Clash-likes

Just so you don’t think I’m crazy, I know most cell-phone games are terrible. A very few are somewhat interesting, and most are reskins or “I can do that, but worse.” Clash-likes stand out. The genre was born on mobile (well, FaceBook, close enough,) and there’s an actual game in there to play. Every new clash-like has a least a few things it does better or different. I’ve never seen just a reskin, since there are so many ways to make one.

There’s no good name for the genre. They officially fall under “strategy real-time MMO”, but that’s pretty broad. I tried Asymetrical Anonymous Base-Builders (AABB,) but that’s not going to stick. Clash-like is the best name, for now.

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Features

Clash-likes are one of those genres that has a lot of room for tweaks, changes or totally new stuff; but you still know one when you see one. Here’s my list of what usually makes one:

  • Solo “opposite tower defense” gameplay. You attack other players, but you’re not playing head-to-head. You only fight their AI-controlled tower defense — not their army. Likewise, when someone attacks you, your offensive army does nothing. They only fight your tower defense.
  • Persistent progress. Once you get something, you can never lose it. Being attacked steals some gold you were saving for the next upgrade, but otherwise your defenses spring fully back after each attack. You can stop playing for a week and not be set back. Your offensive army isn’t even harmed when your village is destroyed.
  • Very dumb, obvious AI. This is considered a feature. Defenses will target the nearest enemy, ignoring a deadly but soft wizard for a slightly closer knight. Your attackers can’t be controlled after placing them. They attack the nearest buildings. The idea is, you know exactly what everything will do, so can make a plan.
  • Short, time-limited, pauseless battles. You can spend a while planning your army, figuring out a strategy, trying to figure out what went wrong … . But the actual attack is 3 minutes at most. Depending on your army and strategy, you may lose by running out of time. After the attack, you’re done with that player.
  • A medium amount of tap-based decisions during an attack. Generally targetable spells and troop power-ups. Sometimes limited control over a leader troop. You’re not tapping as fast as you can, but you do have to concentrate and will forgot things until you make a plan and get practice.
  • The attacks are real games. There’s a skill in picking an army, where and when to place troops, and when to cast spells. A good player can do much better than a beginner.
  • Troop selection is a real choice. You never get a new troop which replaces an old one. In fact, when a new troop is unlocked, you’re supposed to wonder how in the heck you’re going to use it.
  • You can’t pick on a particular person, and they can’t pick on you. Fights are against randomly chosen opponents. The same goes for guilds. A guild war is a 1-time event, against a randomly chosen guild, where the attacks don’t even steal gold.
  • Likewise, other players can’t directly help you. There’s usually a small friendship mechanic. Altogether, it’s a mostly solo game. You don’t need a big guild to do well. This is in contrast to things like Game of War, where a big active guild can carry you, or put a bull’s-eye on you.
  • Gameplay is attacking to gather gold, paying for all the allowed upgrades, then waiting. That may take a while, or may be quick. But starting all allowed upgrades is the goal and the natural stopping time.
  • This is just aesthetics, but it’s a recognizable feature: everything is in an arrangeable village grid. It’s where you arrange your tower defense. But it’s also where your troop upgrade building, spell creation building … are placed. The non-defensive buildings work as damage sponges or distractions from your real defenses.
  • Also just aesthetics: each building and troop gets a little different look as it’s upgraded. When you see someone’s base, or an attack replay, you can mostly figure out everything’s level from the pictures.
  • Planning your defense is also a real game. There are lots of options, no optimal strategy, and a thoughtful defense can matter (but, since you aren’t playing during an attack, you can just copy a base design from the internet.)
  • You have to get better to progress. At various points, people will be stealing gold as fast as you can steal it from others. You’ll have to either get better at attacking, build a better defense, or a combination of both.  In other words, it’s a game – not a fancy Cow Clicker.
  • Very, very simple resource generation. Tap to collect, and nothing else. They could easily make it more complex – like a tiny farmville. But the game is about fighting. The resource generators are just a reason for all the attacking.
  • Freemium, but you can’t buy anything you couldn’t get just by playing a lot (this is sometimes knows as spend-for-time.) But, bizarrely, you can buy everything. For a few thousand dollars, you can buy what a free player could get in a year. No one will know the difference.

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History

I didn’t realize Clash of Clans is only from 2012. The first time I played it wasn’t that long after it came out. I also didn’t realize that I’ve seen and played most of the things that inspired it. Some things had to come together for a clash-like: tower defense, the arrangable map-village, and anonymous attacks. Here’s how I see that stuff:

 

To have a huge number of players, you need the internet. In the ‘70s you could dial-up to GEnie, CompuServe or AOL; in the ’80s anyone in college could get on-line, but that still wasn’t a lot of people. The internet wasn’t public until 1995, and Search (Google) wasn’t until 1998.

The first massive anonymous attacker I know of was free browser game ArchMage, in 2000. Your kingdom was just a few stats – mostly how much land you owned. The interesting thing was there was no world map, so you had no neighbors. You just had a list of people near your power level who you could attack. Most of them will rise or fall off the list by tomorrow. You were allowed to attack someone a few times, until they were knocked off the bottom, but players considered a double-attack as unsportsmanlike (you’d get pounded silly by every other player if you did it.) In practice, you attacked random people, one time each.

When you beat someone, you stole some of their land. That’s a great example of the backwards fake-realism clash-likes have today. Of course in real life, land is the realistic thing you steal — from your neighbors. But it makes 0 sense in a game with no map, attacking random people. ArchMage boldly went with it, and the players accepted it.

 

FaceBook didn’t add support for large games until 2008, when we got the MobWars, PirateWars and so on. Those games borrowed the anonymous attacking idea, and added endlessness. Normally, games have to have a winner. In ArchMage, the goal was to survive casting a very expensive, days-long “I win” spell with an “everyone is allowed to attack me” side-effect. You can’t have a game without a winner. Or so we thought. Facebook showed that you can. Just play to grow. If you make it to #1, or the top 100 … be proud and see how long you can stay there.

 

Two more things, tower Defense and an arrangeable village, came from the PC game WarCraft way back in 1995 (not World of – just WarCraft, the solo or 2-player RTS.) The upgradable buildings of clash-likes are copies of the ones in WarCraft. Even the upgradable Town Hall came from there (a building that does mostly nothing except unlock other things.)

Tower Defenses came from WarCraft in a funny way. Most of the single-player missions were about growing quickly, scouting and harassing the enemy to slow them down, building a few defenses only when you needed to. But some missions were just early waves of tough enemies. The only way to win was to build lots of defenses to hold them off. Those were just a fun break from the real missions, but we realized you could make a game with only that.

2009 had a brief craze for browser tower defenses. I remember students going nuts for types of towers, traps, unlocks, upgrades; and more and more interesting enemies (including flyers); interesting win conditions; and path-making.

 

BackYard Monsters put tower defenses and endless random attacking together in 2010, on FaceBook.

You may have heard Backyard Monsters was the inspiration for Clash of Clans and scoffed. I did. But you can look at pictures of bases and read strategies. Clash of Clans is clearly a dumbed-down copy.

In BackYard monsters, defenses were strong enough that you were expected to grind them down over several attacks (with the possibility of someone sniping a 1/2-destroyed base from you.) Attacks had a period at the end only for previously-placed troops to fight. The rules for getting a defensive shield were more complicated. Some special monsters could be won, kept for a while, then lost.

Clash of Clans found and lucked-into the formula that made money: quick sessions; simpler in general; freemium; skew younger; an App instead of browser-based. And, I’m not completely sure, but I think they were the first free game to show television commercials.

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Walls

Clash of Clan walls are pretty clumsy, but they’re a basic part of the game in two ways. Defense, of course, but also something to do for over-active players.

Basic walls are simple 1×1 blocks, placed next to each other. Putting a wall around a standard 3×3 building requires hand-placing 16 little blocks. You generally have about 200 little wall cubes. The advanced tools are still crude: select a row then move/spin. If you cause any overlap when you move that section, it won’t work. You spend a lot of time hand-moving single pieces.

Walls don’t completely fill the space, maybe about half. Placed side-by-side, the system draws a tiny connecting section. It’s a nice try, but walls still make ugly, thick graph-paper lines. It’s a shame – the artists work hard to avoid Soviet-era block-house buildings; then those thick right-angle walls mess it all up.

Like everything else, walls get upgraded and need different pictures – lots of them. You get reed bundles, then various wood, with studs, then it magically changes to rough stone, smooth stone … Clash inexplicably switches to crystals, then back to metal again. The Star Wars clash-like works hard making “high-tech” grey walls (made of fancy space plastic?) Any artist can draw a Viking-themed gold mine, but it takes a real pro to make a viking-themed level 6 wall segment, plus the little connector picture.

Then there’s a trick probably only I enjoy: put two walls with different upgrade levels next to each other. The connecting section is chosen from one of them, usually the lower-leftmost.

 

The original, Clash, teaches about walls wrong. You start with walls so weak troops can kick right through them. When you get wall-breakers, they seem pointless. Then slowly, walls get as tough as buildings then much tougher. In the real game a big chunk of your defense is the wall arrangement, but you have to unlearn the early lesson of them being just a speed-bump. They should start you (and the pre-made training bases) with fewer but tougher walls.

I love how almost every other clash-like copies that strange progression. I think it’s just easier to copy the numbers.

 

The only big wall improvement was SpaceApe’s Rival Kingdoms in 2015. They let you place walls several spaces apart, even a bit diagonally, and have the system draw a longer connecting section. That meant you didn’t need to place as many, and gave 16 possible angles (instead of just vertical and horizontal.) Visually, they look much better – like towers connected by curtain sections in a rough ring. Lords&Castles copies that, but adds a bug (every possible connection needs to be clear, or you can’t place them.)

The clash-like Battle Islands improved walls too much. Each building comes with built-in walls all the way around (you select the building, pay for the “add walls” button and they all pop up; then all upgrade together.) That’s no fun – the whole trick with walls is you have to decide where they go. Even so, they are beautiful. For buildings near each other, the game connects their walls into one area using curved sections to make them fit. But the game is little islands, planes and ships. Walls are mostly pointless.

A few clash-likes have weak walls, sometimes filling a 2×2 area. The strategy with these is completely different. They aren’t very useful to slow down attackers, but they can be used to funnel. Leave a hole to direct foot troops around your guns. A double-wall section will direct them to a hole even further away. Or a thick V-shaped wall-pile on one side prevents attacks from that direction – troops placed there will always walk around.

 

The second use of walls is as a time-sink – something to do if you really want to play for 3 hours a day. Walls always upgrade instantly and cost a ridiculous amount. A hard-core player can spend a silly amount of time attacking for gold, instantly paying for a wall upgrade … and with 200+ wall squares you can always play for an extra few hours. A casual player will just leave them a level or two behind the maximum and not feel too bad. As an extra bonus, walls require one of your builders to be free. So wall-grinders upgrade 4 buildings at a time, while casuals get to be upgrading 5.

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Looting and Realism

Genres start out being realistic, but since that’s not very good gameplay what people will accept as “realistic enough” gradually changes. Everyone who plays an MMO now knows you keep your stuff when you die. You die a lot and it shouldn’t be a huge penalty. But back when they were first made, passerby could loot everything from your dead body – anything else would have seemed stupidly unrealistic. Modern MMOs give that just a nod – you can loot a few coins from a dead player, but it doesn’t come out of their stash.

Clash-like looting is in a crazy place between realistic and playable. The most common rules are that you instantly steal stuff as you smash the building holding it. Hit a gold vault with a sword, or an arrow, or even a fireball, and a little bit of their gold pops directly into your treasury. Gold teleports instead of needing to be carried out because it’s simpler. Otherwise you’d need troop carrying capacity, pick-up animation, rules for carrying the gold home mid-attack… ick.

The Batman clash-like (Arkham Underworld) does gold vaults right: a massive vault door needs to be destroyed, then you quickly grab cash once inside. Trying to break that huge door can run attackers out of time, leaving them with nothing. You know – the way actual vault doors work. But the other way you get gold in that game is hilarious. Computer hackers collect gold. To steal it you smash the computers with baseball bats and gold coins fly out.

Once we’ve established the “realistic” rule where you get magic purple liquid by running up to the big glass container holding it, we put the brakes on. You can only steal like 30%. The other 70% isn’t seeping into the ground – the owner keeps it, just because. That’s a good gameplay rule – it lets you earn gold over a few days faster than people can steal it. In some games that “keep 70%” is variable, coming from an upgradable special overall-strongbox building. Guess what happens if you blow that up first? Nothing. The same percent is still protected. More fake realism. Maybe it’s like insurance – having it gets you the better rate.

 

Despite being unrealistic, insta-loot from smacking the right building leads to some fun choices. You can decide which type to protect more, or put it all in the center for an all-or-nothing base. On the attack you can come from a direction which has more of the resource you need. “Boom Beach”-style games bring it back to more realistic win or lose. You get all the gold for beating the HQ building, otherwise you get nothing. That’s sort of nice, but it feels weird having your gold vault be just one more damage soaker.

 

The one terrible “realistic” rule is the rule about only stealing what they have. The problem is, everyone is broke. They all played until they had just enough gold for a building upgrade, then spent it all, just like you. Having several resources helps – odds are they stole too much of one type while trying for the type they needed – but not much. Many Clash-likes, especially Clash of Clans, are an a eye-glazing death-march looking for a rich, weak base.

The rule feels obvious – if I get gold, you have to lose it. But the real reason isn’t realism. Part of the fun(!) of these games is taking something away from another actual human. A “ghost” base is a copy of a real player’s base. You think you’re attacking that player, but you’re not. The only difference is you’re not hurting someone else. Players do not like this.

These games want to just assign a reasonable amount of gold to bases, but they have to be sneaky. You can make bases worth a minimum amount (but usually so small it’s pointless.) You can give a bonus amount for a victory. Clash of Clans gives an extra daily bonus for winning at least 2 attacks (it’s not that much, but goes into a special “hard to steal from” area. Yeesh.) Clash even fake-returns 20% of your stolen loot (the “loot cart,” which sort of looks like the attacker dropped it as they went back home, but they didn’t.) All-in-all, these games work hard to give a “fair” amount of loot for each attack, while making it feel like the savage free-for-all players think they want.

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Builders & Upgrades

As we all know, freemium takes a perfectly good game, and throws in arbitrary timers, energy bars and other limits to stretch the game out. People hate them, or, at best, see them as a necessary evil. The brilliant thing about clash-likes is they throw in 2 harsh upgrade limits, and make you like it.

You attack people to get gold, and there’s a timer on how often you can attack (training times for a new army.) After you get the gold and buy the upgrade, there’s yet another timer for it to be built. And then there’s another limit – only 5 things can be upgrading at once.

What’s so brilliant is how they can put these huge brakes on the game and represent them as builders with cute little shacks. Suddenly, not only do people not mind these crushing restrictions; they actually like them.

If you’ve never seen the mini-game with builders, or just to remind you, here are some of the things people like about them:

  • You can be done for the day. Often you have 1 free builder, so your day is attacking to get enough gold then starting an upgrade. Build times take 3-7 days, so it’s likely that every day 1 of your 5 builders will be ready.
  • Gold mines take a long time to upgrade, but don’t cost much. A really aggressive player feels good not wasting time upgrading them – they proudly get all of their gold from attacking. But casual players love it too: if your goal is to keep all builders busy, cheaply putting a one to work for a long time is a great option to have.
  • Wall upgrades are instant but need a free builder. A very active player feels good keeping one free – then they can play any time, as much as they want, and dump every bit of gold into wall upgrades. But regular players can enjoy it, too: before an upgrade that costs manna, instantly dump all that extra gold into walls.
  • You get to try to space finish times to have 1 upgrade finish each day: you don’t want a four day period where you can’t start any upgrades. But you also don’t want 2 or 3 to finish at once (you won’t be able to save enough gold to pay for them all). To make this easier, times for upgrades come in a wide range.
  • The troop enhancement building is usually on a seperate timer, needs to always be running, and uses lots of manna. Once you’ve mastered upgrade timers, you have to worry about loading this one up every week.
  • When you start a new clash-like, you know getting more builders is the most important thing. You can share that knowledge in general chat like the wise elder that you are. Even if you’re mostly a free player, you’d be a fool not to buy the $1.99 starter bundle with an extra builder.
  • Defenses don’t work when upgrading, giving you a choice. You can upgrade one defense building at a time, swapping positions so vital spots always have coverage. Or you can upgrade a bunch at once and be helpless, just to get it over with. People love that meta stuff.

You can go to the Forums of an active clash-like and read all this advice and more, including strong opinions on the best upgrade sequence. It’s a whole game in a game.

Another thing I love about the Builders system is the contrast between how it makes sense in-game — people rarely complain about the basic idea — and how wildly unrealistic it is. For examples:

  • Buildings start tiny and get small upgrades, which is a terrible way to make a building. For real, you knock down the old one. Maybe you make an addition or two, but a mansion isn’t a shack with 9 additions – it’s Sarah Winchester’s Mystery House. It makes even less sense for cannons (if you start playing with the metal in a cannon, you get an exploding cannon.)
  • To follow-up, what do you think happens when you know how to make level 5 cannons and a new cannon slot opens? You want to say “you build a level 5 cannon?” but you know it can’t be that simple. Obviously, you build a level 1 cannon and quickly upgrade it 4 times.
  • Why are they out-of-commission while upgrading? I’ve worked in plenty of real buildings while they’re being upgraded. Especially for the defensive buildings, the king should explain to the contractor how keeping it on-line is of paramount importance. It should be shut down for a few hours at most. If the DOT can keep 1 lane open and only shut roads down on Sunday night, so can my builders.
  • On the offensive side, we can build an entire rock golem, or army tank or war balloon in 10 minutes. On defense, a minor tweak takes 7 days. That seems disproportunately long. And they are suspiciously minor tweaks. For real, improvements to guns weren’t 10% better, they doubled or tripled the fire rate and accuracy. An archer tower can go from 2 archers on top to 3, and only do 10% more damage (does the 3rd one knock elbows with the first two?)
  • Why can’t 2 builders work on the same thing? In WarCraft, which this was copied from, you can do that. So 1 builder-per isn’t even realistic by game standards. And why do wall upgrades need a builder, but for 0 time? Isn’t needing something for 0 time the definition of not needing it?
  • Why don’t upgraded buildings get bigger? They do (at some point) in every other game. Especially the army camp – what sort of tardis technology is squeezing 5 more guys into the same space. Bunk beds?

