Clockwork Wolf, Lynn Viehl

This one is a little too Romancey – two men are fighting over her the entire book – but otherwise it hits the bizarre secret world mash-up elements extra hard, including a SteamPunk setting.

The heroine is a female detective in Victorian London trying to make a name for herself, but insecure about being a commoner. And, of course, far too impulsive. She’s human but somehow immune to magic, and heals very quickly. Later it’s teased she may be part fairy creature. She can get advice from an all-powerful ghost wizard who haunts her, or have devices made by her (non-ghost) genius SteamPunk engineer friend.

Romance-wise, a powerful (also non-ghost) wizard is in love with her, along with her childhood friend who is now a police chief (in other words, her beaus are a rich noble and a brawny working man). She sleeps with the policeman to try to cure him of robotic were-wolfism (an old folk remedy?), but seems to prefer the sexy wizard.

The bad guy is a masterpiece of crazy mash-up: an (1)Ancient Evil banished by (2)Celtic shamen, who is trying to (3)impregnate women with demon babies using (4)robot (5)werewolfs recruited from a (6)secret nobility sex club. Take a moment to think how this begins. You’re correct if you said “she’s called in to investigate women being molested by robot werewolves”.

SteamPunk tends to handle female characters in 2 ways. One is having them smarter and stronger than any man. Yawn. The other is what this book does: she’s told what women can’t do at every turn, is treated like a fragile flower, but does all she can within those confines, including a few things a Victorian man couldn’t get away with. If you like clever oppressed women, this has got it.

Seanan McGuire, Cryptid series

I saw Seanan McGuire at a convention. She was in full “act like a fabulous author GoH” mode, and could not stop giggling about exploding hawiian rats and the tapeworm she ate on purpose. So, she doesn’t take herself all that seriously, which is the right attitude for her books.

The world starts as the standard “every mythical creature you’ve even heard of is real”. The twist is that the secret society keeping humans safe succeeded hundreds of years ago and are now killing harmless, even useful beasties (cyptids). Our heroine is from a break-away family devoted to the study and preservation of supernatural ecology, and hunted by the now-evil monster-killing group.

The rest of the twist is inventing crazy creatures – talking mice (that’s all they do) and dragon princesses which look human, breed asexually, live in groups and single-mindedly collect gold by working regular jobs, then buying the gold.

Personality-wise, our heroine fails to be insecure or mousy — rather the opposite — but she’s got money problems and has trouble meeting guys since she works so much: protecting the harmless monsters of New York; a waitress in a non-human topless club; and a contestant on “So you think you can dance.” That feels sufficiently weird to make up for her being 100% human with no special powers. But she’s trained in ninja skills since birth to where she spider-mans (parkours) everywhere over rooftops, and her famous renegade family name is like a magic spell to make monsters cooperate.

The plot is a fine sprawl of mostly personal problems mixed in with the adventure: she has to help her telepathic non-human sister; the guy from the evil monster hunters is in town, and he is smoking hot; and humans mutated into lizard-men are using monster blood to power a world-blasting magic spell. What really puts this over as an urban fantasy female detective book is the big baddie: he turns out to be friendly. The evil lizards were worshiping him, but also keeping him sedated. A little friendly conversation, which no man would have considered, solves the crisis.

The rest of the series gives us more books with this character, but then we get more family members. There’s her roller-derby younger sister, and then her brother. He’s a non-violent researcher, clumsy around women, with strong female role models — but he’s still written as a guy, blundering through his book as a big, dumb ape, occasionally listening to his girlfriend who’s the brains of the operation.


Short descriptions of interesting features of some clash-likes:

