Clash Royale: 6 months review

This post is about Clash Royale, the Supercell game released in January 2016. I started playing Clash Royale when it was first released. This is significant: by starting at the release date, I can track my progress relative to everybody else. We all started at the same time.

After a six months of playing and reaching Level 8, I can say one thing: Clash Royale is a terrible game. It’s the closest thing in real life I’ve seen to the Ktarian Game. Clash Royale ties together the best attributes from CCG and MOBA games with an absurdly fun playing style, but with draconian time-gating and extremely aggressive monetization psychology.

Clash Royale sets up intricate barriers to impede game progress. The biggest barrier is time. Everything is time-gated. Free treasure chests appear every 4 hours (with a maximum of 2 chests stacking after 8 hours). Every 24 hours, a Crown Chest is made available for scoring 10 field points. Clan mates can donate cards to you every 8 hours. Winning a match increments your trophies and awards you a treasure chest, but it can take anywhere from 3 to 24 hours to open, depending on the type of chest awarded. There are slots for only 4 treasure chests, and you’ll lose out on additional treasure chest awards on subsequent match victories if your slots are full.  So you wait 3 to 24 hours to open a slot before playing another match. But you’ll login anyway, just to snatch the bonus treasure chests every 4 hours and cards donated by clan mates every 8 hours. What? Did I just login to a game not to play it?

Of course, you can gem everything to speed things along. And gems are expensive. Like, really expensive. I purchased a few dollars of gems to write this blog post. I wanted to know how much a boost purchasing a “magical chest” would provide. Categorically:  insignificantly minuscule. Spending $5 is utterly insignificant to gameplay. I wasted money that could have purchased a few meals to support disaster relief areas around the world. A gamer would have to purchase a lot of gems to reap in-game benefits. Let me explain what a lot means.

Your level is basically determined by how long you’ve been playing and how often you login to get the free-to-play daily bonuses and clan donations. I’ve mostly captured all of the bonus chests, daily crown chests, and kept my slots full since game release date. I’ve been able to reach Level 8. There’s simply no way to change this trajectory, except gems. In other words, I’ve been capturing all of the free-to-play upgrades and chests since game release date. Anyone who has more upgrades has gemmed it. It’s doesn’t seem possible to reach higher levels since game launch without gemming: the game’s time-gating controls your upgrade speed. Reaching Level 10 at this point in the game requires approximately $1000, and a Level 12 deck requires approximately $12,000. Levels get progressively harder, so the difference is huge between 10 and 12! The forums discuss $100 as “spending a small amount of money”. To put this in perspective, it requires $25,000 of gems to obtain maximum epic cards in the game. This is equivalent to 30+ years of collecting free-to-play items. A lot of the top players have at least some maximum epic cards. The free-to-play gamer will never be able to compete at these levels. And the game periodically introduces new and exciting cards, which means they will need upgrading, too. This is very different from Clash of Clans, where free-to-play gamers regularly compete at the Town Hall 10 and 11 levels.

So I’m a small fish (free-to-play Level 8) in a big ocean with no hope of advancing to significantly higher playing levels. I routinely get pounded by guys with high-level wizards, or some other absurdly high-level troops, obviously gemmed. I can’t compete with that, and for good reason: that’s how the game is designed. It has an addictive playing style that is impossible to progress without spending money.

The matchmaking system puts you down a dangerous psychological road, appealing to the proper neural pathways to make you insane. The game learns your strategy and deliberately arranges matchmaking with opponents that can effectively counter you. It’s terribly infuriating. You win a few times. As the system learns your strategy, it progressively matches you against opponents that can defeat you. Before you know it, you’ve dropped 400 trophies and into the next lower league. Your treasure chest slots are full of low-level league awards, and you’ve blown your chances of winning higher-level cards until you empty out the slots (taking between 3 and 24 hours per slot). But you keep playing to get back into the higher league. The game fights back with progressively more impossible opponent matchups.  The opponents aren’t necessarily better than you. They just have the infuriatingly exact combination of troops to counter yours. And they all laugh at you as you mercilessly lose.

The matchmaking algorithm is so obvious, I can tell within the first few cards the opponent plays how the match will conclude. Oh, he’s playing the exact cards that counter my deck. There needs to be a “forfeit” button, because the next 2m 50s is a waste of time. The match result is a foregone conclusion to the matchmaking algorithm, yet I continue to vainly defend against impossible odds, thinking somehow my superior strategic troop placements will somehow reverse the tide. My opponent keeps invoking the laughing face, occasionally showing the crying face, presumably because he’s laughing so hard at my vain efforts it bring him to tears. I hate those 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

The pay-to-win force is strong. The adaptive matchmaking ultimately pits your troop selection against one deliberately selected to defeat yours. After you get stomped a few times, you start looking to either acquire one of the winning cards (using gems), or to strengthen your own (using gems).

