Deckbuilding games are incredibly hot right now, thanks to their versatility and ease of understanding. Once you’ve played one, you can pretty much pick up any other and do alright. What really differentiates between them is how that deckbuilding is supplemented. Eschaton ties it to Risk-like strategy gaming, while Sentinels of the Multiverse creates a co-op PvE game based on combining powers and working as a team. The draw of the Clank! series of games, a collaboration between Dire Wolf Digital (Eternal) and Renegade Games (Lotus), is its combination of traditional deckbuilding with good old fashioned dungeon crawls.
After success in the traditional fantasy realm (as well as underwater and not-Ancient Egypt), the two companies decided that it was time for a more out-of-this-world version: Clank! In! Space! They followed it up with Clank! In! Space!: Apocalypse, a radical alteration of the base formula that added all new mechanics and enemies to the game. I got a chance to preview it at GenCon, but I was later able to check out both the base game and the expansion thanks to Dire Wolf and Renegade. Since I received and played them together, I’ll be reviewing them together as well.
What’s In The Box
For a company that made its bread and butter with digital games, Dire Wolf put a lot of work into creating a fantastic physical product. The main box for Clank! is pretty hefty, a few inches bigger than the more standard game box. The main reason for this, beyond the massive card deck, is the modular board, While some parts, like the vault, garage etc., the parts of the board that players travel through can change each game. This means there’s a lot of thick cardboard in here, all of it bright and filled with options for players. The modular board means that the game has an insane amount of replayability, especially when you add the 4 (2 double-sided pieces) new modules in Apocalypse.
There are A LOT of moving parts to Clank! and Apocalypse, and that’s reflected in all of the fiddly little pieces that go on the board and around it. There’s secrets (special items players can get to help them out), the marketplace, the loot in Eradikus’s vault (the goal of the players), and, of course, clank itself (little colored wooden cubes that represent the noise players make). These pieces are all very well made, with most of it being thick cardboard and the rest being made of my favorite material: wood. There’s also a lovely bag, embroidered with the symbol of Eradikus, that is used to store clank. There’s just a lot of polish to the pieces, down to the smallest detail. Even the energy crystals, of which there’s only six and are totally optional, are sculpted from translucent plastic to help them stand out.
How’s It Play?
Like I said before, the game is essentially still a deck builder. Cards generate resources when played, you then use them to buy new cards, defeat enemies, and move around the board. The main part of this is the Adventuring Row, six cards of potential allies and enemies that the players have encountered on the ship. They range from the relatively harmless Eye-pod to even the fearsome Lord Eradikus himself. They do all sorts of things once they’re in your hand, like draw cards, gain extra resources, and make money. Some mess with the rules of the game, like letting you bypass obstacles or teleport. They also have “tribes” that allow them to interact with other cards and add some flavor, giving players a strategy to build their deck around.
These cards are where the flavor of the game really comes out. Every single card is a reference to something in science fiction. Past the obvious Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Dr. Who, and Star Trek references (which even then can be sometimes obscure), there are deep cuts referencing Aasimov, the 70’s Battlestar Galactica, Flash Gordon, and Invader Zim. Heck, even the title (with the needless exclamations) is a reference to a famous Muppet Show skit. The art is cartoony and fun, and the flavor text at the bottom never takes itself very seriously. For sci-fi nerds, it’s a real treat trying to puzzle out what the card is based on (and how Dire Wolf skirted copyright).
The biggest part of the game, naturally, is the clank itself. Clank is the noise the thieves make as they sneak around Eradikus’s ship, essentially a resource generated by the players as they play certain cards or are met with certain creatures. Some cards can also remove clank. It all comes into play when bosses appear in the Adventuring Row. The clank in play gets tossed in the bag and shaken up, with a number of cubes taken out based on how mad Eradikus is and the number of players(from 2-5 at a time). In the base game, black cubes drawn mean nothing. But colored cubes drawn represent damage to the player. When that player’s health bar fills up, they die. While you can heal, damage racks up quickly when Eradikus gets well and truly pissed (not helped by the red bounty hunter cubes he adds later on, which damage everyone when drawn).
The movement on the board is based on the boots generated by the cards a player has. They have to move from one end of the ship to the other, steal an item from Eradikus’s vault, and make it back to the garage for a daring escape. Seems easy, right? Well, in addition to the enemies in the row, there’s also all sorts of obstacles on the ship to stop you. Security checkpoints stop you in your tracks no matter what, while helpful teleporters and elevators leave you too dizzy to move afterward. There’s also enemies that damage you when you go by unless you’re strong enough, and routes that use extra movement to get by. And, being a vault, there’s a lock the players must unlock to get through.
To get their multi-pass, players need to hack into two of the three modules on the ship. These nodes can pay out money and benefits or they can add clank, meaning there’s always a race for the good hacking points. Once you’re in, you nab one of the treasures and book it. The player is also working to collect victory points, which are attached to the treasures, many cards, and the escape pods in the garage used to get off the ship. The player who is least dead and who has the most points wins the game!
Apocalypse adds in a big change to the gameplay: plots. Eradikus is tired of sitting on his butt while you rob him blind, and is now actually acting like a galactic conqueror. He’s got evil viruses, planet-sized prisons, and eldritch monsters up his sleeve, and it’s up to the players to thwart him. What this means is that there’s a timer on the game. Every time you draw clank from the bag, the black cubes now go onto the plot card to advance it. When each level fills, something happens, like disabling the elevators or damaging all the players.
These plots also have a passive effect on the game as well which can either be an inconvenience or a major roadblock. Players can remove the black blocks too, for a price unique to each plot, and these blocks interact with the new modules and cards that come with Apocalypse. But if the plot is fulfilled? Then nobody wins. So the game transforms from a pure competition to co-op challenge where players balance the needs of the many and the needs of the few. I’d argue that this change takes the game from good to great, making Apocalypse “must buy” if you have the base game.
Clank! In! Space! and its expansion Apocalypse are not just great additions to the Clank game line, but a great game all around. The game is a total romp, and the flavor and art are fun as all get out. There’s an insane amount of replayability thanks to the chaos of the game and the shifting modules, and that’s only enhanced by the varying plots of the expansion. They’re also very well made games that look great on the table and on the shelf, with durable pieces that feel good in the hand.
The only big issues with the game are its difficulty and steep learning curve. The amount of moving parts, just in the base game, means that it can take a long time to explain everything to new players and it’s easy to miss what some specific things do. Even then, it can be hard as a newbie to track what the stuff does. In a sense, you’re learning the rules to a board game and a deck-builder at once, which isn’t easy. It’s also incredibly hard to actually make it through, especially with the Apocalypse expansion. In the multiple times I’ve played the game for this review, only one player has ever survived to the end (which they did by never leaving the garage). Part of that is that difficulty, as its harder to learn the correct tactics, but the design of the game is just a challenge. However, despite that, it’s an incredibly fun game to play even when everyone dies at the end. You just need a little patience.
Clank! In! Space! and Apocalypse are available at the Renegade Store, where they’re retailing for $60.00 and $25.00 respectively (though Apocalypse is currently sold out) as well as on Amazon and your local game shop. Big thanks to Dire Wolf Digital and Renegade Game Studios for the chance to review the game. Have you played Clank!? What did you think of it? Do you agree with our ranking? Sound off in the comments! And stay tuned to the Fandomentals for the latest from Dire Wolf and Renegade!