This is Picklemoose's Blog. A small section of Pixelated Cardboard dedicated to topics outside of digital board game ports. Posts here will be less formal & cover a range of topics.
My gaming group is not one to keep up with the latest hotnesses in the gaming world. There are a few reasons for this, but when a game that is only two years old hits the table, it’s a big deal. Enter Clank! The appealing simplicity & short playtime drew us into the adventure, let’s see how it has worked out for us. Picklemoose enjoys scaring children for fun.
What Is It?
If you don't know, you're about to know. I’m not going to go into depth on the rules, but Clank! is a deck-building game with a board component mixed in. Players build their decks to try to navigate a dungeon, collecting loot, avoiding a dragon, & making it out safely with the most points to be crowned a winner. Pickled Moose Dinner.
Teaching the Game
The first miss for Clank! in our group was the balance of game complexity to rule explanation. Clank is a fairly simple game at heart, but there are way too many chits and bits to setup and all of the rule minutiae really add up. Each time I’ve played I’ve had to explain the rules to at least one new player, and it’s led to fairly slow games. The problem is that there are about a dozen different movement-related rules to cover. Some can be left to “wait until we get there” territory, but it all adds up. We’ve praised digital games for hitting the “easy to explain, but contains a lot of depth” mark. Clank is essentially the opposite. The game does have some fun depth, but the rule explanation tends to be significantly longer than it is on many more complicated games. The game screams to be streamlined a bit, unlike my ex-boyfriend, Bullwinkle.
Playing the Game
The game gets off on a bad foot, but recovers nicely. Clank is fun. Players have a variety of strategies available to them, the smart ones will steer their strategy decisions based on what cards are available to purchase, but you can really go a number of ways. There is a race component to the game, as the first player exiting the dungeon triggers the start of the end-game scenario. Grabbing loot and escaping quickly seems like a viable strategy, it is certainly tempting, but can you get out quick enough to account for the extra time your opponents will have to collect loot? Or do you trek all the way to the deepest depths, aiming for the biggest point tokens in the game? The game presents a variety of choices and lets the players decide for themselves. For such a light game, this is a great amount of freedom and has always left our group dissecting the game afterwards to see how the various strategies played out, something that doesn’t usually happen.
Build that Deck
The main component of Clank is deck building, but the game does a nice job of not requiring you to be a deck building master to enjoy the game or even win. It introduces some advanced concepts like factions and multiplying powers, but doesn’t make them completely necessary to have a good game. For the most part, you can go along and take the best cards available on any given turn and be just fine. Many of the powers which rely on other aspects of the game are simple such as “10 points at the end of the game if you have a crown.” There are some slightly more advanced cards, but Clank does a good job acting as an introduction to deck builders. This will be a positive or a negative, depending on the group of course.
The premise of Clank is that there is a dragon sleeping and as you move about you will make false steps which “clank”, alerting the dragon to your presence. When the dragon awakens to attack, all of the pooled clank (tokens) enter the dragon bag and a certain amount get drawn. If your cube is drawn, that’s a hit point against you. You can heal yourself in various ways, but if you hit your max HP, you are dead and your game is essentially over. You can still win if you meet some certain criteria, though. The dragon has been hit or miss in my games so far, and it mostly has to do with the card deck. Clank is generated by certain cards, a couple of stinkers you start with will generate clank, but, more interestingly, more powerful cards in the deck will be tempting to buy with strong abilities, but also produce clank, a classic risk/reward proposition. I’ve played a game where the cards which produce clank simply didn’t show up enough in the purchase row. This led to absolutely no one in the game being in any danger of death by dragon. That takes a major component of the game out of play. The deck in this game is huge, you are likely to only see a small fraction of it in any one game. This is great for replay value, but can also lead to some odd ball games depending on how the shuffle goes.
The Games go Fast.
Remember when I said the game was simple but also hard to explain? The payoff of that odd balance comes once all players know the rules. When this happens, which is usually within a few turns of starting, the game begins to fly by. Players will have their own strategies and be able to plan them in advance. Very little an opponent can do will change things. The only time-sucker on a normal turn is catching up on the cards available in purchase row. Having now played with nearly everybody in our group, I look forward to timing a full game with players who are already familiar with the game. I expect it will easily come in at under an hour, which is a great time for a game like this.
There's an App for that
Renegade Game Studios, the publisher of Clank!, has an app which features additions for a handful of their games, including Clank! The app allows for solo play as well as adding a Lieutenant to multiplayer games. The Lieutenant will step into the game and cause interruptions which can be positive or negative to the players. I haven’t tried either, but it’s a nice addition, especially the solo play, for those who are interested.
Is Clank! Worth it?
Clank is a really fun game that gets a lot of things right. The balance of being a lighter game but also presenting a completely wide open path for each player to decide their own fate is always a good starting point. My group tends to prefer games with boards, so Clank then becomes a great addition for those of us who love a good deck builder. Clank is less good when it comes to teaching new players, as there is a lot going on that must be explained, even if none of it is very complicated, unlike Bullwinkle.
The bottom line for Clank is that everybody I’ve played with has enjoyed it, myself included. The game really clicks a few turns in for new players & we always enjoy discussing what went right/wrong for the winners and losers. It acts as a great introductory deck builder as you can still do a lot of fun stuff even if you have no idea about how to construct a solid deck. Last time I tried to build a solid deck, several other moose died.
All of this adds up to me giving Clank! A Deck-Building Adventure a score of 22 dragon cubes out of 27.