First off, let’s get the pronunciation right – this game needs to be mentioned only with appropriate exclamation mark style pauses between the words, so it is not Clank In Space, it is Clank! In! Space!, like Pigs In Space from The Muppet Show, remember? This needs to be done every time its name is mentioned because Clank! In! Space! certainly talks the talk, taking the highly rated but wonkily named Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure from 2016 and transferring it to the vastest of voids. No longer are its clanky players stealing treasure from a dragon, but instead they are swiping artefacts from under the nose of the evil (aren’t they always?) Lord Eradikus.
Fun, action, adventure!
All the fun! All the chaos!
The box screams fun, chaos and rumbustiousness, and the sly sci-fi references begin right here, from the robots that look ever so slightly familiar to the text on the back of the box that seems quite reminiscent of a certain-long running stellar battle set of films. Yes, folks, if you have even the remotest interest in anything to do with science fiction on TV, film or even at times in written form, then you will be in the galactic equivalent of hog heaven here.
Open up the box and the quality of the components becomes apparent. The board is properly thick and chunky and slots together with satisfying solidity, while the player tokens are not cubes or discs or anything like that, but individually shaped figures that, again, look ever so slightly familiar. There is Lord Eradikus himself, decidedly xenomorphic in profile, and the obligatory cubes, tokens and chits. Also nestled there in the box is the core of the game, the deck of cards that will be added to the building bit to make this deckbuilding (there it is!) adventure come to life.
The references are very clever indeed.
Like your references? This is sly sci-fi!
Make no mistake, the pictures and the references on the cards are great. Anybody with a passing interest in, say, Battlestar Galactica or Alien or Doctor Who or Futurama or pretty much anything else in this area will find something to chuckle at, an illustration that makes them think “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”, or a piece of flavour text that suddenly comes into focus and makes them laugh out loud. It is all skillfully and deftly done, and some of the cards even have multiple references at the same time, which is officially very clever indeed.
In fact, apart from the fact that a couple of bits of the board are allowed to slosh around in the box as if cast adrift in the vacuum of space, Clank! In! Space! makes a great first impression. Even the rulebook is light and fun, telling you what is different if you have played Clank! before, and holding your hand just a little more tightly if this is your first experience of this world, not facehugger tight, just Ripley and Jonesy type stuff. It could be more cohesively written, and not everything is properly explained, but it does its job effectively enough.
It’s not all snugly packed.
Tiptoe through the spaceship! Get the artefact!
So far so good, and you and your fellow players take the role of space mercenaries nicking artefacts from Lord Eradikus (even these artefacts have chuckleable art), attempting to get from one end of his spaceship to the other and back again without dying, and especially without making too much noise, which in this game is called Clank. Make a noise and you are likely to get hurt when Eradikus does his rounds, and at a certain point some bounty hunters might join in, and then it all goes slightly over the top once people start getting into escape pods and getting off the ship.
But first things first. Eradikus’s ship is setup using the double sided board in the box, either to a set design or at random, and then various spaces are seeded with face down tokens to be discovered by the players. Eradikus himself gets to sit on the Rage Track and all players pop some cubes into the Clank area while a black bag, embroidered with Eradikus’s likeness and filled with his black cubes, sits there ominously. You will learn to fear this bag. The remainder of setting up Clank! In! Space! is pretty much as you might expect for a deckbuilder, in that each player gets a starting deck, the market is laid out and off you sneak.
Clank = noise = bad
Currency exchange? Skill, boots, swords and credits!
Clank! In! Space! has both a permanent market, like Dominion, and a dynamic market, like Star Realms, so some cards are nearly always present to buy, while others change as they are purchased. Clank! In! Space! also ups the ante by providing several different types of resources for players to juggle. There is Skill, which is used to aquire new cards, but that is not the same as Credits, which are worth points and may be used to buy items. There are also Boots, which allow movement, and Swords, which defeat enemies, and along the way players will encounter health and, of course, the dreaded clank. One Clankian tweak is that players must use their entire hand of cards on their go, and this means that there is no real way to avoid generating clank if you have those cards in your deck, other than to acquire cards that allow you to negate this effect.
The various spaces on the spaceship also have different properties. Some have motion sensors that force a player to end their turn, others have items to be acquired, some (oddly) seem to have market stalls in them, and there are guards and data ports as well. These data ports are important because players need to get to any two of these in order to gain access to the far end of the ship, where Eradikus keeps his goodies, and in the meantime, whenever His Lordship’s likeness appears on a card that is added to the market, all the clank cubes get thrown into the black bag and a certain number of them get drawn out, based on how angry Lord E is. If one of those cubes is in your colour then you take damage and are a step closer to being Eradikated. There is also a hyperlift on the ship, a teleporter too, although the latter needs a key, and some routes are locked. It all promises to be knockabout, rough and tumble fun, fun, fun all the solar day long.