There are good gameplay reasons for doing things this way, and that’s the point. Builders have nothing to do with realism – they’re just clever ways to justify those limits.

Clash-like Tropical Wars:Pirate Battles mostly copies the old WarCraft system, and it’s pretty fun. Nothing does anything without a worker assigned — not even gold mines or the research center. You get 5-15 of them (talking Koala bears) and can spread them evenly. Or you can double or triple them up, leaving some buildings inactive (the most workers a building can have increases with the level). In a gold shortage you could pull all the builders from ongoing construction, leaving it paused. But I think people like the familiar system, leaving experimentation to the fighting parts.

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[Game]Fortress Legends

This neat thing about this game (which was discontinued in early 2017) is how attacking is nothing like a clash-like, but everything else is.

Attacking is a standard 3D dungeon hacker. You’re a fully controllable character, with several skills to use, a skill tree, equipment, 4 character classes. The rooms are mostly filled with monsters, but there are blob launchers, spinning flame-throwers, traveling floor-saws, pulsing stun fields, attractors, and hidden silence and slow traps. The entire dungeon is maybe 8 large rooms. You have to clear one before moving on (the doors seal.) To make it odder, you queue-up in a group of 4 other live players (the usual Looking For Group queue. You wait while it fills up).

The monsters are: bruisers with an occasional hammer stun, fast wolves with a charging attack, various ranged that can charm, buff monsters or heal them. Or one huge semi-boss monster. The placed devices are easy enough to avoid, but dodging monsters at the same time makes it a challenge. If you like 3rd-person RPGs, it’s a decent game.

Your Town Hall is a room with a powered-up computer controlled you as the boss, plus the usual monsters and stationary threats (clever, right? You have to beat the owner of the dungeon to win.) If you’re in a guild, your “clan castle” is a powered-up copy of a guild mate’s character (you can only pick players a few levels lower than you, which meant the lowest level guild members couldn’t use it. Arg.)

But everything else is a regular clash-like. All the stuff you fight in other peoples’ dungeons is stuff you upgrade in yours in the normal way. You even have to re-arm your traps. The trick still works where you try to get a big shield by letting them “win” without getting much gold. The troops upgrading building is repurposed to upgrade your defensive monsters. You even clear randomly spawning junk to get gems.

The dungeon-making rules are clever. The rooms are huge and placing everything in one room would clearly be the best. So they use a point system. Each fixed defense and monster generator costs points, and each room is allowed 20. You have enough for maybe 5 dangerous rooms. You see a mix – some all monster rooms, followed by trap gauntlets; or mixes of monsters and devices in each room; some people like to put their clanmate in the final room with themselves, but that gives attackers lots of room to run around. I liked to put a mega-monster right behind that door, plus a few traps. Rooms come in pre-made styles — triangular sections or square alcoves or a little fort in the middle. The one where you immediately had to go left or right was popular.

I assume one problem leading to the shut down was needing a big player base for the 4-person groups. They already had to allow a pretty high range of player levels in a group, to get waits down to a few minutes. Some special event queues were 10+ minute waits. I’m told some times of day were a problem.

Then, this is an amusing aesthetics thing: your base is built from connected giant stone slabs, flat on top, but ragged on the bottom where they’ve been torn out of the ground and enchanted to float high in the air. You can see other floating bases far off in the distance. It looks nice. What cracks me up is how the gold collectors pump gold out of the floor. It’s like a RoadRunner cartoon.

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Monetizing

It’s possible to appreciate clash-likes just for the way they make money. The standard trick is to take a perfectly good game, then ruin it with a bunch of limits you can pay a little each time to skip. Clash-likes make these feel natural – like the limits are an integral part of the game. The other trick is known as inflicting pain – find or add something frustrating where players will make an impulse buy.

Clash-likes have pain as a natural part of the game. For a new player, you win missions, get gold, and grow. That’s a game. Then you find out gold can be stolen – yikes. People hate having stuff stolen. An experienced player is over that, and can usually minimize loses. Usually. But when they’re a little short of an upgrade, sitting on a huge pile of cash like some rube, they feel the pain then.

One general trick to sell anything is giving options. In a clash-like when you can’t quite pay for an upgrade, you can buy the extra gold. Or you can buy a shield so no one can steal from you for a while. Or you can pay to skip the attack timer and win the gold you need. One of these will seem smarter, or fairer, or a better deal compared to the others.

There are three different ways to buy gold. You’d think that one of them would be something simple like “spend 50 gems for 10K gold.” Nope:

  • There’s the standard “Not enough. Buy the rest?” button when you try to upgrade. The cool part is, in a game where people can steal the extra, buying only what you need feels smart.
  • You can buy a speed-up for your gold mines. This feels more like you’re playing the game, and planning ahead feels smart. It totally hides how you’re still just paying cash for game gold.
  • You can buy gold directly into your inventory. But not amounts. You can buy up to all you can hold, up to half or up to 10%. What?! Besides the fact nothing is ever sold that way ($5 for half of all the cucumbers you can carry,) why those three numbers? I assume 10% and half are only so you realize Full is the best deal. And I imagine that’s the smart way to mass-upgrade walls for cash (buy Full Storages, upgrade walls until you run out, repeat until gift card is empty.)

The thing I want to note about upgrade timers and limits (builders) is that you don’t need them. The game would work if every building at once could be upgrading. The game even works if all upgrades are instant. You can only get gold so quickly. Deep down, builders and upgrade times are just really well done monetization tricks – pay to get up to 5, pay to speed them up.

 

The other thing to limit is attacks. The basic thing we want to do is let people play all they want at first, then make them wait between attacks just a little, then more and more as they become interested enough in the game to spend money on speed ups. In a game where you pre-bake your army, especially one where you lose all attacking toops, training times are great for that.

Compared to attack tokens, training times don’t feel nearly as fake, and they’re a soft limit. You aren’t directly prevented from attacking – if you want to attack with 90% of your army, or just a few archers, you can.

Boring, not-quite-as-good troops train faster than the really fun ones. As a free player, you can stick to boring units and attack more often. You can even mix in a few fun slow-training units. You can even use an army with all pre-trained fun troops for the first attack of each session (if you remembered to pre-train them at the end of the last time you played.) There’s no in-your-face “you have to pay to do this.” You only have to pay if you want to make several attacks in a row using all good troops (in other words, play the game the regular way.)

And training times seem very natural. We had them 30 years ago: take over factories on the world map and produce either infantry every 30 seconds, or tanks every 180. RTS’s have training times as an important part of game-play. The thing is, clash-likes act like single-player games. You’re not racing against a specific person in real-time. There’s no reason for troops to need training times. Deep down, they’re just another clever way of adding a limit.

Training time speed-ups have a good and bad choice: you can pay to insta-finish – that’s the bad way. Or you can pay for an hour-long 4x speed-up (which is fast enough for almost no waiting.) That costs 25 cents (in gems,) which is maybe $5/month. That’s not a terrible subscription price, and a great way to hide that it is one.

 

Some clash-likes let you pick your troops on the fly, so can’t have training times. Other games limit you (and give a chance to spend) with attack tokens. Clash-likes can do better, by using the buildings.

Royal Revolt is a typical example. Attacks cost a set amount of food – more as you level up your Castle. Your farm buildings make it, and silos store it. Upgrade those to make it faster and store more. It feels like you’re in control (go to their forums and read “stop complaining and upgrade your farms.”) But they set all the numbers and own a spreadsheet. The end result is you get all the attacks you need at first, then fewer as you level up. Again, if it costs about $5/month to play as much as you want, that seems fair (but maybe it’s more like $40/month when you really get going – they’re not going to tell you that.)

 

Gambling chests are nothing new in the game world, but you need something special as the top prize. If you want them in your clash-like, and don’t care whether you ruin it, put rare leaders in them. Give them a chest once a day so you can say free players aren’t limited.

An aside, you know how leaders are often ranked C, B, A and S? That’s the grading system in India.

My biggest surprise about clash-like monetization is how they all let you buy everything. Not just double-gold or other speed-ups. They all let you drop a few thousand dollars and instantly have max-level everything. In the old days, a game couldn’t do that and be taken even a little seriously. But apparently they can now, so more power to them.

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[Game]Boom Beach

IBM is famous for missing out on PCs because they made mainframes and didn’t want to compete with themselves. Supercell went the opposite way. After Clash was a sucess for them, they experimented with an entirely different clash-like, which turned out to be almost as influential.

Some of the things Boom Beach did:

  • The only goal of an attack is to kill the town hall. You get all the rewards for doing that, and nothing if you don’t. In Clash often the best plan is quick raids for easy gold, with no chance of winning. That’s boring. In Boom Beach, every attack is real – study how to get to the HQ, against defenses made only to defend the HQ.
  • Instead of Nexting through targets, you have a list of other players. You can attack only them until you win or Give Up. Either way, new players appear after about a day. It’s kind of fun to try a few things until you finally beat someone. It’s also nice to spend more time planning an attack then looking for someone weak and rich. The actual layout is a map, with the other players on it. But it’s a lie since they vanish afterwards and can’t attack you.
  • Attack squads. Instead of training 40 archers and tapping 40 times to place them, you train 3 archer squads and place a squad at a time. You still have pretty good flexibility in what you select. I personally make a lot fewer mistakes placing them.
  • Visible traps (to you, but not your troops,) which auto-reset. When the other guy can see them the placement strategy is different, but it works fine. Place a bunch on the weak side of your base, or just place them around like a wall.
  • NPC bases are part of the game. In Clash you get a computer-controlled campaign, but that’s over quickly and then it’s all vs. players. Boom Beach has constant computer bases mixed in your map, in a variety of scalable themes: a base with a few mega-weapons, or lots of machine guns, huge minefields … . Most are pretty fun, and you’ll recognize tougher versions of them as you go.
  • Weekly mini-campaigns. There are “evil genius” computer bases with several stages and cute dialogue. There are guild missions against other types.
  • Upgrades takes multiple types of resources at once – wood, stone, iron. You almost always have to gem for one of them, but the game showers you with free gems to make up for it – like wildcard resources.
  • A spell-point energy system. You use energy to cast any of your spells, and repeating the same spell costs more and more energy. Destroying buildings gains energy, which spreads out spell-casting. You end up casting a variety of spells, but not always the same ones, depending on the base.
  • A beacon spell that makes all troops walk towards it for a short time. It gives a limited amount of troop control – like being able to pull them back after destroying the defenses you needed to. You can only attack a base from one side (the beach,) but leading your troops to the back with this spell is pretty fun.
  • Overall base enchantments: better offense, defense or production (lots of variety.) It takes a while to switch, so you have to pick a strategy. A nice change from Clash where every base is basically the same. You win the parts in fights, build them, upgrade them. It’s a whole system. But the fun part is you can customize.
  • No easy way to artificially lower your ranking. You’re always facing opponents the game thinks are medium-tough. Clash of Clans has pages and pages about losing on purpose to adjust your rating so you have good targets but no one tough will be attacking you. That’s all gone in Boom Beach. But there’s a down-side. It’s possible for a casual player to get stuck with only hard opponents.
  • More flexible base upgrade strategies. In Clash of Clans the only good plan is to upgrade everything evenly. You can upgrade however you want, but the loot rules heavily penalize non-even bases. In Boom Beach it’s fine to upgrade whatever you like most and ignore the rest.
  • Fighting another player for things called Resource Bases. When you beat a Resource Base, instead of vanishing, it stays and makes extra wood or gold. But one other player can see it and steal it from you, which also levels up the defenses. You can fight back-and-forth. It’s usually a week-long mini-rivalry with that player (PunisherXX let you have it for a day, but then you wake up and see they attacked 3 times and finally retook it.) When someone gives up the computer finds new opponents a day or two later.

    I’d guess a lot of spending in Boom Beach is to teach that rat-bag PunisherXX a lesson, who clearly used real money to rush troop upgrades before you did.

  • Only one builder, who works faster. After using this for a while, you start to realize how annoying 5 builders is, with the weird rolling mental list of who will be free when. In practice you attack and play just as much.

Many of these are mix&match – any clash-like can have one fast builder. But in copies you usually see them together. Many clash-likes are obviously Boom Beach with a few changes.

One thing SuperCell kept was the cartoony alternate world theme. Clash of Clans is silly fantasy where the units have lots of character. Boom Beach is silly cartoony WWII-era (well, the heavy infantry look like Vietnam-era mini gunners.) They even kept the archers as female (changing from earnest elves, to single-minded bazooka-firing WACs.)

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Complete List

Short descriptions of just the interesting features of the ones I’ve seen:

  • LegendBorne: A fun early feature is having to “rescue” your troops. Some enemy bases show one held captive at the back. At first it’s pretty fun. But eventually you rescue past the maximum army size (I could train 60 spaces of troops, with a maximum of 92 skeletons and 76 bats).

    Two sides (good and evil) with different troops, different preset leaders (you gradually unlock a choice of 3) and story. You get super-leader troops with this crazy point system which requires you to win at least 10 battles in a row (server problems ensure this will never happen). The territory map has you unlocks areas in a wide path towards the enemy (the terrain gradually turns from yours into theirs. It looks very nice). But I quickly reached max level with everything unlocked and didn’t see it reach anywhere, and never got any more of the story, either.

  • CompassPoint:West: Beautiful western-style art and sound. BoomBeach-style map (including computer bases and missions.) You get to pick an army at the start of each attack — no waiting or paying for training. The troops are shown as cards in a deck — very sharp, I can still recall the snick of placing them. Then you get more army spawn points as you destroy buildings.

    The troop selection comes from daily packs of cards, gradually growing your selection. Extras can be combined to upgrade that card. The problem is, upgraded troops don’t cost any more to place, and are much better. A big-spender stands out, and will crush you.But the trains and cow rescues and building types are enough to make it worth a look.

  • TitanEmpires: Maybe one of the earliest games to add a wide selection of very different heroes (like an ogre who’s special ability is making one big jump.) Upgradable through gambling chests. Original features: can place impassable river squares (with a check so you can’t surround anything, or make a too-long river wall). A clan war map, where each base has a point value and sometimes a bonus. Clanmate’s donation to reinforce one of your buildings for a day. Made in Wisconsin.
  • SpaceMinerWars: Offense is non-clashlike – flying around a fully controlled Asteriods-style spaceship, while their base creates a bullet-hell. But the base is standard clash-like (town hall, upgrades, storages .. .) Limiting your attacks uses the standard Fuel system – lots of attacks at first, then limited as you level up.
  • DawnOfSteel: Another non-clash offense: 3-4 fully controllable robots, each with a special (you also get some “spells”). Bases are standard clash-like. But adds monster-spawning defenses (like a mini-robot factory). At first players were randomly given different entrance patterns for their bases (2 small gaps or 1 larger one). They added an option to switch after getting so many complaints from players who felt they had the “bad” version.

    A tiered system of equipment: free and real money equipment. Each level is a smallish spend to stay competitive. Which is a pretty neat idea.

  • StarWars:Commander: Two sides, with population problems (can you name a cool Rebel troop? Neither can anyone else. Everyone plays Empire.) The big innovation is you get generic defensive towers and can put any weapon in them. Weapons get bonuses against troop types (light infantry, light armor …) so you get to guess which army you fear most. Attacks often need to worry about the time limit.
  • SamuraiSeige: One of the first Clash of Clans imitators. Samurai-themed, sillier, more events and specials (I suspect this game convinced Clash of Clans to start adding events).
  • Lords and Castles: medieval-themed old-style clash-copy. Adds terrain elevation — troops walk slower uphill and weapons fire further downhill. Fun, but too much work. New wall-post-style walls, which are much easier to place. Research is a tech-tree, which also unlocks things like “+25 walls”. Heroes (1 offense, 1 defense) from Gambling chests, including upgrades. So it’s a little pay-to-win.

    Truly bizarre selection of historical politicians as heroes: Abraham Lincoln can duke it out with Catherine the Great or Gandhi. With no joke intended, US leader Trump’s ability is to strengthen walls. Has Clan wars where you win spots on a world map.

  • SeigeFall: Boom Beach style map. Attacks have a fully controllable hero and squads of troops. As you destroy buildings, you get points to summon more troops. Spells are from a pre-done semi-random card-draw (you get lots of so-so spells, which you may as well use.) Walls come in just a few long sections. Weekly computer-controlled base quests.
  • RoyalRevolt: Defense is a real tower-defense — you create a path lined with defensive towers and barriers. And select waves of defensive troops. Attacking is a fully controllable hero, with squads of troops summoned through a refilling energy bar. You can try to push onward only after summoning a big wave of troops, but that can run you out of time.

    Can buy items for gems during an attack. You have a spell that uses a small amount of diamonds. So, this game is the definition of pay-to-win. But the game cycle is normal clash-like: attack for gold, start an upgrade, curse those who stole from you.

  • OlympusRising: Greek-themed copy of RoyalRevolt (made by the same company.)
  • DungeonKeeper: Defense is placed defensive rooms, connected by carved-out hallways with traps. Standard Town Hall to limit buildings and upgrades. Attack from 4 fixed entrances. Some monsters can walk/shoot through walls.

    This is a clash-like port of a much older game. It was hated as a cash-grab, but it’s no different than any other clash-like.

