I have mixed feelings about Clank! — and that’s a sentence that would sound much less dramatic without the obligatory exclamation mark. When I wrote about it way back in 2017, my stance veered wildly between “This is an approachable and clever hybrid deck-building game” and “This feels deeply artificial, and also there are way too many dead turns.” I haven’t touched its offshoots: no Clank! In! Space!, no expansions, not even the legacy-game version. Ask me what designer Paul Dennen has been up to and I’ll excitedly tell you about Dune: Imperium instead.
In a way, that remoteness gives Clank! Catacombs the air of a reunion. Not a high school reunion, and certainly not a creepy polygamist ancestors reunion. Rather, a reunion with an old friend — more of an acquaintance, really — who’s become way cooler than you remember.
Expansions always make for peculiar reviews. One of the realities of writing about lots of board games is that there’s precious little time to revisit anything. Even the most impressive titles often fall by the wayside. Paul Dennen’s Dune: Imperium proved an exception, reappearing on my table again and again thanks to its smart hybridization of deck-building and worker placement. Now it has a major expansion, Rise of Ix, along with the usual burning questions. What’s changed? Are there new avenues for a house aspirant to pursue greatness? Doth the spice flow?
I’ll say this much: the Dennen who designed Rise of Ix must have played this thing a thousand times, because he understands exactly what makes Dune: Imperium tick.
Paul Dennen gets deck-building games. More importantly, he gets that deck-building is an under-leveraged mechanism. Wait, you might be saying, aren’t there one billion deck-building games? Yes. More deck-building games than there are grains of sand in the sea. But not all of them are slick hybrid titles like Clank!, which mixed deck-building with just enough beyond-the-deck considerations to make it worthwhile. While the rest of the hobby lags behind Martin Wallace’s multiple experiments in hybrid deck–building, Dennen has been doing one better by taking those lessons and turning them into games you’re actually likely to play.
Dune: Imperium is the best of his offerings yet. Although not necessarily because of the systems Dennen is mixing together.