Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dungeon of the Apes: A Primate-centric look at Clank! the Board Game

Well, this is going to be interesting
My favorite fantasy stories carry a common plot twist.

You've adventured high and low, discovering secret knowledge and ancient treasures. But the final reveal is this:

You've actually been exploring Earth all along!

This unfamiliar Earth has been distorted by war, the clash of empires, deadly radiation, the rise of new ancient magicks, and more. Yet nevertheless this is all that's left of home.

Something about this seems familiar

What drew me to Clank!? Certainly not the theme. Adventurers exploring a dungeon and looking for treasure? I've been to that well before.

When I first heard about Clank! I was downright disinterested.

No, I crashed the first game of Clank! I even saw in action because people were pulling wooden cubes out of a mysterious  bag. I'm a voracious pulling-stuff-out-of-a-bag'er. My hunger for such things is insatiable. I had to see more.

What I found made me earnestly regret my original disinterest. 

The bag even has a deadly dragon on it

When I originally saw people pulling cubes out of bag, I was actually seeing DEATH in action.

In Clank!, characters are on a strict health-based timer to find treasure in the dungeon and then get the heck out.

Every time you draw a new hand of cards, some of those cards are going to add cubes back into the bag. And there are precious few ways to "heal" your character once these blocks have been pulled back out again. You run out of health in Clank!, you die.

Yes, this is a deckbuilding game with player elimination. And its awesome.

You have to carefully weigh each turn, doing a classic "press-your-luck" evaluation. Hopefully you get just enough points to solidly be in the lead. But simultaneously planning your escape as early as possible to catch the rest of the players flat-footed.

I have played quite a few hands of the original Thunderstone. It was my original fantasy-themed bar against which to set other similar titles. Clank!, I've found, is ahead in every area, using lots of ingenuity to keep the game exciting each turn and pushing the game along to a definitive end.

But IS Clank a true fantasy theme? I'm reminded a bit of the more recent Thunderstone expansion Numenera. The aged crust of supposed "fantasy" reveals a high tech center: full of magic and myth which is really just science advanced enough to be perceived as magic.

I got all the clues I needed by studying a subtle motif strewn throughout the Clank! dungeon. A repeating theme that kept coming up again and again.

There's something familiar about this deckbuilder.
It was the apes.

I'm not some kind of ape-loving fanboy. But I've seen the original Planet of the Apes and I understand the basics.

In the past, humans got too full of themselves. They started a game of Global Thermonuclear War that they couldn't finish. And the result was hyper-intelligent apes swooping in and picking up the pieces.

In Planet of the Apes we see a feudal society built from ape culture, with apes taking the place of humans in establishing a new civilization on Earth. It is assumed these apes are just as smart as humans once were, and will continue advancing technologically into the future.

Imagine a world of scientific, industrialized apes. We caught a quick glimpse at the end of the remake.

Ape Lincoln
But humans and apes probably share the same broken, selfish morals that originally led to humankind's downfall. It's indeed easy to imagine this new breed of Ape researching atomics and developing their own hideous weapons for global annihilation.

After careful thought, Clank! is quite certainly a new Earth born from yet another cataclysm: this time involving the hyper-intelligent apes. And now who gets to swoop in? Those humans who've been lurking in the wings this entire time.

Exhibit A
All the relics are ape themed. There are strange mechanical ape devices you can add to your deck. Lots of subtle signs point to a strange ape-centered civilization now reduced to ash and ruin.

This is no ordinary adventure.

If you are tired of fantasy themes, just remember  Clank! is NOT strictly fantasy. Instead, it is a new world swept clean by apocalypse, where humans aim to reclaim a long-lost heritage and hopefully do things right this time.

Delve deep into the dungeon. Hire some mercenaries. Grab that sweet, sweet ape gold. Just make sure you can get out alive!

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