That’s right: the game psychology is structured for you to give them money for you to lose less painfully (by the way, this is a great link).

More psychology: if you accumulate 10 points on the playing field, you are entitled to a daily “Crown Chest”. Note that you can score points on the playing field but still lose the match. It’s entirely possible to score enough field points to earn a Crown Chest while losing every match. I’ve done it. The game makes you feel better by earning a Crown Chest while ruthlessly stabbing you in the back with its adaptive matchmaking system. This has an enormously powerful psychological effect. You’ve just lost 400 trophies, put into a lower trophy league, tired and frustrated, opponents keep invoking the laughing face, lost your last match, but you scored the one last field point to open the daily Crown Chest! You are rewarded and frustrated simultaneously. You finally got that damned chest open, but it’s loaded with lower-league level cards. You tell yourself that when you play tomorrow, get back up into the league where you belong.

Clash Royale is synchronous gameplay. You never know your true win/loss ratio, but statistics require it to be around 50%. If you win 51%, you will increment trophy leagues. If you win 49%, you will decrement. The game is built around the frustration of losing and purchasing gems to compensate. Eventually, you’ll reach a league with similar players to you, and your win/loss ratio will stabilize at 50% again until you spend more money. Because of the game’s adaptive matchmaking, you’ll go on disastrous losing streaks followed by long climbs back uphill. Round trip: loads of frustration and resentment on the long climb  uphill. When you get back to where you started, the round trip ultimately averages a 50% win/loss ratio. You didn’t actually win at anything, but you got a lot of free bonus chests and a crown chest, so you feel like you won something.

I suspect that using a randomly selected deck each game and simply dropping troops on the playing field as they become available would eventually stabilize with >50% win ratio. Your ability to win would be based purely on the strength of your troops and the inability for the game to adapt matchmaking opponents to your randomized strategy. You would hover in a trophy league corresponding to your troop levels until the accumulation of daily bonuses and treasure chests gradually grant upgrades, resulting in advancement to a higher trophy league. I can envision a bot that sits there all day, opening daily treasure chests and randomly dropping troops. I return in a few months, a Level 9, a deck loaded with cards, and in a higher trophy league.

In these terms, Clash Royale is a terrible game. If you play it, I suspect you agree.

December 2015 Update: Fallout!

The December 2015 update was so bad, several global news organizations took up the story. Clash of Clans plummeted on iTunes from 5 stars to 3 stars, falling to no.82. Even the local Finnish news agencies panned their hometown game developers for disastrous gameplay changes: (Finland)

Yibada (Global Chinese)

Supercell’s response has been equally as bad. So many threads have been censored or removed on the Supercell forum that users have moved to Reddit to speak freely. Supercell’s censorship, silence, and lack of response results in losing the public’s trust, including their hometown newspaper.

Thankfully, Supercell responded today with some tweaks and bug fixes. These tweaks do not fix the underlying gameplay problems of the update, they are merely band-aids. Increasing the PBT from 3 to 4 hours isn’t exactly a gameplay fix.

So here they are. What’s up with nerfing skeletons? Hasn’t Supercell screwed up enough?

Bug Fixes (Dec 17)

  • Fixed a bug in the Personal Break system that could force players into Personal Break even after being offline for a while
  • Fixed a bug that could allow exceeding the limit of donated Clan Spells
  • Grand Warden ground/air mode is now always correctly saved

Gameplay Tweaks (Dec 17)

  • Personal Break online-time limit has been increased from 3 to 4 hours
  • Personal Break limit now fully resets when being 15 minutes offline without Shield or Guard (was 30 minutes)
  • Personal Break limit extensions increased to 30 minutes (was 15 minutes) after taking a defense without shield or getting kicked out without being attacked
  • Free Guard when Shield expires has been increased for all Leagues:
    • Titan I / Legend: 4 hours Guard (was 3 hours)
    • Titan II: 3 hours Guard (was 2 hours)
    • Titan III: 2 hours Guard (was 1 hour)
    • Champion (all levels): 1 hour Guard (was 30 minutes)
    • Below Champion: 30 minutes Guard (was 15 minutes)
  • Clan War matchmaking parameters have been updated for Town Hall 9 through Town Hall 11
  • Skeleton hitpoints have been slightly decreased
  • X-Mas tree is now spawning

Future Fixes (Week of Dec 20?)

