It’s the end of a Scooby Doo episode. The gangs been split up, they’ve run through Escher’s hallway, and Scooby’s eaten his snacks. They’re together again with the local sheriff, and they’ve got Clank!’s core mechanic, deck-building, all tied up. Fred and Velma give some rousing exposition before they rip off the suspect’s mask revealing none other than roll and move!
And I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!
Name: Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure
Publisher: Renegade Games and Direwolf
Designer: Paul Dennen
Artists: Rayph Beisner, Raul Ramos, Nate Storm
Clank! has the players acting as four clumsy adventurers exploring the depths of a drowsy dragon’s dungeon and trying to collect as much treasure as they can hold in their filthy thieving fingers. Every sound, or clank, is a cube added to the dragon bag. When the dragon wakes, as it tends to do several times throughout the game, cubes are pulled out of this bag. For every one of your cubes pulled, you lose a health. Lose too much, and you’re dead.
A player starts their turn with five cards, and then uses as many, or as little of their cards’ abilities as they’d like. These include: boots to move through the dungeon, skill points to buy new cards from the reserve and add, swords to fight monsters, gold to spend at the market, and various other benefits.
The reserve has four basic types of cards, and then six more are drawn from the dungeon deck. In typing that I already hear the groans of Dominion players, as this rotational setup doesn’t allow you to strategize throughout the game. You think what’s best for me right now, rather than build a deck that combines well together. It’s tactical decision instead of strategic. An odd place for a deck-builder given you don’t use any cards you buy for several turns. This reserve setup allows for turns where there are no cards you want. The last game I played, half of the reserve was taken with clank generating cards. No thanks!
Only one card allows you to remove cards from your deck – and only specific cards at that. This is a staple deck-building mechanic, and Clank! not having it is a big deal. Why? Because the more cards you add, the longer it takes to cycle your deck and get any shiny new card you buy. Additionally, it decreases the chance of drawing synergistic card combos.
At its’ core this board game is a race and puts a premium on movement. Any strategies you could create are so watered down with movement cards that your deck never gets its own individuality. Or if it does, it’s from the random draw of the reserve and not your own creative genius. This turns most decks into a convoluted die simulation.
The lack of design around this is a missed opportunity. Thankfully though, the strategy of Clank! is not within the decks but rather on the board. With the key questions being, how deep should I go? And what path should I take to get there? Every turn your answers will change as you reassess based on cards you’ve drawn, cards in the reserve, bonuses available on the board, and what others are doing.
Things start to get frantic when the first player leaves the dungeon. Everyone remaining inside only has four turns before the dragon awakens for good and makes a meal out of all of them. In addition, every time the leaver has a turn, the dragon initiates an attack and shoots out extra fireballs. This is the moment where I fell in love with Clank! as the game transforms into this mad rush for the exit and everyone’s health is falling off them like arms in a leper colony. It brings an incredible pressure and atmosphere as each player left is crossing their fingers, toes, and everything in between in a hope to draw the cards they need. It’s a moment that push your luck games live and die on, and Clank! nails it.
That is as along as you’re not playing with two players. In all player counts the shop has two bags, and these allow you to pick up an additional artefact – otherwise the limit is one. At two-players, both players can grab a bag and go after a second artefact. There’s no incentive to leave and start the panic. Also, you only need to worry about one other person. If you’re smart, you’ll always be ready to leave, after the other player has left. The dynamic changes drastically in the three-player game as with only two bags, someone misses out and is left with two options: go deeper in the cave for the big loots or grab something quick and get out. There is more competition for artefacts as well, putting some pressure on all phases of the game instead of only the end.
After my first play I did notice a bit of wear on the cards. Which is expected when you’re as neurotic as I am, but also with deck-builders. The constant shuffling will wear down even the best card stock.
Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure is a blast. It manages to capture the essence of a push your luck board game, in a package that absolutely nails its theme. You feel it’s you, and not your meeple, creeping through the dragon’s dungeon, and when everything goes pear-shaped, it’s you who feels the rush of blood as you throw your hands up to the god of cards. For me, the deck-building was disappointing, and half baked, and the two-player game left a sour taste in my mouth. However, there’s a lot of variability in the box and no end of support from the publishers who’ve produced a single player and separate game mode via their app, as well as many, many expansions. Therefore, if you’re in the market for a push your luck game that goes beyond simple gambling mechanics, this is one board game to keep your eye on.
Hope you enjoyed the new style! Let loose with the feedback on this one, as it took a lot of restraint not to break into the old formula.