There’s an amazing new game on iPhone and Android phones and I can’t stop playing it. The game is “Clash Royale.”
Look familiar? That’s because it’s from the same folks who created “Clash of Clans,” the enormously popular smartphone game.
Good news: “Clash Royale” is like ten trillion times better than “Clash of Clans.” Here’s why!
By making 'Clash Royale' an online-only game, every battle you fight in the game is played against another actual human being somewhere on Planet Earth. Yes, that means you can't play it when you're, say, underground in the subway. And I wouldn't suggest playing it on an aeroplane over in-flight WiFi. But it also means that every game is unique -- each match pits you against the wits of an entirely unique competitor.
Better yet, it's seamless! Seconds after you push the button to start a game, it's already matched you with another player!
This is the main screen of 'Clash Royale.' There's a lot going on here, I realise. Allow me to break it down.
Starting from the top, you'll notice there are two boxes that involve chests. The one on the left is based on a four hour timer, and straight up doles out free stuff -- every four hours, you get a new free chest full of stuff you use in the game itself. The one on the right, the 'Crown Chest,' is earned by winning matches.
In each match of 'Clash Royale,' you earn 'crowns' by taking out enemy castles. If you take out all three, you get three crowns. You also win the match! Alternatively, if you have more crowns than the competition when the counter ticks to zero, you win.
There's other stuff on the screen here, but what matters the most is the giant yellow 'Battle' button in the middle. If you hit that, you'll be near-instantly matched with a human competitor.
You may notice that the arena is divided in half. My three castles are on the bottom (slightly covered by the blue banner), and the competitor's three castles are on top.
You may also notice that there are cutouts in the ground that look like lines -- they are lines! The lines show the paths that run between bases, and these paths are traversed by your cavalry.
The long and short of 'Clash Royale' is one simple goal: destroy all three of the enemy's castles before yours are destroyed. Alternatively, if you destroy more of the enemy's castles than they destroy of yours before time runs out, that's also a win. It's also possible to draw -- and to lose, of course!
You choose cards to deploy, which translate to actual units, buildings, or spells on the field.
In the image to the right, there are four cards along the bottom: arrows, a knight, an army of skeletons, and a fireball. Each of those is a re-usable card that can be deployed on the field. By touching and dragging the card to the field, you deploy it.
In the image here, I've deployed a duo of archers (on the right side) and a warrior (called a 'Mini P.E.K.K.A.'). By placing them anywhere on the map, they begin advancing toward whatever castle is closest to them. Since all three of the enemy's castles are still standing, the closest I'm able to place any of my cards is on my side of the dividing lines between bases (the horizontal line running through the middle of the arena).
Each unit has its own movement speed and damage it's capable of doling out. The archers are weak, but can attack from a distance. The Mini P.E.K.K.A. is easily distracted, meaning he can be easily drawn away from his objectives. He also hits slowly (albeit hard), meaning he's likely to be killed before he does any damage. But if he does make it to your castles? WATCH OUT!
You might notice that one of my castles has been destroyed, replaced by a broken-down foundation. I've also built a hut that produces one soldier every few seconds, as did the enemy.
Beyond deploying troops, you can deploy buildings (like barracks) that produce soldiers of varying types. These both distract the enemy from destroying your castles (depending on where you place the buildings, enemy troops will prioritise destroying those buildings over your castles), and challenge the enemy with soldiers marching on their castles. They may be weak soldiers, and they may only do a little bit of damage to whatever they're attacking, but they can take down a castle, or a powerful enemy, or an emplacement like a cannon, by attrition!
And that attrition is at the heart of 'Clash Royale.' This is a game about tactics. You could just send all of your troops in as soon as you can in a blitz, but it may not be the smartest way to play the match. In other words: You might get clobbered, even if you bring overwhelming force, by tactics.
You might notice that each castle has a tiny human standing on top. On the sub-castles up front, there's an archer; on the main castle in the back, there's a royal-looking fellow with a cannon.
These defences are extremely limited. For one, they can only be fired at one unit at a time. If your castle is being attacked by, say, an army of skeletons, that single archer or cannon-operator is quickly overwhelmed. And if they're quickly overwhelmed, your castle is almost certainly going to get sacked.
Sounds complicated, right? It is! But it's also really easy (and fun!) to jump in and start learning:
Not only do you have to learn the game's rules, but you also have to learn what each card does and how it interacts with your enemy's cards. Once you've learned that, you need to understand how each of your cards interacts with the arena itself.
Here's a breakdown of the image to the right, in all its complexity:
- The enemy has deployed a knight on horseback and a small crew of spearmen.
- They were deployed behind the enemy's castle, which means they have to make their way around the castle first (giving me some extra time to prepare defences).
- I have four cards to choose from -- an army of skeletons (many in number but very weak), a duo of archers (ranged fighters who offer support but shouldn't be in the lead), a Mini P.E.K.K.A. (very strong and very slow, easily distracted), and a fireball -- and I can only use so many cards.
- Each card has a cost (listed at the bottom of each card as a number). The currency used on each card is subtracted from a pool that re-fills over time. This means that you're always balancing which card is the most useful at any given moment. And that is THRILLING.
Yes, 'Clash Royale' is a free-to-play game. But I've spent zero dollars on it and never felt the need to spend a dime.
You can buy a ton of junk in 'Clash Royale' if you really want to. Don't like waiting for relatively short timers? Speed them up with gems that you earn (very slow) by playing the game and unlocking chests. Most chests give you somewhere in the range of two gems. It costs anywhere from one to 50+ gems to unlock a chest sooner than later. And when you're earning two gems every few hours, you may be tempted to buy a bulk of them with actual human dollars.
That's pretty much the extent of pushiness in 'buy our stuff!' mechanics in 'Clash Royale.' That said, the game itself is SO delightful to play that the free-to-play timer mechanics only service to needlessly complicate a great game.
It's been said many times before, but I'd happily pay $10 or even $20 for a fully unlocked version of 'Clash Royale' that was just the great game it is without any of the free-to-play timer nonsense. Why should I have to wait for an arbitrary timer to count down to unlock the chest that I earned by beating an opponent? I shouldn't. It only exists to persuade me to give Supercell, the game's developer, real money for a fake, finite resource (in-game gems).
And what about when I run out of the gems that I bought? Buy more? Noooooo thank you. That's a dangerous and stupid cycle that I won't start, thanks very much.
I straight up can't stop playing 'Clash Royale.' I play it every day. I save the especially long chest unlocks (8-10 hours) for right before bed, so I can wake up and have a bunch of sweet stuff to unpack.
Which, yeah: I am literally restructuring my day-to-day life around this game.
Since matches are short (never longer than five minutes, even with sudden death), it's worryingly easy to say 'just one more' with 'Clash Royale.' And you'll want to, as the more you win, the more you unlock. And the more you unlock, the more units you can play the game with. And new units means new tactics!
In case it wasn't clear already, I'm fully bought in to the cycle of 'Clash Royale.' And I think you will be, too. It's easy to start, hard to master, and it changes constantly. And hey, it's free! Give it a shot!