Clank! Catacombs review: "The absolute sweet spot of tactics, variety, and good old-fashioned fun"

Clank! Catacombs box and tokens on a table
(Image: © Future / Matt Thrower)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Although the tweaks it makes to the established Clank! formula are relatively small, this dungeon-delving adventure game hits the sweet spot of tactics and variety.


  • +

    Keeps the deck-building fun of the original Clank! with lots of great additions

  • +

    Tons of variety in cards, tiles and treasures ensure that every game is different

  • +

    Full of risk versus reward decisions that keep on cranking up the excitement


  • -

    Fiddly to set up for a relatively short game

  • -

    Lots of chaos in place of tactical decision-making

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The original Clank! was part of the second wave of deck-building games that added a board alongside a deck of cards that you embellished as you played. In this case, the board represented a dungeon and your cards helped you move, loot treasure and defeat monsters. The recipe proved popular enough to spawn a sci-fi spinoff, Clank! In! Space! and a campaign version Clank! Legacy – Acquisitions Incorporated. This new version, Clank! Catacombs replicates the original's gameplay but replaces the board with randomly drawn tiles to plot the dungeon. But is it a catacomb you can truly lose yourself in, and how does it rank compared to the best board games?

Clank! Catacombs - features

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Price$54.99 / £48.99
Players2 - 6
Lasts45+ mins

Without a classic board, the contents of Clank! Catacombs can look vaguely disappointing, but there’s everything you need for frantic dungeon-delving fun. Alongside several sheets of punch-out cardboard tiles, there’s a dizzying array of other chits in various shapes and sizes, representing treasures you can loot and prisoners you can rescue. There are some big stacks of cards for you to build your deck and, best of all, four custom wooden heroes for player pieces alongside matching cubes and an embroidered bag to draw them from.

Clank! Catacombs - how does it work?

Clank! Catacombs board and dragon mover

(Image credit: Future / Matt Thrower)
  • You use cards to move, kill monsters and purchase new cards for your deck
  • Noisy actions generate 'clank', which makes it more likely you’ll be hurt by the dragon
  • You need to loot as much treasure as possible, including an artefact, and escape

During setup, everyone places their hero on the start tile and gets an identical deck of cards, most of which generate skill (which lets you buy other cards to add to your deck), and boots, which let you move. You can choose new cards from a face-up row of six, while movement lets you explore a tile or, if you move off the edge, draw another random tile to grow the map.

The remaining two cards generate the game’s signature, clank, which means you have to add cubes of your colour to the bag, which starts full of black cubes. These represent the rage of a sleeping dragon, and every time a new card with a dragon icon is added to the face-up selection, a number of cubes get drawn from the bag. Dragon cubes are discarded, while any that match a player colour translate directly into damage. As the game goes on this becomes more and more dangerous, with more player cubes in the bag, fewer dragon cubes, and more cubes being drawn in general.

It’s a constant question of how deep you dare to go

As you purchase new cards and grow your deck you’ll have opportunities to generate a third resource, swords. Among the dungeon cards you can buy are monsters which, instead, require you to spend swords to discard the monster and gain a reward. You can also use swords to traverse monster-infested paths which are printed on the map without taking damage.

There are lots of other map features to explore along your travels. Crystal rooms force you to stop moving, markets let you purchase useful or valuable items, while shrines provide looting opportunities. Some tunnels and map features require you to spend lockpicks you’ve acquired to access them. A few tiles are haunted, adding ghost cubes to the bag which damage all players when drawn. There are many rooms which let you draw from the pile of secret chits which can reveal things like potions to boost in-game resources alongside treasure.

What you’re really looking for, however, are artefact rooms. The goal of the game is to steal an artefact and escape, but the more artefact rooms get revealed, the more valuable the artefacts become. So it’s a constant question of how deep you dare to go. Making it back to the start tile nets you a treasure bonus, but if you die nearby you can still tot up your total treasure and compete for the win. If you die in the depths of the darkness, however, it’s game over. 

