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Clank! (2016) – Accessibility Teardown

Game Details
NameClank!: A Deck-Building Adventure (2016)
ReviewMeeple Like Us
ComplexityMedium Light [2.20]
BGG Rank61 [7.81]
Player Count2-4
Designer(s)Paul Dennen
Artist(s)Rayph Beisner, Raul Ramos and Nate Storm
Buy it!Amazon Link

Version Reviewed

English first edition

Introduction

Clank is intensely group dependent. If your group doesn’t mind ignoring systems that seek to actively disincentivise your fun you’ll find its somewhat chilly indifference to your enjoyment will warm up considerably. We gave it four stars in our review, but those stars are for when it’s played in the right company. If you’re playing with incompatible people you’ll find this an uninspiring experience at best. Good game or not, it’s now time to throw its little coloured cubes into our teardown bag and pull them out one by one until it escapes our clutches or dies in the attempt. We’ll try to keep the noise down.

Colour Blindness

Most of the components in the game don’t exhibit problems for people with colour blindness. The cards always provide additional supporting context, and colour in any case isn’t used as the primary source of information. The coloured scrolls that serve as headings are mainly decorative rather than intensely colour coded.

Cards through colour blindness filter

However, the meeple that represents your adventurer…

Colour blind meeples

And the cubes that represent your clank…

Colour blindness cubes

Well, that’s considerably more of a problem for players with colour blindness. It’s not something that breaks the game but it does have an impact, certainly session where the full player count is used or more than one kind of colour blindness must be accommodated at the table. You can replace your adventurer meeple with a different kind of token, and that would solve the most significant problem. These are already custom meeples though so it would have been good to have seen that taken to its logical extreme to have a different form factor for each player. Either that, or a more accessible palette.

When clank is drawn from the bag, it’s a public activity – the clank is removed and allocated to the correct health trackers. In a two-player game, players can select colours that aren’t going to make differentiation difficult. In a game with more players, there may be a need for impacted individuals to rely on the honesty of the current player when seeing where clank should be placed. Having said that, there’s no incentive for the table as a whole to conspire to hide it.

We’ll recommend, just, Clank in this category. Not because the colours are well chosen but because the impact of colour blindness can be mitigated with compensations.

Visual Accessibility

The cards are reasonable well structured, and the symbolic vocabulary of the game is simple and consistently applied. There’s some small-font flavour text on each card at the bottom but it’s not actually necessary for play. Written text is well contrasted and appropriately letterboxed to ensure that’s true in all circumstances. None of the cards are especially text dense barring the thematic elements, and while they can convey a lot of information it’s done in a reasonably compact way. One weakness of the graphical design though is that icons may be found on opposite sides of the card which necessitates players that are using an assistive aid examine the full card rather than just one side or another.

Cards in Clank

The board itself consists of well defined paths through the environment, although paths can be complex based on the configuration of their icons. Some paths may be unidirectional, locked, or other combinations of special effects. The spatial relationship between rooms in other words is relatively complex.

More importantly, the act of actually exploring the dungeon requires a great deal of path optimisation. There are dead-ends, one-way systems, and local optima – finding a path to a treasure that is going to pass by sufficient amounts of side-loot to make the trip worthwhile involves a lot of examination of a complex game environment. On the plus side, there is an easy version of the board available and the board is always the same game to game. That makes Clank more learnable in this respect than a game that adopted a more modular system.

Mostly all that changes between different games is which of the treasures are in play – that depends on player count. Until the game layout is learned properly though there’s a lot of difficulty that comes with working out the best way to get from A to B, especially when that has to be viewed in relation to what other players are doing. There’s no point in you aiming for the suit of armour artefact if someone else is more able to get it, and that’s going to depend on where they are and what cards they’ve been buying. You don’t get to see the composition of their deck when they’re playing – that’s hidden information – but it’s useful to know what cards might be component elements in a verbal summary. ‘I have four movement point and six skill’ means something different if those movement point come from two cards or from four. They sum up the same way, but they make a difference for navigating crystal caverns and difficult pathways.

