James and Mike
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Which Game is the Best?
Clank! vs. The Quest for El Dorado vs. Trains

An IGUESSIMANERDNOW comparative review featuring James and Mike









James: I’m a big fan of deck building. I like crafting a deck, getting more powerful as the game goes on and that feeling you get when you draw your hand and reveal that sweet, sweet combo that lets you pull off a massive turn. I like it even more when there’s a board involved.

Mike: ...which is how we came to compare these three games. We’ve done a couple of these comparison style reviews (you can read them here) and had quite a bit of fun, so we figured we’d give it another go. The games will be ranked in 6 categories: Production, Theme, Deck Building, Gameplay Experience, Replayability/Expansions and Overall.



James: Agree? Disagree? Vote for your pick in the poll under each section, then tell us what you think in the comments below. Let the dissension commence!



Production



image courtesy of Foxx77


3rd Place: Trains

J: Trains looks like the game that people who don’t know that awesome board games exist yet probably imagine when they think about board games. It’s not bad looking, but it definitely doesn’t scream “this will be fun!” as much as it quietly mutters “maybe this will be an okay game?”.

M: I think this is probably the game’s biggest downfall. It doesn’t look terrible, the components are fine quality and if you own Ticket to Ride, you can easily upgrade the wooden cubes. However, when you place Trains alongside the other games in my collection, many of which have incredible art and production, most people won’t even give the game a chance.






image courtesy of maeddes


2nd Place: The Quest for El Dorado

J: This barely beats out Trains in my opinion. The good: it comes with a variety of modular boards that can be put together in a bunch of different ways and the meeples look like Indiana Jones. The bad: those cards are tiny! Especially for a game where you handle them so often.

M: Agreed. The art on the cards is cool though and the board is colourful. When you take it out of the box, there’s nothing that makes you go “oooooooooh”, but nothing that makes you go “ewwwwwwww” either. When you take price into consideration, I think it’s a pretty good bang for your buck as they say.







image courtesy of Arachnode


1st Place: Clank!

J: This was an easy one. Lots of fun, fantasy artwork on the (normal-sized) cards, a cool dungeon board and a DRAGON!

M: And a lovely bag for said dragon’s attacks. It also comes with a sturdy insert and lots of little cardboard tokens for the board. I will say the one thing that bothers is me is that the box is sllliiighhhtly larger than normal so it doesn’t line up perfectly on the shelf. I wish I didn’t care about stuff like that, but alas. Overall, excellent production.


Poll
Which game do you think has the best Production?
Clank!
The Quest for El Dorado
Trains
      176 answers
Poll created by Iguessimanerdnow




Theme




image courtesy of kilroy_locke



3rd Place: Trains

J: In Trains, you are the manager of a private railway company, spending much of the game laying rails and building stations around the map. You feel more powerful as your company ‘grows’ by getting better cards and populating the board, and you generate waste as you build, so there are some thematic elements here.

M: Yeahhhh, I’m not a huge fan of the train theme in general. However, the relaxing atmosphere of the game does remind me of slowly gliding along the countryside staring out the train window. Just nice and pleasant, but with very little excitement.






image courtesy of lacxox


2nd Place: The Quest for Eldorado

J: Cue the Indiana Jones soundtrack. I really like the theme here of leading an expedition through the jungles of South America. It takes a bit of imagination, as you’re essentially just trying to move your little fedora topped meeple through hexes with 3 different symbols faster than your opponents. But the theme is definitely there and it’s fun.

M: Some of the cards and their actions go really well with the theme. My favourite is the giant machete that lets you slice through the jungle like warm butter. While not as strong as the theme of our number one choice, you can have some fun with it if you and your group choose to embrace it.






image courtesy of sirchudly


1st Place: Clank!

J: Now this is a game with theme. Sneak into a mountain lair to steal precious artifacts and other valuable trinkets. Befriend allies like the Mountain King, a Mercenary or a…cat..? Anyway, together you will fight goblins and other terrifying monsters as you try to make it back out alive. This is harder than it sounds…because there’s a DRAGON!