  • Batman:ArkhamUnderworld: Similar to DungeonKeeper, your buildings are rooms and hallways, with two fixed “garages” as entrances. Later options to bust through a window. Terrific AI to make defending goons dive behind your placed sandbags or sofas. Gold is in a vault room, with a very heavy door. Your HQ has your computer-controlled super villain. Can scatter defenses anywhere they fit. Attacking gives you a fully-controllable super-villian, but an army of the usual dumb goons. Limited spells. BoomBeach style map. This was a Suicide Squad movie tie-in, and was much better than it needed to be.
  • RaidHQ: Attacks are non-clash-like. Each defensive room is a stationary bullet-hell, with extra attacks from nearby rooms. Attacking has a team of 4, pick 1 to attack with, but freely tag in and out. The heroes are gotten and upgraded using gambling-chests, but they’re are fairly generous – you can find free “S-class” heroes.) They have interesting room types – you fight a big robot, lots of waves of troops, a tough laser bunker… . At first 1 path leads to the HQ, but eventually you have to split your defenses among several, trying to get good coverage of the support zones.

    Attacks are limited using the timed-unlock chest system (like Clash Royale). It takes a few hours to unlock a victory chest and get the rewards, and you can only have two at a time. Attacks after that are just for fun.

  • BoomBeach: See the specific post. Win or Lose combat, local map of targets, one builder. Comical WWII-themed.
  • DropAssault: WarHammer 40K-themed Boom Beach-style game. Uses a point system for defenses: you get 50 defense points per level, and defenses cost different amounts. Build and use whatever defensive buildings you want. Extras can even be put in a storage area, at no cost to you. I think first clash-like to have a live player-vs-player area.

    Gambling chests for your one offense and defense hero. Lots of specialized abilities buffing one troop type. Expensive to upgrade and a few rare over-leveled heroes are far too powerful.

  • RivalKingdoms: See the specific post. No troop training – troops selectable at the start of battle. Very limited troop types. No choice in who to attack. Dragon semi-leader. Pre-made sets of 3 spells, designed to work together.
  • Transformers:EarthWars: attack team is 5 non-controllable robots. Each robot carries a spell, using a Boom Beach energy system to cast and recast. Robots are won through gambling chests – takes cash to get enough of the good ones – but you can only level them up by playing. Fun fact: attacks come from two adjacent sides of the map. At first you have to defend 180 degrees of your base. But as you clear rubble, moving your base further back limits the angle to a mostly frontal attack.
  • Dawn of Gods: Up to four very strong, controllable leaders on offense and defense, which dominate the normal troops. Leveled through grinding or spending. Some interesting troops at higher levels, but they won’t matter. Lots of dailies and quests. Clan wars only happen on weekends.

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[Game]Dawn of Gods

Dawn of Gods isn’t anything new, but sure is interesting. The theme and art are better than most; like any second-generation clash-like, they’ve slathered on dailies, quests, currencies and monetization – pretty well done. But then the gameplay changes appear to have been made by someone who’s never played a clash-like.

 

There are daily quests, mostly for things you’d probably do anyway; then separate daily “events,” which are just more involved quests. There’s a daily login reward, 3 free daily chests (on a timer,) 3 different free grab-bag chests, 3 daily Leader chests, and an every-two-day good Leader chest.

There are 6 more daily chests that cost a tiny amount of gems (interleaved with 3 of the free ones – to open your second free chest, you have to click past “are you sure you want to skip one of your daily 5 gems-to-open chests?” Genius.) Then a daily no-risk tournament gives you a tiny chest for each attack, and different chests for your daily rank (by no risk, I mean you attack a player, get no loot, but lose no troops.) There’s another Quest system, through a building, where you send your leaders out and get rewards an hour later.

There’s a crafting system for Boom-Beach style totems (the Leader quests find the materials.) Most give pointless bonuses, but you can pay vast amounts of other tokens to reroll them. Each kind of totem has different rules for unlocking how many you can have.

Even though you attack players using a Next-ing system, there’s a separate map with only computer opponents. They added a bonus for eliminating all bases belonging to one person (a chart shows it.) The usual conquered base rewards, which normally just pile up and are collected whenever, have to be collected during 3 preset daily windows (listed in military time.)

Besides gold, elixer, dark elixer, gems and totem crafting, there are 6 more currencies. There’s a Friend system (who’s only purpose is to click to give them more attacks in the daily tournament.)

They even have time-reduction tokens, borrowed from Game of War style games. Not sure why, but they give you several at first, then only very rarely once you get to mid-game. Like they forgot about them.

Monetization-wise, there’s a subscription: $5 for a huge deal on gems, doled out every day for a month. And a starter buy: your first spend gives you a rare leader (who will personally win every attack for you, sort of ruining the first few levels.) Together, they do a nice job of “this game seems OK, right? spend $5 on it.”

The clan wars are the same as clash, except more complicated: there’s a pre-phase where extra donations give an overall defense bonus, there’s a counter-attack phase, and then a second day of attack/counter-attack. Of course, the clan with the most active players still wins (by attacking abandoned low-level bases on the other side.)

Selectable leaders come in 8 rarities, each much better than the previous, and you need 4 of them. They work on offense and defense. Whomever has the best leaders wins. You can get up to level 5’s with work, level 6’s with lots of work. The next two will run you hundreds of dollars.

 

The troops in this game … it looks like they had some neat ideas, roughed out some numbers, and then stopped working on them, since the leaders do all the work anyway.

In clash, the giants pay for their toughness by moving slowly and not hitting hard. Not in this game. An all-giant army works fine. Later they give an even better giant-like troop, then an even better one after that.

They give you an early flyer, but renamed “Stealth” (it’s a wraith.) It sneaks through walls and only archer and wizard towers can see it to attack. Defenses tell you whether they hit Stealth troops. But the wraith isn’t all that good, and it’s the only stealth troop. Oddly, the game has fliers, but they don’t really tell you which ones do, or what defenses can hit them. And the anti-air defense hit wizards (don’t fly,) healers (walks, but hops over walls,) and witches (don’t say – the picture looks like maybe they can.)

There aren’t spells. Some leaders have skills, but 1-use only and mostly not aimable. All-in-all, troop selection and attack tactics is kind of blah. You only lose troops if they die, and you don’t need to win to steal gold. Use your entire army, quit once you’ve stolen the easy gold, and repeat.

 

The game looks nice, and it’s worth seeing for the huge pile of systems they added. The leaders’ theme is amusing. They’re Gods (or anyone who ever interacted with a God) – grouped by Greek, Egypytian, Norse/German and Angels/misc (the Angels category is officially named “Other.”) A goddess is named “Grieved Isis,” which I assumed was a way to avoid confusion with real-world ISIS/ISIL. Nope, they also have a vanilla Isis goddess. They just doubled-up names on a few.

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[Game]Battle Islands

The really unique thing about Battle Islands is it has combined land, sea and air fighting. I wish I liked it more.

In a really slick move, attacking armies are trained in a barracks, a harbor and a hanger, each with it’s own troop points. Attacking armies will always be land, sea and air.

Your base is several islands. You start with 1 and get more as you level up, which must be connected (the game adds a little bridge when you move them close enough). Not only will enemy ships be sailing around, bombarding the coasts, but you have deep-sea oil wells, plus your defensive harbor with boats that come out when the enemy gets too close.

The units are the usual mix of attack priorities, but more-so – fighter planes prefer other air targets, but can hit anything; submarines can only torpedo other ships (I assume they are very good at it), battleships prefer to bombard land defenses, sailing around the islands to reach them. And the enemy force will always have all those things to target. It seems like you have a lot of interesting choices.

Of course, this is a real clash-like. Your base has the usual defensive gun towers, mortars, AA guns, slow anti-tank guns and mines. On attack you have the usual prepared-in-advance spells: zap, heal and drop-anywhere-troops.

Besides that one big idea, the game has other nice touches. Each building comes with its own walls (hard to find: you create them through the “reinforce” button). At first it gets sandbags around it, then really pretty concertina wire on top. Put 2 reinforced buildings together and the bags combine into a pretty ring around both. It looks like it was fun to program. But the fun with walls is deciding where to place your limited amount.

And this is just cute: the tap to place attacking ground troops sends them 5-at-a-time in a landing ship. You get those for free. It can be fired upon and can sink, killing the occupants. But you can upgrade them.

One change I’m not sure I love is having only one resource: “supply”. I’m so used to saving gold for the upgrade I really want by spending elixir for upgrades I may as well get out of the way.

 

I can’t believe this is a down-side for me, but the art and theme are oppresively bland. Generic, Americanish WWII troops and buildings. Functional, flat islands. I should like the Quonset huts, corrigated steel and muddy tarps over the machine-guns. But there’s not a hint of backstory or personality. The escorts look like P-38’s, the bombers look like Liberators, but with a “we’re from an alternate generic universe” feel. The effects for the sea are terrific, but in an “I’m a standard high-end water effect” way.

Maybe part of me just not caring is that I’ve never been attacked in several months of playing. There seem to be people on chat, and I have no shields and full collectors. And I can’t attack anyone else: others on my “you can attack these people” list are vastly higher level than me, and have almost nothing to steal.

This game might have a lot of potential for really involved attacks. And maybe it opens up and gets busier with another town-hall level or two. If you can get past the no-theme theme, which I can’t, this seems like it could be a great game.

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[Game]Gates of War

Plarium, who distributes this one, likes to make mash-up type games. This is a broken clash-like merged with, something. But the few clashy parts are a little interesting.

You get about 1/2 an army’s worth of defensive troops. A building makes them, but after being created they pop out and stand next to it. You have to walk them somewhere. It’s a pain since it’s difficult not to tap the buildings by mistake. They also easily die from the area-affect attack spell, which makes spreading them out even more of a pain. So now we know why other games keep them inside the building.

I’m not sure how much of this is on purpose: in most clash-likes, buildings come with sidewalks — troops are able to walk between then even if you didn’t leave any space. In this game they can’t. Non-combat buildings are also 10x tougher than normal. It takes your entire army 30 seconds to kill a gold vault. So it seems as if they intended you to use your regular buildings to make walls.

Attacks are just shootouts. Your troops move RTS-style: draw a square to select and tap where to move or attack, otherwise they stand around. It’s a Sci-Fi theme, so most troops have longish-ranged guns. Your defenses have even longer ranges. The result is that base attacks are simply everything exchanging fire for 10 seconds.

Then it gets weirder. You unlock and upgrade troops through single-player missions. But not base attacks. Instead you walk your troops through a map, around ambushes, pick up more troops, and achieve the objective at the end. I keep losing one because they always kill the hacker I’m supposed to protect. The troops seem fun: power-suited HtH dude, rifle and flamer marines; various jeeps; tanks; a healing flier; anti-grav fighters and bombers; a big walker. A clean and consistent style.

There’s a live vs. player area, since why not. And this one I love as an “at least we tried”: as we know, an attack starts with you spending 10 minutes looking at bases and pressing Next until you find a rich, weak one. In this game they limit that to 30 seconds. Seems nice, but how do they do it? A single countdown runs. Look at bases, press Next and it keeps counting down. When it hits 0 you have to attack that base. But you can just quit without losing any troops. You lose the Victory Points, but no big deal.

Nothing is really wrong with the game, but nothing’s right with it either.

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[Game]Rival Kingdoms

The novel idea of this clash-like was you could open it, attack the first person you saw, do that several times with no waiting, and then just leave. That worked very well. Beyond that, they introduced several new ideas: better walls, semi-controllable leaders, defense power-up buildings, spell books and frequent events.

For a focus on only attacking they adjusted a few things:

  • No troop training. Pick an army once and start every battle with it. To add some kind of limit, they used attack tokens. You can save up to 5, which recharge every 2 hours. That’s a lot of attacking.
  • You have to attack the base they give you. When you’re shown a base, your attack token is already spent, the troops are free, and (explained below) you don’t want to break your streak. There’s no reason not to attack. Some of the best moments in the game are trying to beat a base that looks way too tough, which you would have skipped if you could have.
  • You have unlimited time to look at a base before attacking. Other clash-like do this, but only in guild wars, so we all know how fun it is. Think about which spells to cast when, ponder every direction of attack. Double-check the location of the air defense. Think about swapping in different troops (yes, the game even allows that). Doing that all with no rush is why you downloaded this game.
  • All-or-nothing victories. Destroying the HQ gets you the win and all the loot. This isn’t new, but it works especially well here.
  • A Fast Forward button. I think this was the first clash-like to have one. Once you’ve dropped archers to safely plink buildings, then fast-forwarded to the next step in your plan, you’ll never know how you lived without it.
  • Winning streaks with progressively harder bases. One loss resets your streak. This makes your 5 attacks into a story. Your first opponent or two is a warm-up – you can Fast forward. The next few might have good gold and require you to at least pay attention. The ones after that are nerve-racking. If you open the app and see you have a 9-streak so far, you take a deep breath, press the attack button, and hope for a non-impossible base.

Altogether, this makes it so you spend all of your time fighting the base in front of you.

To compare, consider the popular CoC “Barch” army (cheap barbarians and cheap archers). The goal is a mechanical, repeatable attack which gives the best return on time and elixir spent. I like it — I love how it teaches kids simple economics. But it won’t give you the thrill of victory or agony of defeat.

The game also added some semi-original features:

  • Nicer-looking, easier walls. Walls are made by placing posts. The game puts walls in the gaps. The same length wall is much easier to make, and they look much nicer. You can make the usual square corners, or can make pretty curves by placing posts at
    diagonals.
  • A defense-buffing defense. The Conduit building powers-up the defenses touching it. You eventually get two, giving the option to double-buff your favorite defense. It’s a clever way to customize your base.

    These were also used as gold-sinks and incentives to play daily. You had to pay gold to activate them, which lasted 24-hours, with a discount for renewals.
  • A very customizable defense building. You have the usual cannons and mortars and such, then a few Spell Towers. They each hold a wizard who knows one spell, from: area freeze, area blast, poison (damage-over-time + slow), an anti-healing debuff (which also did some damage), a fast single-target blast, healing (on your buildings) or area confusion (this was lethal — a bunch of troops switched sides for 8 seconds. It fired very slowly).

    Some of the fun was unlocking new wizards, or extra copies of your favorite.

  • Dynamic spawn zones – if you destroy a building, you can drop troops where it was. People who liked this really liked it. You could snipe a building just inside the walls, then drop the rest of your army there. Sometimes you could spell-blast buildings near the Stronghold and drop troops right next to it for a quick win.
  • A wide variety of crazy spells. You had the usual: healing, healing over time, heal by doing damage, reflect damage, summon healers; then all the other blasts and summons.
    But then oddball fun ones: one that softened up a huge area over time. A spell that blasted a building and jumped to and blasted another if the first died within 10 seconds (two of those and luck could demolish a base and your frame-rate in seconds). A similar one that slowly damaged and slowed several buildings, jumping and renewing. A huge troop buff, but expensive to cast and took 30 seconds to activate. Confusion (defenses shoot other buildings). Reverse time (the troops it was cast on jump back to their health and location from 8 seconds ago). Several that only worked if the troops had some other spell cast on them first.

    The trick is that you only choose one wizard, who has a preset list of 3 spells. They can fine-tune only that group, without worrying about all of the abusive combos if you could just pick any.

  • A semi-controllable dragon. It’s tough, ranged and flies above some defenses.
    Your control is a once-every-30-seconds “sweep”: touch it and drag to any spot. When you let go it quickly flies there, trailing a freeze spell. There are a few ways to use this — let it kill outlying buildings, sweeping it out of danger and to the next target. Or have it attack with your troops, sweeping over to freeze defenses (hopefully you have another sweep saved up, for a return trip and freeze). When you can swap to a dragon trailing fire or poison, use it to soften up buildings.

    All-in-all the dragon idea worked out pretty well. Air defenses chew it to bits, so it’s not too powerful. Not too much extra tapping. It takes some skill and practice to use well, and needs some strategic thinking before-hand. Plus, it feels like a dragon, and people love dragons.

  • A currency based only on winning battles. At first you use gold for everything, which comes in the usual droughts from penniless opponents. But later you need gold and rings, and then mostly rings. Apparently iron rings are Norse currency. You get a fixed number from a win, based on your victory points and streak length, and they can never be stolen. This eliminates a lot of nonsense.
  • Shields don’t break from attacks, and you can be attacked while playing. This eliminates lots more nonsense. You can attack when-ever you want. If you’re due to be attacked soon, you can try to beat it by spending, or not. No matter what, you get attacked 4 times/day.
  • Clever guild wars. The computer picks a line-up of 10 increasingly difficult bases from the other guild. Everyone attacks copies, in order, until they lose twice. It’s kind of fun asking your mates how they got past base 7. Normal attack tokens aren’t even required, so you may as well try.
  • Non-overlapping troops. Troops in almost all clash-likes are allowed to bunch up. Some quickly become a single stack of 50 archers (which looks pretty bad.) Most add a little randomness to spread them out a little, but you still get 50 archers in a very small space. Rival Kingdoms has them occupy their own tiny area. It looks much nicer.
  • 3D models and hi-resolution particle effects. Most clash-likes use the spritesheet model: a flip-book of 2D pictures, drawn from 4 different sides. I don’t know if Unity (the game engine Rival Kingdom uses) is that much better, or if cell-phones jumped in power. But RK’s models and effects look desktop good. The death-powered spells look very deathy. The dragons drip with smoke and flame.
  • Weak walls. In a normal clash-like, walls are so strong that you absolutely need a plan to handle them — wall-breaking troops or spells, flyers, jumpers… . With no plan, getting stuck uselessly banging on walls is how most of your army dies.

    In this game they’re a minor obstacle. The best use is to direct traffic. Double-wall sections or gaps will encourage troops to walk around and bunch up where you want them. Sometimes you can get them to detour around your guns for a bit. If you’ve seen a clash-of-clans Pekka walking around an entire base killing huts, that’s the general idea. Players even figured out how to make a 1-sided base: put your HQ on one side, with a massive V of walls behind it. Any troops placed back there will walk around to the front. The front has no walls, but that’s no huge loss.

  • User-designed items. They had regular contests, usually in a particular country, to design new wizards: the name, backstory and spells.
  • Frequent events requiring significant effort. You had a day or a weekend to get X points from attacking. There might be a bonus for using the newest wizard, or a certain buff from free chests. Prized were doled out as you climbed, so everyone got something. But the top prize pretty much required you to buy attack tokens or more chests.

    The guild-based events were brutal. Everyone contributed to one guild total, with breakpoints based on a large guild with everyone playing quite a bit. People were kicked out of guilds to make room for someone who could get the numbers up. But players were talking and planning months beforehand about the weekend guild event for Malice the Death Dragon.