Your ability to actually get to where you are going depends on the progress of other players – they get to decide when it’s time for you to leave the dungeon. You don’t just need a path to the artefact, you also need an exit strategy. That strategy may not involve going the same route as you took on the way down.

Low contrast spots

Setup is likely to be a considerable issue if there is no sighted player available to handle it. The location of secrets and artefacts is indicated by shaded sections on the map, and while most of the map has well contrasted visual information that isn’t true of these spots. There are so many of these too that even sighted players might find themselves missing loot distribution as a consequence of the sheer busyness of the board.

The offering of cards in the dungeon row will only ever have six cards in it, the standard offer only four, and for the most part their effects are clearly describable. The churn in these cards is relatively low – they’re replaced when purchased, they don’t ‘time out’ otherwise. As such, it’s not as challenging as it might be to hold the offer in mind provided people are happy to verbalise their actions and what they mean when they make a purchase.

Drawing clank is a tactile exercise rather than a visual one for the most part, and similarly so for putting clank in the bag. Some cards allow you to remove clank of your colour and in circumstances of visual impairment that’s likely to need another player to do it since the interior of the bag is dark, shadowed, and not amenable to easy visual examination. Similarly for drawing clank – while you don’t need visual information to draw the cubes you do need to be able to see what colours were pulled out.

The cubes that you have as part of your player area, along with the tracking of health on the board, give a tactile indicator as to some elements of the game progress – specifically they give a physical representation of risk. If you have few cubes and have taken little damage it means most of your cubes are still in the bag. Unfortunately this doesn’t translate quite so easily into understanding relative risk – it matters less how many cubes you have in the bag compared to what percentage of the cubes in the bag are yours. Sighted players will get a sense of that on a glance around the table, those with visual impairments will have to inquire.

With all this in mind, we can’t recommend Clank for those with visual impairments although we suspect that with sufficient will it could lend itself to play with support. For those for whom total blindness must be considered that would likely not be the case given the amount of visual path-finding involved.

Cognitive Accessibility

Clank doesn’t have as much of the tightly bound synergy we discussed in Star Realms, or the lexical complexity of Paperback. Really its deckbuilding is curiously limited – you’re mostly looking to build capacity rather than clever chains of abilities. As such, most of the decisions you make are arithmetic – buying the best card for the resources you have. There is though also a degree of implicit numeracy when it comes to assessing risk, reward and the extent to which a player should push their luck. Managing clank is an important part of the game but the tools you have for doing so are limited for the most part. The majority of cards have straightforward effects, although some of these may be conditional on the presence of treasures. Some cards have explicit choices built into them. If this was likely to be too cognitively expensive for players to process they could be removed from the deck without too much impact on the day to day experience of play.

There is some literacy required on an ongoing basis, and while none of it is especially complicated there are numerous conditional effects that need to be taken into account. For example, some cards can only be obtained when you’re in the bottom half of the map, some monsters only manifest in certain kinds of rooms. Some card have situational benefit when certain things occur in conjunction, or have a value that is dependant on the presence of other things. The dwarven peddler for example gives you two gold when drawn, and is worth four victory points if you have two of the three items listed on the card. The flying carpet allows you to ignore monsters and the effect of crystal caves for that turn only. The underworld dealing card gives you a gold *or* lets you buy secret tomes on a two for one offer. It’s not the specific effect of these that is potentially a problem but the influence they have on the risk and reward of what you do in the rest of the game. This means that scoring is often conditional too – simply buying a card doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be worth what you think at the end.

There is an erratic flow in how to handle the finding of secrets because they have variable effects. If you find a ‘greater skill boost’ you get five points of skill you need to use right away. A potion of greater healing on the other hand is something you keep until you need to use it. Gold is kept until spent, a magic spring has an effect that triggers at the end of your turn. Dragon eggs give you points but they also advance the dragon along the rage track. All of this is outlined on the ‘field reference guide’ at the back of the manual but consultation is likely to be required through the course of the game.

