Thursday, 18 February 2010


Klunker is an older (1999) card game by Uwe Rosenberg, who used to be famous for Bohnanza, but is of course now very well known for Agricola and Le Havre. I read that it is a purer form of the gameplay of Bohnanza, and decided to try it since Carcasean has it.

The Game

The objective of the game is to earn the most money by collecting sets of jewelery. At the start of every round, everyone draws cards to a hand size of 6. Each player can then place some jewelery in his or her shop window, to try to attract others to buy it. They also then place jewelery into their own safes (visible to others). Placing jewelery into safes is done one card at a time. When a player passes, he gets the lowest numbered buying card. These buying cards determine the turn order for buying cards from the shop windows, and is often an important consideration. Cards purchased from a shop window also go to your safe.

The most important mechanic of the game is how to convert collected jewelery into money. Whenever you have 4 cards of the same type in your safe, you must sell that set for money. In the best case scenario, you earn $4, by turning over those 4 cards and putting them into your bank (the card backs show a money side). In the worst case scenario, you may only earn $1 for one set. The amount you earn depends on how "messy" your safe is. For each additional type of jewelery you have in your safe, you earn $1 less. E.g. if you have 4 nose rings and 2 earrings, you sell your nose rings for $3. If you have 4 nose rings and 4 earrings, you first sell your nose rings for $3, then you sell your earrings for $4 (because after selling the nose rings, the earrings are the only remaining type). However, no matter how "messy" your safe is, you earn at least $1 for a set. There is a special case of necklaces - these always sell for $4, but these cards are rarer.

At the end of every round, everyone draws enough cards to reach a hand size of 6. So there is incentive to use your cards as quickly as possible, because the more you use, the more you'll draw to use next round. However the tricky part is it's not always desirable to use your cards. The game ends when the deck runs out.

A player's play area consists of 3 sections. On the left is the shop window (which has four cards in this photo). In the centre is the bank, i.e. where you put your money, which is basically cards turned over to the money side. On the right is your safe. Here I am collecting two types of jewelery. There's also a start player card shown in this photo.

You need as many buy order cards as there are players. They are normally put in the centre of the table. They are collected during the "put cards into safe" phase, and then used in the "buy from shop window" phase.

The Play

Klunker is not a game you'll understand from reading or listening to the rules. You really need to play to get a feel for how it works. In our game, we tried different strategies. I mostly tried to put "good" displays at my shop window, to entice others to buy from me (I'd earn $1), i.e. putting out cards of a single type (or very few types). Chong Sean mostly tried to put out "painful decision" displays at his shop window, to mess up the buyer's safe, i.e. he has the card type that the buyers need to complete sets, but also other "rubbish" card types that the buyers don't want. Shan's cards were too good. She completed set after set without needing to buy from the rest of us much. Wan and I got a bit stuck. We used up our starting cash ($1 only), and couldn't complete any set quickly to earn some money. So for many rounds we couldn't buy from any one else's shop window. This is a brutal poor-gets-poorer game! Well, I guess the two of us didn't realise we had stepped into a downward spiral until it was too late. Lesson learnt. Needless to say, we came last and second last. Shan, with her amazing set completion, won the game by a huge lead.

The Thoughts

Klunker is a light and quick game, but is also quirky so it takes a little while to grasp. Kind of like Bohnanza I guess. However it is quicker than Bohnanza. Some games of Bohnanza can drag quite a bit. I guess it depends on the players. Negotiations in Bohnanza can sometimes drag. Negotiations are key in Bohnanza while in Klunker the trick is how to put cards in your shop window, and how to buy from others' shop windows. Most of the time you can't complete sets by yourself and need to buy cards from others. You also want to get rid of cards you don't want by selling them to other players. In Klunker this is done in a subtle way, definitely less straight-forward than Bohnanza. There is some luck in the game, and if you get really lucky (like Shan did in our game), you can run away with the game and noone can stop you. It's the same in Bohnanza.

Klunker is a clever little card game which I think will be best played with 4 or more. It requires analysis of your opponents' needs and intents, and creative crafting of offers at your shop window. Do you go with a carrot-plus-stick approach? Or a small-carrot approach? Is any willing to pay you $1 for the small carrot? Do you buy back from your own shop window? Quite a number of tricky decisions in such a small package.

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