Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure
Players: 1 – 4
Time: ~40 minutes
Times Played: 10 (base game only, many more with expansions)
I want to start this review off with a statement of my intrinsic negative bias towards Deck-Builders: I’m not a fan and Rachel greatly dislikes them. I never got into Magic or 7 Wonders or Dominion. Looking at some of the top Deck-Builders by rank on BGG, I’ve enjoyed Food Chain Magnate but never fell in love with it (Rachel loathes it), we both hated Lewis and Clark, and A Few Acres of Snow fell flat for us. On the flip side of that, we absolutely adore The Quest for El Dorado and many of our friends do too but that’s about it in the deck building category.
That opening paragraph was basically a long winded way of saying that getting Clank! to the table the first time was not an easy task.
I like to think of Clank! as the next step up in complexity from El Dorado. In El Dorado, you’re using your hand of cards to move and traverse the terrain in a race to reach the fabled treasures offered by the famed city. Now imagine you were doing the same thing but you had to get back to your starting location. And there’s monsters to fight. And a dragon to avoid. And you can’t save cards for later. Use them or lose them. That’s Clank! And it’s so simple that it’s brilliant.
I was able to pick up Clank! and the first expansion, Sunken Treasures!, for a bargain as I had to figure out what the hype was about. Everyone was talking about Clank! on BGG and Reddit and my YouTube suggested videos were all Clank! related. It wasn’t as long or as sustained as hype for say, Gloomhaven, but for a brief period of time it was mentioned everywhere.
My first playthrough was solo, using the excellent app from Renegade Games to guide my voyage. I lost horribly. I left the game set-up, hoping to pique Rachel’s interest and when she finally decided to humor me, I described it as I did in the previous paragraph, as the logical next step up from El Dorado. We played. She won. She gushed about it. We played three straight games that night with her winning each time (by twenty or more). She’s the Clank! Queen around here.
Clank!, while not marketed as such, is easily one of the more family-friendly games I’ve played in the past few years. It’s so simple to teach and each turn is so easy to follow. It could definitely fit in that Ticket to Ride level of ease of learning and difficulty. I’m not comparing it to the success and longevity of TTR, but it wouldn’t be out of place as an entryway to board gaming.
The basis of Clank! is quite simple. You draw five cards from your deck and you have to play them. There’s no saving cards for a later turn. There’s no ignoring the effects of a card. You have to do what they say.
The symbols are easy to see and navigate once you know what they mean. There are boots which symbolize movement, swords which symbolize combat, and numbers in a blue diamond that symbolize skill points, which determines which cards you can afford to add to your deck. There are also additional symbols, such as hearts for healing and gold coins for currency.
This is a push-your-luck game at heart and the actions of each card feed into that mechanic as you must use them. What makes Clank! fun is the choose-your-own-adventure path it lays out for you. As an adventurer, you’re more than welcome to dart into this dungeon, swipe the treasure of lowest value and escape while your compatriots are still making their way through the lair. Or you could get greedy and keep trying to swipe secrets and monkey idols, hoping to rack up points while other adventurers wander around.
Clank! derives its name from the clank cubes that players add to the board (and later are added to the dragon bag) for making too much noise. The more noise you make, the more cubes you add to the pile. When the pile is added to the dragon bag, the more cubes you have in there, the higher your chances of being wounded by the dragon are. Ten wounds and your adventurer is in trouble.
The game has built-in mechanics to help a player that has succumbed to their injuries. Dying but being able to still utilize your points (depending on your final resting place) helps mitigate some of the end of game damage that can occur, especially when someone rushes a treasure and returns. This is one area of the game that I’m glad pushing your luck wasn’t punished.
Clank! is listed as a one- to four-player game and we’ve been lucky enough to play at all counts. I think Clank! works best as a two-player game. At three- and four-players, the game can become a tad sluggish and overly long and with the constant cycling of cards, there will be instances where you won’t even get an opportunity to purchase something you would have liked to. I will say that Clank! has done an excellent job though regarding the deck size as while you may not have had a chance to purchase an item you wanted, there is an absolute plethora of cards that will become available to you and there’s always something else that you would like to add to your deck. They did not skimp on the cards. Due to the influx of cards, players should not be going through a full deck each game and the values of the cards differ greatly depending on when they’re drawn, which greatly ups the replay factor that the game offers as well.
To circle back to the issues we saw with three- and four-player games though, the increased frequency of dragon attacks (due to the increase of working through the deck) made the game increase in frustration rather than difficulty as you can take damage without really doing anything. Clank! fundamentally works at higher player counts and we won’t shy away from playing at those counts but it’s a different experience. If you know that going in, great. If you don’t, your treasure hunting will probably be all for naught.
These increased attacks also can lead to a quicker than normal deaths of a player, which accelerates the end game protocol. I really appreciate the way Clank! handles player elimination, with a set number of rounds remaining once a player has escaped the dungeon or met their doom. It keeps everyone engaged and is fun to see your friends sweat as their plans have become deterred. Most importantly, it doesn’t leave a player sitting out of a game for an extended period of time just because they didn’t do well or worse, luck wasn’t on their side.
On the flip side, we can see how people would not like this as it could/would force a drastic change to their plans and it could honestly cost them the game if they’re stuck in the depths with a few bad draws but I’m fine with it if it means another player isn’t stuck sitting on their phone for thirty minutes while we finish the game (a la Diplomacy).
