|From:Rio Grande Games Cost: $10 Players: 3-5 Playing Time: 30 minutes Type of game: Card Skill level: 2 Complexity: 4 Reviewed by: Peter Sarrett, Issue 6.1 (21), Summer 1999|
Seemingly out of nowhere, Uwe Rosenberg catapulted into gaming stardom with a string of unusual card games. Bohnanza, Schnappchen Jagd, and Mamma Mia! offered fresh mechanisms and innovative gameplay in an otherwise moribund genre overrun with Oh Hell! retreads and lackluster efforts. With a record like that, Rosenbergís name guarantees instant attention. Klunker continues his tradition of original (if somewhat self-derivative this time out) mechanics, and has garnered a cadre of enthusiastic fans. Regrettably, Iím not one of them. On paper it sounds like it has all the right stuff, but the illusion shatters as the importance of the random draw and lack of compensating mechanisms becomes apparent.
Like Bohnanza, Klunker is a game of hand management. The object is to acquire sets of four of the same type of jewelry in your safe. When that happens you transfer some of the jewels to your scoring pile and recycle the rest (just as in Bohnanza). If that set was the only thing in your safe, you score them all. Each additional type of jewelry in your safe reduces the setís value by one. So the idea is to concentrate on only one type of jewelry at a time, although an omnivorous approach might make up in quantity what youíd lose in purity.
Each player owns a jewelry store and must put some wares up for sale. At the start of each turn, any player with an empty shop window must restock it with any cards he wishes from his hand. If someone is collecting tongue studs, you might stock one hoping to attract that playerís business. Or you might put a tongue stud and a gold tooth in the window, getting more cards out of your hand but possibly making the offering less attractive, as weíll see.
Restocking complete, players go around the table adding cards from their hands directly into their safes, one at a time. Players gifted in the deal with lots of the same card can therefore score big points for their good fortune, dropping a set into their safe for a quick score. Bohnanza limits you to two cards from your hand per turn, reducing the importance of a good draw. Klunker has no such restraint, and so the gameís outcome can be completely determined by the deal. If you never get dealt the cards youíre looking for, youíre at a severe disadvantage.
When youíre done depositing cards into your safe you take a number indicating your order in the shopping phase- the sooner you stop, the sooner youíll shop. When everyoneís done depositing, the shopping phase begins. Each player in turn must buy all the jewels from somebodyís shop window, paying them one card (point) from his scoring pile regardless of how many jewels are bought. You can buy from yourself, which costs you nothing. And if everyone elseís window is empty, you have to do just that. Since itís an all or nothing deal, you can be forced into some unpleasant decisions. The tongue stud from the earlier example might complete your set of four, but youíd have to take the gold tooth with it- reducing the value of your stud set. And if no studs are being sold anywhere, youíre stuck buying something you might not want at all.
Unless someone buys out your shop window first. If your turn comes and your own window is empty, you can opt not to purchase anything. When this happens the shopping phase ends immediately, which can mean some players donít get a chance to shop. Which doesnít mean theyíve been hosed. There are times when you really donít want to buy anything thatís on sale anywhere. Thatís one reason to make your own shop window attractive to opponents. If someone buys your stuff, not only do you get paid but you canít be forced to purchase anything when it comes around to you- provided you played enough cards into your safe to pick up a spot late in the shopping sequence to let that opponent buy from you first. The stocking and shopping phases influence each other tremendously.
Hands are replenished to six cards at the end of the round, so thereís a strong incentive to get as many cards out of your hand as possible. Which means playing them into your safe or loading up your shop window. Problem is, you may be forced to suck up that cornucopia window yourself.
These kinds of dilemmas are the stuff good games are made of, and yet they fail to salvage this one. Agonize all you want about what to store in your safe, what to put up for sale, and what to buy. In the end, it doesnít feel like it matters. The luck of the draw is overpowering here- the rest of the gameís mechanisms are merely smoke and mirrors to conceal it. Iíve tried all sorts of strategies in Klunker: strict adherence to safe purity; cycling through my entire hand every turn; always offering for sale a set guaranteed to get purchased by an opponent; loading my window and purchasing from myself. None felt more or less effective than the others, which is to say that their success depended on the cards I drew.
I canít fool myself into thinking my decisions have an impact on the gameís outcome. If youíre more successful than I at self-deception, you might fall into the camp of Klunker aficionados. There are quite a few such lost souls. Klunkerís similarity to Bohnanza is unmistakable, but that earlier game is superior in every way. Iím willing to chalk this up as a minor blip in Rosenbergís otherwise stellar track record and choose one of his other, more successful games instead.