Game Review: Clash Royale

Slight delay in the cooking posts, because… I dropped my phone in the toilet. Why did I drop my phone in the toilet? Because I have started playing a game called Clash Royale, and though I’m not a take-my-phone-with-me-to-the-toilet kind of person, I temporarily became one.

A few people from the uni video games club started a games club, which is like a book club, except we get together and play / discuss games. Each month, there are a few games chosen, one of which will be a free-to-play one, and this month’s free-to-play game was Clash Royale. Although the club meeting is tonight, I thought I’d get my thoughts in before they are influenced by others. (Even though it’s now after the games club meeting, I wrote most of this before, just tidied it up afterwards.)

So the game itself is pretty straightforward. It’s set in the “Clash universe”, i.e. the same universe as Clash of Clans. Cards represent troops, and you have a deck consisting of 8 different cards. You play against an opponent’s deck, and have 4 cards at a time to play – each with a different elixir cost. Your elixir goes up over time. Each player gets 2 arena towers, and King’s tower.

At the beginning, you can only summon troops on your side of the battlefield. Once you’ve destroyed on of the arena towers on your opponent’s side, you can also begin summoning troops where the tower was destroyed. You can’t control troops once they’ve been summoned, they will just walk towards, and attack, their nearest preferred target (some units only target ground units and buildings, some units only target buildings, some can attack ground, air and buildings).

The player who manges to destroy the most towers wins – however, destroying the king’s tower is an instant win. Games last 3 minutes, and after 2 minutes, you gain double elixir (sorry, I tried to take a screenshot at 1 minute remaining, but I was too engrossed in the game! You can see the x2 in the top right corner).

If the game is still tied after 3 minutes, an extra minute over overtime is added, and it becomes “Sudden Death mode” where the first player to take a tower wins. If neither player manages to take a tower after that, the game is a draw. The winner of the game gets a treasure chest.

However, and here’s where the monetary aspect comes into it, you only have 4 slots for chests, so if you have filled all the slots, you will not be able to win new chests from games.

Opening chests takes time, but you can open them instantly using gems. Gems you can buy with real-world money:

You can also get gems from the free chests and crown chests. Free chests can be opened every 4 hours, and you get one crown chest per day. To open the crown chests, you must destroy 10 towers in multiplayer games (doesn’t matter if you win or lose the match). Opening chests gets you cards, and you need to collect a certain number of the same card to upgrade your troops.

You can also hope the card you want is in your shop, where you can purchase it directly with gold (which you get from opening chests, or you can buy with gems). There are twice as many cards in the shop on Sundays.

If you are in a clan, you can request cards from your clanmates. The incentive to donate cards to others is that you get gold and exp from donating cards. The more exp you get, faster you level up, and the stronger your towers are.

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OK, that’s the gist of the game. On to the review. When you start the game, you are in the training camp, and playing against the AI. You can’t change your deck at the moment, but playing the AI teaches you the basics, and you win chests from beating it. Once you’ve finished with the training camp, you’ll start playing against real players. The game matches you against players with a similar trophy count. Trophies are like your matchmaking rank, so at the start, you’ll be playing others with 0 trophies. I found all of these games pretty fair. Games at this point were pretty short, and unlocking the crown chest was pretty easy, as most games were three-crown wins.

At this level, almost nobody has a clan, because you must be level 3 to join a clan. Here’s where we hit our first stumbling block.

I guess as part of the review process, we needed to find out what it was like to start a clan. Well, it’s 1000 gold to start a clan, which is a lot when you’re new to the game. Given that I was only going to be playing for a month, I figured I would just spend the starting gems you get to buy gold and start the clan. Auto also volunteered, but he was planning to continue playing, so it made sense for him to keep his gems for real stuff.

I found once we had a few people in the clan, gold started rolling in from donations. And it became easier to level up cards, as people were donating cards they weren’t using. Now that we’re a few weeks into the game, our clan has grown to 17 people, and I’m starting to find that a lot of people are running similar decks, so it’s becoming harder and harder to request the cards you actually need. I’ve given up, and am just requesting commons so that everyone can level up, and we can move up in the ranks and get better chests which contain more cards, so it makes it more likely we’ll be able to donate cards people want.

For the game itself, it seems simple, but I was surprised at how much strategy there is in the game. Troop placement, troop timing, when to let your towers take a few hits, when to save up elixir. Once you advance past the first couple of arenas, strategy plays a larger part. Especially because that’s when people’s decks start to diversify. As you can only request commons and rares, the epics that you manage to get along the way will shape your deck, and in some ways, determine which opponents you will crush, and which ones you’ll struggle against.

For a while, I really struggled against baby dragons, which fly and do AoE damage. I also struggled a lot against giants and princes, because I didn’t really have the nuke damage to kill them before they started pounding on my towers. But over time, I worked out ways to work around it. I think like 7uckingmad says about playing Dota, the best way to learn how to beat something is to play with it. I thought balloons were crazy strong for so long, and when they appeared in my shop, I decided to shell out the 2k gold and buy one for myself. I won a few games with it, but as I ranked up, I noticed that the balloon was dying so quickly, and even when I paired it with other things to try and keep it alive, my opponents had such a simple method for dealing with it.

I watched a few games linked by my clanmates, and watched how they dealt with particular strategies, and that helped me win a few more games.

Looking at the pay model of the game, I think it’s definitely not a pay to win game. After a month of playing, and spending no money on the game, I managed to make it to arena 5 (for reference, there are a total of 8 arenas). I have come across a few people who had much stronger cards than I did, and I wondered if they had spent money on the game, but those opponents are quite rare. They probably move out of the lower brackets quite quickly, so you will rarely see them. The game doesn’t seem to have any incentive for you to move upwards. I mean, there are nicer cards from later arenas, but I never felt an urge to grind as far as I could with the cards that I had.

Seeing as you only get 4 chest slots, I found that I’d play my games, get my crown chest, and then be done for the day (except to open the app and start unlocking a new chest). At least, that’s how it was at first. As I got further through the arenas, it was taking longer and longer to unlock the crown chest. I’d normally do it before going to sleep, 3 three-crown wins plus one other game for my 10 crowns. But at later levels, I was only getting 1 crown per game on average, and not winning that many of them. So I’d be playing a few games before bed, and then a few games in the morning to get my 10 crowns. It seemed so much more of a chore in the higher arenas than in the lower ones.

Plus, I feel like you hit a certain point where you struggle to advance, because it takes so many cards to upgrade your troops. So it starts off at 2 cards, then 10 cards, then 20 cards, then 100 cards, then 200 cards. It takes a long time to get 200 of the same card, and a long time to save up the gold to pay the upgrade cost. Auto called it the 1200 trophy wall.

I think that’s what turned me off the game in the end. I stopped playing to enjoy the game, and started playing just to fill up my chests and open my crown chest. Winning was rewarding for a while, but the more I won, the more time consuming it became to open my crown chest. I went from playing 15 minutes a day to over an hour some days. And for what I expected to be a somewhat casual game, that isn’t what I wanted!

Overall, I’d rate it a B. It’s fun, can be addictive (hence the toilet dropping), and you aren’t overly disadvantaged by not paying money, as long as you are patient.

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