Review: Klunker

When you hear the name Uwe Rosenberg, you might immediately think of such games as Agricola, Le Havre, and Caverna. Well known for his larger games, Rosenberg has also created some smaller gems which frequently get overlooked. Among my favorites of his “smaller” games is Klunker. In this game, each player is a jewelry store owner looking to maximize their profits by buying and selling with the competing jewelry store owners. It plays with 3-5 players and each game takes about 30 minutes to play.

The components of this game are quite simple, consisting of nothing more than cards. I have the Rio Grande edition, and while the cards take some heat for not being that attractive, I think they are a far cry better than the Lookout Games edition. There are 94 jewelry cards, five shop window cards, five purchase order cards and one start player card. The jewelry cards are the cards that are bought and sold in each round. There are seven different types of jewelry, ranging from a tongue stud to a necklace. Each type of card shows an image of the piece of jewelry, and are different colors depending on the different jewels. On the reverse side of each card is the image of a bill, which is the money used in the game. Each player also gets a shop window card, and has a space in front of them that will be used as their “safe”.

The game is played over several rounds, each consisting of three phases. Before starting the first round, a starting player is chosen and is given the starting player card. This person takes the jewel cards, shuffles them up, and deals one face down (which stays face down) to each player. This becomes their starting bank and is placed face down in front of them. After the banks are set, everyone is dealt a hand of six cards, with the remaining deck being set off to the side.

In the first phase, beginning with the start player, each store owner places any number of jewel cards into their store windows for sale. In the first round, every player must put at least one jewel card in their window as no window can be left empty. These can be any number of cards in any variety. The only rule here is that cards cannot be hidden. Any jewels placed in the store windows will be available for purchase by any player. Play continues clockwise until all players have filled their store windows.

Once everyone has jewels in their store windows, the second phase begins. In this phase, players can place jewel cards into their safes. This is how the shop owners will earn money, by collecting sets of four jewel cards. Beginning with the start player, and in turn order, each person may put ONE card into their safe. These cards must be face up and not hidden by any other cards. This will continue around the table, with each player placing one card into their safe, until someone chooses to pass. The first person to pass will then take the #1 purchase order card and place it in front of them. They will be the first person to lead when the next phase begins. The remaining players continue in this fashion, taking an order card as they pass, until everyone has finished. Note that it is not required to put a card into your safe, and in some rounds you will find that passing early and grabbing a better number is preferred over putting cards in the safe.

As cards are put into the safe, players have a chance to convert them to money. As soon as you place the fourth copy of a jewel card into your safe, you must sell them. If this is the only type of jewel in your safe, you flip all four of them over and place them money side up in your bank. For each additional type of jewel present in your vault, you would get one less for selling them – so if you had three types of jewels you would keep two money cards for selling one of the stacks, discarding the rest. The only exception to this rule is the necklace. When four of the necklace cards are cashed in, all of them are kept, no matter how many additional jewels are present. You can never receive less than one “dollar” for selling jewels.

After all players are finished placing jewels in their safes, the third phase begins. The player who has the #1 purchase order card starts. At this point, they may buy the cards in someone else’s window for the price of one “dollar”. This is a fixed price, and the player cannot refuse to sell their cards. If there are three cards in the window, it is a dollar, and if there are thirty cards there, it is a dollar. If they are so inclined (or happen to have no money in their bank) the person may opt to purchase their own window, which costs them nothing.

Once cards are purchased they are placed immediately into the buyer’s safe and any jewels are cashed in according to the rules above. One important thing to note here deals with jewel cards totaling over four. If you have three headbands in your safe in front of you, and buy a window containing two more, you can only add one to the stack in your safe to be cashed in. The other one will go into the safe, but will count as a new type of jewel. The person selling the window puts the dollar into their bank and play proceeds to the next purchase order card.

It is important to note that a player with no cards left in their shop window is not obligated to buy jewels. If they choose to, they may pass and the round will immediately end. In this way some players may not get a chance to purchase cards from other store windows.

The first person choosing not to buy from a window is now the next round’s start player. They gather up the discard pile, as well as the unused jewel cards, and will then shuffle them into a new deal deck. New cards are dealt out to each player starting with the dealer, to bring their hand total back up to six. Play then continues as listed above. After the first round, it may be possible that you still have jewel cards in your window, in which case you do not need to put any additional cards up for sale if you do not wish to. The game ends when there are not enough cards in the deal deck to bring everyone up to six cards. Play ends, everyone counts the money in their bank, and the richest person wins!

Klunker is one of those games that has layers to it which might not be readily apparent at first. When you deal out the starting money at the beginning of the game, you are forbidden to look at what card is on the other side. This may seem like a small thing, but can really play a huge role when you’re trying to figure out if someone is hoarding a necklace in their hand or if it’s out of the game. Hand management is taken to an extreme here as you’re effectively worrying about three hands of cards – your hand, the shop window, and your safe. Try to short your safe so you don’t lose out on the trade in? You won’t get as many new cards next round. Dump junk into your window? No one touches it and you wind up having to eat it.

All in all, this is a nice filler game worth checking out. The artwork isn’t the greatest, but the gameplay is solid and there are still some decisions to be made. You can feel a little bit of some of his other games in this one as well, so that makes it even more interesting. I would recommend this game for groups that are looking for something that will really get the brain working and can lead off a night of heavier gaming.

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