The game’s flaws are interesting, as well:

  • There are only 7 troop types total. Part of the problem is you can’t easily make larger units using the squad system. 4-space troops don’t fit well in squads that hold 6. Another is you can’t play with costs and build times if you don’t have any. But 7 is still a pretty small number.
  • Only 3 troops ever get used. Everyone uses the same army of archers, soldiers and healers. The other 4 troops are a weak flyer, a goblin, a weak 2-space giant and an alternate archer.
  • One defense type dominates. The wizards that go in spell towers level up, and new ones keep getting released, and why wouldn’t you buff the most fun items? So now the only viable attack strategies involve a way to handle Spell Towers. Lots of strategies that used to fun are now useless.
  • End-game gets rid of the “attack who it gives you” rule. Once you get there you can select easy targets. The game becomes a grind of fast-forwarding through your 5 wins for the loot. In theory, guild wars are still a test of skill, but we all know those come down to which guild can get more members to show up.
  • The dragon-ing. The original dragons were an interesting troop which gave you a little edge. Now, all attacks begin with a 2 minute dragon phase. It’s a strange story.

    The original dragon trailed a freeze. The new ones trailed damage and could be leveled higher. Your starting wide-area air defense still killed them in 2 hits, an they couldn’t survive a head-to-head with an archer tower for long. But if someone forgot to place air defense there was a dance you could do: find an isolated building to build up a sweep; sweep across the base to one on the other side. As weaker buildings explode and give you manna, cast soften up spells on the rest. You could destroy a big swatch through the center.

    This was so much fun that they drastically nerfed air defenses so you could do it all the time. The dragon dance is fun, but spending most of your time thinking about how to drive around one dragon is pretty far from the original concept.

My impression is the people running the game didn’t understand clash-likes. Most mobile games are soulless grinders with the goal of keeping short-term player interest. This team did a nice job with that: play up the strategies people enjoy, monthly events, new wizards, tweaking the guild war brackets, adding new buffs to old wizards, new mechanics… .

The contrast between how well-designed it was as a clash-like, and how quickly it became not one, was head-spinning.

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Traps

The basic clash-like trap is a hidden bomb occupying a single square (compared to 3×3 for a typical building.) You usually get a lot of them. There are several strategies for placing these bombs.

You can design a nice, compact base and place bombs later. First fill those inevitable 1×1 holes that are inside every base. Troops coming from any side could walk over those. Sometimes just a little shuffling can make more interior spots for bombs. The rest have to go around the outside. You can place them evenly all around – most are wasted but every attack hits a few. Or pick one area to cluster them. The times they work will be fun to watch, and you can watch replays for ideas how to reposition them. A problem is that attackers will send 1 troop to trip bombs. To avoid that, push your outlying buildings a little apart and push the bombs between them.

One bomb is fine for softening up front-line troops for your guns. But most attacks have archers in back which never get shot. Wounding them with one bomb is a waste – if it takes two bombs to kill archers, cluster your bombs in groups of 2. If the game has healers, cluster bombs in groups big enough to kill front-line grunts before they get healed.

Going further, you can design your base with the idea of using traps. Bombs deep inside a base are more likely to be triggered, so purposely make space for more. The paths troops follow is predictable, so use that. A hole in your wall will lure troops (but you have a hole in your wall.) Make a short corridor full of bombs. The big, tough defense-seeking troops can be lured down different paths than the rest.

Some games have visible traps (but not to your troops – they stupidly walk right over them.) You can place these all around so they have to hit a few. But you can also cluster them – put them in your weak areas. If attackers avoid them by attacking from your strong side, they did their job. Most visible trap games also have wide-area spells which also explode traps. That complicates things. Putting a lot of bombs around defense buildings can make the whole area a juicy target. A cluster of bombs should be just dense enough it makes someone think maybe the area is worth a wide-area spell, maybe.

 

Little bombs are all you really need, but more types of traps might be fun. Freeze traps are my favorite. Freezing just any troops doesn’t do much – prevents them from doing a little damage. The trick is to place freeze traps just as they walk into a cross-fire, maybe letting a mortar hit them one extra time. Age of Gods has a clever variant – a distraction trap which forces troops nearby to target it. Place it behind a tough wall. For no reason, it’s a mummy popping out of a sarcophagus.

Most other traps are for hurting giants (whatever units your game uses for big, slow tough guys.) 2×2 super-bombs are massive overkill on most troops – 4 normal bombs scattered would be better. That massive damage is to put a dent in those giants. Hopefully you can figure the routes and place it to hit them.

The “spring” traps (1×1 insta-kill on at most 12 troop points) are also for giants. They’re a little like bombs against normal troops – bombs can affect more but won’t always kill them. The real use is being able to kill 1 or 2 of the big guys. Lords&Castles uses a spiked pit for this – pretty gristly as you imagine it filling with 12 bodies. Hero Sky uses a 2×2 camp fire (nearby troops are “killed” when they sit to enjoy the fire. Really.) Age of Gods uses a Confusion trap – not only do they lose the troops, but they become your defense troops (but this is so good it’s not allowed to affect really powerful troops.)

High-tech themed games usually replace the super-bomb with a 1×1 anti-tank mine (in those games usually army tanks are the “tough” units.) They work even better since everyone knows anti-tank mines completely ignore infantry. Those types of games tend to cheat a lot that way – plenty of things work differently on tanks vs. infantry just because the rules say they do,

 

Defenses which are reduced to rubble pop back up for the next defense. But traps need to be hand-reset. All games with visible traps have them auto-reset, and many newer clash-like do that to. But having to pay to re-arm your traps is the standard. It’s so ingrained that the game Hero Sky, with a straight face, offers to sell you a 7-day auto-trap-reset.

The cutest thing about traps is upgrading. Sometimes it’s an “all bombs do +2 damage”; but usually it’s done individually. The bomb gets construction site tape around it with a worker pounding on it. It’s like a Jerry Lewis movie.

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Shields

The point of a clash-like is getting attacked every so often: for one thing, it’s only fair. More than that, it makes a cycle — things that worked against your base give you ideas for attacks; and bases that beat you off give ideas for your own defense. You get to see attacking and defending from both sides.

But there needs to be a limit — once you save a decent pile of gold, you shouldn’t just be attacked over-and-over until it’s gone. So the game schedules someone to attack you every so often — maybe once every 8 hours.

We’d like to show that in a clever way. “Next attack in 6 hours” is boring, and also not accurate. You’ll go into the pool, but another player needs to choose you. If you’re poor, or it’s a slow time of day, it might take a half-hour. A nice way to explain that is saying you have a shield with 6 hours left. It’s something we can see, and it nicely explains the “open to 1 attack, starting now but coming whenever” idea.

But then I love how it’s like the rules to American Football after that. We need to pile on rule after rule to get what we want, nothing ever working for long.

First, we decide shields are 2-way — if you attack, it “breaks” your shield. Now you’re immediately counter-attacked for every attack you make; so we add a rule that you can’t be attacked while on-line. As you’d expect, the first #1 Clash player got there by leaving the game on all day. So they added rules limiting online time.

The game is playable with slow internet, but to fix dropped connections they added a 1-minute mini-shield when you log-out. That eventually became a special 1-hour shield that won’t break, gotten only when you break a longer normal shield. What? We’re deep in it now — players logged on, and got so mad at how the game seemed to be mocking them: “you were attacked 20 minutes ago and lost a boatload of gold, but got a 7 hour shield. Throw that away and make it a total loss?” Now it feels as if you’re trading all that fragile shield for a shorter, but better one.

Next they decided that shield durations depend on how badly you were beaten. If you think the gods give you the shield out of pity (which makes as much sense as anything), this seems logical. Players quickly figured out how to work the system — making bases that always “lost”, getting the maximum shield while losing the least amount of gold. So there needed to be another set of rules for how badly you lost, used only for shield duration.

But that’s a problem for Guild Wars, where you need a winning defense. Players figured out to make a good base during the “snapshot” period, before the war, and then immediately change it back. The “fix” for that was add a new slot for your “war base” (in other words, the fix was not to fix it, but to add another patch).

The last fix was having attacks only reduce the shield duration by an hour. For no reason, the next attack reduces by 2 more hours, then 4. That’s still an unfair rule, and still encourages you to log on just as a shield is wearing off. But the beauty is how it seems super-fair, compared to the old rule.

 

So why those rules? The obvious one is fairness. But shields could always last the entire time and that would be fair. The real reason is pain and money.

Once you throw away 6 hours of safety to make that first attack, there’s a strong emotional pull to come out ahead. Paying for a troop speed-up seems like a good deal. The different duration shields make it harder to track when they end. They also amp up the fear — you could possibly be attacked 4 times in 4 hours, losing much more gold than you expected.

Having shields be physical things means they can sell them. Paying not to be attacked after you’ve made a base designed to be attacked seems silly. But when you get worked up enough about Always, Losing, Every, Defense then paying sounds better and better.

Buying shields is also a mini-game. You can buy 1-day, 3-day and 7-day shields, with cooldown periods set so you can be safe for only about 20 days out of each month. It’s like a fun puzzle of cheating. But it somehow seems fair — like the game designers worked hard so Johny Big Bucks can’t hide from you forever.

That’s the goal of the whole system. The things that hurt — shields breaking or lasting less — are meant to feel like natural occurrences. Everything else is the game designers doing their best to help you out; of a situation they created.

 

I like to think about the in-game logic of all this. I can sort of understand a 2-way force field that you need to turn off in order to attack. But the buttons in the game don’t work that way — you attack, ignore the warning, and that shatters it. But that’s how demon-binding circles work, not force fields. I can also imagine the gods granting a flat 8-hour shield; but I have trouble with them hiring an accountant to decide on the length.

For the new “attacks cost an hour of shield,” I just don’t know. I suppose I can imagine sending the army through an area which stretches out, pops, and the rest fills it in while becoming overall weaker. But then you’d have a secret weak spot to make lots of other attacks through. Maybe it’s like a broken bone, where that part of the shield heals extra solid?

The Boom Beach-style games have no use for shields. Every day you’re on just a few people’s attack lists. If they all attack you at once, well, there’s no one left to attack you for the rest of the day. Empires&Allies solves shields another way, sort of: you never get a free shield, but can create and activate one at will, within limits (a building makes them, from stuff you win in fights. It’s fun). Rival Kingdoms simply has you defend every 6 hours. You never think about shields in that game, and it’s fine. Really. Rival Kingdoms is proof these reams of shield rules are only there to frustrate you into paying.

Oddly enough, the original, terrible “8-hours, but breaks” shield is still popular. You’ll find a new modern clash-like, lots of improvements and changes, and see the “You have 6 hours left on your shield. Attacking will break it, Proceed?” It’s like a conservation of suckiness law.

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Gating

“Gating” is game designer slang for adding just-because restrictions. The original meaning was an actual gate — for your safety the one leading to Monster Forest wouldn’t open until you were tenth level. Now a gate means any artificial rule to push things back. The most interesting and unique gates in a clash-like are the Vault upgrades.

The rule is you pay for an upgrade, wait, and get a small bonus: a few more troops, slightly faster giant production, +3 damage for a single gun. Not much, but it adds up.

There are some oddball upgrades, but they make sense. Upgrading the training building gives no actual benefit, but it unlocks more spell upgrades. That seems fair — a 2-stage upgrade. Likewise a Town Hall upgrade only gives you unlocks. But it’s a blatant gate on purpose. People like saying they’re at HQ7.

Then there are the vaults. Your gold vault upgrade seems inconsequential at first. There’s a limit on how much gold you can hold, which seems really odd. I mean, pirates perfected gold-hiding technology using just dirt. But you get gold and spend it so fast, gold vault upgrades seem very optional.

Then you notice your next HQ upgrade costs more than your maximum gold. You actually have to upgrade the vault. Then it happens again for the next HQ level. It happens every single time. Mysteriously, the same thing happens with your manna vault, every level. Once you get used to that, they give you a second vault of each. It seems like that would give more than enough room, but no. Now you now need to upgrade 4 vaults, every time.

When you get a vault for your third resource it’s a bit of a shock that it holds enough to upgrade even one thing. When you get the third vaults of the others, you start upgrading them out of reflex.

Having your loot spread out over 7 buildings is nice. Of course, it would be just as nice if you weren’t upgrading them so much. But it works out. The game gets you to feel excited about raising your gold cap, and things progress at a nice pace. And that’s the point of gates.

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Heroes

Heroes are fun extra-strong troops that march along on all of your attacks. They usually also work as a weak defense, standing wherever you place their building and attacking nearby invaders. Clash of Clans gives you a Barbarian King hero. It’s just a larger version of your first boring starter troop, attacks in the stupidest possible manner, has only one thing to upgrade and you only get it when your army is large enough it doesn’t make that much of a difference. That’s key – it’s just one more thing, and not the star.

There’s so much good stuff we can steal from role-playing games to make heroes more fun, and more powerful, and pretty soon the interesting part of the game – picking an army and a strategy – is gone. Some of the things you see in newer clash-likes:

  • Give a hero right away. Don’t make them wait until late game.
  • Use more. Quickly ramp up to using four heroes at a time
  • Offer a choice. You might use one-at-at-time, but gradually unlock choices as you level. Select the best one for the army you’re using. Or, more common, have dozens of heroes winnable in chests, with some clearly better and rarer than others.
  • Give heroes really specialized abilities: +15% to ranged attacks; healing aura, self-regeneration; troops ignore walls for 8 seconds; destroys traps; a freeze spell; teleport… .
  • Complicate the upgrades: have skills upgrade separately from hero level; let them find or upgrade their sword, armour and runes. This gives you a chance to advertise different parts of the game – maybe runes only drop if you play in Clan vs. Clan events. But the problem is you need to make all this worthwhile, meaning your hero starts to become the star of the game.
  • Make them customizable. Let people change-up the spells, have different types of swords. In retrospect this seems obvious – make them just like computer RPG heroes.
  • Instead of having them upgrade like everything else (pay the gold, wait for the builder to finish), have them gain experience points and level from attacking.

The Warhammer clash-like does a lot of this: you use one hero at at time, from the start, chosen from a big randomly acquired stable. Each has one unique skill, plus another rerollable skill and 3 selectable equipment pieces. They level as you attack with them and can get quite tough (but leveling up a new hero by attacking easy targets is a pain.) It’s almost fair, except for the usual chest nonsense (getting the rare hero you need, plus the rare equipment.)

Titan Empires was an early game using “fun” heroes. They have crazy abilities, two things to upgrade and you quickly use two at once. The best part are their long cooldowns, regardless of injury. Your second attack needs to use the next pair of heroes. The next day, you’re thinking of which hero pairs work best together. And your troops still seem to matter quite a bit.

One thing Clash does well is keeping hero levels as just a time-sink, like walls. There are lots of upgrades, very expensive, for very minor improvements. It mostly gives die-hard players something to do.

The original, Backyard Monsters, used heroes as an end-game. You get a hero pedastal very late, which can hold one of three very powerful heroes, which you can lose if you don’t keep them happy. When you got these, it seems like the game centered around them. I think Clash was influenced by that – add heroes late, but be sure to keep them weak.

 

With the full set of character tricks it’s easy to turn a clash-like into a standard hero grindfest. Gradually you’re attacking and defending with 4 overpowered “Legendary” heroes, spending all of your time collecting upgrade parts. It often happens slowly, which seems pointless — people who like clash-likes will quit, and people who like heroes will never get that far. But you sometimes spot it right away: a weak base with 2 heroes guarding it vaporizes your army. You go back and look at the special starting offers for Epic heroes, with promo text about dominating your foes, and realize they weren’t kidding.

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Reskins!

Earlier I wrote that I’d never seen a simple clash reskin. I was wrong. But even the reskins are fun and have some redeemable qualities.

“Clans of Heroes” is about 2/3s of Clash (no attack replays) with a reskin. But the flavor text is really something. It was out in Jan 2014, which seems kind of late for a pure clone.

The best new feature is it shows an Ad when you open it, and again every 5 minutes. No prompts or anything. You’re moving a building and bam – an add starts. They’re always for the same game, too.

 

Resources and ore and reiku. I actually prefer the ore to gold. The extractor pulls pretty blue slivers out of the ground. Defenses go up to Teslas, but with no traps. They all look about the same, except cannons are inexplicably floating spheres with evenly distributed studs.

Troops go up to Pekkas (7 total – there’s no dark manna.) The female archers are named “Neutron Men,” have one hand replaced by a reiku cannon, and have one bionic eye. They, I quote, “attack enemy by virtue of dripping bullet from arm.” Reiku-use figures in several troops’ text. It’s roughly newish Japanese for “spirit ki,” which is the rubbing hands healing technique from Karate Kid. But it’s the same pink color as elixer, so it’s fine.

There are two new features. The communal builders’ hut can be upgraded for a small build-speed increase. And you can spend 1000 trophies to buy a defense-enhancing rune for one building. Based on my experience, this messes up match-making as everyone drops from 1,000 trophies to 0.

The models and art are pretty good. A consistant cortoony style, but not the same as Clash. Sort of a manna-punk aesthetic. The giant is a legless golem of floating rocks with an iron sphere core. And this wouldn’t be complete without the game’s full name: Clan of Heroes – battle of Castle & Royal army.

But there’s more. Two years later (Dec 2015,) an exact copy of this, titled “Heroes Clash – Castle of Clans” appears on iOS, by “Xiao Lui.” The publisher page is FaceBook, which is what the pros use. It has 2 screenshots, but both are the same, and is copied from Clash of Heroes.

 

“Era of War: Clash of epic clan” is another original pure reskin of early Clash, but has some fun bits. The name is the first one.

The Developer Website page takes you to the front page of some kind of ISP or VPN. That seems like a mistake, but the splash screen shows the same name. I feel like they may have bought this game cheap just for the advertising.

Gold is relabelled wood. The storehouses look an awful lot like the ones on Boom Beach. Elixer is renamed food. It’s cute – the farms are little pens growing a pig; the storages are piles of thick ham-steaks. But when you tap a farm there are no pig sounds. Go ahead, guess the real sound. It’s the bubbly elixer noise from Clash.