  • 1-Gem Resource Boost!
  • Added Winter theme along with an option to disable snowfall in Settings
  • Added an info screen when tapping the Shield icon that shows exact Personal Break timer status
  • Added a Clan badge icon for donated Spells in the deployment bar
  • Fixed a crash when trying to tap the Town Hall while all elixir-recharged defenses are under upgrade
  • Fixed a crash when fighting Lava Hound and Pups near the edge of the map
  • Fixed a crash when trying to donate to the war map while a troop or spell production building is under upgrade
  • Fixed the request/full/timer tips not showing correctly above the Clan Castle in certain situations
  • Fixed player profile bug where Level 1 Grand Warden could be incorrectly shown as unlocked
  • Various UI cleanup and fixes

December 2015 Update: Get Ready!

How to Prepare for December 2015 Update

Clash of Clans always has a pickup in December and June. This is because many players have holiday time from school and work. Supercell plans their updates to encourage players to logon to check out the changes. Many idle gamers play for a couple weeks after a major upgrade, then go idle again after the holidays are over.

The December 2015 Update, combined with the holiday season, will result in a huge uptick. A lot of players will be active online. Loot will probably “dry up” in December as millions of clashers are looting and spending it on upgrades.

Redesign Your Base – Now!

  • Design a new base today or tomorrow (Dec 8 or 9).
  • Put the Town Hall inside. It now counts as an additional storage, holds 20% of your Gold and Elixir, and will hold 15% of your DE. It only gives loot if completely destroyed. Partial destruction yields no loot. Protect it.
  • Arrange trash buildings outside of walls so an attacker can score an easy 30% destruction. This is the new way to get a shield.
  • Put your mines and collectors interspersed among other trash buildings, so attackers will destroy more buildings during collector attacks.
  • Create a strong core to protect your storages and Town Hall. The outer layer of trash buildings should be weakly defended.
  • Over the next few days, spend your loot on some final upgrades. Try to have low loot when the update goes live on December 10.

What to expect

  • Expect to be raided a lot over the new week as millions of users logon over the holidays to check out the new updates. Don’t assume the new shield system is not working. Instead, assume it is a surge of new and idle players logging in over the holidays. Wait until January to make your assessment of how the new shield system is working.
  • Expect to see a lot more TH10 bases in your farming leagues (mostly in Gold). A lot of TH10 players are dropping down for the update.
  • Expect to see TH9 players upgrading to TH10.
  • Look for n00bs rushing to TH11. Try to attack the new Eagle defense.
  • TH11 will have increased storages, therefore, more available loot!

Some Things to Try

  • Take note of how often you are demolished (>70%) or collector raided (~30%). If you are demolished too often, consider a new base layout. You may ultimately need to add or upgrade defenses.
  • Leave some loot in your collectors. Experiment with ways to attract attackers to destroy 30% of your base without losing too much loot. The new shield strategy might require you to trade some collector loot for 30% destruction. This is the new way to get a shield. Get it?
  • Practice collector raids. Experiment with scoring percent base destruction against opponents. Can you loot bases with less than 30% destruction? Learn which base layouts can be looted without triggering a shield (>29%). Don’t make your base like that.
  • Practice looting with Goblins, especially since Goblins now target the Town Hall. This might also affect your war tactics.

Matchmaking at TH10

Just in case you are tempted to go TH10, you might want to wait until after the upcoming overhaul and see how things shake out. Matchmaking can be tough at TH10. The loot is stinks. The only reliable income is league bonuses, and it’s barely able to cover troops, search costs, and resetting traps.

TH11: The 80% and More

Supercell revealed in a question-and-answer session that 80% of all attacks made in Clash of Clans are Town Hall Snipes. This was hard for me to believe.

Although Supercell has been *ahem* less-than-truthful at times about game statistics, this is worth examination.

1. Town Hall Snipes accumulate very fast.

Reality check: could the 80% statistic be real?

I think so. Town Hall snipes are very fast, especially with the Barbarian King or Archer Queen. It takes only a few seconds to destroy an exposed Town Hall. Sniping a TH has no downside:

  • Get a free League Bonus,
  • Some trophies,
  • Some XP, and
  • Inflate your “Humiliator” statistic.

Most players will opportunistically hit exposed Town Halls, even if they are not doing a dedicated sniping session. A single player doing a few hours dedicated sniping sessions can take out dozens of bases, leading to the next issue:

2. The game is too lopsided with TH snipes.

If the 80% statistic is true, then Town Hall snipes is a serious gameplay problem. A huge percentage of bases stay out of rotation because of 12-hour shields. Dedicated snipers can single-handedly remove dozens of bases per play session. Supercell needs to get more bases into rotation.

