Reviewed by Herb Levy

CLANK!: A DECK-BUILDING ADVENTURE (Renegade Game Studios, 2 to 4 players, ages 13 and up, 60 minutes, $60)


“I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down” – – – For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield, 1966

Although the song was written over 50 years ago by Stephen Stills (and performed by Buffalo Springfield), these lines could very easily be the theme song for this game of dungeon exploration, thievery – and danger! – as players attempt to plunder the lair of the great dragon Nictotraxian (aka “Nicki”). When looking for treasure, sounds are something you do not want to make (that dragon has good hearing) but… those caverns are dark and sometimes stealth can be in short supply. Even the most careful adventurer will bump into or drop things. So not only do you have to search and steal but you have to do it as quietly as possible. Dropping things in the dark not only makes the sounds you do not want the dragon to hear but also gives the game it’s name: Clank!

Clank! is a dungeon crawl game designed by Paul Dennen where players are ambitious thieves using deck-building as the means to defeat monsters, claim treasures and steal Artifacts from the lair of the great dragon. Steal the most valuable stuff and, if you get out alive, you will win!

The double-sided board shows the layout of the dungeon (a different configuration – one easier, one more difficult – on each side for variety) with a green border separating the upper level of the dragon’s lair from the depths. Seven Artifacts are placed face up in their assigned spaces. Major secrets (large tokens) and minor secrets (smaller tokens) are placed in designated spots (one major per spot but 2 minors per spot) face down. In addition, a market area within the bowels of the dungeon exists where players may pick up (at the cost of 7 gold each) a master key, a back pack or a crown as well as a “Monkey Shrine Room” which holds 3 Monkey Idols.

The Dragon marker is put on the Rage Track to indicate the “fury” of an attack (the precise position based on the number of players). All 24 black Dragon cubes are placed in the Dragon bag. Finally, three stacks of cards (Mercenary, Explore, Secret Tome) are placed in reserve (available for all to buy) along with one Goblin (a monster which may be used over and over again to indicate the teeming hordes of these creatures roaming the dark dungeon). The remaining cards make up the “Dungeon Deck”. This deck is shuffled and six cards laid out to form the “Dungeon Row”.

In traditional deck-building fashion, all players begin with an identical specified hand of 10 cards.  These cards provide a player with the three types of “currency” used in the game: Skill (noted on cards within a blue diamond) which allows you to purchase more cards to add to your deck, Swords (red circles) which enable you to defeat monsters and Movement (boots depicted in golden squares) which grants you the power to go from area to area within the dungeon. Players also have a supply of cubes (Clank! in game terminology) in their color.

According to the rules, the “sneakiest” player goes first (or just choose randomly). The first player places three of his Clank! cubes in the specified area while the second player places two of his cubes there and the third and fourth players only one. Going first is an advantage so this is a way to compensate (as you will see).

On a turn, the active player shuffles his cards and draws five from his deck. Unlike most other games of this genre, ALL cards, even those with negative effects, must be played. By using these cards, players can spend skills to purchase cards from the Reserve or Dungeon Row. (These cards are added to the player’s discard pile where they will eventually be drawn once the draw pile runs out.) New cards can be worth Victory Points at the end of the game (specified on the card) or increase the ability to move, fight or recruit more cards. Some cards grant a one time bonus when bought while others exert an effect as long as they stay in Dungeon Row. More than a few require the addition of more Clank! cubes to the Clank! area. Played cards, if showing the right icons, may also be used to fight (and defeat) monsters and travel throughout the dungeon.

Monsters depict a certain number of swords. Players spending the required number of swords defeat the monsters in question and reap the rewards specified on the cards themselves (which could be gold or other benefits).

Rooms in the dungeon are connected by passageways. Some passages only require 1 boot to cross. Some require 2. Some are “one way” only while others require a key (found in the deep in the dungeon at the market) to “unlock’ the passage. As players travel, they will enter rooms and be able to take Major and Minor secrets. All of them are good and worth having (a found dragon egg, for example is worth 3 Victory Points, while other secrets increase movement, grant additional skill points etc.). But the main goal is twofold: get an Artifact and get out!