Every troop is an obvious copy except just one. The angel is a blue glowing sphere renamed “Soul.” That’s clever, but they more than cancel it by having “God of War Altar” and “Goddess of Archery Altar” (Barbarian King and Queen.) See if you can guess buildings “Magic Creator” and “Special Barrack.”

The healing spell allows troops to “recover a large amount of blood.” I know, making fun of translations is easy. The game apparently originated from Vietnam, in 2015. I’m wondering if no one localizes for Vietnamese, which is what gave them the idea.

There is one nice idea here. The campaign missions don’t use your army. They give various interesting preset troop mixes. It’s fun trying different armies and solving those little puzzles.

Bonus fact: an era isn’t any particular length of time. It’s just however long whatever it is lasted.

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[Game]Gods of Olympus

Gods of Olympus has such a clever, unique system for bases. It partly works because attacking doesn’t use an army — just fully controllable characters. But it’s still really nice.

First off, there’s no Town Hall. You win by destroying every temple to the gods. The Greek gods are who you attack with, unlocked as you level up. Choosing one also gets you their temple building and it’s unique defense bonus. You have 2-5 attacking heroes, and the same number of temples to defend.

The best defense seems to be spreading temples out a little. Give the attacker a tough choice between circling your base or attacking through 2/3rds of it. On the attack you need to memorize how all 8 temples look. Hades temple looks like a mausoleum, and so on. Even worse, all of the other buildings are unique: the gem-producing buildings look like a pool, an amphitheatre, and a garden. They can fool you at first. But there’s no way to hide things with taller buildings or trees — once you know what each temple looks like you’ll be fine.

Defensive buildings are the usual shooters, and are nicely done (the long-range one focuses sunlight through a mirror). But the most fun are the platoons of tiny soldiers. One building type spawns endless waves of swordsmen, another archers. There’s no trigger — all buildings of both types start up as soon as you attack.

You can kill them easily, or even out-run them. Area effect spells slay many. Aphrodite has a spell to convert them to your side. But there are a lot of enemy soldiers and they keep coming.

You can also buy lots of small “hero houses” for any god you’ve unlocked. Athena’s give a health boost any buildings it touches; Apollo’s regenerates them. As you clear the edges of your base you also find a few special buildings. There are no walls, but every building, even low-health decorations, fills its footprint. Packing them together prevents invading heroes from walking through.

The rules for buying and upgrading are on a sliding scale, with no hard limits. Shooters, barracks and buff-houses form a group. Whenever you buy or upgrade one of them, all costs go up a little. Some players have fields of level-1 arrow towers (they don’t take much space). Not only do you decide which defenses you want, but also quantity vs. quality.

If you’re online when you or a clanmate is attacked, you can watch and help, by occasionally placing some tiny troops by tapping. They mostly blend in with the swarm, but make a small difference (and it looks like several clan-mates are allowed to help at once.)

There are no resource generators or storage buildings. You don’t steal from the other player. The game picks your opponent and you get a standard reward for winning, based on level/trophies(?) You even get about half if you lose an attack. Defensively, you get bonus gold for damage done to attackers.

 

The game advertises no builders or build times: all upgrades are instant. That works just fine in combination with the “no stealing” rule. But maybe making someone wait and come back is good. I got to level 20 (4 heroes) in a few hours, then was a little burned out. With builders, that might have taken a week (during which I would have cleared a spot on my daily planner, and make the game a part of my life? Or not?)

And let me say, the heroes are well done. They each have 2 interesting abilities sharing about a 15-second cooldown, meaning you always have to make a choice. With 5 gods it can get hectic. Inside of each they use the same sliding scale for leveling — you can make them tough, or powerful (or balanced, I suppose). After a suitably long time, they each unlock one more skill — a 1-use special.

I’d say the issue for me is I don’t like driving my guys around so much, and like picking an army. As a game, Gods of Olympus is terrific. As a clash-like it’s interesting.

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[Game]Orcs vs. Knights

Heroes of War: Orcs vs. Knights isn’t anything special, but they tried some different stuff which makes it interesting to me. It starts as a gritty slower, smaller Clash, adds GameOfWar features for no good reason, and end-game seems to shift to beefing up your now very powerful Heroes.

 

The look is WarHammer plus SteamPunk. Dark, smelly, T-shaped oil pumps gather your elixir. It’s nicely grim-looking. There’s a pretty world map, and you can look at your neighbors, but it means nothing. You can’t attack them. When you get a random opponent it shows you where they are on the map, but has no game effect. Attacking has another useless but pretty graphic. You can choose from four bases, tap to view that base, go back and forth. But you can press Next to get four more with no penalty.

In all these games the base has little obstacles you have to clear: rock, big rock, boulder, bush, tree, elder grove .. . Usually these are limited by your level so you can’t clear big trees from the back half of the base until level 10. This game cracks me up by using levels for them. A stump is a “lvl 1 tree,” while an actual tree is a lvl3 tree. The lvl 4 rock is nothing to mess with.

There’s a button labelled LiveStream which lets you watch other players battle (in Real Time, I assume.) It seems to pick the highest level players it can find, and lets you move to the next. More on that later.

 

You get 2 builder’s huts and can buy the 3rd as part of a $10 pack (double the normal $5. Huh.) The game goes slower since build times are longish and initial gold isn’t easy to get. There’s no dark elixer equivalent, and you have about the same ten troops as Clash. But you get a leader early on. There are only a few, unlocked as you level up. All leader’s have the same minor special ability: 3 uses of being able to attack a target you pick. You soon get a choice between two leaders. All-in-all the starting combat isn’t completely boring.

Other fun changes are a defensive barracks with a selection of unique defense-only troops. This is instead of having a leader defend. You eventually get a defensive building who’s only purpose is to buff nearby buildings. A change that I’m not sure about is loot being pro-rated by the percent of the base you destroy. If you see a rich player with exposed gold mines worth 100K, you can raid them and retreat (you keep non-destroyed troops.) But since you only destroyed 10% of the base, you only get a meager 10K of the actual 100K you stole. The overall effect is you only make money by finding a base you can destroy. As per the name, there are two sides (Orcs and Humans.) But not really. The heroes look different, but I’m thinking everything else is just a reskin, and you’re given opponents from both sides.

 

The Game of War stuff is pointless, but cute. There’s a button you can tap five times a day to collect a random small prize, usually a 10-minute builder speed-up token (you have to wait 15 minutes between clicks.) It also has standard GoW quests. Each quest is a button with a different time listed. Tap to begin and get free rewards when it ends, they run out but you get more tomorrow. All-in-all, it wants you to make frequent 10-second log-ins to make all these taps. Clan mates can tap once to speed up your building construction (also directly from Game of War.)

Equipment is made through the odd Game of War system. Everything is made from common materials like wool, leather, stone, gotten from battles. They come in levels 1-4: instead of snakeskin and dragon-hide you have level 2 and 3 leather. Higher level equipment is created using the same recipes, but using higher level wood and stone. Higher-level materials are made by merging lower levels – level 4 wool is made from four level 3 wools (and so on – total of 64 level one wools to make a lvl 4.)

This isn’t in Game of War, but feels like it could be: there are daily hours-long events: either upgrade or attack to get points, with prizes for point totals, and grand prizes for players with the most. I get how it’s a nice surprise to see a 2-hour event has started, and might foster community, but it doesn’t seem very Clash-like, and seeing BrazRulz87 always win the big prize is disheartening.

 

At higher levels it seems like there’s a big swerve to heroes. After getting 2 heroes unlocked I was nowhere near enough free gems to unlock the 3rd. One of the pay heroes flies and was able to destroy my base by itself (to be fair, it was probably also over-leveled.) The first hero equipment you can make is nothing special. But lvl4 equipment can double a stat, and heroes have four equip slots. Eventually you get to use 2 heroes at once and it appears a clan-mate can lend one (this is from watching the LiveStream feature, where only Heroes and no troops are trashing a huge base.)

So end-game this turns into grinding to get the most powerful heroes. I don’t get why you’d start out with weak heroes, then move to strong ones. That just makes everyone unhappy. But then the game has very little population. I’ve only been attacked by a few people testing whether their mega-equipped flying hero can solo my base (it can.)

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[Game]Hero Sky

Hero Sky is a decent clash-like, with lots of smart improvements, but, like the name says, it focuses on heroes and that eventually ruins it.

But geez is it pretty. When you scroll around, your base sits on a huge rock floating in the sky. The army camps are floating galleys air-docked just off the side. New troops walk over to them and up the gang planks.

About half of the male heroes are cartoony massive hulks that make you laugh. But most of the female heroes shouldn’t be shown in public — overly sexualized, lots of skin, fishnet leg armour. That probably cut a month off of how long I could stand to play this one.

But new things I like:

  • You can donate troops to the clan at any time. They go into a pool. Anyone requesting clan troops gets a random selection. It keeps the usual limits on how often you can ask or donate.
  • A huge gelatinous cube troop. It paralyzes one defense at a time while sucking the life out of it. It’s the twelfth and I haven’t unlocked it, but it sounds cool. And can you believe we’re still borrowing ideas from Dungeons&Dragons?
  • A drop-anywhere attack capsule. Part of your attacking army can go into a small capsule, which you can place anywhere, anytime. It has some health, and defenses seem to target it first. I put 2 giants in it — whenever vulnerable troops wander too far, I drop it in front of the guns as a distraction.
  • Water squares which act as slow+poison. These don’t work all that well, but it’s fun to try to trick troops into walking down a path made of them.
  • Tapping any two wall pieces selects all walls in-between. So much better than the old “select row”. It should be in every clash-like from now on.
  • Like other new clash-likes, it has a mode where you defend your base from enemy invasions. These are the nicest yet: enemies come in 5 waves; and you can place your army (and keep any that live) plus use hero abilities.
  • A wins-in-a-row challenge. Attacks use basic, boring “Next”-ing. But you can choose ironman mode instead.
  • Base-scouting. Pressing the attack button gives thumbnails on 3 possible bases. As you upgrade your scouting you’ll see more on each’s loot and defenses. Seems neat and looks nice, but it’s currently pointless. You can tap to fully examine each base and can press Next for more.
  • Another cute layout for clan wars: there are 3 pre-set clan bases, and each is defended by 3 player bases. Wars take place only on weekends, which seems to be a trend. The spoils can be spent on clan-wide buffs (+2% to warrior troops, and so on.) As usual, everyone in my 20-person guild is inactive, so I can’t say how the wars work in practice.

It’s ruined a little by how much daily tapping is piled on: 12 rotating daily quests (mostly destroying buildings), a random hero every 6 hours, sending your heroes on timed quests, and 2 lottery spins (using spare manna, often rewarding gold or even more manna).

But the big ruin is the heroes. It’s a typical case where they start out fine and quickly dominate. If you see a base defended by three 6-star heroes, just press Next. It uses the system where you sacrifice piles of unwanted heroes to level up others, then combine two max-level X-rank heroes to get an X+1 rank (there’s a chart — you always know what you’re getting). But for non-mathematicians: the cost of heroes is literally exponential.

But I’m super-impressed by two hero monetization tricks. One, you frequently find Epic-level equipment for heroes you don’t have yet. The other is giving you an Epic hero for 2 days, with an offer: keep it if you level it to max. Normal use will gain a dozen levels, but there’s no possible way to finish without spending real money. Both of these are just great examples of loss-aversion, which psyche people agree is the strongest.

I found this game by accident and it looks like it came and went. I see bases that someone clearly took time to create, but I’ve never been attacked. The App page shows the developers were actively tweaking and adding features at one point. But it was a ghost town for me.

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[Game]Castle Clash

This one is just funny. It’s currently a standard “teams of 5 heroes” game with a useless clash-like element for decoration. I think it was sort of a clash-like, then just evolved away.

 

The clash-like part is odd, but there. There are lots more Town Hall levels than normal, but with very small unlocks. You don’t even get walls until about TH4. The defenses are a few towers, but at level 10 you can specialize them into mortars or wizard towers. Then you can customize them by slotting unused leaders to give extra damage, range or health.

Troops come in 4 basic types: grunts, tanks, archers and wizards (which do more damage than archers, but are easier to kill.) As you upgrade a type, you unlock a slightly different version. There are 3 levels of the 4 basic types, 12 troop types total. In a very strange choice, your offensive army also defends (the army camps have a detection radius.) This would ruin the game, making it just army vs. army, except the leaders ruin it even worse.

It looks like the game originally was a real clash-like with strong heroes. You use 5 at once, plus your army. As usual they come in uncommon, rare, legendary and epic (the last, I don’t even know how to buy if I wanted to.) You can level them, level their skills, reroll the special ability and have to unlock higher levels. Then there’s some stuff for leaders called Crests and Artifacts that I haven’t even seen yet.

 

I assume the ruination began with the addition of “starter boxes.” These are common – you give new players a bunch of stuff to shoot them past the boring parts. But those boxes had vastly over-powered leaders. They later added hero pets to the game, making heroes even stronger. Then loosened up the how quickly heroes and pets level up. Gradually the armies became useless.

Now, when you attack another player’s base their defending army will dissolve with few blasts from your heroes. So will their buildings. One of your pets shoots out trios of long-range fireballs which blast 1/3rd of the buildings’ health with each shot. The exploding buildings sounds like a hailstorm. When you meet their defending 5 heroes your own army will evaporate. Then your heroes and theirs face-off for 5-10 seconds to decide the winner.

But there’s no reason to attack other players. You get the good hero tokens from computer missions. It has the standard computer bases, then another mode where you can’t bring your army, only heroes (which is fine, since you stopped wasting time recruiting useless troops a while ago.) Defense mode doesn’t even have an army – a few computer heroes attack you. The main trick is to make them trigger all of your heroes at once, but use buildings and walls to split them up a little.

Then they completely abandon the clash-like idea. In a team mission 4 players fight a huge monster (you each contribute 4 heroes.) There’s a scary-looking base, but it explodes in seconds. Then fighting the monster takes a few minutes. A similar daily event is your heroes vs. another big monster – no bases involved. The Player-vs-player arena is just your heroes vs. theirs.

To make sure you know it’s now just a hero vs. hero game, they added the Sweep. This is where you go to a stage you’ve cleared, press the SweepX10 button, and wait a little to collect the loot. It takes about 5 minutes of total clicking to get it all.

 

My favorite thing is how World Chat is done Club Penguin style. You can only send a few pre-made messages. Maybe this started life as a pre-teen game?

 

The same developer, I Got Games, has another that’s the same but different: Clash of Lords 2: New Age. There’s a standard, but completely useless base, but they got rid of troops completely. Instead, your heroes come with pre-set retinues – the warrior hero has a dozen little warriors with it, for free, and so on. They’re more aggressive about monetization: trial VIP status, gem-buying events and specials, games where you get 1 free spin and need gems for the good prizes.

As a clash-like, it’s terrible. But it’s not bad as a “piles of bolted together junk to level heroes, with very little gameplay.” No joke – that’s a popular genre.

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[Game]Clash of Zombies

Clash of Zombies is a somewhat interesting new-syle Clash-like, a little hero-heavy, with completely twitchy aesthetics. It has zombies, SciFi, and superheroes altered to avoid copyright violations. It also seems pretty dead – I haven’t been attacked, ever.

Defense mode has another cute idea: while watching you can assign your builders to slowly repair buildings. They lose focus when the building is topped-off, so you have to pay attention. Even cooler, you have an extra army camp which can only be filled by killing attackers in defense mode (you’re “capturing” them). In an attack you drop them together like Clan Castle troops. It’s kind of a fun way to wait while troops train – refill the special camp by playing a defense. When you run out of attempts at that, there’s a second defense game. It’s the same thing except the troops attacking you are only leaders. The prizes are different.

They added an “Arena”. It’s just a normal attack, except you aren’t allowed to use Next. If you win, you increase your Arena rank, which gives daily prizes. If you hate this feature, just make a few to get to the lowest rung, then collect the daily bonus.

Finally it has the bad hero-heavy feature, where you can attack a computer base using only your heroes. You use every hero you own, no limits, but the computer HQ is 1,000 times tougher than normal. Damage carries over (I have the first HQ down to 89% after attacking over 4 days).

At first it looks like defenses can be customized, but it’s just two horribly expensive upgrades with premium currency. But they’re pretty neat – add a stun chance, damage over time, power-up nearby defenses; depending on the building.

The aestetics are all over the place. It’s mostly a science fiction theme. Your HQ is a space ship, which you’re gradually repairing. If there was an in-game explanation, I missed it (the starting scene is about a wave of zombies wiping out someone else’s base, who you must now locate.) But it’s still a neat idea.

Archers are women aiming hip-mounted blasters. Grunts have an energy sword and shield, goblins are fast tracked robots (named Walle, stolen from the Disney movie.) The first defensive buildings are laser cannons and laser towers (notice how they use “cannon” and “tower” exactly the same as Clash?) The dragon is a massive floating airship.

Then it gets weird. Giants are still named giants, but are clearly blonde non-giant body-builders wearing a green pair of Hulk hands. Air defenses are named “Patriot,” from the 1st Gulf war, which is high-tech but oddly out-dated. Wizards (named Masters) have an energy cannon coming out of their arm, but copy the hood and goatee of Clash wizards. The Particle Towers are clearly machines, but the description says they cast Spells, and they can leave a wizard behind when killed.

As for the zombie theme, your 3rd resource is Survivors — you collect and spend humans who were fleeing the zombie hordes. The generator is a radio tower (calling survivors to your camp. Cute, right?) And the base-defense game is against zombies. Those are what you fill the special camp with.

But there are only 5 zombie heroes to collect. Two are regular zombies, another is a resident-evil-style mutant with an arm replaced with a gun. A fourth is Stitches from World of Warcraft (a blubbery multi-body hulk wielding a sickle, chain and cleaver.) The last is “Zombie President,” which appears to be just a zombie in a black suit, wavey blond hair and a thick red tie.