  • LegendBorne: You need to “rescue” your troops. Suppose you unlock vampire bats. That’s nice, but you can’t train any until you “rescue” bats, by beating certain special bases. That’s fun at first, but pretty soon you max out and it’s done. Has 2 sides — good and evil — with different troops and leaders. This was before we realized how much extra work that was, that never pays off.
  • Compass Point: West: Beautiful old-western-style art and sound. Boom-Beach-style map (including computer bases and special missions: train and cow rescues). Unique buildings for your town. The troop selection is based on poker-cards you slowly acquire, then merge to make stronger versions. That gives big spenders a definite advantage, since the stronger versions cost the same points.
  • Titan Empires: Original features: impassable river squares (with a check so you can’t surround anything); a complicated clan war map (each enemy clan base has a point value and sometimes a bonus); clan-mate’s can reinforce one of your buildings for a day. Made in Wisconsin. Invented having a wide selection of heroes (like an ogre who’s special ability is making one big jump) with gambling chests for extra gear.
  • Space Miner Wars: Attacks are flying one fully controlled Asteroids-style spaceship, while their base sprays bullets. But the rest is standard clash-like (town hall, upgrades, storages, builders… ).
  • Dawn Of Steel: Another non-clash offense: 3-4 fully controllable robots, each with a special ability. Bases have monster-spawning defenses (mini-robot factories). Monetizes by selling you special robot weapons at each level for a few bucks. At first players were randomly given different entrance patterns for their bases (2 small gaps or 1 larger one). But everyone complained until they added the option to switch.
  • StarWars:Commander: Play as Rebel or Empire (everyone plays Empire) with very different forces. The big innovation is you get generic defensive towers and can put any weapon in them. Weapons get bonuses against troop types so you get to guess which army you fear most. Damage is low and troops are slow, so attacks need to worry about the time limit.
  • Samurai Seige: 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. Uses the new “post-style” walls. Research is a tech-tree, which also unlocks things like “+25 walls”. Rare Heroes come from Gambling chests. For no reason, the heroes are historical politicians: 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.
  • SeigeFall: Boom Beach style area 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.
  • Royal Revolt: Defense is a real tower-defense — you create a path lined with upgradable defensive towers and barriers, with waves of selectable troops. Attacking is a fully controllable hero, with squads of troops summoned through a refilling energy bar. Nice selection, and pretty fun. Strong pay-to-win component — several ways to spend gems during an attack (for example, you have a spell that costs gems to cast).
  • OlympusRising: Greek-themed copy of RoyalRevolt (made by the same company.)
  • Dungeon Keeper: place upgradable rooms in a dungeon, connected by carved-out hallways. Some defensive monsters. Attacks come from 4 fixed entrances. Some monsters can walk/shoot through walls. Reasonably fun. 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:Arkham Underworld: Similar to DungeonKeeper, your buildings are connected rooms and hallways, with two fixed “garages” as entrances. Later you can 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 “you”, a super-villain, defending. Attacking is your fully-controllable super-villian, with the usual dumb clash-like army coming with. Limited spells. Boom-Beach style map. This was a Suicide Squad movie tie-in, and was much better than it needed to be.
  • Raid HQ: Attacks are non-clash-like. Each defensive room is a level by itself — a stationary bullet-hell. Things like: one big robot, lots of waves of troops, or a tough laser bunker. Nearby rooms may add extra bullets. Attacking has a team of 4: use only 1, but freely tag in and out. The heroes are gotten and upgraded using gambling-chests, but they’re fairly generous – you can find free “S-class” heroes. At first 1 path leads to the HQ, but eventually you have to split your defenses among several. Uses the Clash Royale victory chest system (get 3 victory chests, then wait hours for them to unlock).
  • Drop Assault: 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. Adds a live player-vs-player area. Gambling chests for heroes, some of which could be upgraded to be far too powerful.
  • Transformers: Earth Wars: 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. There’s a whole system with levels and stars — basically a collectable hero game.