There’s additional complexity in the spending of your resources – these represent a point budget rather than an order of execution and as such you might break up the two movement on a card by moving to one room, triggering a teleport, and then using the remaining point to move from the latter. You’re not so much actioning the effect as prioritising it and that can be cognitively expensive as you evaluate the whole sweep of the game state.

More than this, the pace of the game is set as a kind of emergent property of the table – a lot of playing Clank is keeping a wary eye on what other people are doing so that when they snatch up an artefact and flee to the surface you’re not going to be caught on the backfoot. You need to build your deck not just for the accomplishing of a goal but for adopting a flexible set of tools for when the circumstances shift. Being able to react flexibly is important for maximum effect and for gaining the riches you could feasibly achieve. That’s made more difficult by the spatial complexity of the board which is full of paths that have differently weighted risks and rewards and pre-conditions.

We can’t recommend Clank for those with fluid intelligence impairments. It expects too much in terms of the level of numeracy, the complexity of actioning a turn, the spatial explicitness of the map, the probability assessment and the need to build a deck that can adapt to circumstances. We can however offer a tentative recommendation for those with memory impairments since the only major memory burden is in knowing the composition of your own deck. That’s less important here than it is in many games that focus on intense card curation. Clank does have mechanisms for trashing suboptimal cards but it’s not a system that is heavily expressed.

Emotional Accessibility

There are a few potential flare-up issues here. The first is that some cards are actively aimed at targeting other players – ‘tattle’ for example forces every other player to take a point of clank every time it comes out. It’s not explicitly aimed at any individual but it is pointedly PvP. Simply the buying of that card can be perceived as an act of aggression, especially if you pair it with other cards for managing your own clank or even bringing about dragon attacks.

The second significant issue is primarily to be found in the rhythm of play and the contention over resources. Only one person can grab any given artefact and your ability to beat another player to the punch is dependant partly on your cards but also on the erratic luck of the draw. You might have five movement cards in your deck but you can only spend them when they make their way into your hand. The presence of crystal caverns that end movement and difficult passages that require two movement points complicate your progress. You need icons to come out not just at the right time but also in the right quantities. You don’t want four movement if you need to go into a frozen spot. You want one movement for that and the rest to come out later. The effect of the cards coming out at the wrong time can be considerable, and it doesn’t help if your opponent has better luck and skips past you as a result. You might have to wait until your discard pile is reshuffled before you even get to move.

That can be a particular problem because as soon as one player makes their way to the surface they basically ring the ‘last orders’ bell for everyone. When they get to the top you have a maximum of four turns to get out alive. You can be stuck in a dead-end for turn after turn time while you watch everyone else escaping, You know there’s nothing you can do about it and fume about the fact the only reason there’s urgency is because someone else decided that it was time for the end-game.

Some artefacts on the board

As a result of this, score disparities can be considerable. In our last game, I had seventy-six points. Mrs Meeple had… zero. Or rather, she had about one hundred and forty but because she was knocked unconscious in the depths of the dungeon she perished and didn’t score. The player that is most successful won’t always be the one that is best at the game – they’re the one that managed to find the optimal pivot point between leaving and raiding the dungeon. There is a strong push-your-luck element built into the game if all players agree to do that. If they don’t then you’re stuck to the length of game decided by the least ambitious player. If you’re aiming for the long game and someone decided to cut things short you don’t even get the satisfaction that came along with playing in the first place. Some games take time to settle into. You may find your entire time in the dungeon was basically wasted as a result.

