If you opened up a dictionary to the word ‘clank’, you’d probably find a picture of yours truly shrugging Fonzie-style next to a copy of Clank! the board game alongside the description: “To clank is to goof-up really bad, but still have a great time doing it.” This weird metaphorical scenario perfectly encapsulates the experience of playing Clank!.
Building on the foundation of the many deckbuilding games that came before it - such as Dominion - Clank! combines the gameplay mechanics of acquiring cards, board movement and push-your-luck, alongside the standard fantasy scenario of stealing treasure from a dragon, to make for an undeniably entertaining game. The deckbuilding aspect of the game is certainly nothing to write home about, there are some nice combos between certain card types, but when partnered with the lure of hefty point totals and the threat of imminent immolation, it all comes together wonderfully.
Players start the game above ground, before diving down into the depths of the dungeon. The deeper players go, the more valuable the treasure. However, that also means a longer trip back home, leaving more time for the furious dragon to enact her revenge. Players move their meeples using their cards, requiring a certain amount of “boots” to make their way between the different rooms. Along the way, they might encounter obstacles such as monsters - which they must fight using “swords” cards or otherwise take damage - and crystal caverns that stop them dead in their tracks.
Buying more cards requires “skills”, with a set of basic cards designed to provide essential boots and swords available alongside a more exotic collection of randomly-drawn cards. As players must play all the cards in their hand on their turn, it’s tempting to use the skills they have simply because they’re there, regardless of how useful the cards on offer might be. However, Clank! teaches players that you can have too much of a good thing, as they’ll sometimes put themselves in the difficult situation of not drawing what they need at that moment because they’ve filled their deck with other cards.
This same philosophy applies to choosing whether to continue delving into the dungeon or taking what you can get and getting out sooner. Sure, the more delectable treasures are found in the lower reaches of the board, but players need to be realistic about how long they can survive with a great big honking dragon literally breathing down their necks. Everytime players use a “clank!” card - which is more often than you think, as players must play every card in their hand - then one of their coloured blocks is added to a rather ominous pile.
Should a card depicting a certain dragon symbol ever be drawn into the market, all the cubes in that pile are placed into a beautifully soft velvet bag. A number of cubes are then randomly drawn from the bag, with the colours indicating whoever was unlucky enough to receive the dragon’s wrath. These attacks can stack up at an alarmingly fast rate - especially if people are being particularly clanky - meaning that players need to think very seriously about whether their meeple lives are worth grabbing that extra shiny piece of treasure.
Die too deeply in the dungeon and you lose everything. Manage to make it closer to the surface and you get to keep whatever you’ve grabbed. Actually get out alive and you’re awarded a tasty medal worth a decent amount of points. Of course, the more meeples who do get to the surface, the more dangerous it becomes for the others still below. All this is to say that Clank! doesn’t care for your master game plan - if the cards and cubes don’t go in your favour then you’re bound for a one-way-trip to the incinerator. And I greatly respect that.
Going into Clank! with the right mindset - one that triumphs YOLO above efficiency - can result in a lot of fun. Which is not to say that the game is shallow; there’s certainly depth here, but it’s best enjoyed with a heart full of both resignation and joy.