Gating is game designer slang for just-because restrictions. Originally it meant adding a “real” locked gate. Suppose low-level players didn’t read the signs and kept wandering into The Forest of Deadly Monsters. We’ll add a fence around it with a magic gate stopping beginners. We often gradually introduce features so as not to overwhelm new players. Also gating. Then we sometimes gate out a game just to be mean. My favorite gating in clash-likes is Gold Vaults.

The goal of the game is getting enough gold to upgrade your stuff. Your Town Hall is the most expensive. You’re looting your way there but … your gold hits the maximum. What? I’ve never heard of a game where you have a maximum amount of gold. Even a role-playing game that tracks weight doesn’t track the weight of coins (it turns out pen&paper Dungeons and Dragons did. Treasure was sometimes in pennies and nickels, just to be funny). Clash-likes convince you that even though you have an entire island, there’s no possible way you can store a single gold piece past 3,000 until you build more shelves.

One of your valuable builders needs to waste 6 hours upgrading your Gold Vault. Then comes next level. Shockingly, your vault is too small and needs another long, expensive upgrade. But now your problems are solved with a second Vault. Nearly unlimited storage, right? Amazingly, not. You’ll need to fully upgrade both vaults to reach the next total. At some point you get a third vault which no longer fools you. You know you’ll need to buy multi-day, even more expensive upgrades for all three. Elixir is the same. You’ll be up to 3 Elixir Barrels, for a total of 6 buildings that need upgrading each level. Just so you can hold more stuff that you already have to work hard to steal.

The really impressive thing is how the games spread out this busywork and make it almost fun. At first your old Vaults are enough for some gun upgrades. A 3 million gold mortar requires just one Vault to be upgraded. Each pointless Vault or Barrel upgrade is enough for one or two more things, until you need to finish them all to get to the next level.

The only drawback is in games where you have wood, stone, iron, and … god no … there’s something after iron! More warehouses than you can count on both hands.


Being attacked can’t take place too often in a clash-like. You spend time making a strong base to defend your gold, which is pointless if you’re unexpectedly attacked 30 times before lunch. The fix is a simple timer after each defense: “you’re not in the attack menu until 4pm”. That works fine.

But game designers are a superstitious lot, and they like money. The original Backyard Monsters had a hideously complicated set of rules for when you got a “shield”. Clash of Clans didn’t know the secret sauce and just copied everything, including funny shield rules. And shields are good business. They generate more fear. “You’re about to lose your shield” sells more than “the routinely scheduled attack is coming up”.

Variable shield lengths is the stupidest rule. If an attack doesn’t hurt you very badly, the next attack comes faster. That’s terrible. Better base designs got attacked more often, resulting in more gold loss. In response, players learned to build medium-bad bases. That was as much fun as it sounds. But variable shield lengths adds terrifying randomness. Overnight you could expect 2-3 attacks, but could have lots more, losing even more gold than if you’d been simply steamrolled twice.

The next stupid rule is shields vanishing when you attack. If your next scheduled defense was at 6pm, but you play the game at noon, you get attacked as soon as you quit. Why? This has been changed to merely move up the next attack by an hour or two. Again, why? If you should be attacked 3 times a day, why should that turn into 4 or 5 or 6 if you play the game at the wrong time? Money. For free, players can attack every 10 or 15 minutes: close the App, do something else, then come back. Shields breaking ruins that — it triggers a pile of extra attacks on you. You should buy a training time speed-up.

A really crazy thing is how Supercell’s other game is so fair about attacks. Each day a set few people are allowed to attack you. They either win, eventually, or give up, getting nothing. Every day you defend against 2 people, rain or shine. But as you might guess, Boom Beach is far down on the top-grossing charts.

Blood Singer series (Cat Adams)

This is book 7, “All Your Wishes”, in a series billed as “paranormal romance.” That’s code for “straight-up romance with a werewolf instead of a pirate” but the blurb made it sound like more than that. Besides being book 7, where a decent series might have gone bad, it’s by only one of the original two authors.

