Sunday, September 24, 2023

GenCon Report: Space Thieves and Magic Cowboys On-Board and Online

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Dire Wolf Digital doesn’t like to stay in the same place for too long. Shifting from small studio to Sony subsidiary to licensed game juggernaut, Dire Wolf has been just about everywhere in the industry. But, according to Marketing Director Matt Hudson, this is the most exciting time for the studio.

At GenCon, Dire Wolf looms over the northern end of the exhibit hall, the images of magic cowboys and spacemen drawing a contrast with the trappings of traditional fantasy gaming that surround it. The booth itself is split between the digital side of the studio, where visitors can play and test their electronic titles. 

Eternal is the biggest section, with most of the tablets set up to run the totally free-to-play card game under the watchful eye of developers. Eternal is Dire Wolf’s first original property, taking a stab at the digital card game genre after previous success with  The Elder Scrolls: Legends. According to Hudson, the new property has been a thrill for the designers as they finally get to flex their creative muscle and develop an entire world from scratch. He describes it as “six-guns and sorcery,” where magic and gun slinging mix in a fantastic version of the Old West. They take a “kitchen sink” approach, pulling in anything they want to add flavor and fun to the game. They’re proud to say they’re the most free-to-play card game on Steam, with no gameplay elements behind a paywall. Cosmetic elements, however, can be bought for money. Dire Wolf has recently entered into a partnership with Twitch and Amazon Prime, where Prime members can get a pack of cosmetics and cards for free with their subscription.

Beneath the watchful eyes of a Buzz Lightyear lookalike and his purple goblin friend, tables are set up to demo Dire Wolf’s newest venture: physical board gaming.

The big release this year is Clank! In! Space!: Apocalypse, the sequel to one of 2016’s most surprising hits. According to Hudson, the initial release of Clank! was a cautious one, as the company was only just transitioning away from licensed properties like Elder Scrolls and Pokemon. Developing their first physical board game was “nerve-wracking”. However, it blew everyone at GenCon 2016 away and went on to become a bestseller. So it’s no surprise that they’d come up with a follow up that deepens the already rich gameplay of Clank!. I had a chance to sit down with the new release after my chat with Hudson and learn the ropes.

Clank! In! Space!: Apocalypse follows the normal gameplay of the base game, a deck-building dungeon crawler where the players compete to steal treasure and precious items from evil galactic overlord Lord Eradicus. The players fight monsters, gather a crew, open locks, and sabotage the other thieves as they race to get into Eradicus’s vault and get out before they are captured or the good stuff gets taken. But the new expansion adds a twist: the end of the universe.

Lord Eradicus no longer is content to sit and let his security AI do all his work. He’s gotten off his ass and concocted a bevy of schemes to eradicate all life, from murderous AI’s to galactic plagues. The new mechanics add spice as the players now must balance their own greed with the needs of the galaxy they live in even as Eradicus’s plots start making their jobs harder and harder.

The game has a lot of fun playing with sci-fi tropes and referencing nearly every piece of science-fiction, including some deep cuts. See if you can spot all of the references in these cards!

The game has no dice, with movement being based entirely on card draw. That card draw also determines your ability to buy allies and defeat enemies. They also must track their “clank,” little cubes that represent the amount of noise they make while sneaking around. The more clank, the higher chance you’ll get hurt in combat. The combat in the game, by the way, takes place all at once, with wandering monsters appearing at random from the draw deck. When they appear, the player’s clank gets added to a big bag already filled with black cubes that represent Eradicus. After a good shake, two cubes are removed. If black, they are removed and added to Eradicus’s plot. If they are a player’s color, they are added to their respective health bars. When the bars fill, you die. If Eradicus’s plot completes, you die.

The game is genuinely fun and hilarious, combining the betrayal of classic games with some of the tentative co-op of games like Sentinels of the Multiverse. The system is solid and the complete absence of dice really helps it retain an identity in an increasingly busy deck-building genre. Its well crafted and reflects the love and enthusiasm that Dire Wolf imbues in all their games.

Clank! In! Space!: Apocalypse requires the original Clank! In! Space! to play, currently retailing for $60 online and in game stores. The expansion adds 2 extra game modules, new adventure cards, new schemes, and a whole mess of new art from Rayph Beisner. The game is currently available at GenCon, but launches officially on the 22nd of August.

For more information on Dire Wolf Digital, you can visit their website here.

All images via Dire Wolf Digital and Renegade Studios


  • Dan Arndt

    Fiction writer, board game fanatic, DM. Has an MFA and isn't quite sure what to do now. If you have a dog, I'd very much like to pet it. Operating out of Indianapolis.

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