I’ve hit the point that every board game collector, and hoarder, hits where their collection outgrows their space. Therefore, I’m introducing a new type of review called On the Chopping Block – inspired by Click Clack Lumberjack – where I look at games that will be sold off. These aren’t necessarily bad games, but games that have either been outshone by other games or are not a good fit for me. Heck, we’ll see some games I really enjoy but I’m going to sell because I can’t see myself reaching for it from the shelf. Let’s begin by introducing the first game on the chopping block: Click Clack Lumberjack designed by Justin Oh and published by Mayday Games.
How to Play
To play Click Clack Lumberjack you must first build a tree, this can be done by either sliding four pieces of bark into one of the nine core pieces and stacking them one on top of another or planting a seed and waiting five years.
Players then take turns having two swings of the plastic axe – Click Clack. They are attempting to knock the bark off the tree without knocking off the core piece they’re attached too. Each piece of bark knocked off scores one point, while a knocked off core piece equates to negative five points. Once the tree is stripped of all bark, then the winner is the player with the most points.
Click Clack Lumberjack is an attempt of modernising Jenga. It shares a lot of the same attractiveness. It has a striking visual prop that allows the game to be understood at first sight and, more importantly, while inebriated. The rules are simple enough that they can be explained by Tarzan: bark good, core bad. It creates the same build-up of tension as play proceeds with the tree becoming less and less stable which, in a way, allows the game to create its own narrative.
Where they’ve added to the formula is the use of plastic axes to tap the tower instead of your hands. Not only does it open the game to another level of sharp, axe related punnery, but it also changes the action to perform. This gives the game more of a novelty factor, as well as allowing it to take advantage of a unique but well-known theme in lumberjacking.
Unfortunately, this is where the design of the game comes crashing down like a felled tree. For starters, it has a longer setup than Jenga, meaning more downtime between playing. This is a deterrent from playing multiple games repeatedly, and part of what makes Jenga so good; that addictive quality that allows you to play multiple games in a row. The setup time feeds into this, and with the added time in Click Clack Lumberjack you can often find yourself spending more time building the tree than chopping it down. Especially when playing with jerks, kids, or jerk kids.
Then there’s the issue of the designers overlooking player elimination. The game is score based so everyone continues playing till the end, this is expected from modern day board games. However, in my games, player’s generally knock off more than one core at a time, and at negative five points a piece this leaves them in a position where they’re no longer able to win, yet still must play. Few modern games have tackled this design issue effectively, and when it’s left to run amok it leaves us with the following questions: if a player has no chance to win, what are they playing for? What’s stopping them from ruining the game for everyone else? Where’s the interest for them to continue playing? Click Clack Lumberjack doesn’t answer any of these questions, and instead treats the player who knocked off the cores as though they’ve been bitten by a zombie. Everyone knows they’re dead, but no one’s willing to put them out of their misery.
This is a case of sticking to modern game design to a fault. The rulebook provides seven variants, but not one of them acknowledges the existence of player elimination. Whereas this game would be one of the rare cases that player elimination would not only work but make the game better. It would remove the problem of the zombified player, as well as adding even more tension to each tap of the axe.
In addition to this, when someone is “knocked out” of the game, the tension resets as they’ll stabilize the tree by knocking off most, if not all, of the unbalanced cores. These types of dexterity games live and die on these tense moments, and part of the reason why Jenga is so successful is that the whole game is a constant building of tension until that final inevitable release. By resetting the tension mid game and removing the massive penalty of being the first player to knock off some cores, Click Clack Lumberjack never reaches the same tension peaks as its predecessor. Therefore, the release and relief that comes isn’t as effective either.
At the time Click Clack Lumberjack came out there was a dearth of dexterity games on the market. Being something new in the genre it made a splash in the community. However, since buying it I’ve had the pleasure of playing dexterity games that provide better engagement, and entertainment without having the toll of setup (Junk Art, Go Cuckoo, and Catch the Moon). While the dexterity game I own that does have a large setup (Flick ‘Em Up!: Dead of Winter) also provides a much richer experience and strategy. To me this leaves Click Clack Lumberjack without a place in my collection and makes the game hard to recommend over the other titles I’ve mentioned.
For the next couple weeks I’m thinking I might remove the good, and the bad sections and focus more on just giving my thoughts on the game. It’s very freeing to write the review like this, but would love some feedback!