In Clash-likes it’s fun to have units which do unique things, and healer troops fit right in. But it seems strange how the original, Clash of Clans, has such odd rules for them. In Clash healers are large, flying and only heal ground troops. It turns out that’s great. The thing other games do with healers — having them walk behind your army like priests — that’s no good at all.
There are plenty of games where you have a lot of other things to do besides the tactics of a battle, and your army is just your army. Maybe yours has slightly more cheap infantry and fewer horses, but it’s not all that exciting. But in a clash-like all we have is our army and 1-time attacks. If we have a boring army we have a boring game. We need different armies with all sort of different troops to keep things fresh.
Clash of Clans’ big, flying healers aren’t boring. You can’t park them safely behind the rest of your flying army, since they can’t heal flying troops. But in a ground army your flying healers are the only target for those deadly air defenses. Hmmm… . And since they’re so expensive, using even 1 is a commitment. Healer have their uses — at first in an army with giants. They can be in winning armies. But there are plenty of other good armies where you really wouldn’t want them. They’re an interesting troop that makes you think.
A walking priest-style healer is the opposite which makes them boring. Any army is better with a few walking healers safely in the back. It’s an easy decision and doesn’t take any strategy. Sure when you unlock healers it’s exciting. Your army is going to be so much better with them, and when you try it, it really is. But then healers are just an automatic part of any army. Then don’t add any extra fun to designing an army or to attacking with one.
Some games manage to use this otherwise-boring style of healer well. In the Star Wars clash-like you mostly lose because of time running out. You’ve got lots of slow, tough tank-like units that hardly need a healer. Replacing a few troops with healers makes the time problem even worse. Healers are back to being a special case unit, useful in some clever armies. They make the game more interesting.
Empires&Allies uses healers to solve an old problem, which is how the starting infantry unit always becomes useless later in the game. E&A cleverly solves that by having a mid-game upgrade add a medic to each infantry unit (it will heal anything nearby, not just the infantry it’s with). Now infantry is useful again, and their healer is just great in some armies. But since the medic is attached to the infantry, which likes to get fairly close to the enemy, it’s terrible in other armies. You really have to think.
But all-in-all too many clash-likes don’t get it. Even Rival Kingdoms, innovative in so many other ways, has a healer so useful that it ruins the game. There’s only one viable army.
My favorite thing about Clash of Clans healers is how the flavor text ties it together. It seems impossible to explain why healers are big, flying, and can’t target the ground. But … Angels! As we all know, angels are impressively large, can fly, and it seems likely they can heal. And in Clash flyers are evil — imps and dragons and skeletons in balloons. Angels wouldn’t heal evil things like that. Never underestimate the value of a hand-wavy plausible explanation.