Before you can get started with Clank! there's a bit of set-up that needs to happen. First, you have to choose which map you want to play - if it's your first time, you should use the more basic game - then you need to lay out all the necessary tiles. This means randomly placing one major secret on each of their spots spot and two minor secrets on each minor spot. You'll also need to choose and place out the artefact tokens (five for two players, six for three players or all of them for four players). Finally, place the Monkey Idols on their spaces and place all other tokens within easy reach of the board.
Next up are the cards. Each player needs a starter deck containing six Burgles, two Stumbles, a Sidestep and a Scramble. Then place place the reserve cards (Mercenary, Explore, Secret Tome and Goblin) below the board and shuffle the 100 card Dungeon Deck. When the deck is shuffled, place it next to the reserve cards and deal six cards face-up into the Dungeon Row. If any of these cards have a dragon symbol on them, shuffle them back in and replace them for now.
Now place the dragon marker (we'll call her Nictotraxian, or Niki, from now on) on the appropriate starting place marked on the rage track, and put her black cubes in the bag. Finally, assign each player a colour and place each pawn on the starting point just outside the dungeon. Now you're ready to go!
The goal of Clank! is to get into the dungeon, steal an artefact and as much other treasure as you can get your hands on and get out again before Nictotraxian kills you. Sounds simple enough, right? Here's how it all works.
Cards get everything going in Clank! and if you're familiar with deck-building games like Dominion and Star Realms, you'll pick up the core mechanics quickly. Players start each turn with five cards in hand. They have to play all of these cards (not necessarily simultaneously) in their turn, and will gain some combination of five core resources (explained below) and a few additional effects.
At the end of the player's turn, all cards go to their face-up discard pile, and they draw a new hand of five cards from their face-down deck. If they don't have enough cards in their deck to draw the full five, they shuffle their discard pile and it becomes their deck once again, before drawing the remaining cards they need. Now let's look at the main resources these cards will generate, shown by the symbols on the left hand side of the card and text in the lower half:
Skill, represented by a number in a blue diamond, is the main currency in Clank! It's used to buy cards from the Dungeon Row and the Reserve which have a cost in their top right corner. When you buy a card from the Dungeon Row, it is only replaced by a new one at the end of the turn. Any cards you buy go straight to your discard pile, though some cards have an 'Acquire' effect that activates immediately.
Some cards in the Dungeon Row and the Goblin in the reserve can't be bought. They must be defeated by paying the combat cost in their bottom right corner. When defeated, these monsters are discarded from the Dungeon Row and replaced at the end of the turn. They'll also give you some kind of bonus - often gold, which we'll get to later. The single Goblin is always available to be killed, and combat can be used to defeat the monsters that lurk in tunnels, shown by the monster symbol on the board, that will damage you if you can't beat them off.
Movement is represented by a black boot in a yellow square, and is crucial to the game. One movement symbol allows you to move through one regular tunnel, which is how you get around the board. A new player's pitfall is not realising how valuable movement is - it's possibly the most valuable of all resources.
However, not all movement is regular. Some tunnels have a double foot symbol, which means you have to get two moves in a turn to move through them. Others have to be unlocked with a key, and the crystal cave rooms prevent players from moving on that turn. This is why it's important to be able to see more than one movement symbol in your hand most turns, giving you the flexibility to go down different routes to the artefacts that are the goal of your exploration.
Along with skill, gold is one of the in-game currencies. At the end of the game, each coin you have is worth one point, but it can also be used to buy market items. These items each cost seven gold, and have various abilities, such as allowing you to unlock passages and carry more than the usual limit of one artefact. Some cards generate gold as a resource, and many monsters drop it when they die.
The final resource is negative, which is why you have no choice but to play all your cards. If a card gives you +X Clank! you have to put that many of your coloured cubes in the Clank! banner. This is bad, and I'll explain why shortly.
Other card abilities
Like all strategic card games, Clank! cards can do all of the above and more. Some of them will let you draw cards, while others will let you break certain movement rules. The key is to be aware of what the strengths and weaknesses of your deck are that game, and buy cards that help you to achieve your strategic goals.
Sometimes you'll want to favour combat if you're going down a lot of monster-infested tunnels, while in other games you'll want to focus purely on movement to get in and out of the dungeon as quickly as possible. The beauty of this game is that your deck will never look exactly the same from play to play.