[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 success 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 short list. 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.
  • 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.
  • Traps (1-shot bombs) are visible instead of hidden. That seems bad, since attackers can avoid them, but they act as deterrents. Overall, it’s better.
  • Fun computer bases, that don’t run out. They’re these weird special things that break the rules. They might have only a few mega-weapons, or lots of machine guns, or huge minefields … . Most are pretty fun, and you’ll recognize tougher versions of them as you go. It’s a nice break from player-bases, but totally optional.
  • Weekly mini-campaigns. One day a week a series of increasingly difficult computer bases opens up, resetting each time. There are cut-scenes about a mad scientist.
  • Upgrades takes multiple types of resources at once – wood, stone, and iron. Getting enough of each can be a challenge.
  • Spells use an energy system. You can cast any spell, all you want, as long as you have spell-energy for it. You get more energy for destroying buildings. That allows you you to cast plenty of spells, but not all at once. Repeating a spell also increases its cost. Even your least favorite spell eventually becomes worth casting.
  • A beacon spell that makes all troops walk towards it for a short time. It gives a crude way to control troops during a fight — for example you can lead them around to a different side of the base.
  • Enchantments. You can gradually acquire parts to make magic statues that give some special bonus. You can only have a few, and switching is slow, so you need to choose. There are a several that buff offense, or defense or how much you loot, or how fast you produce (or how fast you find new statue parts).
  • You can’t drop your ranking to fight super-easy opponents. In most other clash-likes you’re always picking on weak people. You can easily lose on purpose to drop your ranking and face even weaker ones. In this game, you’re always fighting people your own size. It’s not perfect — it’s possible to get semi-stuck with opponents you can’t beat.
  • More flexible base upgrade strategies. In Clash of Clans you were heavily penalized for not upgrading evenly. Everyone’s base had pretty much the same buildings. In Boom Beach it’s much easier to focus on only some, making your base a bit more unique.
  • The “Resource Base”. When you conquer some special island bases, a limited number, you keep them. They produce extra wood or stone or whatever. But 1 other player can see it and take it from you. You can take it back, and so on. The base’s defenses, which you can arrange, get a little more powerful each time. Eventually one of you gives up. It usually lasts about a week, and is sort of a fun mini-rivalry. New opponents come after a few days. If you’re a slow player, fast-risers will tend to steal your Resource Bases, but after a while you’ll find one where the old owner doesn’t care.
  • Only one builder, who works faster. You start to realize how annoying managing 5 builders can be.

Some clash-likes borrow only a few of these things, but they go together pretty well. You’ll general see the “Clan of Clans” model, or the “Boom Beach” one. Both original games coming from the same company.


It’s possible to appreciate clash-likes for the way they make money. The standard trick is to ruin a perfectly good game with a bunch of limits, then charge for skipping. They usually feel fake: “You’re out of daily attempts. Spend 12 gems for another?” Clash-likes make them feel natural — of course I have to pay to attack more — how could it be otherwise?

Clash-likes make the daily free gem dispersal into a little game. As we know, giving free gems is a vital part of convincing players to spend cash, so this matters. Your base starts cluttered with “obstacles”: rocks, trees, bushes, funny stone monoliths … . A builder and some spare gold can clear them, possibly finding some gems. This is a clever way to shower you with starting gems. Most games say “here’s 50 gems”; a clash-like seeds the ground with 50 gems in little piles. Later on, obstacles randomly appear, and may have gems when cleared. The game is giving you a few gems each day, but making it fun. I like to stockpile just the trees, then dig them up all at once when I need gems fast.

Clash-likes have one of the best monetization tricks of all, built-in. The idea is that people hate losing more than not winning. The classic experiment is playing a game to win $5 vs. getting $5 and playing a game to keep it. Both are the same, but the one where you can “lose” $5 hurts more. This is great news, since in a clash-like, people are always trying to steal your money. Every morning you pray you didn’t lose too much; and certain flukes can spike your loses. Everytime you have to go to school with $2 Mil sitting in your vaults, terror makes you buy a shield, or rush a builder, or something, anything! Other games need to artificially add a fear of less, known as “inflicting pain” (what a charming term).

An old trick to sell anything is providing a “bad” option, or giving lots of options. If you want to sell a cow for $4, offer them for $5, 2-for-$8 and 3-for-$18. Clash-likes have so many cute ways to do this. For example, buying immunity to attacks is turned into a game. The week-long shield is only available once-a-month; the 4 hour shield, once a day; and so on. You can almost cover every hour of the day, if you work at it. There are also 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 gold. 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 gold directly into your gold vaults, but only funny percents: to the max, fill up to half, or fill by 10%. It doesn’t even tell you the actual amounts those are. And clearly, 10% and 50% are there to make “full” look like a better deal.
  • You can buy a 2x speed-up for your gold mines. They get a little glow for 8 hours. That feels more fair, like you’re working inside the game, but you’re still just paying for gold. It’s the best, right? It has to be, since it takes longer. But no one will ever really know.

Training times have 2 ways to speed them up. You can pay gems to instantly have your army ready. Yawn. Or you can buy a 2-hour x4 speed-up. That’s enough to attack almost constantly, unless your army is all dragons. Maybe you think other ways to spend gems are cheating, but this seems fair — you still earn all of your gold by stealing it from strangers. Serious players will always buy it, adding up to maybe $5/month. It’s basically a subscription, but more fun.