M: I love the dragon attacks and the tension/narrative that comes with them. The cast of characters and variety of helpful items that you can add into your deck are awesome and often humorous. I love that although the game is tense - you’re sneaking through a dungeon and there’s a dragon trying to kill you - it also has a wonderful sense of humour. The fact that you almost always stumble and make noise the moment you “sneak” into the dragon’s lair at the beginning of the game sets the stage for a more bumbling, almost comedic dungeon thief than we’re used to portraying. This helps make the game much more approachable than your average dungeon delver.


Poll
Which game do you think has the best THEME?
Clank!
The Quest for El Dorado
Trains
      158 answers
Poll created by Iguessimanerdnow




Deck Building




image courtesy of lacxox



3rd Place: The Quest for El Dorado

J: In this section we discuss how each title handles the deck building element of the game. We spent a lot of time arguing over the placement for this category as each game does it a bit differently and which one you like better is probably a matter of taste. For example, in El Dorado, you can choose to keep cards for future turns. Rather than discard something that you think might be useful later, you can hang onto it so it will be in your hand next turn. I love that little strategic wrinkle and the extra bit of freedom that gives you.

M: I usually really enjoy the “shopping” phase of deck builders and choosing which cards to add to my hand. In El Dorado, it feels kinda “meh”. You need to consider what type of terrain you’re likely to need help with, or what ability you want, but none of the cards feel super exciting. Also, in this game more than most, the order that your cards come out can realllllly make a difference. If you don’t draw a card with the terrain you need to cross, you can’t move. Or, if you draw exactly the right kind of terrains you need then you can fly across the board. The “keep your cards for later” mechanic James talked about does help though.






image courtesy of cindypastorius


2nd Place: Clank!

J: In Clank!, most of the cards that you can choose from to build your deck are drawn from a pile and laid out in a row. Once a card is purchased, it gets replaced. There are a ton of different cards so it’s exciting to see what’s going to be turned up next. On the other hand, it sucks when there’s nothing out there that you really want. Some of the cards might be monsters, so you may only have a few options.

M: That doesn’t happen that often though. It’s fun to create a deck of unique characters and trying to balance your ability to move and fight. There are some cool combos to be made as well. I just wish there were a few more ways to thin your deck in the base game.






image courtesy of kilroy_locke



1st Place: Trains

J: Of the three games, Trains is the most similar to its Dominion daddy. All of the cards are laid out in an all-you-can-buy menu from the start of the game and are available to purchase until they’re not. With several sets and combinations of cards in the base box, as soon as the cards are chosen and put out on the table, your strategic cogs start spinning with combination creating possibilities.

M: There is also the added element of waste. Certain actions create waste, which adds a completely useless card to your deck that just gets in the way. Some people don’t like this, but I’m a fan. If you create too much waste without finding a way to get rid of it, that’s on you. Overall, the deck building in Trains uses a tried and true, and very enjoyable, formula that fans of Dominion will be sure to love.



Poll
Which game do you think has the best DECK BUILDING?
Clank!
The Quest for El Dorado
Trains
      129 answers
Poll created by Iguessimanerdnow




Gameplay Experience





image courtesy of diddle74




3rd Place: Trains

J: This is where we talk about all the other gameplay stuff that’s attached to the deck building. As already stated, Trains is a very relaxing, smooth experience. As you place your rails and stations around the board, you try to get to the juicy areas first, but even if you don’t it’s okay.

M: Right. There’s no blocking, but if you build a rail where your opponent already has one then you make more waste. The tension ratchets up as you begin to see the end game creeping closer and you want to get down that one. last. rail. There’s some neat decision making with station building too, as it not only benefits you, but can benefit your opponents as well. It should be noted too that with the base game maps, the 2 player game is a lot more open.






image courtesy of lacxox


2nd Place: The Quest for El Dorado

J: A big part of the fun of El Dorado is the race. It’s exciting as your little Indy-ples jockey for position. Blocking is allowed in this game too, which is infuriating when it happens to you, but amazing when you’ve pre-planned a way around it and go speeding past your opponent. There is the odd game where one person gets ahead early and stays there, which stinks, but it hasn't happened often enough that it’s an issue.