The ship is a maze of tunnels, but not all icons are explained in the rules.
No air in space! But there’s still drag…
Except that it is not. Clank! In! Space! starts off absolutely fine as players begin their exploration of the ship, but then it becomes an overbearing smorgasboard of conflicting and often contradictory demands as players attempt to work out what to do. There is nothing wrong with those kinds of demands per se, and I would argue that great games thrive on exactly that, but here it all feels too muddled and too clever for its own good, and part of the problem, I am convinced, is in the heart of the game.
Deckbuilding provides a slow, incremental and annoyingly random way of gaining gaming power. Trash one of these cards and gain one of those and your entire deck is now 1% more powerful, but you need to have that new card in your hand really to feel that improvement and trying to get cards to fire off each other takes a long time to get going, and is at the mercy of what gets drawn off the top of the deck. The complexity of what is going on also means that players can take a long time working out what to do on their turn, where their resources are best spent, and when added to the strong-strong-weak-weak-strong pattern of successive hands means that strategic plans need to remain sketchy at best.
The best moves involve a decent amount of thought.
Are you alone or in a team? Theme is odd!
I also have a problem with Clank! In! Space!’s use of deckbuilding from a thematic point of view. In Dominion you have a domain, in Heart Of Crown you have something similar, while in the excellent Core Worlds you represent a galactic faction – all of these represent entities formed of different elements, represented by a deck of cards. Clank! In! Space! sets you on your way in the ship and then lets you recruit allies as you go along, but the idea of a group of ten of you sneaking around a spaceship seems bizarre – no wonder you are all making so much noise. By the time you have an artefact in your grip you have robots, princesses and even a cat or two in your party. Good luck getting all that lot to the escape pod together, let alone fitting them in. And are these people just standing around the ship waiting to be recruited? People give other games a hard time for their perceived wonky themes, but Clank! In! Space! should not get an easy ride just because its player pieces look like robots.
Lord Eradikus. Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?
Clank! In! Space! can also take a long time to play, and it commits a clunker by effectively embracing player elimination as part of its core design. If a player manages to get into an escape pod and off the ship with an artefact they essentially sit and wait for everybody else to finish the game. No, hang on – they get to draw cubes from the black bag instead of taking their turn. Let me attempt to contain my excitement. Ok, excitement contained. It is possible for all players in the game to die (well, the rules say you are “knocked out”) and while this might not seem to be too much of an issue, only players who either make it to an escape pod or who are knocked out in the cargo bay get to score points. So, yes, you and your three friends could play Clank! In! Space! for an hour and a half and end up achieving a combined score of zero and without a winner. Does that sound like fun to you? No, nor me.
Orange (player) and red (bounty hunters) are too close for comfort.
Love technology? It makes for an appier play!
In Clank! In! Space!’s defense, the whole deckbuilding with a board thing is a tricky proposition, and this game reminds me a little of Super Motherload, in its build a deck and explore a board to gain tokens outlook, but while Super Motherload also feels long, at least each player has their own deck and can choose how and where to train their focus. Clank! In! Space! feels much more as though it is throwing out chaos and seeing how you react…which is thematic, at least. A little salvation comes in the shape of the Renegade Games app, though, which provides a solo campaign for the game that not only adds value to it, but also saves it from instant damnation by curmudgeons like me who cling to the idea that games need to be fun. It also generates random set ups, so if you love this game and think that I am entirely wrong then you can keep playing it and let the app do the heavy thinking at the start.
Deckbuilder means cards.
Well, there comes a time in every reviewer’s life when they needs to step apart from received opinion and run their own contradictory point of view up the flagpole and see whether anyone salutes it, so here it comes. Clank! In! Space! has quality components that will make its players purr with pride, and the sheer joy of many of its nudge-nudge wink-wink references is cause for delight, but this is window dressing. If all that chrome (and it is nice chrome) takes your attention away from the nagging feeling that this is an overlong, overburdened and counterintuitive game for something that should be a laugh-a-minute romp then so be it. For me Clank! In! Space! is already a strong contender for my gaming disappointment of the year, and it is only February. It is undoubtedly good, but emphatically not great, and I just could not wait for my plays of it to end. Your mileage may vary, of course, and feel free to tell me why I am wrong, but for me Clank! In! Space! only merits 6 out of 10, and that is still four more than one of my fellow players gave it. Clunk!
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I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.