The rest of the heroes are various trade-mark violations: Eve from the Wall-e movie (I had to look it up. Someone likes that movie.) Ninja Turtle, Tank (just a regular army tank,) Goko (from dragon ball Z,) Garuda (a giant bird-spirit from Final Fantasy) and a few swordsmen which I assume are from an Anime.

Then we get to bizarre possible attempts to avoid being sued. Captain America is just red (no white or blue,) but the text mentions his shield and that he’s a super soldier. Superman is blonde, and named Victory with a big V on his chest; but he has the distinctive pose and forelock, and the text calls him superman. An obvious drawing of Collosus (X-men) is named Metal Man.

While your eyes are hurting from that mess, you can consider the visually backwards resource pictures. In this game, Energy works like Gold, but it’s a blue elixer-looking droplet. Meanwhile Food works like Elixer, but comes in cans that look a lot like gold coins. I never did completely stop confusing them. I like food cans as part of a post-apocolyptic feel. But future energy as a liquid? I guess Naquada from Star Gate?

All-in-all it’s not a terrible game. Spending cash on heroes probably ruins it late game, and I’m pretty sure they never explain why superman is fighting zombies on an alien planet in the year 2300. And, of course, no players.

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May I watch an Ad?

In WarHammer 40K: Drop Assault, I look forward to watching the Ads.

If you haven’t had the pleasure, in the last year it became possible to put 30-second watchable video Ads on a mobile game. By possible I mean it’s now simple for a game-maker to get paid for them. Several services do all the work of contacting advertisers, handling the money and giving you a few simple commands to play Ads in your game. They even check whether the entire thing plays. It’s a real Ad, too – takes over your screen and can even show a “Download now” App Store button.

These days, a completely free game doesn’t need to sell you anything. It can play an Ad every 30 seconds or make you watch one before every round. Even higher quality freemium games often have you watch an Ad to get the daily bonus, or use “you’re out of energy – watch an Ad for more?” It’s all pretty clumsy.

Clash-like WH40K:DA does Ads brilliantly. It has: limited Ads, two clever ways to use them, lets you decide whether it’s worth it, and puts them in a place they make sense.

Ad method one is to reduce a build time. This is great since it’s rare and can’t be abused. You can watch 1 Ad/building and the reduction is a percent of the total build time. For a 15-minute build time you can watch 1 Ad to reduce it by 2 minutes. For a 16-hour build it’s 2 hours. The genius is how usually there’s no point, so it doesn’t feel mandatory. But rarely you open the game, see your long build is close to done and spending 30 seconds to finish it off seems like a good deal.

The other way to watch an Ad is to get 50% more stuff after winning a battle. This is extra-genius. You’re in a good mood after a win plus you could use a 30-second break. You feel like you earned the Ad. It doesn’t feel like a task because there’s a limit. You want to save the Ads for the bases with really big pay-offs. Even if you make only 1 attack you can look at how much you got and decide if 50% more is worth it (the game is still a clash-like – many bases have no loot and you just wanted to clear it off your map).

There is one more thing to use Ads for – the thing everyone does. On the world map you can watch an Ad once/day to get gems. That’s boring, but limited Ads still makes it a little interesting. Maybe you have 3 big attacks you want to increase, but you also want the gems – oh, the dilemma.

Star Squad Heroes uses the same Ad-after-a-battle trick, but it’s for a bonus chest, which isn’t the same at all. You just need to quickly win any three battles to get them all. The fun part, which is gone, is deciding how to spend your Ads.

 

A funny thing is that we had Ads in free games, back on the internet. Then they want away with mobile games — we didn’t know how to add them. And now they’re here again. Way back in 2000 free browser game ArchAge had a stat called “Luck”, which you gained by clicking on Ad links. They were just banners to read; I think the page got a few pennies per click, but it felt very much the same.

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[Game]Star Squad

Star Squad is like Pixel Starships plus Boom Beach. My favorite part is how they managed to creatively copy one Boom Beach feature.

The game has you place and upgrade rooms in your spaceship. Pixel Starships used crew as little bonuses to the rooms they were in. They could walk to others and had placable elevators to help. In Star Squad crew is required to operate anything. You get more weapon rooms than crew. When one is destroyed the crew-person walks to the next nearest. But you don’t want them too close since there are area-effect attacks.

My favorite part are the special bases. Boom beach gave you a random selection of player and NPC bases to attack. The NPC ones often broke lots of rules — more of one weapon than was legal, or a few super-weapons without the lesser ones you should have. Star Squad adapts that. My favorite is 12 weak laser rooms and 2 crew. You’re chasing them down, going back-and-forth between.

Following the trend, the builder pack is up to $14.95 from the usual $5. You also get a bunch of gems and a rare crew member. But I don’t want a rare crew member — that’s easy mode. I just want my $5 extra builder.

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[Game]Clash of Mech

Clash of Glory: Mech War isn’t a great game. You know that from the name. It’s a clash-like with hero vs. hero and no troops — but it’s strange enough to be interesting.

For a hero-based game, there’s a very small selection. You unlock mechs as you level — only a handful. There’s also a special leader mech, but only 1 type. The leader has a dozen spells, so that seems fun. But without lots of gems you’ll just be casting the first 2 — a short duration 10% attack and defense buff.

Altogether, attacking doesn’t have that much variety. You quickly get two ranged robots and learn to gang-up on their defending mechs first. Unfortunately, your leader is a hand-to-hand troop, and not very tough. It runs ahead and dies. It seems to have lots of small levels, so maybe I was suppose pour all my loot for a week into cranking it up.

I love the weirdness of how it limits attacks. Damage on your mechs stays with you, but they can keep attacking. But your leader needs to be fully healed. That almost makes sense, since the leader has it’s own building. Every other mech repairs one-at-a-time in the main mech building. There’s no queue. When one mech finishes repairs you have to come back and hand-start the next. To help, the game gives you piles of 5-minute, 15-minute, 1-hour repair speed-ups. It’s as annoying as it sounds.

Something that might have been really cool was their take on Boom Beach-style resource bases. In this game, 2 special bases last for a single day. You and other players are supposed to fight back-and-forth over them. At the end you get prizes based on how long they were occupied and how many times they were retaken. Each mechs has 3 equipment slots and this is the only way to upgrade them. I never saw anyone but me there.

And I’m not sure if this is on purpose, but normal opponents don’t leave your list after a loss. I’ve attacked one guy several times a day, then once a day after that (it was the only easy one on my list.) I had to since without spending any money I was already at VIP status 4. And also because building a clan castle costs two “book pages”, and I just had to know where to find them (I still don’t know).

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[Game]WarReign

War Reign is a nicely done Boom Beach-style fantasy-themed game. The most interesting thing about it is having 3 different races — different buildings, troops, spells and leaders. No one does that. Well, the StarWars one, but it pretty much had to. War Reign really stands out for doing that. If you try it, just know that it has no players.

There are some minor things I like, or are just interesting. The now common defend-against-a-computer-attack mode lets you cast spells. You get 4 (every race’s are different), cast as you gain energy. I don’t love the Lure-to-this-building spell, but the first cast is virtually free so I’ll keep trying to use it (the radius is only enough to attract HtH troops). It feels fun and I feel like I’m still getting better at it. It seems obvious I should cast weaken on troops when casting toughen on the buildings they attack, or is that overkill and I should space the casts out? Hmmm.

The attack maps are split into NPC and other players. Each day you get 5 players to try to attack. The other map has only computer bases, including some specials. That split style seems to be more popular now, and I prefer it. NPC bases are more like fun puzzles, while the human bases just seem more competitive and deserve to be apart.

But attacking gets hard, fast. My randomly-placed under-leveled guns were beating off players at my level. There’s a Victory chest for getting 5 wins against other players. It’s a cruel joke. The special event computer bases are like misprints — interlocking fields of massive guns. If you can barely sneak through one, you find out the prize is only for winning all 3 stages, using the remnants of your army.

But — this took me a while to figure out — the game makes up for this by sneaking in partial win rules. You win by killing the HQ — every other building instantly explodes. Otherwise you lose. But unlike every other game that works that way, you keep loot if you lose. You even get a little of the special loot from beating other players. Since you keep troops that don’t die, you can use the “raid, quit early and repeat” plan.

I guess this next thing is clever: there’s a screen where you can buy +4% wood production, +2% troop health and so on. Many games let you choose between them. This game lets you buy them all. Every attack on a players gets a few of the coins you need. I was only getting gold from the easier computer bases until I noticed this.

On to the 3 races. They’re all different:

I mostly know Undead. Their mortar does less damage but creates nasty grubs. These are especially good chewing on big guys, something normal mortars will barely scratch. Early on, Undead get an Eye of Mordor (the standard ray that grows in strength as it zaps 1 target). Humans instead get a slow, hard-hitting cannon. I think elves get machinegun-like thorns.

The Undead special defense is a pustule that explodes when destroyed (not much use against archers). Humans just get a very tough building and elves get one that heals other buildings. Undead traps all do minor damage, plus a percentage. Human traps just hurt you, while elf traps (I think) also slow you.

Undead troops are weak skeletons, standard archers (spitting bugs, but still archers) and archers than gain power as your skeletons die. Humans and elves get a healer troop. The first offensive Undead spell summons a pile of skeletons to anywhere you want. The second lets all your troops heal by doing damage for a while. Human spells are healing and direct damage (Undead don’t have a spell that just smashes things). Elves get the only haste spell.

Then everyone gets unique leaders (they unlock as you level up.) One can summon more skeletons, another has a brief invulnerability and always heals by doing damage, another boosts nearby attackers. The human and elf leaders are more about defending or healing nearby troops, although one human leader does close-up area damage.

The game appears to let you have 1 base of each race, and I’m sure each would be fun to try. A problem with all this racial variety is there’s not much room to experiment within a race. I only have 4 troops types unlocked and I only use skeletons and the good archers. The choice of leaders make up for this a little, but you won’t be using a wide variety of armies.

Lately, this is from SmileGate Megaport. That sounds like the sort of blatantly made-up name a cloner would use. But it’s a South Korean computer game company and that’s their real name.

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[Game]Empires and Allies

Despite the terrible name, publisher and theme, Empires&Allies is a nice-looking, innovative Clash-like. Even when the end-game gets spendy, it does it in an interesting way.

It looks nice. The theme is near-future military, so you get machine guns and a howitzer; but also orbital lasers, flying drones and mechanical crabs. The crabs pause then pounce onto your tanks. The stealth-fighter-shaped drones fly over their targets and cicle as they fire. The infantry have some grenadiers mixed in with the rifles. The beefy half-tracks zippily accelerate, overshoot and make 2-point turns. They leave little tracks on the ground. Your area-affect missile tanks arc shells directly over the target which then burst straight down in a cone of sub-munitions. Explosions rock nearby trees.

The buildings are a bit smaller than normal – your base looks like a little desert outpost. They also do a nice job making it so you can spot defenses and tell them apart. I don’t even hate the dialogue. Most military-themed games are boring rah-rah. Here, one of the rotating “new troop was built” messages is a sarcastic “nice base.” Cracks me up.

Mechanics-wise, Conquest&Empire is Boom Beach. But it has the usual improvements: a button to retrain all dead troops at once, selectable sub-groups for the “move to here” flare (which always costs 1 energy.) There are walls, but very weak – good for directing attackers into the gaps.

The absolute best new feature is the roving patrols. Plenty of clash-likes have defensive troops with a detection radius, usually pretty weak. E&A gives you 4-5 sets, with the option to put them on a long winding patrol (it’s just a toggle: patrol or stand around) and they’re fairly strong. They actually matter. The crabs slaughter armour, including heroes. But they do little to infantry and can’t hit fliers. Patrolling infantry is good for that. Patrolling tanks can survive your spells and have the longest range.

The NPC missions have you conquering earth, starting in Africa, occasionally retaking areas and fighting very tough bosses. Oddly in a Boom Beach clone, it uses a Nexting system to attack players, which means you can attack as much as you like. Looting uses a funny mix. It’s basically clash-like – a 3 star system and you only get loot from the buildings you destroy. But you get nothing if you lose. You have to get at least 1 star to get any loot at all. You never a get a free shield, but you can make one. Attacking other players gives parts which can be used to build various things. Making a shield item takes about an hour, and you can save them.

End-game gets funny. You build and collect lots of power-ups and are expected to use them before attacks. One provides a day-long 10-point increase to starting spell points. Each of the 5 troop pads can be powered-up (they change to an “Alpha” version of that troop.) An event gets you 15 minutes of a free mega-spell (for 15 seconds you can use a machine-gun or laser on the enemy base. It’s almost a mini-game.) There’s a massive area nuclear blast spell (you get 5 uses for joining a clan, not sure how to get more.) You can enable free repairs for your hero (see below.)

Defensively, you can build and enable a stealth field (you can be attacked, but part of your base is hidden.) You can drag a pretty substantial day-long power-up onto a defense. And, I’m not sure what these even are, but sometimes a helicopter drops rediculously tough defensive troops (even on NPC bases.)

I haven’t gone all-out on power-ups. It seems as if an active free player can regularly make them. But realistically this game requires $5/month to always have them on.

The heroes are interesting. You can use one at a time, from a choice of 3. They unlock mid-game (you have to win about 30 battles against other players to get the currency to unlock the first one. Then even more for the rest.) The tank hero has a big, regenerating shield. The sniper hero has a longer range than any defense (but the anti-tank patrols will cream it, and it walks very slowly.) The last hero flies. On defense the hero you select can wipe out swaths of attackers with its special (the game plays a very distinctive warning tone when you scout a base with an active defensive hero.) But heroes don’t auto-repair, and repairs cost a lot. You can’t really afford to keep a hero on defense. Of course, if you somehow can you’ll do much better.

The heroes also level up by fighting, which is always a problem. Items double the experience gain or simply give a pile of free experience. My level 6 sniper hero can solo NPC bases which would otherwise be darned tough. I’d imagine being able to somehow power-level a hero gives a huge advantage.

But all-in-all this is worth it for a month or two of free play. Then it looks like a pretty good game if you’re prepared to spend a few cups of coffee a month on it.

Then, lastly, it’s from Zynga. Zynga is famous for inventing FaceBook games that spam your friends and give gems for filling out credit-card applications. And for being worth a ton of money until everyone hated those tricks and they weren’t. I suppose they’re just another publisher now, but it’s not a name you expect to see on an actual game.

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Army Tanks Aren’t

If you’ve got a modern or futuristic Clash-like, you need army tanks, maybe several types. People love army tanks. But you can’t have them – they don’t work in games where you can spend points on anything. But it’s really cool how the genre settled on something that sort of feels army-tankish.

Some warm-up notes on unit design in clash-likes:

  • Range is extra valuable. Partly that’s because the defending buildings can’t move. Partly it’s being able to shoot over extremely strong walls. And it’s partly because ranged troops spend more time shooting than walking, so their damage counts for more.
    Typical ranged troops take a big cut to health, but also a small cut to damage; and they’re still worth it.
  • The most common army mix is “Tanks and DPS”. Tough, low-damage
    front-line units are “tanks.” Sucking up all of the incoming damage is known as “tanking” it. Then fragile ranged units stand in back, doing most of the damage.
  • Many troops are not optimally designed. Barbarian warriors would be more useful if they had a little less damage and a little more health. Archers would be better if they did the opposite. Troops sometimes have oddball special abilities that would work better on a different unit.

    That’s fine since all units are pre-designed. They only need to fit in and not overshadow other units. Not being perfect for one specific use encourages experimenting with other troop mixes.
  • Everyone knows the “cost more” trick is mostly cosmetic. For example, make crossbows seem different from archers by making them twice as good but cost twice as much. People can intuitively do the math
    and realize both troops are basically the same.

    But we should definitely use this trick for fun. If we already want to make slightly different archers, we may as well also make them count as 2 troops.
  • We can also play with rate-of-fire, since damage is always expressed as per-second. A troop listed as 10 dps can attack once a second for 10, twice for 5, or every 2 seconds for 20.

    This matters just a little: you get your first shot right away, which helps “slow but hard” troops. But small and fast attacks never waste any damage on overkill.
  • Big troops have natural resistance to area-effect attacks. Say an
    ogre costs 8 barbarians and has 8 times the stats. So far, 8 infantry and 1 ogre are the same. But a mortar that kills every barbarian in 3 shots needs 24 shots to kill that one ogre.

    For frontline troops, larger is better. Smaller troops often get a bump to make up for being so vulnerable to area attacks.

To add tanks we have to think of a new useful troop, balanced with the rest, and it has to feel like a tank. All at once. The way that works out is really cool.

Obviously tanks will be big units, with long range. The weird thing is we make them tougher, unlike every other archer. That makes them feel like tanks and also makes them be unique troops. Possibly useless, but for sure unique. To make up for those advantages, we lower the damage and make them slower.

Slow tanks seems nuts – everyone knows tanks are fast. Even a Sherman tank can go 20mph. But it so happens that when people see treads they think slow. Maybe it’s because most people’s only real tread sightings are lumbering construction equipment. Less damage also seems visually wrong, but we can drop the rate-of-fire and animate a mean-looking recoil, and it doesn’t look too bad. A squad of tanks can instantly kill a weak building, which looks cool. All-in-all, if you squint, they sort of feel like army tanks.

But they still need to be useful and unique game pieces, and they are. The long range and toughness makes them very hard to kill, while the slowness and low damage makes them destroy buildings very slowly. Used by themselves, you’ve got a slow, relentless attack mostly worried about beating the clock. That backwards from most armies. All the same unit armies would be boring, except this is the only one.

The main problem is that watching them can make you dumber, since they act nothing like actual tanks. But that goes for almost any WW-II-themed games, I suppose. Ideally it’s a goblin steam tank, or an anti-grav tank with a corbomite shell – something you won’t confuse with anything real.

All-in-all, you really have to admire how they figured out how to jam an army tank into a game where they really don’t fit, getting something not completely horrible.

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[Game]Cloud Raiders

“Cloud Raiders : Sky Conquest” isn’t the most fun game — the troops are the same as CoC. But they added lots of fun stuff, good and bad.