Every other type of game makes money with gambling chests, the ones that give a random Common, Uncommon, or Rare item. Those are super-annoying, and Clash-likes don’t have random stuff to win, so good riddance. But some clash-likes find a way to add them: take the identical Giant Barbarian Guardian everyone gets, and turn it into a random collectable hero. It’s the worst, but you have to respect the ingenuity.

Many freemium games use something known as pay-for-progress. Reaching level 10, where the game gets good, takes either a month, or $10. That’s considered fair if every level 10 player is on an equal footing. Clash-likes cash-in on this. You can’t pay to jump ahead, but you can rush each of the 100’s of steps, paying each time. I think it’s over $1000 to get to level 10. People have done it.

[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 whole MMO deal. 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.

The final room is the owner’s actual character — same character class and spells — but computer controlled and massively powered-up. They did a great job, often having a several minutes long battle.

Besides that, it was a normal clash-like. People attack your dungeon, while you attack theirs. You get gold by whacking on their gold vaults. As with every other clash-like, finding the gold is more important than “winning”. You upgrade all of your guns and monsters and monster generators in the usual way, with builders. The room with computer “you” is also your Town Hall, unlocking more stuff as it levels up.

The Clan Castle was very clever. It’s another computer controlled powered-up character, of a guild-mate you choose. But it had a bad kink. To not be overpowering, you could only choose a less-powerful guild-mate. The weakest clan members were out-of-luck. If they were smart, they left for a weaker clan, then you were out-of-luck.

The dungeon-making rules used a point system. Rooms, which are huge, are allowed 20 points of whatever. Some people loved to have a trap gauntlet room, followed by a room with only waves of monsters. It was somewhat popular to choose the room design with obstacles near the doors, then everything concentrated into an entry killing zone. But then players learned to immediately run past into the huge empty room behind them.

I assume a problem leading to the shut down was that matching decent 4-player groups, of similar levels, in a reasonable amount of time, required a big player base. As it was, waits were a few minutes. I’m told some times of day you couldn’t get a team at all.

The thing I mostly remember: 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. And then: gold collectors pump gold out of the floor. It’s like a RoadRunner cartoon.

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 how they do all that and more, and make you like it.

With troop training times, class-likes make you wait between each attack. That’s worse than the games that give you 5 tries a day. But people enjoy playing with it: when you go to bed, start training a bunch of cool, long training-time troops. You get to use them for 1 attack in the morning. Then switch to boring fast-training ones for the rest. It feels as if you have control.

When you finally get the cash to buy an upgrade, another timer makes it takes hours or days to happen. Then finally the limited number of “builders” kicks in. If I want to upgrade my Farm, I have fight a timer to earn the gold, then the game tells me I can’t spend it since the upgrades I started yesterday aren’t done. That’s so mean. But people love builders with their little tricks:

  • Builders prevent you from playing “just one more”. When every builder is put to work, you’re done for the day.
  • Build times, once they’re several days long, form a little rhythm. Some days none have finished, other days 2 builders are ready and you’ve got to hustle to get the gold to put them back to work. That doesn’t seem very exciting, but it’s less monotonous than other “check in once a day” games.
  • Time vs. gold cost can vary. Most notably, gold mines take a long time to upgrade, but don’t cost much. Casual players like the “don’t cost much” part, while aggressive players focus on the “takes a long time” and skip them. It feels like a smart choice, either way.
  • Wall upgrades are like a mini-game. If you have a free builder you can upgrade as many walls as you want. People actually discuss when to put the last builder to work, and when to keep it open in case you have a extra hour for walls.
  • When you start a new clash-like, you know getting more builders is the most important thing. A fun bit of insider knowledge. 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.

A fun thing about builders is how they make sense at first, then make no sense if you actually think about them. Things I enjoy:

  • Buildings start tiny and get small upgrades. Your lvl 8 barracks is a shack with 7 additions. That’s not how buildings work. It’s really, really not how cannons work.
  • You aren’t even allowed to build the good versions. If you know how to build level 5 cannons and a new cannon slot opens, you’re required to make a small cannon and enlarge it 4 times.
  • Real buildings are not out-of-commission while being upgraded. For your 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, only shutting completely down on Sunday night, so can my builders.
  • Why can’t 2 builders work on the same thing? WarCraft, which this was copied from, allows it. One builder-per-building isn’t even realistic by game standards.
  • Our base has builders as permanent employees. Why? Buildings aren’t made of gold, so we must be spending it to have iron and concrete brought in. Why not bring in an independent contractor with the lumber delivery?