The way clank comes out of the bag too is potentially a problem in this category. It’s difficult to die early in Clank but it’s possible if players take risks. Every player has two cards that add clank to the bag, and only ten times their cubes can be drawn before they are knocked unconscious. That, in combination with monsters in passages, means that you could feasibly be killed early off in the game. You don’t get eliminated by other players directly (except when they willingly trigger a dragon attack that disproportionately impacts upon you) but you can certainly be knocked out of the game earlier than everyone else.

We’ll tentatively recommend Clank in this category.

Physical Accessibility

Like all deck-builders there is a considerable amount of shuffling involved, and in this case it comes with the additional expectation that players will be placing clank in the bag or drawing it out. However, also like most deck-builders, there’s no requirement that any of that be done by the current player. All that’s important is that clank is managed and cards are dealt out to your play area. It’s what a player does with their cards that represents pretty much every significant thing about the game.

Verbalisation, as a result, is possible even if the board doesn’t have any explicit referencing to make it easier. All moves are made in relation to where a meeple is currently located, and as such a system much like people adopt when trying to navigate an unfamiliar roundabout could be used. ‘Second exit. No, second. No, *that one* was the second exit why are you sending us to Luton?’. Alternatively, directions can be indicated in terms of cardinal and ordinal directions with the occasional need to disambiguate.

Everything else can be handled verbally, such as ‘I have three movement, two clank and seven skill. Please put two of my cubes in the bag and give me a secret tome. I’ll move east and then northeast into the crystal cavern’.

For those for whom verbalisation is not appropriate or not desired, the key elements to consider are the amount of shuffling, the movement of a meeple across a reasonably large board, and the traffic of clank to and from the dragon bag. Otherwise, we’ll recommend Clank in this category.

Socioeconomic Accessibility

The dragon at the core of Dragon Keep is Nictotraxian (Nicki for short), a move that would undoubtedly anger those that are also fans of the Skyfire Cycle. Qwandor was clearly a trend-setter in that respect. The manual adopts second person perspective in its writing and the art shows a good blend of men and women in positions of power, capability and authority. Assuming you don’t consider red, green and yellow to count it doesn’t draw from a very diverse ethnic palette as best I can tell. Some of the art is small and several of the faces are covered. I’d be willing to be talked into believing the alternative but certainly I can’t see much in the way of a balance in that respect.

Clank box

A while ago I spoke to someone in a gaming shop about Clank, and they said essentially ‘It’s an amazing game but everyone looks at the price and then buys something else’. At £56 RRP it’s certainly expensive for what you get and it’s not instantly obvious as to why. The component quality isn’t so high that you can say it’s obviously intended as a luxury product. I don’t believe the cost of a game should be tied to what you get in a box. Game development is too complex a job for that. I will say though that since you can get the second edition of Dominion for about £40 or Star Realms for about £15 it’s hard to really say that people would get sufficiently more out of Clank for the money. It supports only four players, but there is an app that you can use to play it solo. Perhaps that’s where the money is going – to subsidise digital development. I wouldn’t say it’s too expensive to recommend, but I will say that there are about a half-dozen deck-builders just as good as Clank that you could buy for considerably cheaper. You can pick up the first edition of Dominion for about £20 if you shop around.

We’ll tentatively recommend Clank in this category, but the price for what you get means we can’t reasonably go much higher.

Communication

There’s no need for formal communication during the game but there is a need for a certain degree of literacy. The flavour descriptions on the cards are the most complex text with which a player needs to deal, and that can be safely ignored if someone just wants to enjoy the experience. Most of the game effects are reasonably easy to parse (although not always) and with experience this will be easier to deal with. It’s likely to be an issue in the short to medium term.

We’ll tentatively recommend Clank in this category.

