The Evolution of Deck-Building in CLANK!
Many of the game mechanisms I've talked about in a previous post have been introduced in games more recently than not, and today are being refined and blended in innovative ways.
One interesting mechanism to see evolve is deck-building; the basic idea is simply the action of drafting cards into a personal deck that grows as the game progresses. The cards are typically used as currency to draft other cards or collect victory points, essentially making your deck an economic engine. The strategy lies in fine-tuning that engine. You typically start with a small deck of really wimpy cards, and build to get more powerful ones. Many are familiar with Dominion, which brought deck-building to the market in 2009 and is still a best-seller. The gameplay, while really fun, is a pure mechanism-based experience - obtaining cards to get more cards that enable you to buy point cards to win the game.
After Dominion, Wizkids' Mage Knight: Board Game (not to be confused with the line of collectable minis) was marketed with the tagline "deck-building with a purpose." Players are the titular heroes (or villains, depending on your view) exploring a vast lands, defeating enemies, conscripting allies, all leading to a final showdown with a entire city. While deck-building is an aspect of Mage Knight, the amount of cards you actually add to your deck is pretty limited in any given game. The deck is not used primarily to acquire other cards, but to act as a challenge to maximize your hand of cards on each turn, quite similar to Gloomhaven, though I'd argue Gloomhaven is more elegant in its approach. Mage Knight doesn't feel satisfying as a deck-builder, not to mention it is one of the most convoluted games that I still own. The important point is that, to me, Mage Knight did not evolve the deck-building genre, much less provide a "purpose" to deck-building.
White Wizard's Star Realms, did evolve deck-building by specifically adding direct player confrontation. Players, as usual, start with a small deck. A trade row of 5 cards is dealt out and players may draft and purchase them by playing cards that provide buy points. These cards may also have combat points used for attacking other players. The winner in Star Realms is the first who can deprive the other players' 50 "influence points" through combat. This is a marked difference from Dominion in that card selection during play is more limited and player interaction is much higher. Another nice aspect of the game was the inexpensive price. $15 got you a deck with enough cards for 2 players; you just add another deck to play with four.
Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure takes it up a notch by adding a board, a backstory about a dungeon, treasure hunters, and, of course, a dragon.
Players are the aforementioned treasure hunters, seeking to raid a dungeon of as much treasure as they can nab and return to the surface before getting toasted by a territorial dragon. All actions and choices the players take are dictated by their deck.
When it comes to buying cards, there is a plethora of options. You can buy companions to aid you in your treasure-seeking quest. You can activate one-time use devices that don't get added to your deck, but provide a helpful boost. You can choose to "fight" a monster card in the trade row using the sword symbols on your played cards for gold. All this time though, you are focusing on scooping up anything lying around and planning the right time to finally take your artifact.
An interesting currency is clank cubes. Certain cards and action may tell you to put clank cubes on a corner of the board. When a card is drawn that signals a dragon attack, the cubes are added to a bag and a number is drawn based on where the dragon is its track. Drawn clank cubes are placed on player's health meters. If there are too many cubes on this track then the player is knocked out.
After someone nabs an artifact, it becomes a race to the top to avoid getting stuck in the depths, because when that player exits, increasingly dangerous dragon attacks will occur instead of their turn. Clank! seamlessly blends aspects of push-your-luck with frenzied race at the end. You can try to go for the low-value artifacts at the top, or go for the high-value ones lower in the depths, risking being stuck down there in exchange for a potential high payoff. It's a deck-building adventure with push-your-luck aspects and a race all in one box.
Clank! is clearly deck-building "with a purpose", building on the success of previous games that popularized the genre, and it is a fantastic game.