at game end.

  • A Crown, which gives you 10, 9, or 8 VPs at game end. (The first person to buy one takes the highest-VP Crown, the second takes the next-highest-VP Crown, and so on.)

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At the end of a turn, if there are fewer than six cards in the lineup, you’ll draw cards from the Dungeon deck to replace them. If there are any Dragon Attacks symbols on the newly drawn cards, you’ve made enough noise to wake the Dragon, and he attacks. (This just happens once, regardless of the number of Dragon Attacks symbols that come out.)

You’ll take the Dragon bag, add all of the Clank! cubes in the Clank! area of the board to the bag, shake it all up, and draw out a number of cubes equal to the Dragon’s current Rage—between 2-5 cubes. Black cubes are set aside, but player cubes are added to the Health Tracker portion of the game board.

Each time someone takes an Artifact, or someone discovers a Dragon Egg (one of the Minor Secrets on the board), you move the Dragon one spot up on the Rage track, which means you’re drawing more cubes on each attack.

If your Health Tracker is ever full of cubes, you’re knocked unconscious, and one of two things will happen:

  1. If you managed to retrieve an Artifact, and you got back up to a room above the Depths (a line halfway across the game board that separates the Depths from…the…not-Depths, I guess), then you’re rescued by the townsfolk and can count your points.

  2. If you didn’t get an Artifact, or you didn’t get above the Depths, then you’re left as a rotting corpse in the dungeon. Tough noogies.

If you do get an Artifact, and make it all the way up to the surface, then you get a Mastery token, which is worth 20 VPs. Anyone who makes it out gets one of these, regardless of whether you’re the first or last to make it out.

As soon as someone makes it to the surface, or is knocked out, the push-your-luck aspect really ramps up, and the game moves toward the end. That player doesn’t take a normal turn. They don’t add Clank!, they aren’t affected by cards that affect “all,” and if their cube is drawn out it’s treated as a black cube.

The player’s pawn is immediately moved to the Countdown Tracker portion of the game board. On the player’s next turn he or she moves the player pawn to the next Tracker space and takes the action. On spaces 2-4 of the track, that triggers an immediate Dragon attack, and extra cubes are drawn, depending on which space the player is on. On the 5th space, the Dragon immediately knocks out any players left in the Dungeon.

If any players get out before that last attack, they’re just done. If everyone escapes (or is knocked out), the game immediately ends.

Then you add up:

  • The value of Artifacts

  • Points from other tokens

  • 1 VP for each Gold

  • VPs on cards players purchased

Whoever has the most VPs wins, and if there’s a tie, it’s the player who has the highest-valued Artifact.


The Verdict

Firestone—Other than thematically, is Clank! deep? No. Is it fairly random? Yes. Is the dragon threat frustratingly inconsistent from game to game? Yes.

But is Clank! fun? Absolutely. This has been my go-to game for next-step newbies, and without fail they’ve all loved it. The deck-building is manageable for newbies because there are at most six cards in the lineup—and you’ll likely be too Skill poor or Sword poor to be able to afford them all—so the choices are limited. And I’ve found that push-your-luck is a great mechanism for new gamers. It’s thrilling and exciting and “dangerous.” That makes for memorable games.

Jeremiah—I would agree with everything you just said. I don’t know if I would grab this first thing when trying to introduce someone to deck-building, or gaming in general, but it’s a nice little bump up from most of the gateway games most casual/new gamers are playing.

Firestone—For the most part you’re not actively messing with other players, but it’s still possible to see where someone is going, or that someone is saving up Gold, and swoop in to take the Artifact they wanted, or get a Secret just before another player. It’s not so aggressive that it will hurt feelings, but it’s still enough to foster good-natured trash-talk.

It really does start to feel claustrophobic, especially when you’re down deep trying to get a big Artifact and another player is heading toward the surface, having grabbed that “easy” Banana Artifact. “Coward!” you yell into the empty air, as you get lost in yet another Crystal Cavern, trying to escape the Depths…

Jeremiah—Yeah. I’ve tried the whole, “stay near the surface and try to grab the easy stuff” strategy. It hasn’t worked for me typically. And the game is light enough to not feel like you’ve got a huge time investment on the line. It’s a deck-builder. Yes, it has a board, and you have to move around and collect things, and not wake up the Dragon, and so on, but at the end of the day (or game) you’ve played a deck-builder. And I’ve yet to see the deck-builder that ends friendships. So play, have fun, and stick it to your pals!

Firestone—I appreciate that there are two sides of the board. That back one is pretty brutal, but it changes the feel of the whole game enough that it will be a while before this feels stale. And there are already three expansions available to increase that replayability even more.

Jeremiah—Yeah, I LOOOOVE it when games do that. It costs them practically nothing, and gains everyone a ton of extra game play, if you dare!!! It’s a nice touch; I’m a fan!

Firestone—While I mostly play this with new gamers, I’ve played with hardcore gamers plenty—I don’t always need a brain-burning Gaia Project experience. And it’s easy to make this game tougher by simply removing some of the Dragon cubes from the bag at the beginning.

Jeremiah—Agreed. Most of my gamer friends love this game; it hits a sweet spot for both gamers and non-gamers alike, which is a delicate balance, but Clank! does it well!

Firestone—As far as player count, I think 3 is the sweet spot here, but I also think it scales well. I’ve played many 2-player games, and it works fine. Regardless of the player count, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, coming in right around 45 minutes to an hour almost every time.

Firestone’s Final Verdict—Clank! is undeniably light, but also incredibly fun. It’s thematic, exciting, and is one of the few games that does a good job marrying deck-building to board play. It just works, and I very much recommend it.

Jeremiah’s Final Verdict—I’m a fan! I love games that can be enjoyed across all skill/experience levels and Clank! definitely does that. Smooth mechanics, awesome theme, and an easily accessible learning curve have made Clank! an instant classic!

What are your thoughts on Clank!? Any expansions we should be sure to check out? Let us know in the comments. And thanks for reading!