There are good gameplay reasons for doing things this way, and that’s the point. Builders never had anything to do with realism – they’re just clever ways to justify putting limits on the game.

Looting and Realism

Game genres start out “realistic”, but since that’s not very good gameplay the definition of realistic-enough gradually changes. Today, everyone who plays an MMO 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 when to run home with a full gold sack … ick.

One game, Batman clash-like Arkham Underworld, actually does realistic gold vaults: a massive vault door needs to be destroyed, then you quickly grab the cash. Trying to break that huge door can run attackers out of time, leaving them with nothing as the cops come. 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.

I enjoy the optional “strongbox” building for how little sense it makes. Normally, attackers leave 1/2 of your gold lying on the ground for you to scrape up later. They just do. But some games have an extra building, with stats like “level 5 strongbox: 5,000 gold plus 57% of the rest is protected from attackers”. How does it work? Beats me. The same as the magical 1/2-gold rule, I guess.

Oddly, they all keep one “realistic” thing which ruins the game: you get gold by stealing from other players. That seems obvious — you can’t get gold out of thin air. But it’s a game, of course you can. It ruins the game since most people are broke, and the few players who have gold — their moms’ called them to dinner midway through playing — is pretty much arbitrary. The games could make enemies worth an “average” amount of gold, plus or minus. But people hate that. They like knowing they’re hurting someone else. For example, many clash-likes use “ghost” bases as filler — an exact copy of someone’s base, not owned by anyone. People hate those when they find out there’s no one on the other end crying over lost gold.

Instead the games bend over backwards to average out loot, while making you still feel you earn it all by stealing. The “Loot cart” makes it so you steal more gold than they actually lose. Bases are always worth a minimum amount, even if they have less. Daily challenges give free gold for a certain amount of victories. There’s an extra-safe area for storing your gold. But despite that it feels “realistic”, like the savage free-for-all gold stealing players think they want.


Out of all buildings, plain old walls are surprisingly complicated. You get about a hundred of them. 100 walls? What? It turns out a “wall” is just a tiny block. Making what a human would describe as a wall involves dragging dozens of them into a line.

There are short-cuts, glitchy ones. Selecting an entire row might also get you the corners, or not, and probably stops at walls of a different upgrade level. Dragging a whole row into a smaller space won’t work – you’ll need to unselect, trim to the correct length, then reselect. There’s an etch-a-sketch mode — trace on squares to place walls, and/or select the tiny handles and pull out a line of walls. It’s still not easy, but better than dragging 100 of them by hand.

Once you figure out how to place them, where you’re putting your walls is all wrong. Everyone starts with a rectangle around everything. That’s no good — the enemy only needs to poke a single hole. Some people make a double-thick inner keep. Also no good — the game has special rules making it not work: wall-blasters have a radius of 2. It turns out that a series of boxes, with shared off-center corners, is the best. It looks like garbage, but it works great.

If you get really into it, there’s exact math as to how much extra distance a wall counts as. You can fine-tune your base so attacking troops tend to go in odd directions or split up.

Finally, walls are a cash-sink for hard-core players. They’re the only building that takes 0 time to upgrade. If you want to play all day, upgrading walls is the one thing you can do. It’s not cheap, and you have 200 of them, so you’ll always be able to “work on your walls”. It has this funny quirk: even though it takes no time, you still need a free builder. So, regular players can put all 5 builders to work. They can’t upgrade walls while they wait, which is fine. Meanwhile, hard-core players need to leave one free so they have it to wall-upgrade through-out the day. That seems fair, sort of.

The coolest thing about walls is something just for looks. If walls actually filled their squares, they’d look terrible. They look better filling about half — like thick poles. But that means adjacent walls would have spaces between them. They fix that by auto-creating a special wall-connector segment. It doesn’t look great.


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 didn’t play them, but I remember students going nuts for those sites, with all sorts of rules for tower-types, making paths, flyers… . Plants vs. Zombies is the main survivor of all that.

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. Clash of Clans dumbed it down for the winning formula: 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 cell=phone game to show television commercials.