Clank! Catacombs - gameplay

Clank! Catacombs cards

(Image credit: Future / Matt Thrower)
  • Revised card deck gives you more management, and thus strategy, opportunities
  • Tile drawing is much better than the old dungeon board: more varied and tactical

While it’s not the most obvious fit, the deck-building mechanics of the original Clank! Made a good simulacrum of the levelling up that makes the best tabletop RPGs so addictive. Unlike the majority of deck-building games, however, it gave you very few tools to manage your growing deck so it quickly became a chaotic mess of cards that varied hugely in power. Some people enjoyed that kitchen-sink approach while others found the lack of long-term strategy frustrating.

Clank! Catacombs has found a lovely sweet spot between the two. Cards that let you wean out your weak starting cards are still rare but there are more of them, so you have more opportunities to trim things to your liking. More notably, there are significantly more effects that let you draw additional cards each turn. So while you can still end up with a kitchen-sink deck, you’ll have lots more opportunities to leverage the cards you’ve bought, including looking for effects that combine well together. Creating and managing your deck thus feels more strategic and more rewarding.

Clank! Catacombs is full of calculated risk versus reward decisions

Against this, you’ve got the huge random element of the tile drawing itself. When you step off the edge of one tile, there’s a delicious moment of terror as you wait to see if there are any icons on the new path you’re creating. If it requires monsters or boots or lockpicks you don’t have then you have no choice but to try and rotate it to offer you a safer path, which almost certainly puts rewards like secrets or artefacts further away from you. Sometimes that’s not even an option, and haunted tiles tend to elicit a murmur of collective horror. Likewise, when the maze of tiles inevitably grows too big to fit on the table.

The payoff for using tiles is, however, enormous. You feel like you’re really delving into the unknown with every pull, giving the game an element of exploration that the original lacked. It also adds variety, something every dungeon game benefits from, and the designers have taken some of the opportunities here. The list of secrets is largely the same as the original game although there are one or two additions. The prisoner chits, by contrast, are all new and range from an adventurer who infuriates the dragon to a primatologist who covets idols from the monkey shrine. 

Organising all the chits and tiles at the start of the game is a pain for such a relatively short game, but you’ll soon forget about it as you’re sucked into the maze. From beginning to end, Clank! Catacombs is full of calculated risk versus reward decisions. They range from small, like whether to spend your gold coins on a small item or hoard them in the hope of hitting a market, to game-spanning ones like how long you dare dwell in the depth as the dragon gets angrier and angrier. But every single one contributes to a relentless ratcheting of the tension as you race to grab and artefact and make it to the exit before it’s too late.

Should you buy Clank! Catacombs?

Clank! Catacombs board and movers

(Image credit: Future / Matt Thrower)

Years ago there was a board game called DungeonQuest, which was notable for its near-total lack of strategy and the frequency with which it killed all the player’s heroes. It was, however, fast-playing, absolutely hilarious and packed to the nines with classic dungeon encounters. In many respects it was the ultimate in short dungeon games. But Clank! Catacombs may finally have consigned it to the depths. 

Its relatively small tweaks to the Clank! formula elevate it more than they have any right to do, creating an adventure game in the absolute sweet spot of tactics, variety and good old-fashioned fun. If you’re in the market for dungeon board games of any stripe, you should check this out.

Buy it if...

You liked Clank! or Clank! In! Space! (this is a significant improvement).

You’re a fan of RPG-style or dungeon-delving board games. 

You like the idea of a game that can vary wildly between different plays.

Don't buy it if...

You want straight-laced, heavy, strategic games.

You’re averse to setting up and tearing down games with lots of pieces.

More info

Available platformsTabletop Gaming
Matt Thrower

Matt is a freelance writer specialising in board games and tabletop. With over a decade of reviews under his belt, he has racked up credits including IGN, Dicebreaker, T3, and The Guardian.