I thought that the board would have become more cramped at a higher player count but it never really felt that way after the initial first turns. There are enough paths to take that once someone has exhausted the minor or major secrets from one route, players will detour elsewhere to pick up goodies. But the problem here is that you can’t accurately plan your next turn as it might depend on the state of the board and you have to wait to see what others are doing. You are able to draw and study your five cards but that doesn’t help if someone snags the treasure out from under you. Also, almost all decisions are made from the cards you draw so this will mitigate that decision making a little but not completely. This could add time to the game as players need to make analyze the cards they have drawn, the path(s) available to them, and the actions taken by their fellow players. We tend to play fast and loose like it’s an actual race so this downtime isn’t an issue for us but I figured it was worth mentioning as not everyone else is as reckless as us.
Even though players are sharing the same board, marketplace, and deck to buy cards from, there isn’t much direct player interaction so increasing the player count has players playing their own game with occasional glances as to where their opponents are looking to go.
At two-players, it feels much more tense and race-like. When that other player secures their first treasure or purchases a backpack, you know exactly what their next move is going to be. You’re almost more interested in what cards they buy than what cards you buy for yourself. I think Clank! really shines as a two-player game despite the lack of interaction. The competition exists between players and the push-your-luck atmosphere is in full effect as players try to decide the best way to maximize points and most importantly, escape alive.
Clank! also offers a solo variant coupled with the Renegade Studios app as I mentioned earlier. This gives the player quests they must complete within a set number of turns. If the quest is completed, the player is rewarded with an additional movement, skill points, or something similar for that turn whereas if they fail the quest, the threat of the dragon becomes more dire.
The app randomizes the quests so sometimes you might be stuck with a quest that’s impossible to complete (kill a monster in the depths within two turns but you just started the game) but it just adds to the tension. The events that are presented are random as well. You might be provided an extra sword or you might take two damage.
I wouldn’t buy Clank! just to play it as a solo game but I enjoyed the implementation and it did help me learn the game before playing with others (not that it was terribly difficult to learn from the rulebook). I also don’t mind bringing it out for a solo game every once in awhile if I have nothing else to do but typically if I’m embarking on a solo game, I want something a little heavier to burn my brain a la Robinson Crusoe or Kepler-3042.
The game does rely on luck due to the available cards. Since you cannot store skill points for purchasing cards, there are times when your hand severely limits your purchasing power. The frustration is real when drawing four movement icons but your next space is a cavern that halts your movement, thus wasting your boot icons and possibly impacting your movement until your cards are reshuffled. Then again, that’s the nature of a deck builder with a push-your-luck take.
The luck also translates to the dragon attacks as while you may know simple statistics and probability regarding what cubes are in the bag, they are drawn completely at random and for whatever reason, it’s always the player with fewer cubes in there that is getting attacked. The dragon has a taste for my flesh over anyone else’s apparently.
The only aspect of Clank! that I truly dislike is the way the game begins. There is only one path to take and the first two turns are typically moving, stumbling, and buying a card. Every player is doing the exact same motions following the same path and that’s just unimaginative for me. I wish there was an opportunity to take a different path or do something else to start each game. I’m from the adage that if I’m going to be doing the same thing every time I start the game either make me do that automatically as part of set-up or give me choices. Every players first two turns of every Clank! game should not be the same.
I assume that this is implemented this way so players start on a level playing field regarding the purchasing of card(s) from the shared deck and while I understand that need for a semblance of balance, I want the option to truly press my luck and journey to areas that maybe I’m not prepared for.
My other main criticism was the complete lack of engagement between players. There’s a ‘Tattle’ card that allows you to add clank to other players but besides that, you don’t ever work against, or with, other players. The interaction Clank! does offer is all reliant on the player analyzing what their opponents are doing and where they are going/what they are taking. I wouldn’t say this game has zero player interaction but it’s close.
Another piece of criticism that is not my own but that I see consistently is the lack of options in culling (removing cards from) your deck. I actually like the lack of culling as it makes each addition to your deck meaningful and forces players to really shuffle their cards so they’re not stuck with four Burgle’s in a row.
The board(s) are also somewhat static. I mentioned boards because the game board is two-sided and offers a “beginner” course and a more advanced option. I absolutely love that the board is two-sided and there’s some variability in the layouts. This definitely helps to ensure that the game doesn’t get too old, too fast. Our preference is the more advanced board which really only splits the Markets up. Circling back to my static comment, the treasures that you are aiming for are always in the same place every game. The Minor and Major Secrets will change but that thirty point treasure will always be in the same location. I feel it’s a little weird to know exactly where the most valuable treasure is but understand the layout and lack of randomization since a player could snatch a high value treasure early and end the game within a few minutes strictly by luck, which would suck.
That being said…we’ve also experimented with randomizing the treasures that the players are searching for. It adds a little more tension to the game and while this ups the randomness and luck factors, it changes players thinking a little bit as they don’t want to reveal treasures too early for fear of finding a dud. It also creates some fun moments when there are only two unrevealed treasures available and they expect the one they are revealing to be the high value one and it isn’t, their face tells you everything you need to know about their inner monologue.
So has Clank! lived up to the hype? For us it has. We’ve played the base game at least ten times and have added Sunken Treasures! and The Mummy’s Curse! to our collection.
The base game seems well prepared for expansions as the insert is phenomenal and has room to house everything future versions have to offer. The photo below shows the insert holding all components from all released expansions. I will note that the boards do not fit and we store them separately in an expansions box.
I would still recommend El Dorado as an entry into deck-building games (as I think it’s great) but if you’re looking for something with just a little more meat on the bone, Clank! is where it’s at. As a two-player game, I don’t know that we’ll ever bust El Dorado out at that player count again now that we own Clank! but we’re much more likely to play El Dorado at four-players as opposed to Clank! with four as El Dorado plays much quicker and the interaction is much more prevalent. There is definitely room for both in your collection if you have the money and space.