Artifacts are worth differing amounts of Victory Points (with values ranging from 5 to 30). The lesser valued ones are closer to the dungeon’s surface; the more valuable ones deep within its depths. A player may only carry ONE Artifact (unless he has managed to purchase a back pack at market). Once taken, though, you are committed. No jettisoning of a lesser valued Artifact in favor of a more valuable one. However there is no limit to how many other tokens (often Victory Points themselves) you may claim. When you feel you have enough points, you may try to make your way out – but it’s not that easy. Every time an Artifact is taken or a dragon egg is discovered, the Dragon advances on his Rage track and every time at least one Dragon symbol is revealed on a drawn card in Dungeon Row, the Dragon will attack!

When the Dragon stirs, all cubes in the Clank! area are added to the Dragon bag. Based on the position of the Dragon on the Rage track, multiple cubes are drawn from the bag. (Cards remaining in the Dragon Row with a “danger” banner will add to the number of cubes drawn!) If a black cube is drawn, nothing happens. That cube is just removed from play. But if a colored cube is drawn, that cube is added to that player’s “Health Meter” (found at the bottom of the board). Some spaces with ♥ symbols and potions waiting to be found will restore some of the damage but if the Health Meter is ever completely filled, you are knocked out!

If you manage to leave the Dungeon under your own power WITH an Artifact (leaving without an Artifact is not allowed), you receive (whether you are the first, last or somewhere in between to leave) a 20 point bonus! A knocked out player who has an Artifact and has escaped from the depths of the dungeon to the upper level (above the green line) is considered “rescued” by the townsfolk and has successfully escaped the Dragon (but no bonus). A knocked out player who is still in the depths with or without an Artifact, however, has been vanquished and is out of the game! But, even then, not quite.

The first player to leave the dungeon (successfully or unsuccessfully) accelerates the pace. That player’s token moves to the “Countdown Track”. Instead of taking a normal turn, that player advances his marker on that track. Each step triggers a Dragon attack AND increases the number of cubes drawn making escape more and more difficult. On the fifth space of that track, the Dragon knocks out EVERYBODY still in the dungeon. At that point we score.

The holdings of the players who made it out of the dungeon (on their own or aided by the town) are tallied. To the value of the Artifacts claimed and any 20 point bonus for escaping the Dungeon, players add points from any tokens acquired in their explorations and the Victory Points found on cards in their decks. Finally, gold, at an exchange rate of 1 gold = 1 Victory Point is added. The player with the highest combined total is declared the Greatest Thief in the Realm! (Tie? Then the player with the most valuable Artifact gets the dubious distinction – and victory!)

As thieves in this game, players are very independent. Although everyone starts out from the same place, there is very little interaction once you enter the dungeon. You might try to grab a secret before someone else does or buy something in the marketplace before a particular item is gone, but there is no “take that” here. Perhaps it’s because the dungeon is dark with enough monsters and dangers to keep you focused on your own survival rather than creating more problems for the “other guys”. From constructing your deck to plotting your course throughout the depths to deciding when enough Victory Points is enough and it’s time to run for the exit, all these decisions are on you. Which brings up the definite “push your luck” quality of the game.

At the beginning of play, drawing cubes from the Dragon bag is relatively harmless as odds favor the appearance of black cubes over yours. But as black cubes get removed (and, of course, not replaced) and more of your own color cubes are put into the bag, the odds that you will suffer some damage shift sharply against you. Add to that the increase in the number of cubes drawn AND the frequency of attacks (as a player who has left the dungeon will force more – and inevitably more damaging – attacks) and the danger ramps up at an alarming rate. All of this combines to give Clank! a sense of urgency to the exploration, a facet that many dungeon crawlers do not have.

The clanking sound you hear is most likely the sound of time running out as Nicki the Dragon tries to knock you out and keep you from escaping in the nick of time. For What It’s Worth, this game manages to add a hefty dose of theme to the deck-building mechanism. In the genre of games featuring dungeon crawling and defeating dragons, Clank! rings true~- – – – Herb Levy

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