The new base defenses are more involved: 4 stages with a day to complete, since defensive troops may need retraining. Cast 3 defense-only spells on short cooldowns — area blast, freeze and poison. They take a while to land, especially the blast, so you have to lead troops or guess where they’re going. The third wave includes a unique pirate boss (it pauses mid-attack to announce). The fourth stage is taking the attack to them — you attack a pirate base using your normal army. It’s fun a few times, but then it becomes too much work remember to do all 4, with a pause between, knowing you get nothing if you don’t finish.

“Reserve troops” are a clever idea. The game occasionally adds various troops to your “Reserve”. You can’t add any, and the troops vanish after a few days, so you may well pull them into your army, maybe using troops you normally wouldn’t.

This one just cracks me up: at the game start there’s a whole thing with a lovely wooden board and 1 piece of a treasure map. You need 11 more and get the impression it’s a mini-collection game. It turns out the first set of missions is 11 long, you get a piece from each one, and the reward is unlocking the next set of missions. They did all this work, but it’s just nothing.

The aesthetics are great. Instead of evenly spaced fake-random junk to clear, it comes in realistic clumps — some grass around bushes or trees. It’s kind of fun to clear out a patch, one square at a time. There’s lots of whispy fog drifting over — you’re an island floating over the ocean, in the clouds. The elixir is even named “clouds” — the collectors are pulling it out of the air. Most events are started with skeuomorphics instead of buttons — tap an offshore pirate ship, or a lurking monster. When you change island skins there’s a lovely animation showing floating pirate ships lifting buildings and dashing to your new home. It’s really impressive.

And the walls have so many hand-made pictures: for straight sections, stand-alone, curved corners, T’s, 4-ways and ends. The ends slope down into the ground. A fun trick: place 2 wall parts with a space between. Both will be tall posts. Move one so they touch – both turn into end pieces, appearing as a low berm. This is an old trick for ACSII maze-games, but still pretty cool to see here.

Games are always thinking of ways to get you to join a clan. In this one, joining unlocks your last 25 wall sections and 3 traps. That misses the point, since you want a way to make people stay in a clan and recruit. But it sure is creative.

The bottom scroll is also overly clever. It’s beautiful — you can hide or show a strip on the bottom, which scrolls left and right. It shows your current army, current spells (barrels full of fire or healing), some other stuff I’m not sure about, greyed-out pictures of all the troop types you can’t build, a second copy of the attack button… . I feel like just a few menu buttons would work better, but this is cool.

Some things I don’t love, but are still clever:

The beacon spell (make troops walk somewhere) is a consumable, and not easy to get. You start with one, use it, and wonder what happened to it. I assume you can buy more with gems.

Then 2 of the monetizations are are just too much. The daily gem deal comes from a beautiful tentacle rising from the ocean, shaking gold out of a chest. After choosing NO there’s a second window with Cancel/Skip. It turns out that Cancel cancels skipping, which returns you to the previous Yes/No screen. When you tap it by accident, the proper sequence is “No, Skip”. It gets old, fast.

Worse, but a really cool monetization trick is the “Titan Invasion”. You can choose to defend against a single huge monster. When you finally beat it, you go to a screen showing you’ve passed 1 of 5. You can pay real money to collect your winnings now, or keep going.

Earning the opportunity to spend money is fine. Even a good idea. The problem is they need to be clearer about it. Give a $99 deal (as the dummy) and be clear about what you get. Give a schedule about how it goes down as you beat more Titan invasions. Someone will work towards the $5 or free, then decide they may as well buy it when they get it down to $10 or $20. That’s how you make people feel good about spending.

This is advertised as cross-platform: Android, iOS, Windows and FaceBook. It’s from 2014. Was cross-platform a new thing in 2014? Were Windows games still big then? The studio, Game Insight, is based in Lithuania. Was Windows big then in Europe? Either way, I like how the same studio followed-up with “Cloud Raiders: Survival Arena” which is a real tower defense game.

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[Game]Interplanet

Interplanet starts off an outer-space clash-like with some clever bits, then turns into a slow-play guild vs. guild. It’s probably the perfect game if you wish Game Of War had a clash-like part added. First the clash-like parts:

Your buildings (little space modules) need to connect to each other using tubes. Some have only 2 on opposite sides, while a few have 4, and others just 1. You start connecting from your HQ, which has tubes coming from the four compass points. Not everything is the same size, so they don’t quite form a grid and different “arms” can have their buildings almost touching. You also get two 3-way connectors (at 60 degrees, diagonal, so your base isn’t a grid at all.) The other “alien” race gets lots of 5-way conectors – their bases have lots of buildings positioned in funny triangles.

That all makes base design fun, and a little challenging. The UI really confused me at first. When you touch a building you get a “Move” icon for it. Tapping changes the screen and lets you move just that building, but with an extra confirm button. It turns out there’s only a general edit mode – holding any building lets you move it. That context sensistive move button just fooled me.

The buildings are tough to tell apart – lots of shiny grey. They must know that since on attacks you get sharp, distinctive icons on all defenses. But at least gold is gold-colored and elixer is the same dark blue (it’s called energy and minerals, but gold color and blue color are all you need to know.) Looking closer at those weapon icons, they’re part of a system where various weapon types are better/worse vs. various armour types. It’s one of those rule sets which you can’t control enough for it to matter.

There are no walls, but you can sink lots of spare gold into your builders’ huts and the general 3 and 4-way connector buildings. The upgrades increase their health, which will slow down attackers. Strangely, the build-times aren’t 0 — they’re always one minute but you can always speed-up a minute for free.

A really cute feature, which works with the space theme, is changing your planet. A building allows you to search for a planet, which gives a random bonus to your production. You have to beat a random base in order to move there, and it only lasts for a few days. The bonuses are odd. Lvl 4 planets gives a total of 80%, split randomly between gold and elixer. Moving up to a lvl 5 drops down to 70%, but adds a huge bonus to a crafting resource you have way too much of anyway. Each planet gives a lovely semi-3D background while you orbit.

As a space game, everything attacks from longish range — there’s no equivalent of a hand-to-hand barbarian. But the spacing and relative ranges make it work. It matters how guns are arranged and which way attackers come from. The first two ship types are like a tank and archer. The archer has a range of 40. The “tank” has a range of only 35 (defensive guns fire from 40-50). A fleet with 7 of one type, 8 of the other is slightly better than anything else (you attack with 15 ships.)

The spaceships work like heroes. You own them forever but need to individually upgrade and equip them to be useful. If one is blown up you pay and wait for repairs. You’ll be using the same fleet and same battle plan for every attack. With all games that work this way, switching to a different army type takes forever.

Luckily there’s not much to army selection. After the starting “tank” and “archer,” the next unlock is the traditional “special-purpose troop that has no real use but seems cool” (it stuns defenses for a very short time). Next is the goblin — the resource targetting ship. It has weak guns and no bonus against resources, so is not good. Eventually you get a very useful minesweeper – the few defensive bombs are lethal and this clears them. You mostly swap in improved tanks and archers as they unlock.

The attacks aren’t completely boring. Each ship has a 1-use special. For the archer ships it’s a zap which kills about 1/2 a building. The trick is to use it when a) you can see that ship is targetting a fresh non-trivial building, or b) that ship is being attacked, which means it will die in a few seconds. The tanks have a short-term shield which needs to be timed for when they’re targetted. If you have two minesweepers, note the area cleared by the first one and remember to pop the second as you move past (again, upgraded defense bombs are lethal.) The area-of-effect ships fire a fan of missles — be sure not to use them when aimed at a building on the edge.

Repairs are how they add a delay between attacks. Each ship takes 5+ minutes to heal from fully dead, and at least one is always fully dead. But they all repair together, so it’s a sneaky way to make a fixed delay. I’m up to 12 minutes. You can try to create another fleet to alternate, but the enormous upgrade costs make sure it will stink. And as you might guess, at high levels the repair cost of a completely destroyed fleet will wipe you out.

The main thing you do is basic grinding: pilots and equipment. Slowly craft level 1 equipment, using materials randomly dropped during attacks (or from “quests,” through the Exploration building.) Make 15 of them to equip the whole fleet. Level 2 equipment takes even longer. Pilots slowly gain experience from being used during attacks, then take 8 hours (1 at a time) to upgrade, then more grinding. Choose between pilots with an 8% bonus to shields, or to hull, or 4% overall (as you might guess, all targets are half shields and half hull, making this is a non-choice.)

So now we’ve gone from a clash-like to a grinder. But it keeps going. After a while “Conquest” mode opens. You get to move fleets through a star-gate into an open-world guild-vs-guild slow-play free-for-all “send, wait, and read attack reports” area. The goal is to conquer planets, which produce unique currency spendable at the planet store. With enough you can buy top notch pilots or equipment or even ships you haven’t unlocked yet. You’ll fully equip your fleet, and then your second fleet, faster.

It’s a whole game. Your ships have completely different stats for this mode (which don’t even translate – ships with the same speeds have very different conquest speeds.) Planets come in fixed levels and types: high currency makers, or two types that make defenses. Some planets have links which allow them to mutually support themselves against attacks. You can only own 4 planets, meaning there are plenty of useless lvl1 planets for just anyone. Each planet has a different rotating store – you can send currency from a planet to one with something you want, or, I think, to a guildmate’s. They have buildings you can upgrade (there’s no arranging – just a list) Attacks are Game-of-War style: send a fleet and wait an hour for it to arrive. It will carve off X damage with a text report. Repeat over a day until defenses reduced to 0.

You have to keep playing the clash-like. All building upgrades in Conquest cost gold, which you can only get in clash-like mode; and ships still need to be upgraded using elixer (and, later, the dark elixer equivalent.) You’ll want to continue upgrading your original base. But clearly 80% of your stuff will be coming from this PvP part of the game. The clash-like part is just time-wasting use of your over-powered ships.

One early hint was all the free gold. A real clash-like has you quickly into the game – attack other players to earn gold for upgrades, which will slowly become more challenging. We all know the other style – throw free stuff at the player for 2 weeks, then make them hit a wall. In this game, even after a month I had upgrades I couldn’t possible buy through attacks, but I had plenty of “gift” gold waiting for a tap to drop into my treasury.

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[Game]PlanetStorm : Fallen Horizon

Besides playing like a space-themed 1/2 of Boom Beach, “PlanetStorm: Fallen Horizon” is a really well-made game.

One change is having two unique races, which is good and bad. The bad is, as always, dividing units among both races gives a sub-par selection. Humans start with the standard: shortish-ranged tough guys who screen medium-ranged soldiers. Then standard snipers – longer-range, a little more damage, but much more fragile. Then three army tanks. One is a tough, medium-range expensive humanoid robot. It looks nice. Then 2 more actual army tanks – very tough, long range, slow. Sure, you can play around some with army types, but not much and nothing new.

The good are the defenses. Humans get the usual single-shot gun, a multi-target machine gun, a mortar, a slower heavier gun, a flamer, and 3 more I haven’t seen yet. The slow gun is pretty cool – every few seconds it picks one target and, over a second, fires 4 red blasts at it. The mortar effect is more like a long-range shotgun. The flamer actually sets units on fire – they take damage for a few seconds after being hit. The other race, space elves(?), have the mortar replaced with a single-target long-range continious beam weapon. The flamer becomes an electro-tower: hits jump to several further targets, which shreds anyone hiding directly behind a tough-guy.

The game has leaders, sort of. At some point you notice a mystery mech comes with you, even if it died in the last battle. It’s got a 1-use big area blast spell. There’s no menu for it, which means no options and probably no choice of a different one later. Elves appear to have a different leader.

The last new semi-feature is a head-scratcher. You have a Barracks building which does one thing: it 1/2 unlocks upgrades for your human troops. You still need to upgrade the Research building to get the troop upgrades, but you also need the Barracks upgraded. Likewise the Factory building 1/2-unlocks your mechanical troop upgrades. I don’t see the point. They could have added a Leader building instead.

The intro is clever: your derelict spaceship’s AI snidely rebukes you for fighting every scavenger you meet. Your only hope is a crash-landing on an abandonned mining asteroid (where the remains of your space ship become your headquarters building.) A gruff human drill sergeant yells at you for trespassing, then offers you some advanced units for an attack. We’ve seen this trick, right? You get to play a base battle with the best units, as a preview. But there’s always too much going on. The best way to preview troop types is in a campaign, where each stage gives you an interesting preset army.

Immediately after that, a woman in low-cut space-elf armour does the same thing. After that battle, your ship’s AI relays an overheard conversation with her and a skeptical underling about you being the chosen saviour of the galaxy. This sets up the most biased “choose your race” in any game ever. If you’re inclined to read, the humans have “overwhelming power” and the space elves have “high-tech”. I’m not sure how those are different.

Upgrade resources carbon and uranium. You mine carbon from your asteroid. Wikipedia says that’s a real thing. The other is iridium, used only for buying troops, troop upgrades and map unlocks (and if you google “asteroid mining”, they could also have iridium. This game is educational).

The daily quests are clever. You get two random quests a day: “win 6 times in less than a minute”, or “upgrade 3 troops/defenses”. The fun part is how they stay until you complete them, but only 5 slots worth. You can sort of finish them at your leisure. The guild events disappoint me. The top 4 scoring guilds in the entire game get a prize. But my random “anyone-can-join” guild came in 8th, not much thanks to me.

For more info, see
https://gamershead.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/planetstorm-fallen-horizon-tips-and-guide. It doesn’t tell you the game is a clash-like, and claims you can play with your friends (which you can’t). It was clearly written by someone who briefly watched the game being played, then tried to decipher notes a few days later. Which makes it an above-average mobile game review.

The most impressive thing about PlanetStorm are the battle maps. The game studio, Aykiro, lists employees under two categories, Game Developers and Artists. As we know, artists make 3D art, and these guys did a fantastic job. One battle map is a raised rocky ring surrounded by talon-like rocks, a round pit-like moat then the blackness of space, with scorpions crawling in the pit. Another is an asteroid top in a beautiful panoramic view of an asteroid field, with meteors streaking by, exploding when they hit something. Another is a grassy island in a river with waterfalls – 2 baby dinos wander along a ledge and check you out; while a rare spiderpion walks out of a cave and back. The ice-floes area has a fat lizard man walking behind the ice piles, while angry yeti wander the snowy edges of your base, roaring.

The big map has a Barbarella feel with churning dust clouds and parallax as you slide the screen. My home base has a giant prowling sandwurm and a migrating dust tornado. It’s by far the most work I’ve ever seen on the environment in a game like this. It’s just a shame the gameplay makes me want to re-install Boom Beach.

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[Game]Craft Warriors

On first look, “Craft Warriors” looks like another minecraft-themed barely-a-game. But once you puzzle it out, it’s a good, orginal clash-like, plus it has user-crafting.

It borrows many of the new clash-like features:

  • Attack tokens. You can attack 5 times in a row with no waiting. Instantly swap unit with no cost.
  • No breaking shields to attack nonsense. If you’re online when your shield runs out, you may get attacked. The game puts a count-down on top and prevents you from spending gold until they finish.
  • You can watch replays on “ghost” copies of your base. This is when the game can’t find any attackable player bases, so throws in copies of yours. This is great for seeing how your defenses are working.
  • The trap that tosses attackers a few spaces away. This particular one also damages and stuns a half-second. It’s good for tossing invaders into your base where they can be killed. Clash of Clans “builder” bases had this, and they’re really fun.
  • Walls are 3×1 spaces. It won’t grow extra connections for you – walls still need to be touching to block the enemy. But it’s 1/3rd the work re-arranging them.
  • Place regular troops for defense. This doesn’t seem like much, but it’s better than all of the other ways. Some games have special defensive troops. Clan castles make you wait for other people to hopefully add what you want.
  • Destroying buildings frees up that area for placement. In this game it works pretty well.
  • No resetting traps, refilling donated troops, or refilling training queues. In general, the game doesn’t force you to make annoying maintanance checks.
  • The spearman unit does charge-attacks. If it gets a few spaces run-up straight to the target it does extra damage. It can quickly kill several things, but anything blocking the path interrupts the charge.

Then they add some clever new-ish things. The last is the coolest:

  • Pop-up defensive walls. You can leave a hole to lure attackers, but it’s really a pop-up wall. You’re also allowed to place them nearer to buldings than regular walls.
  • The rubble is also new buildings. Suppose you unlock 2 new walls and a gold mine. Two of the long chunks of rubble around your base are “ruined walls” and another is a “smashed goldmine”. You can now upgrade them. It’s a little silly, but it’s fun to search your island for your new unlocks.
  • Line-of-sight for some defenses. The massive spear throwing defense has a huge range, but anything tall next to it blocks shooting in that direction.
  • Blank weapon towers. These are just tall towers with flat tops, but you can drag your defenses on top of them. It helps line-of-sight weapons, and foot troops have to destroy the towers first (the weapon drops to the ground in a puff, taking some damage).
  • Spells are paid for out of the troop budget. If you want to cast a fireball, it costs 15 troop spaces (which is two good troops.) It seems cool you can choose a spell-heavy smaller army, or go spell-less like Conan.
  • Better AI for defensive troops. The ones inside your walled area only attack once the enemy has broken in. And they won’t roam the map afterwards — they return home and wait. Archers may walk a little and shoot, while swordsmen wait for you to get closer. In general, they act like real defensive troops should.
  • Unlocks are based on your overall level. Once you upgrade enough to get points to be level 8, more buildings immediately unlock (which, in this game, means you can upgrade their rubble).
  • Replacement troops. You attack with only 6 troops (more as you level up). The rest of your army is replacements. If you buy 3 archers for a slot, you get to place 1 archer, but the slot will say x2. When it dies you can put the replacement archer anywhere, then again. Some people use 6 cheap troops, let them knock out some defenses and die, then start it all from another spot with the replacements.

    Your defensive troops are the same way. You can buy the best, or get so-so ones with replacements as a second wave.

The troops are nicely done – unique and none clearly better that any other. The second ranged troop out-damages archers, but it can’t shoot things on top of towers. The Bandit is a tank/warrior hybrid with a small area attack (like CoC’s Valkyrie.) The Paladin is tougher than your first tank, but more expensive, does less damage and slower. The ninja is mostly good against other troops, and climbs walls. There are 18 unit types, total. I’ve been seeing a wide variety of what people like to use, and strategies.