The overall backstory is that magic and science have coexisted for a long time. Stores sell real magical charms, there exist combo magi-tech items, police forces employ mages, anti-vampire fences are common, magic is taught at college, and so on. Fully integrated and has been that way forever, so that’s fun.

The main character is a 1/2-vampire, 1/2-siren (and 1/2-human?) detective, running her agency out of a former church. Her best friends and employees are a werewolf, a wizard and a ghost. Nothing special there. Going against tradition, she’s generally happy with her appearance — vampires are a sexy pale and siren’s are naturally beautiful. But at least she has personal problems: sirens magically bring out the catiness in other women. 1/2-vampires need to frequently eat gross baby food and smoothies, use lots of sunscreen, and they lisp horribly when their fangs pop out. She was turned into one by an attack and is not happy about it. She’s also cursed.

Her boyfriend is a sexy mage with strong hands from a family of powerful mages, and also mobsters. They start off with a big unspecified argument that sounds like it could be trouble — maybe about children. But he’s gone the entire book visiting his dying mother, then is out of the picture. We never find out what the argument was about. The extent of their romance is her calling him to ask if his mom is dead yet. In the 1-year-later epilogue she gets together with a cute, minor character with whom she previously had no sparks. I’m guessing the absent writing partner handled the romance parts.

The plot starts with a client being told to contact her by his oracle, then being told to take the case by her oracle. As everyone knows, you can’t ask oracles too many questions. That goes for readers, too — she just has to help the guy, OK? In case you’re wondering, she solves the case by doing something else her oracle told her to do.

The plot involves some super-evil wizards from a previous book, including an evil wizard ghost sworn to kill her (also from a previous book) led by a super-powerful demon. We never find out their plot, but they free a super-powerful genie for it, who, shocker, gets out of hand and possesses the main character’s body. It either wants to go home, or to free a bunch of other evil genies (in the book, it’s the first — it’s a genie serial-killer of other genies and wants to kill the judge who sentenced it; but the book jacket says it wants to free an evil genie army).

At the very end, she wins by realizing she has friends. Literally just realizing. She suddenly remembers she has siren telepathy, which she has been using through-out the book, and reaches out to all of her friends at once. That gives her the strength to shake off the genie control. Then she executes the plan she made with the only female genie-keeper and her young son (who hasn’t yet grown into a swaggering jerk of a man). The stupid male genie-keepers were all “you’re not an initiate and are the wrong sex. You can’t do anything”. That’s why diversity is important.

Various secondary events are crammed in:

  • Her main evil ghost enemy dies after her heart stops in an unrelated matter (her death was it’s Unfinished Business.) After constantly being reminded of how lethal wizard ghosts are, this is the first time we see him. He just shows up, says “I was actually just hanging around waiting for someone else to kill you, and they did,” and poofs away. Just in case readers notice that she’s had her heart stopped several times before, her friends ask her “haven’t you had your heart stopped several times before?” and she explains this was extra-stoppy, so fooled the ghost in a way the previous heart-stops couldn’t.
  • We very briefly meet a guy from a previous book, just so we can see him dead later.
  • After she wins, it’s mentioned in passing that the main group of genie-keepers were all murdered elsewhere. Why? She already won, so it’s not part of the plot. Maybe it’s to avoid fan fiction using them?
  • Also after winning, we go back in time (she’s literally taken back in time) to see her boyfriend get killed by the mob (remember the one she briefly talked to in chapter 1? That guy). I feel like she could have watched a video, or maybe since the story was over, done that at the start of the next book?
  • Immediately after winning, a good genie, who had been calmly watching them fight the evil one, pops up and brings her werewolf friend back to life (he died one page ago, which inspired her to fight harder.) Those wacky genies and their rules.

The book respects the rule where we have to learn more about the world. We get professional magic-using hitmen. We learn demons can appear without being summoned if they time it exactly when a ghost dies, since that makes a tunnel from here to the otherworld. Genies are new to the series, and we learn genie-keeper powers come from being part genie. If you use mental telepathy in an airport, we learn the TSA has magic to spy on it. Then we get a nice teaser: her mom is not just a siren, but a siren queen, and she’s been summoned for important sea-princess business in book 8.