M: I’m a big fan of the caves variant where you can stop by caves to get one off powers that can get you out of some tight spots later in the game. I think the main thing for me is the fact that you can use your cards to move OR buy more cards. So do you race ahead of your opponents now, or stay behind to craft a more powerful deck in order to slingshot forward later? This heightens the tension as you know anyone is capable of speeding ahead on any given turn.





image courtesy of WhelpSlayer


1st Place: Clank!

J: It’s a simple objective really, just go into the dragon’s lair, grab an artifact and get out. A lot of the fun and tension comes from all the push your luck elements that exist. Since the game end is decided by the first player who decides to scurry out of the dungeon, it’s like there’s this ticking bomb set to go off at the push of a button that all players have access to. If someone pushes that button and you’re stuck in the depths of the dungeon, chances are you’re probably toast.

M: Dragon toast. But all the most valuable treasure is in the depths! As long as no one acts like a jerk and takes off early, I should be fine. And none of my friends are jerks… right? Dragon attacks are also a lot of fun as you reveal cubes from a bag that hurt either you or your opponents. The fact that the attacks are triggered when certain cards are revealed makes every card flip exciting as well.



Poll
Which game do you think has the best GAMEPLAY EXPERIENCE?
Clank!
The Quest for El Dorado
Trains
      134 answers
Poll created by Iguessimanerdnow




Replayability and Expansions





image courtesy of W Eric Martin



3rd Place: The Quest for El Dorado

J: The one great thing about this game’s replayability is that there are so many board configurations so you can have a different “race track” each time. On the flip side, there’s not a ton of different cards, so I often find myself wishing that there was more to choose from.

M: Only one expansion has been released so far and it’s been kind of hit or miss. I enjoy playing with the heroes and familiars, but the curses not so much.






image courtesy of jipipu


2nd Place: Clank!

J: There are a lot of different cards in the base game, which means your deck will be pretty different from game to game. Plus there’s a double sided board, so really I think the replay value here is quite good even without expansions.

M: There are some great expansions though. Sunken Treasures brings you underwater, and The Mummy’s Curse throws you into ancient pyramids with a crazy mummy. They both add some really cool cards and double sided boards. There’s also the Gold and Silk expansion, which includes yet another board with some cool new twists on gameplay and a giant spider. AND there’s a legacy version coming soon! Ahhhhh! Can’t wait!





image courtesy of HedgeWizzard


1st Place: Trains

J: There is a lot of variation in the base box. You only use some of the cards for each game, so the different combinations that come out force you to change your strategy from game to game. At some point for every deck builder I say, “Man, I just wish there were more cards.” That happened much later in Trains than it did with the other two.

M: If you can’t get enough of Trains goodness, there are a few map packs and Coastal Tides, which adds a bunch of cards, maps and bonus cards for connecting certain stations. If you want EVEN MORE, you can get the standalone game Rising Sun, which can also be combined with the base game. So many trains. Woot woot!



Poll
Which game do you think has the best REPLAYABILITY and EXPANSIONS?
Clank!
The Quest for El Dorado
Trains
      108 answers
Poll created by Iguessimanerdnow







Overall: The Final Verdict





image courtesy of diddle74



3rd Place: Trains

J: Trains is a really solid game. If you want a smooth, relaxing Dominion-like experience, this is your game. If you end up liking it, there’s a lot of content out there.

M: I like Trains a lot and have played it the most out of the three, but at this point I’d choose to play either of the others over this one in most cases. Plus, it’s hard to get to the table with friends who see all the other games I have available just based on the theme and it’s appearance.






image courtesy of lacxox


2nd Place: The Quest for El Dorado

J: The Quest for El dorado is the simplest to learn of the three and serves as a fantastic introduction to deck building. With a fun theme and an exciting race element, you really can’t go wrong pulling this out for both newbies and experienced gamers alike.

