Way back in 2016, a time that has long since passed into legend, came a game called Clank! and the people cried,
“Oh no! Not another deck builder!”
Yet some remained intrigued, for this was not just any deck builder, this one had… a map. And a dragon on the front. Soon they had purchased this game and played it with their friends and found that it was good. And so they went to the place where the board gamers congregate in times without games (Board Game Geek) to spread the word of what they had seen.
“Is it not just another deck builder!?” the doubters cried.
“No,” they replied, “this one has a map. And a dragon on the front.”
With these words Clank! began its rise up the hotness, which all agreed is an ironically appropriate place for a game with a dragon on the front to be. And it came to pass that throughout the land there came such a clamouring for this game about keeping quiet that it sold out before I could get a review copy. Yet fortunate I was as I got to play a game of it and I too saw that it was good because, after all…
From the makers of last year’s very successful and award winning deck builder Clank!, comes a sequel with a terrifying lack of respect for punctuation: Clank! In! Space! Is this an unnecessary stand-alone sequel or is it the refreshing blast of nanotech-laced euphoria juice we were all missing? Let’s start at the beginning…
Here (used to) be dragons
Clank! blended simple but solid deck building with needing to move about the map to liberate some treasure from the dragon’s lair. It’s nail biting fantasy stuff as the dragon won’t sit quietly, and you forgot to pack your flame retardant undies. It’s a game of pushing your luck: chasing the valuable treasurers forces you to travel deeper into the dungeon but the longer you stay, the angrier the dragon will get. You can fight monsters, focus on movement so that you can escape sooner, collect valuable but otherwise useless trinkets. It deserved the praise it had given to it.
But it still had its flaws. A single map to play on (well, two, but after your first couple of games you’d always play on the second), and one that unfortunately encouraged a dead sprint to the closest treasure and back out before the dragon could mummer a single, confused, ‘hobbits’? Into this metaphorical void comes the literal void of In! Space! as well the spaceship that Space! presumably surrounds. Rather than a dragon you now face the evil robot Eradicus, his collection of minions and bounty hunters, and his fetish for sci-fi pop culture references.
Clank! In! Space! reproduces all the elements you’ll know from Clank, disguised under a battery of new terminology and iconography to learn. The dragon is now an angry alien robot, the ice caves have become security zones, the coins are credits, and the market has a key card instead of the key. Such is the problem with re-themes. The core is the same, construct your deck by buying from the market row, fight the odd baddy for bonuses, and most importantly get moving! You need to get to the artefacts and escape the ship before Eradicus’ cooling fan hits you in the back of the head. So move fast, or take it slow and try not to make too much noise.
Clank! Is not only the name of this series, it is also the literally-named mechanic that makes this series so fun. Many of the games’ cards, including those two infuriating stumbles in your deck, force you to add “clank”. You really are the most clumsy thieves in the universe… these clanks are tracked with the pile of cubes in your player colour, and placed into the purpose built clank module that Eradicus had constructed in his ship (really boosts the resale price). These will just collect there, perfectly innocently, until certain cards drop out of the adventure deck, triggering an attack from Eradicus and his minions.
Suddenly all those quietly collecting clanks get hoovered up into the big threatening black bag. Depending on the stage of the game, a certain number of cubes get drawn out of the bag and turned immediately into wounds! Wounds that have a nasty habit of collecting very quickly. You can and will die in this game, the only question is whether you can make it to safety, or at least to the scoring zone, before this happens. Managing your clank is essential, or go for the dead sprint and pray approach. After all, there are lots of safe neutral cubes in the bag to begin with and even if you do have a lot of cubes in the bag, you might get lucky…!
The whole system is both interesting to play with, tying into how you build your deck, around powerful but noisy… *sigh* ‘Jedu’ laser swords say or cunning clank clearing cards, and leading to hilarious situations. Like trying to sneak into this spaceship while being followed around by a robot singer playing at full blast, or when you are noisy, seeing only other player’s cubes being drawn from the bag. It’s a great system! So, what’s new In! Space!?
In! Space! No one can hear you exclaim
Well, naturally it comes with a brand new board but more importantly this board is modular! Which makes it a mess to fit back into the insert but, hey, for replay value this is a big deal. The three central units can be rearranged as you like and each are double sided, with different layouts of rooms and traps and other bits and pieces to tempt or distract you. This is in theory a big step up over the original and I’m about 50% convinced by it. That doesn’t sound too good does it? Ok. Well in theory, different layouts should tempt me to deck build in different ways. I would expect the map and the deck building to work together, but this isn’t really a thing since your deck tends to just provide movement and occasionally some combat. But you always want movement, no matter what, and so how you move through the map really felt like a tactical choice that is separate from the strategic deck building. That was a little disappointing, but I may be missing out on some higher level play somewhere.
The other reason is one of Clank! In! Space!’s other innovations: the fast travel routes. This being space and all, there are new teleport and elevator spaces that enable you to move more rapidly through the ship. The teleporters need a special key from the market, and the elevator will get blocked towards the end of the game, but most of my plays have essentially seen me choosing between which of these routes I’d prefer to take, more or less bypassing the more interesting decisions that might have been forced upon you by the board’s modularity. Again, this might be me as an inexperienced thief taking the more obvious escape routes. Fortunately, you won’t be ignoring the modules entirely.
Eradicus, as conqueror of the galaxy, is a bit smarter than the dragon and has had a powerful security system installed that prevents anyone from entering the final tile without first cracking the security code. This slows you down in the early game, limiting the sprint in and out strategy of the original, by requiring you to hack two of the green terminals spread throughout the modules (done simply by moving into the space with them). This forces you into the bowels of the ship to explore on your way in. So it’s not that the modularity does nothing, it absolutely does, I only wish it better integrated into the deck building too.
The deck building itself is as solid as you could hope deck building to be! There are lots of interesting elements to explore and combos to pursue. The cards now come with faction powers that trigger when you play other cards of that type (like a Legendary or a Star Realms), or some require power crystals. These teardrop shaped pieces of plastic can be collected from odd spaces on the board and are only used to trigger the powers of specific cards. This is the one place where I found the movement on the map to really direct my deck building: do I go out of my way to collect a power crystal so that I can trigger these cards, or not?
Clank! In! Space! Fixes a lot of the, frankly, minor issues present in the original base game. It adds variety, it adds a little more depth, and a galaxy full of sci-fi jokes. You would be remiss not to get some kind of Clank! into your life and, with the possible exception of theme, I see no reason not to choose Clank! In! Space! if you don’t already own the original. I do prefer the theme of the original, (dragons!) but I like the gameplay improvements of this new edition.
However, if you are already a long time raider of the lost dragon horde, it’s not an outright sell. It’s more expensive than just another expansion would have been and probably doesn’t offer enough of a new experience to justify having both, unless you play Clank! an absolute ton and really want some new maps. But then, as a fan of deck building, I’d probably recommend looking at other deck builders for the same price rather than more of the same. Games like Trains and Automobiles both tie deck building into a central map or race track, Mystic Vale (or the upcoming Edge of Darkness) has great push your luck elements. I haven’t played enough of the original Clank! to really provide a definitive answer but that’s my leaning. You must do what you feel is right, of course.