Posted by: gschloesser | August 1, 2011

Defenders of Clay Art

Design by:  Sawada Taiju
Published by:  B2F Games / Japon Brand
3 – 5 Players, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser 

Haven’t we seen clay sculpting games before?  Yes.  Barbarossa, Cluzzle and even Cranium come to mind, and they all are MUCH better than Defenders of Clay Art from designer Sawada Taiju.  What truly dooms this new entry into the clay sculpting field is a very strange scoring system that rewards correct guessing more than skill. 

Each player receives a player mat, a set of five cards (gold, silver, bronze, trash and accusation) and a black lump of clay.  Well, initially it is not a lump.  Rather, it is a very hard piece of clay that has the consistency of a pencil eraser.  It took us about 10 minutes of constant kneading and squeezing before the clay became useable. 

 Game play is actually exceedingly simple – it is the scoring that is rather complicated.  The active player names an adjective, and the one-minute timer is immediately inverted.  Every player has one minute to form a sculpture that they feel best exemplifies the stated word.  For example, if the word is “scary”, each player will quickly make a sculpture of something that they feel is scary.  

Herein lies one problem – one minute is usually not enough time.  First, players must think of something that fits the word, then frantically attempt to form the sculpture.  Unlike other clay sculpting games wherein making an obscure, rough sculpture is the objective, here a more detailed and life-like sculpture is preferred.  This takes time, and there just isn’t enough of it under the rules as written.  After a few rounds, we modified the rules by giving players two minutes to sculpt their masterpieces. 

Once all sculptures are complete, players then defend their creation, explaining how it best personifies the stated word.  This is supposed to generate lively and animated discussion, but in practice, it usually evoked simple statements from the players explaining their sculptures.  There was little trash-talk or questioning involved.  For a party game, this aspect was quite disappointing. 

Players next distribute all four of their cards, with each player being given one.  These cards will be placed face-down until all players have awarded their cards.  The idea is to give each player the card that, in your opinion, corresponds with the quality of the sculpture as it relates to the stated word.  For example, the player will award the player whom he feels made the best sculpture his “gold” card, while giving the player who made a sculpture that is does not relate well to the word his “trash” card. 

Once all cards are placed, each player has the opportunity to play their accusation card.  The idea is to try to accurately guess if a player has received three or four identical cards.  If successful in this guess, you do not earn any points.  Rather, you deprive each of those players one of the points they would have earned.  If a player is incorrect in his accusation, he must give one point to each player.  The problem with this procedure is that each player can only have one accusation played against him, so usually only the first player has a decent shot at making a correct accusation.  

At this point, all cards are revealed, and scores are tallied.  Here is where things get strange.  One would think that the player receiving the most gold cards would earn the most points.  That generally isn’t the case.  Rather, the most points are earned by matching the cards other players have played on a particular player.  For example, you want to place your silver card on the player whom you feel the other players will also place their silver cards.  You want to do this with each of the cards you place.  So, the idea isn’t necessarily to place your cards in a fashion that corresponds with your perception of the quality of each of the sculptures.  Rather, you are trying to guess where your opponents will place their cards and place yours accordingly.  For me, this is often counter-intuitive, and really causes the game to be little more than a guessing affair. 

As mentioned, the actual scoring is strange.  The cards before each player are examined.  If there is a majority of a particular card, each player in the majority scores two points if the majority is two cards, or three points if the majority consists of the three cards.  If a player has a card in the minority, he loses 1 – 3 points, based on the value of the card he played.  For example, having a gold card in the minority will cost a player three points, while a bronze card in the minority only costs the player 1 point.  If there are two sets of identical cards in front of a player, then no player gains or loses any points.  

Finally, the player receiving the most gold cards receives two points, while the player who received the most trash cards loses one point.  These are not necessarily the players who made the best and worst sculptures, as the voting method is often more of a guessing game rather than an accurate judgment of the best sculptures.  

The game ends either at the end of a round when a player scores 15 or more points, or at the conclusion of the sixth round.  Another problem:  the scoring system is quite generous, so it is possible for a player to reach 15 or more points in just two rounds, which is exactly what occurred in one of our games.  We opted to keep playing until each player had one opportunity to be the start player.  Even in that case, a complete game can be played in 30 – 45 minutes. 

Sculpting recognizable figures and items from clay is fun.  I enjoyed it as a child, and I still enjoy it as part of party games today.  As mentioned earlier, there are some good party games that involve clay sculpting.  Sadly, Defenders of Clay Art is not one of them.  There are numerous problems with the game, the most glaring being an overly complicated scoring system that detracts from what should be the most fun aspect:  sculpting clay figures.  However, even if the scoring system were modified, the rest of the game still fails to deliver and satisfy.  When looking for a fun clay sculpting game, I’ll stick with the others in the genre.


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