All That Glitters
How do you measure your life’s worth? By the approval of family and friends? By your stature in society or the work you’ve done? Clank! asks you to take a different look at such a question, turning your eye instead to things that shine. For what is it all for, if not treasure, and the taking of it from dark and dangerous depths?
So ditch the grousing and go for the gold. Clank! will reward you for it.
Clank! operates in a space at once familiar and different to anyone who’s been around board games in the last couple decades. Wrapped in a comforting deck-building cloak, Clank! welcomes you into its adventure with a standard set of cards delivered around the table to all the players in this greedy grabfest. Yet, from the moment those cards hit your hands, you’ll see a tantalizing market off to one side, flush with creatures, characters, and equipment begging to be purchased and deployed in your looting efforts. Like any deck-builder, you’ll want to find synergies as you go, trying to craft a nimble collection that’ll get you deep into the delve while scoring points and earning coins along the way.
If you’ve played Dominion, Aeon’s End, Legendary, or so many other deck-builders, it’ll be that delve catching your attention more than anything else. Clank!, see, isn’t very interested in earning points by stuffing your deck with valuable cards, nor is it concerned with whacking baddies through stacking powerful plays on top of each other. Clank! wants you to move, and you’ll do that through explore icons on cards you find, which’ll let you venture forth one step at a time, much like The Quest for El Dorado, but with more teeth. While victory points exist, the majority will come from finding valuable treasure, with cards and other tokens rounding out your total like the coin piles next to a glittering goblet.
While you and your competitors build your decks and dive deeper, you’ll find your efforts attracting some nefarious attention. In the base Clank!, a dragon guards the depths, and it’s not particularly thrilled with all your clomping around. Every player comes with cubes marking how much noise you’re making, and those cubes get tossed into a bag as you play cards with the titular Clank! icon. These cards, often more powerful ones, force you to push your luck with the dragon’s draw, a random effect occurring as the market gets refilled. When the dragon attacks, every cube drawn matching your color means you lose a life.
Life, you say, in a deck-builder?
Absolutely. Clank! isn’t an abstract, but a concrete board with your party moving along numerous routes to get to your treasure of choice. Some paths, usually ones leading to more valuable bonuses and treasure, are longer and more treacherous, requiring keys or swimming abilities to get the gold. Those longer journeys invite more dragon attacks, and healing is a rarity. Die in the depths and you’re done, whatever points you have only coming into play if everyone else gets munched too. Clank! is as much about evaluating risk and changing paths on the fly based on your health, how deep your buddies are going, and whether you’d like to get ’em all torched.
Keeping people invested in a game when they’re behind is a special talent, one many titles can’t pull off. Clank!, though, has one of the most clever mechanisms I’ve seen. If the market has been pillaged and you’ve stumbled into one too many crystal caverns, kissing the dust of your opponents as they sprint down to the shinies, you can take stock of the situation, decide that grubby medal by your foot is good enough, and get outta there. As soon as you leave with your ill-gotten gains, the dragon gets feistier, starting a burning countdown to annihilation. Done right, deep-diving treasure hunters can get stuck in the trap, giving the dragon a nice lunch and you a sneaky win.
There’s plenty more depth to find in Clank!, with a randomized setup and a large dungeon deck. Factions, token bonuses, and a double-sided board further ensure you won’t exhaust the outcomes anytime soon. The game also moves at a decent clip, with few options for drawing more and more cards—a personal deck-building bugaboo of mine—so turns burn, just like you. More, Clank! comes in at a reasonable price and a lower difficulty, making it an easy gift recommendation, even for board game neophytes.
Should you find dungeon delving a blast, expansions abound too, from mermaids to mummies. With only a few extra rules, but new boards and cards, these expansions color-up the quest. The Sunken Treasures, The Mummy’s Curse, and Adventuring Party are all great pick-ups after you’ve put in a few plays and want to see something new.
Or, if you’re over the dirt and the diamonds, maybe leave the surface behind for the stars.
If sci-fi is more your speed, Clank! In Space drops you into a wealthy ship teeming with artifacts to steal. Rather than caves and flooded pools, you’re playing with laser gates, moving trains, and escape pods. Clank! In Space does more than simply tack on a different theme, though. Just like any good franchise overhaul, Clank! In Space gives you different ways to play.
First and foremost, factions make a big difference from the original Clank!. Here, fleshing out your deck and your crew with various members of the same guild can bring with it extra bonuses, like stacking a couple together to quickly scoot you from one ship side to another, or snatching up the most expensive cards with an ease any thief would envy. Clank! normally builds its interaction through the race, but the faction combos force every player to pay more attention to the market, trying to clear out cards that’d be too good if left for another player’s posse.
The new board’s added elements give you more traps to traverse or trigger, too. Getting access to the teleporter pad might help someone leap to the lead, or evade security’s lethal pursuit. The paths are more complex, letting you reap strategy’s rewards or struggle if a play doesn’t go quite as you expected. As with Clank!, stealing the treasure isn’t enough either: you’ve gotta escape, and managing to get back out is a real challenge. As a result, Clank! In Space makes a good follow-up for folks familiar with the original game, or a replacement, letting your original copy float on to a friend. There are a couple of expansions here too, with Cyber Station 11 and Apocalypse adding more to your outer space adventure.
Into The Unknown
The newest Clank! goes back to the dungeon delving, but adds a board-busting twist: a random layout every time. Clank! Catacombs can be combined card-wise with the original Clank! and its expansions, but takes the varied-yet-static setup and swaps it for a dungeon that grows as you go deeper. Capturing the exploration feel, where every move might be met with disaster or reward, Clank! Catacombs is a sprawling adventure chock full of portals, prisoners, ghosts, and, yes, a zombie dragon. Because why not?
The core game remains the same, though, so if the idea of a deck-building treasure race sounds like a great time, Clank! Catacombs makes for as good an introduction to the Clank! games as any.
An Adventure Story
Or you could skip the one-offs and dive into a multi-game Clank! campaign. Clank! Legacy – Acquisitions Incorporated is a story-based, semi-coop campaign collaboration with the webcomic Penny Arcade.
You and your intrepid treasure hunters work together to build up an adventuring company over multiple quests, where choices you make drive how the story goes. Funny and compelling, Clank! Legacy offers a rich experience, best at four players. While it comes with the usual campaign caveats—keep the same group throughout for the best results—the writing here is top-notch, with the what’s-gonna-happen-next adventure pulling everyone back for another session.
As it’s a bigger commitment than any of the other Clank! versions, I’d recommend this to those who’ve played at least some Clank! first and know they’d be into an ongoing series with its gameplay. That said, if you have a group ready for some treasure hunting tales or want a deck-building game with an ongoing story, Clank! Legacy is at the absolute top of the pile.
Clank! is a treasure hunt, pure and simple. A race bristling with luck and strategy, with table-talk and tricks abounding. It’s delightful to steal a desired treasure from under Dungeon Dan’s nose, forcing him to dance with the dragon in a desperate dash to the depths. So is the suspense while you sweat the next life-taking cube draw when you’re a space or two away from freedom. All this in a playtime that won’t exceed a couple hours, particularly if folks are past their first game and adopt an intrepid adventurer’s speed: Clank! isn’t about math, it’s about the moments.
And that sweet, sweet treasure.
Written by Adam Knight
Spinning stories and playing games under the direction of his two cats, Adam delights in the roll of the dice and a well-told tale. Find more of his adventures at Black Key Books.