M: The Quest for El Dorado has lighting quick turns, some tough decision making and a handful of moments where you want to crush your friends with a giant boulder. Dr. Knizia has treated us with another gem.






image courtesy of henk.rolleman


1st Place: Clank!

J: Clank! is my favourite deck builder with a board. It’s tense, exciting, witty and just so darn fun. Creating a deck full of unique characters, deciding whether to explore the depths of the dungeon or quickly make a break for the surface to (hopefully) screw over your friends, dragon attacks… ahhhh so good.

M: Clank! is almost always a big hit when I introduce it to new people for all the reasons you mentioned. I also like that players have some control over the frequency of the attacks, much like they control the end game timer and how much clank they put in the dragon bag. Clank! has this overall feeling of controlled chaos that makes for a highly entertaining escapade and keeps that dirty dragon on my gaming table.




Poll
Which game do you think is the best OVERALL?
Clank!
The Quest for El Dorado
Trains
      155 answers
Poll created by Iguessimanerdnow







If you enjoyed this review, you can check out more of our discussions here!


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Martin T.
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Short question: Did you play trains with 4 players?
 
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James and Mike
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cybertrigger wrote:
Short question: Did you play trains with 4 players?


Occasionally, yes. Not as often as with 3 though.
 
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A Balley
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I enjoyed this comparison, thanks!

I would be really interested to see Tyrants of the Underdark thrown into the mix.
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Kirk Roberts
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The polls might be more interesting if posted in a neutral location, not in the Clank forums. (I assume that if in the El Dorado forums, El Dorado would be favored, etcetera.)

Personally I love Clank but love El Dorado more. I think it's the singular goal of getting there first. And I love how the market works adds a layer of decision-making. Never had an issue with the card size or the number of different cards available. There are many viable strategies. Just personal tolerances and preferences, I guess.
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Curtis Frantz
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State College
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kirkroberts wrote:
Personally I love Clank but love El Dorado more. I think it's the singular goal of getting there first.


However it's the simplicity of that singular goal that made the game feel a bit boring to me after the first couple plays.
 
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Kirk Roberts
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tribefan07 wrote:
kirkroberts wrote:
Personally I love Clank but love El Dorado more. I think it's the singular goal of getting there first.

However it's the simplicity of that singular goal that made the game feel a bit boring to me after the first couple plays.

The journey is the destination. With the virtually limitless map variability, trying new deck strategies, and a mix of opponents, I have yet to get tired of it 35+ plays in. Assessing the current map is really interesting (I highly recommend the fan-made 40 additional maps in the Files section). To each their own, of course!
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Brent Mair
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Roy
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I have a hard time playing a train game with a map that doesn't have rails. I'm not much of a theme guy but dropping a cube in a big hex really killed Trains for me.
 
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James and Mike
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balley40 wrote:
I enjoyed this comparison, thanks!

I would be really interested to see Tyrants of the Underdark thrown into the mix.


We've been meaning to play it, but haven't got a chance yet unfortunately
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James and Mike
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kirkroberts wrote:
The polls might be more interesting if posted in a neutral location, not in the Clank forums. (I assume that if in the El Dorado forums, El Dorado would be favored, etcetera.)


You're right. We thought about posting it in each forum and using the same polls in each one, but didn't want to be annoying by posting the same review several times. We did put a link in our blog with tags for each game though with the hope that would help balance it out a bit.
 
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Jérôme
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Opinions differ. I really like the illustrations on the cards of Trains. They are very evocative, especially the political ones.
The boards are nice and clear. There might be no absolute blocking but there are confrontational action cards and in the beginning of the game, when money is tight, you can practically block others from expanding to a certain direction.
Yes, I’m a fan. I have two heavy boxes filled with Trains goodness, including both big box expansions and one map pack and two printed 2p maps.

I’ve played it over 50 times and I’m not done with it yet!
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