The crafting part is just for fun. Each troop is made of blocks, and you can change or completely redesign them. The blocks are pretty small. They keep their weapons so you have some chance of knowing what they are. There’s a shop to buy other people’s models. As you’d guess, trademark violations are the most popular: DeadPool, Batman, DragonBall Z. Only a few swastikas.

At the start of the game you can pick from a dozen different races. But all they are is different pre-made models for the units (undead, animals, far eastern … ). But that was a lot of work, making about 100 of them.

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[Game]Monster Castle

The only thing you need to know about Monster Castle is that your base is a cutaway side-view of a multi-floor castle. Attackers come in through the only door, walk across the ground floor smashing things, make their way to the stairs and repeat. You get a decent troop selection, hero special abilities, and spells. Maybe that makes up for only having one entrance and a single path. And the animation of the front door getting kicked in is just darling.

Defenses are a little interesting. You can slide around the ladder on each floor. Monsters seem to clear one floor before going up, so you can try to make them walk across and back, hitting every trap twice. The short-range bolt gun is best placed on the floor above a tough obstacle, a little in front. The mortar should be placed even higher (it’s funny to watch it arc up though floors, back down, then finally decide the target floor is solid enough to cause it to explode). As you level, three customization options unlock for every defense. The bombs have an option to be wider, or stun, or knock victims down through the floor. The “barricade” (just a strong 1-space obstacle) can turn to tougher steel, reflect some damage, or explode on death. There are cute pictures for each.

The dragon trap is a fun gold sink. It’s basically a bomb — your dragon flies across that floor, breathing flames. Off-the-clock, your dragon lives in a cool cavern below your castle, asking you to plow extra gold to level it. If you have extra “wine”, you can use it to water your magic beanstalk (which levels up the quests it gives).

The troops are the usual – close-range orc warrior, gnoll archer, bearman tough-guy, healer, 2 floaters (they go through floors, which I assume means they get quickly slaughtered). 9 troops total, plus 5 spells. And every troop also has 3 customization options. The bears can get extra HP, reflect some damage, or a chance to resist the spring-away trap. That seems like plenty to play with.

As you upgrade your Throne (your HQ), the floors get wider and you sometimes get a new one. This is also a problem, since attackers can also be dropped in vacant spaces. Plenty of abandoned bases have an empty top floor with a straight route to the Throne Room.

The game suffers from upgradable heroes. You’ll eventually be slaughtered at the front door of a castle by a bought epic hero. It’s always hard to tell how fair these things are. A few bucks can buy better heroes, and you can grind out levels. But this game has the usual nonsense: $’s for gems, gems for chests with tokens, tokens for upgrades.

The theme is monsters uniting against humans, especially a certain over-proud big-jawed Duke, who constantly mocks you in cut scenes. It’s cute and cartoony. As you admire that, have another look at the loading screen — it’s lovely 2-1/2D with depth planes that shift as you tilt your device. Lemix game studio did a nice job. But the publisher is TenCent – a huge Chinese internet conglomerate. I’ve seen them in the news, but this is the first of their games I’ve played.

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[Game]Mini Kingdoms

“Mini Kingdoms” at first looks like a typical rushed halfway Clash clone, but once you get past the art, it’s a nicely done, original, tight Clash-like.

At first you get warriors and archers, then giants. Yawn. The only resource is gold. There’s no theme and sloppy art. But then you notice how it actually plays. Attacks use tokens – no training. You place 3 squads, which can be changed at the start of the attack. Time stops while you’re placing one, and arrows show what they’ll attack, and the next two buildings after that. That’s pretty nice. There’s a toggle for x2 or x4 speed on the battles, which is good since there’s nothing to do once you place your squads.

The wizard troop is pretty neat. It does less damage than archers, but hits an extra building touching the first (a simple but pretty 2-part electric beam). Overall it’s better than an archer. But if the nearest target is killed first, it won’t necessarily keep on the second, and players have learned the anti-wizard tactic of having buildings not always touch. In practice you look at the base and decide: archers or wizards?

Defense-wise, you get some guns, but the third defense is great – a short-range giant-killer that you really need to plan for. It fires a huge shot every 5 seconds. If you let your giants get close, they will die. But archers can kill it with only a few losses since it fires so slowly.

The bombs look like garbage – triggering them produces a red circle for a second, then troops take damage. But they work great: you can see them, there aren’t many, and they trigger at 6 spaces and affect 7. It will reliably damage most of an archer squad. You’ve got to think about who will be where when they’re set off. The chicken-trap is anti-giant. The tool tip is wrong – it turns one unit into a chicken. It’s kind of funny since the chicken keeps attacking and runs pretty quickly. Sometimes it can stay alive for quite a while (but it always eventually runs ahead and is killed in one shot).

All-in-all, you have to look over the enemy base, check locations of everything and carefully place your three squads. The game gives you time for this. And you have to work for gold in this game. Build times are fast and gold costs go up fast. You get 3 attacks in an hour and opponents give predictable fair amounts of gold, mostly for winning. I think my longest Next-ing streak for a good base is 3.

Higher level troops are a flying archer and flying giant. Yawn, except the terrible art style is hilarious: one’s an archer riding a huge bat, the other’s an armoured guy riding an armoured bat. Then it gets very strange. There’s a ground fire-mage that spawns air troops when it attacks. And an air troop that does the opposite. Some of the high level defenses seem extra whacky, but I haven’t seen them in use.

It’s an interesting no-frills Clash-like. Quick to play, not too much to do, but all good stuff.

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[Game]Plunder Pirates

“Plunder Pirates” is a terrific example of an overstuffed Clash-like which beautifully hides staid gameplay. I saw it just after minimalist “Mini Castle” and they make a great contrast. Plunder Pirates add side-missions, lots of Leaders, 2 unique bonus resources; and good lord did their art department do a great job. Only a crybaby like me would want it also to be fun.

The clash-like part is pretty standard: a 6-minute delay between attacks as troops train — there’s no reserve army or training queue to make that nicer. Your Leader does most of the work. The best way to get gold is raiding exposed collectors of someone much higher level. Hand reset traps. To be fair, there are two fun defenses. The Bunker is a long-range machine-gun, but it only shoots in a 60-degree arc. The Pirate Ship building also has a limited arc: only straight out from the long sides, at long range. There are also troop specials — a button makes all pistol pirate shoot 50% faster for 6 seconds. But all-in-all attack and defense is blah.

Upgrades require the new Battle and Resource points. They still need and Gold or Grog (stored in big beer barrels, so cute). But they also require BP’s and RP’s. You get them through a busy work quest system which requires you to log in frequently all day.

The quest system is fun at first: there’s no daily limit. There are 8 quest slots, tap&wait, replaced as you complete each. They give some gold and grog, but are mostly your source for Battle and Resource Points. The fun is the 4 named quest NPC’s. Each quest shows little pictures of who it needs – sometimes just 1, sometimes 2, 3 or all 4. With planning and luck you can keep all 4 working. But it’s a daily chore of slow-motion whack-a-mole.

The other quest system is the explore-to-uncover-the-map screen. You get a ship with a range based on your Pirate Ship building. Trace out a path to sail and wait. A trip might take 1/2 an hour. Besides exploring, you can sail to attack the sea monsters which pop up. But that uses up your attacking army. There’s no attack — you just wait for the results (you can lose). It’s kind of annoying, since even exploring brings the entire army. You need to retrain and wait 10 minutes to attack a player.

Rewards for the map screen are Battle and Resource points, random chests, and upgrade materials for your heroes. Arrg!! You’ll need to collect lots of hero upgrade items, using lots of trained troops not being used to attack other players. But it’s not so bad: you get a few Battle Points from battling other players, but the quests give you more.

Other than that, Plunder Pirates is magnificent. You can spin the base view. Buildings are 3D. There’s an auto-tour button that walks around your town, watching your 3D quest-doers acting busy. Your first leader has a unique zipline animation. Attackers come with cute little boats, paddling to the beach. Buildings don’t need to connect — attackers can swim. You can actually see them swimming. Dead buildings shake and collapse, with a cloud of smoke and a cheer.

It can rain. Each 3D map monster has a unique attack animation (the shark shakes you in its mouth). The simple quest descriptions are funny. The buildings look great, the water on your base map makes you want to take up scuba diving. The obstacles (which take longer to clear than normal) are lovely ocean detritus.

The menu art style is almost too stylish to be in a game. Somewhat “things made of paper cut-outs” (note to self: how have I not seen Isle of Dogs?) Troop upgrade trees visually look great, and sometimes branch and rejoin. They have fun bonuses: extra health, +1 range, gain a special ability, get a bonus vs. map quest monsters. Clash’s “Builder bases” did this first, but it’s nice this game noticed and copied.

To sum up, the clash-like part is leader-heavy and painful unless you gem. You get lots of free stuff in starting Acheivement chests, which is always a bad sign (but, as with everything else here, they look just terrific.) If you like relatively easy games where you can do a bunch of different things, and don’t mind attacking and defending sometimes, as long as you don’t have to memorize a bunch of troops and strategies, Plunder Pirates is a fantastic game.

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Flying healers are the best

Having a healer in a clash-like is irresistible. You want troops with special abilities which interact with other troops in fun ways, and healers have that. But most games use them wrong. They make healers be priests that walk behind troops, area-healing them.

You can toss that sort of healer into any army, which is boring. Say you had 3 ways to make an army. When you unlock healers, you can just toss them in. You’ve got the same 3 army types as before.

That might seem wrong — clearly healers are best on very tough units. But the math is the same either way. Suppose barbarians take 2 shots to kill. If just a little healing brings that up the 3, that’s 50% tougher. Put another way, if a healer can fix 300 damage over 15 seconds, it’s the same whether it’s on one unit, or several.

To make it fun you’ve got to make healers more situational. Some games push the time limit. Since healers slow things down, you’ve got to think hard about what to swap them for. If healers also do some hand-to-hand damage you’ve got to think about how to protect them. Infrequent, larger heals are much better on huge units.

Empires&Allies is very sneaky with them. Your starting infantry are nearly useless at higher levels, so it gives them a single Medic late game. It will heal anything, but it’s not getting your money’s worth unless you’ve also got a use for the infantry.

Clash of Clans makes healers very situational. They fly, but only heal ground troops. That’s tricky since they’re probably the only thing air defenses will be killing. An army with a healer needs some plan to keep the healers alive. They go a little further by making healers take lots of spaces. Using even one healer is a commitment. That makes healers a specialized, rarer unit, like they should be.

The coolest thing is how the flavor text makes it seem obvious: flying, but only heals things on the ground? What does that? Clearly, an Angel with butterfly wings and no feet. Plus every other flying creature is a demon or dragon — something angels wouldn’t heal anyway.

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[Game]All-Star Troopers

All-Star Troopers is the first true childrens’ clash-like. There’s a nice post-mortem explaining how it started as something different, which makes it even more interesting. Because the game looks exactly like someone in marketing made an easy kid’s game by crossing Royal Revolt with the hero system from Raid HQ.

Your hero runs down a windy path, pausing to let another wave of your minions arrive or for your spell to recharge. On the way you fight waves of enemies, various defenses, stop to fight through a wall, and need to kill the tough castle at the end. You can freely switch between 3 heroes, as they gradually get beat up. It’s fun.

It’s even more fun in Royale Revolt where you have a dozen options with attack and defense. You get to go to the Forums and discuss strategy. But kids hate that, so there’s very little to set up in All-Star Troopers. It’s also not a big deal if you lose every defense or are terrible at attacking. Eventually you’ll load up the 3 timed-unlock chests (from Raid HQ, which is from Clash Royale). They’ll give you what you need to progress.

Plenty of clash-likes come down to heroes vs. heroes because they’re broken. Those games have all sorts of things to upgrade and rearrange, but none of them matter; gameplay becomes mostly watching. I’m so impressed how All-Star Troopers is deliberately as simple as it is and there’s an actual game to play in it. Couldn’t stand it for more than a few days, so still so impressed. And the art — humanimals in a spaceship — is dead-on for the kids’ market.

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[Game]Billion Lords

Billion Lords would be a nice, small clash-like, sort of a mini-Dungeon Keeper, if it wasn’t unplayable during your first few months. It takes place in a dungeon, the kind where you dig your own paths, and they didn’t do anything to prevent chokepoints.

They borrowed some nice stuff: a single building trains and houses troops. You get to train a full back-up army. Attacking through a shield costs 3 hours. Traps auto-reset. Even a little story: the King of Evil was bragging about his invincible dungeon, causing the King of Light to destroy it. Now all of the billion lesser evil lords, yourself included, are racing to fill the void.

But defense is broken. Attackers can place troops anywhere around your base, but they have to follow the paths you made. There are no early fliers, wall-destroying spells, or anything to shoot over walls. To make it worse, the defender has plenty of room. Your attack has no option except to follow a very long, windy path, being bombarded the whole while, leading into the fabled “Hallway of Every Trap and Gun”.

There’s no excuse, since they clearly borrowed the dungeon layout from Dungeon Keeper Mobile, which had all those things to keep attacks interesting. This game has a flyer (but you get it late), and a troop that tunnels through walls (the last one), and some leaders that fire over walls (paid or more diamonds than you can earn). Maybe it’s playable once you unlock everything, but that sort of defeats the point of games like this.

In reviews, and I agree somewhat, the game also gets criticized for the odd style choices. The art style is semi-blocky mine-craft influenced. Also, you’re supposed to be evil, and the 3rd resource is “Souls”, but the troops are just cutesy. The healer is a plant and the trap-remover is a robot with a clown head. I suppose it’s not fair to say plants can’t be evil.

My favorite part of the game is how the players delight in making very, very long paths, so confusing you can’t even trace them. You can place troops in any of 6 rooms around the edges. The easy choice is a big ring to connect them, with a single path leading inward. But some players like to fake you out with a path that appears to lead inward, but then zags back outside. The path can circle the base several times, or run back-and-forth in range of the artillery. If you actually reach the inside, a spring trap can hurl your leader, or half your army, back outside where they run out the timer walking back. The rooms full of gold, which you’re suppose to dig out a 3×3 area for, can just be smashed together into one mega-room at the center. That leaves more space for windy paths.

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[Game]Mad Rocket:Fog of War

Mad Rocket: Fog of War is that rare Clash-like that mixes in ideas from other types of games while still getting that clash-like feel. It also has a really nifty original idea – everything you cast or summon needs to make it past air defense.

A quick overview: your attacks use a few troops and lots of spells. You can place two troop squads every 45 seconds, while casting a missile swarm every 10 and a single rocket every 2. There are no training costs – you can use any of your skills as often as cool-downs permit, until you run out of time. Bases have a carved-out shape of usable area. Troops can’t be outside, so there’s no walking up to the base. Instead troops can be dropped anywhere inside, into the fog.

Now we’re ready for the main thing: air defense. Your first one fires in a long 30 degree cone, pointing south, with no option to rotate it. That seems funny until you notice how everything you launch streaks in from the bottom of the map, straight up to the target. Without air defense, attacking from the top merely meant an extra 1/2-second delay. Now it means a much greater chance of being shot down. Most of a missile swarm will be shot down if they fly straight over one.

But there’s more. Air defenses also hit incoming troops. They fly in on helicopters – tougher troops get tougher choppers. Pick the wrong spot, flying through too much flak, and your riflemen will explode midair with no survivors. Air defense actually fires quick small shots, which is really cool. Depending on the spell, you can safely clip the edge on your way past, or target a spot not very far inside. Air Def can also be “tanked”. Your strafe spell comes from a pretty tough jet, so can protect something cast immediately after. But it only last for a few seconds.

Altogether, this gives a real clash-like feeling. Before the battle you need a plan to scout, or not, how to deal with air defenses, when and where to drop troops, priorities for killing mines and guns; and when to just try to pound their storages with rockets since you’re not going to win. You’re not tapping that much, but you can’t be indecisive or forget your priorities.

Some minor touches: in any clash-like destroying the HQ is always odd. Sure, it’s an automatic 1 star, which technically means you win, but we just want gold. In this game, killing the HQ also removes all fog – a nice incentive. It also gives you more time. To explain, Mad Rocket gives you a minute 30 seconds for attacks, then about 30 seconds more as you destroy things (which is 3 more missile swarm spells). It works nicely – a few screw-ups and bad luck and your attack ends early in a loss.

When I unlocked the “air tank”, I assumed they’d screwed up. It’s a super-tough flyer that sits there and distracts air defenses. You’d think it breaks the game. But you only get to pick 6 spells. The air-tank replaces something that could be doing damage. And once air defense is down, it’s dead weight. It’s also a little expensive (beyond the cool-down, cards have an energy cost). And since it attacks for a small amount of damage, it moves a little, sometimes out of the range where it can distract them. Finally, it tends to die just as you were unleashing a fragile spell through the area.

I’m also encouraged by the second air defense building. It fires in a wide but short 180-degree circle segment, and also at ground troops. It’s good for backing up the first defense, or as an annoyance by itself – not really worth singling out for destruction, but you can’t quite ignore it.

I’m not quite sure on the theme. You’re on an alien planet, mining pretty green Eternium crystals for “The Scientists”. Personally, you upgrade all of your buildings with it. Gold is used for upgrading your landmines, troop upgrades, and re-arranging the overall shape of your base.

Your base shows a big grassy field, with rocks and trees. I’m not sure why attackers can never land there, but maybe it’s the low, doorless wall drawn completely around the usable part. Underneath is a floating city. The two sides you can see show multiple levels with platforms, ledges and protuberances. Some ledges are also overgrown with grass and trees. In the distance, you can see two small flat-top floating rocks. A massive world-of-warcraft goblin-style machine sits on each, slicing a huge crystal with a buzz-saw. I sure hope that’s not me despoiling the planet like that.

Clash-like campaigns never amount to much, but can set a mood. This one is against someone vaguely evil, who’s henchmen occasionally yell at you for interrupting their plans to get all the Eternium first. It was feeling a little like Avatar, but now I’m not so sure. Still a good game, though.

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