Traps are what clash-likes call 1-shot defenses. They’re not all that exciting. The most interesting thing is how they don’t count as buildings for percent destroyed or gaining manna. The basic trap is a 1×1 landmine. Many clash-likes don’t use traps at all — what’s the point of a defense that destroys itself? But if you’re going to have them in your game, you may as well think about what kinds.

We have a few types of traps aimed at big, tough troops. The huge 2×2 bomb is obvious. The 1×1 “kill X points of troops” trap is sneakier. It has no radius, and goes off all at once, so almost always hits 1 thing, hopefully something big. It hardy seems worth having. If your game has human and machine troops, you get to use an anti-tank mine which only tanks trigger. That gives weak humans a little boost, so is nice.

For some fun traps, a spring can launch troops a few spaces away. People enjoy these, including picking the direction. Area freeze traps are fun — frozen troops being shot at looks neat and feels clever. A variant is the distraction trap — something tough pops up that nearby enemies must stop to kill.

The last interesting trap is a “kills X” which lasts until it’s used up. Maybe a pit. They’re obviously strong, but there’s not as much element of luck. Still, it’s cool having more and more troops vanish into it.

Visible traps work much better than one would think. They can discourage attacks from a weak side. A fun thing is having area-affect spells also explode visible traps, giving attackers an option waste a spell on trap-clearing. You also don’t need to worry about someone unfairly learning where your visible traps are, a problem with hidden traps.

The most oddball thing about traps is needing to hand-reset them. That seems insane since destroyed buildings come back for free. But it’s done. I think the main reason was sending a notice — “you’ve been attacked. Log in to reset your traps”. A game sending you a phone notice was cool back then. But people got sick of it a long time ago. We can safely have traps spring back to life along with everything else.

I’ve gotta say, Boom Beach-style traps are probably the best. You get a big pile of small bombs, visible, and one upgrade upgrades them all. Traps are fun to spread around, but how many types do we need?

[Game]Rival Kingdoms

This may have been the best clash-like ever made, and then the worst. It was innovative, made every battle exciting, and was managed by a team that that understood how to push events and contests. But the second team didn’t understand clash-likes and quickly ruined the gameplay. First, what made the game great:

They started by clearing away all of the reasons not to attack. All troops are free, not even a training time. Shield nonsense was replaced by you being attacked every six hours. Spending an attack token shows just one opponent. The combined effect was that when you opened the game, all you had to do was push the attack button and think about how to beat the base it showed you.

The new winning-streak mechanic make it exciting. Your opponents start easy, gradually become more difficult, then nearly impossible, then you lose and it starts over. That gives a nice variety of mostly challenging battles. Even the worst player gets a few wins. But even trying to beat the super-tough bases is surprisingly fun. You know you’re supposed to lose, but you could win and sometimes you do.

You can solely focus on winning fights because the game takes care of you. Longer streaks increase your rank, bumping up the difficulty to where you lose more. A problem in there games, but not here. The loot at high ranks is that much better. The penniless enemies problem is somewhat fixed. Your second important resource, rings, comes from wins (again, much more at higher ranks). Beating a low-gold base is worth it for the rings.

They did a fabulous job with your “hero”. Instead of a Barbarian King, you get a flying dragon. It’s pretty much the same except that every 30 seconds you can “sweep” it to a new spot, tailing frost or fire over a swath of buildings. That’s just fun: useful, but not overly powerful and looks beautiful. The game uses real 3D models and particle effects. It feels like a dragon.

The spells are incredibly varied and original. They come locked in preset groups of 3 but there are lots of them. One wizard can give troops a 50% damage boost in a radius, give them heal-by-doing-damage, and freeze one enemy building. With work you can get a combination of the 1st two. Meanwhile another can summon skeletons that explode on death, make 1 target take double damage, and … this needs to be seen to make sense … cover a dozen buildings with a slowing, damaging poison which can crawl to new buildings. That’s not even close to the oddest.