As you move around the dungeon you'll be able to pick up major and minor secrets, which are worth mentioning here because they offer bonuses that are very similar to one-time card effects. The existence of secrets is why I always complete my movement for the turn before buying any cards or killing any monsters, as the benefits from them often bolster the resources you have available and could give you the boost you need to buy a particularly expensive card or kill a particularly tough monster.
Nictotraxian and the End Game
Now let's get to the really interesting part of Clank! - the dragon attacks. Nictotraxian doesn't like you stealing her stuff, and every now and then she'll attack to try and scare you off or even kill you. Dragon attacks are triggered at the end of player turns if a card with a dragon attack symbol is added to the Dungeon Row.
At this point, all the cubes in the Clank! banner are added to the dragon bag, and one player randomly draws out the number of cubes specified on the dragon track (plus any more specified by certain cards in the Dungeon Row). Nictotraxian moves up the row every time players steal an artefact or find a Dragon Egg (a type of minor secret). Players must add every cube of their colour pulled out to their health track, but don't worry - at least in the early game, many of the cubes will just be the black dragon cubes that don't do anything.
The health track
There are 10 spaces on the health track, which are added to whenever a player's cubes are drawn from the dragon bag or whenever they take damage from a monster in a tunnel. Players can heal themselves by landing on special healing spots or finding healing potion secrets. If any player hits 10 damage, they're knocked out...
Death and near-death experiences
If a player hits 10 damage, one of two things happen. If they're in the subterranean part of the dungeon, below the grassline, they die in the dragon's jaws. This means they're out of the game and get no points. If a player is above ground, however, daring villagers manage to save you and you can keep all the points you've gained up to that point.
The end of the game
The end game begins whenever the first player is knocked out in the dungeon or manages to escape with an artefact. At this point, the player moves onto the endgame track at the top of the board, and all that happens on their turns are successively powerful dragon attacks. On the fourth turn, all players still in the dungeon are killed instantly. When all players are either dead or out of the dungeon, scoring begins.
Players who get out alive are awarded a Dungeon Mastery token (worth 20 points). Points are also scored on any card or artefact that has a white number in a green circle. Some secrets, all artefacts and most cards score points, as do the Monkey Idols also available in the dungeon. Remember, if a player dies underground they get nothing! The player with the most points is the winner.
Tips and Tricks for Clank!
A large part of the enjoyment in a game like Clank! comes from discovering strategies and ideas for yourself, but there are a few things you can be aware of to make those first games go a bit more smoothly and gain an edge over the competition.
Buy movement cards
In general, you should prioritise cards that generate movement. These will give you the freedom to pursue a number of different strategies, and ensure that you won't die in the depths of the dungeon. It's easy to pass over them because they don't enable you to buy even cooler cards or kill the big monsters, but none of that will matter if Nictotraxian gets her jaws on you. Even Explore, the 3-cost reserve card, is a good addition to most decks if you don't have loads to spend, giving you some extra movement and a skill boost.
Look for ways to minimise your Clank! production
If you're not putting much Clank! in the bag, you're less likely to die a painful death. While it might seem unavoidable to play your basic Stumble cards or even Dungeon Row cards that generate Clank!, there are many ways to mitigate its impact. Cards that let you discard from your hand, like Sleight of Hand, are favourites of mind as this means you don't actually have to play the discarded cards. Some other effects in the game will allow you to trash your Stumbles, while other cards will give you negative Clank!, actually taking it away from the banner (but not the bag).
A trick to building a decent deck is to balance your cards that cause and mitigate Clank! You might think that it's a good idea to avoid buying any new cards that generate Clank!, but remember that Clank! is used as a balancing tool for more powerful effects. These cards are often some of the best value for money in the game, but they'll come back to bite you if you don't have a way of getting rid of Clank! or healing yourself.
Gold is good
Cards that generate gold (the coins, not the blue skill currency) are easy to undervalue because gold has limited use in the game. It's also easy to underestimate the value of killing monsters that drop a lot of gold. However, having easy access to gold is a great way to gain some powerful items from the market and give yourself a little points boost at the end of the game.
Both the Master Key and Backpack market items can give you a serious advantage over your opponents, especially if you can buy them on your first visit to the market squares. The Crowns are also good, but you need to really want them to make them better than the key or the bag.
Don't be afraid to experiment
I'll leave you with a short tip that will make you a better player in the long run and help you have more fun: experiment each time you play. Try different strategies; buy different cards. Sure, it won't work every time, but you'll learn the ins and outs of the game a lot faster and you'll be enjoying a different experience each time you play. What more do you want from a game?
That's all for now. Have fun, and don't get eaten!