Intersectional Accessibility

There are a lot of tentative grades here, and that has a corresponding impact on intersectional relationships between various categories and sometimes in unexpected ways. For example, an intersection of memory impairment and an emotional control condition would likely have an impact because deck composition is a key element of frustration in the game. The tempo at which cards are drawn is just as important as the cards existing in the deck in the first place. There might be reasons why you want two cards with one movement rather than one card with two movement and that’s dependent on the deck you have constructed to date. Physical impairments paired with communication impairments are likely to make verbalisation too cumbersome to permit fluid play. Memory impairments with physical impairments can add considerable stress when dealing with the dragon bag since there’s no explicit link between your cube coming out and you having placed it in there. If those combined with issues of trust and paranoia then it’s easy to believe someone is cheating – especially since if the bag is angled in a particular way you can select particular colours to be chosen.

The pace of Clank is set by the table as a whole, which means that at any point a player can decide ‘Now’s when I grab an artefact’ and trigger the end-game condition. That means that the game never lasts longer than any one player would like – at least, in terms of the bigger picture of how the game plays. It doesn’t end instantly when an artefact is collected, so finishing your role in the game is a few rounds farther on than when you make a move. Once you reach the surface you no longer take any direct role in proceedings, and that can be good if other players choose to dawdle a little. You essentially opt-out of the final stages of the game by escaping. In any case, games of Clank usually last about forty-five minutes barring accessibility considerations. It’s unlikely, in itself, to exacerbate issues of discomfort or distress.

Clank also has a mechanism built in for players choosing to drop out of play, at least as long as there are at least two players left over. You simply treat them like they died in the dungeon – they take no farther role in proceedings but play continues apace. If you’re feeling generous you could even move them to the point of the dungeon where they get ‘rescued’ at the end. It’s possible that a player that drops out of play could even win with that approach.

Conclusion

It’s a tentative performance from Clank in our various categories here – the best we can say in a lot of them is ‘well, maybe?’. The spatial explicitness of the board and the path-finding required to succeed are a large part of why we can’t recommend it for players with visual or fluid intelligence impairments, but everyone else – maybe.

Clank!, Meeple Like Us, [CC-BY 4.0]
CategoryGrade
Colour BlindnessB-
Visual AccessibilityD
Fluid IntelligenceD
MemoryC
Physical AccessibilityB-
Emotional AccessibilityC
Socioeconomic AccessibilityC-
CommunicationC

The most unique thing about Clank, at least in terms of our accessibility profile, is that distinctive tempo of play where it is the least ambitious player that decides when the end-game is going to be triggered. I don’t think we’ve seen anything equivalent in any other game, with the possible exception of the rapid victory point crescendo in Dominion and its equivalents. It’s interesting though to see how it has impacted on many of the grades here – it’s not real time, it’s not a time or turn limit, it’s just a bail-out point that might come when you don’t expect it.

We liked Clank a lot, in the end. We gave it four stars in our review but it absolutely benefited from the last-minute ‘Wait, let’s try something different’ play session. It’s more dependent on the psychological make-up of your group than almost anything else we’ve seen. It’s fundamental too – it’s not in terms of ‘will you have fun?’ but completely central to what kind of game Clank ends up being. We can’t be very enthusiastic about it in a lot of these accessibility categories but also I wouldn’t be too comfortable in waving too many people away. It might be okay, only you can say for sure.

 


A Disclaimer About Teardowns

Meeple Like Us is engaged in mapping out the accessibility landscape of tabletop games. Teardowns like this are data points. Games are not necessarily bad if they are scored poorly in any given section. They are not necessarily good if they score highly. The rating of a game in terms of its accessibility is not an indication as to its quality as a recreational product. These teardowns though however allow those with physical, cognitive and visual accessibility impairments to make an informed decision as to their ability to play.

Not all sections of this document will be relevant to every person. We consider matters of diversity, representation and inclusion to be important accessibility issues. If this offends you, then this will not be the blog for you. We will not debate with anyone whether these issues are worthy of discussion. You can check out our common response to common objections.

Teardowns are provided under a CC-BY 4.0 license. However, recommendation grades in teardowns are usually subjective and based primarily on heuristic analysis rather than embodied experience. No guarantee is made as to their correctness. Bear that in mind if adopting them.

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