On defense they have the usual, but added one very customizable defense. You can choose to have each spell tower shoot an area blast, or freeze, or slow-acting anti-healing poison. Or it can fire a fast single-target blast. Or it can heal your buildings, or merely create a small destructive aura around itself. Or it can fire a slow but lethal confusion spell, causing the attacking troops to turn on themselves.

Five wall posts making a curved wall

The game also fixed how walls work. Instead of blocks which need to touch, you get posts which grow connecting walls over several spaces, including diagonals. They’re much easier to place and looks great. But the real innovation is making walls weaker. Walls in a normal clash-like are so strong that they dominate your strategy. Weaker ones here let you play around with them (the 1-sided V setup is very clever, and works fine. Some people love it).

Even with the changes, it’s very recognizably a clash-like. A town hall unlocks new buildings. You upgrade defense and offense with your 5 builders. Even your sweep timer is decreased by upgrading the dragon nest building.

That terrific design went downhill fast. Over a few patches the new team flailed with over-buffs and nerfs until the only viable army was damage-resistant soldiers and too-strong healers, backed by archers. Over-buffed spell towers were the only problem, which forced everyone to use the anti-spell-tower wizard. It was a weird slow-motion crash.

They couldn’t figure out a way to fix the problem with winning streaks: what do you do with players near the top? They have no impossible opponents. Streaks might never end. So at high rank, streaks are out and something else is in. At first, top rank players could go into a special challenge mode. You were attacked much more until you were knocked back down, gaining extra-bonus loot for how long you lasted. That was removed and replaced with just picking an easy opponent. The game turned into a sleep-fest.

Then a bug nerfed air defenses. Dragon could sweep without fear, single-handedly winning (the actual trick is complex, but it became common knowledge as players watched their replays). Players loved it. The bug was left unfixed. In fact, a later spell had an exploitable bug which fully healed your troops (it wasn’t a heading spell). Players flocked to it. It went unfixed. Meanwhile they figured out how to import the brutal monetization common in regular mobile games. More and more events required big spending or skipping school for 2 days, for new items unobtainable any other way.

Rival Kingdoms is still pretty good up through mid-game. Some of the underpowered wizards were even fixed. But the best thing I can say about it now is that you can’t copyright general game ideas. At least one other game stole its improved “post” walls. More clash-likes now have events and areas open only on certain days. I’m hoping a new one steals the way Rival Kingdoms did winning streaks, because I’m sick of passing on bases that look really fun to fight, except I don’t want to wreck my army.

[Game]Gates of War

Plarium, who distributes this one, likes to make mash-ups. Gates of War is a clash-like jammed with a PvP and an RTS adventure. The class-like part is a mess, but has some fun ideas.

In most clash-likes you’ll get a building that can pop out troops when enemies get too close. In this game your gets lots of defensive troops, individually placed in any free space. That seems pretty cool, except for how the usual area-of-effect spells easily kill them. That’s probably why other games learned to hide them in buildings.

In most other clash-likes, troops can flow around buildings. Here there’s no gap. Touching buildings form a wall. For no good reason, non-weapon buildings, even gold vaults, are super-tough, about 10x tougher than your defending guns. So they make a pretty good wall. But being a futuristic game, most troops can fire over them. The “walls” only stop certain short-range troops from getting near enough. Attacks are stationary shootouts. Nearly everything has very long range, and you can hand-move your army (using the thing where you select a big square). Move them all into range and keep targeting the guns (which you can do in this game). Win or lose, it’s over quickly.

Bizarrely, you unlock new troops and upgrade them through single-player non-clashy adventures. You lead your troops through a large map, avoiding some things, picking up friends, with specific objectives. I keep losing one because the hacker I’m supposed to protect keeps dying. It’s one of the main things you do in this game. Oh, there’s also a head-to-head PvP area.

If you want to sort-of play 3 types of games at once, I guess Gates of War is OK.