3. The update attempts to fix the problem.

Supercell changed some gameplay to stop TH sniping. To review some new rules:

  1. Adding Storage to the Town Hall. The TH now contains equal Elixir and Gold as your Elixir and Gold storages. The TH also contains 15% of your DE.
  2. Shields granted by % destruction.
  3. League Bonus grated by % destruction.

In doing so, Supercell did some overkill. As in, seriously ridiculous overkill. Any one of the three major changes would have greatly reduced the TH snipe.

Making the TH store Gold, Elixir, and DE: This rule, by itself, would vastly reduce Town Hall snipes. Farmers would be compelled to move their Town Halls inside to protect loot. Players would have the choice of occasionally making the tradeoff of losing some loot vs. getting a 12-hour shield.

Shield for % destruction:  This rule, by itself, would also have eliminated TH snipes. However, it would have left the TH an utterly worthless building.

League Bonus for % destruction:  This rule, by itself, may have somewhat reduced TH snipes. TH snipers would only receive trophies and virtually no League Bonus loot. For example, a TH snipe in Masters III gives 500 DE bonus. This is very profitable for the sniper Farmer. Remove the bonus, and the Farmer has no incentive to snipe.

It seems totally unnecessary to implement all three changes in the same update package. Just implementing the first change would have significantly solved the problem, and would have changed gameplay enough to be interesting.

4. TH snipes and the CoC economy.

The 80% statistic has huge implications to the CoC economy. Most TH9 and TH10 sniper Farmers are in the Gold and Crystal region. Assume the average League Bonus is 30,000 Gold and Elixir. A TH sniper could easily make 1M Gold and Elixir in a session just from League Bonuses. Now make a simple calculation:  if 80% of all attacks are TH snipes, a huge amount of League Bonuses are being injected into the economy.

Removing the TH snipe will remove this huge amount from the CoC economy. Supercell is slightly adjusting the League Bonuses to compensate, but it’s pennies to the dollars.

December 2015 Update: Game Changes

The December 2015 overhaul has several tactical changes along with Town Hall 11 and Shield/Village Guard.

Larger Map (44 x 44) and Time (3:30)

The map is being increased from [40 x 40] tiles to [44 x 44]. This is to accommodate the additional buildings for TH11. However, everyone will be getting the larger map.

Since many war attacks come down to the last second – especially with builder huts in corners – Supercell is adding 30 seconds onto the attack timer for a total of 3m 30s. This gives the attacking troops more time to traverse the larger playing field.

Spell Donations and New Menu

Level 4 Clan Castles now have one space for a donated spell (this limits the donation to a DE spell).

The donation menu now shows the contents of the recipient’s castle so you can select your donations more carefully.

TH9 gets Freeze Spell

Just what it says. This officially makes TH10 the lamest level. They will get freeze-spelled from below (TH9) and Wizard Heroed from above (TH11). The only advantage a TH10 has is 240 troop Army Camps (offense) and Inferno Towers (defense). TH10 no longer has new troops or spells to make it interesting.

Nexting Cost Reduced for TH10

The nexting cost (currently 1000 gold) will be reduced for TH10.

Barracks Boost 1 Hour for 5 Gems

The barracks will be boosted 1 hour for 5 gems (instead of 2 hours for 10 gems). Now you won’t feel as bad to boost barracks to build a war army, only to waste the remainder of the boost when finished.

Accidental Troop Deployments

Have you accidentally deployed a troop because you slightly missed the “next” button? Supercell is adding a safety buffer a few pixels wide around the “next” button, so if you accidentally miss the button, it won’t accidentally deploy a troop.

23 Hour War Prep Day

The prep day has been reduced to 23 hours. This means the entire war process will take 1d 23h. Why is this?

Some clans want to declare war at an exact time (i.e. 10:00AM), every time. Now the Leader has an hour between the end of the previous war and the start of the next war.

Lost Internet Connection Grace Period

Your village will not be put into the search rotation until 5 minutes after going offline. This is to help people who lose their internet connection often. They have a few minutes to get their internet back so their village isn’t immediately demolished.

Healer Nerf

No more superqueen! Only 6 healers can stack now. This might still allow some minor superqueen action, but combined high-damage Teslas, Cannons, and Archer Towers will be able to nuke a 6-healer superqueen combo.


War Rules

Major changes to War Rules. Please OPT-OUT between wars and manually OPT-IN before the next. This ensures a more consistent participation.

  1. OPT-IN if you want to war.
  2. Attack the highest you are confident of three-starring. Example: if you cannot three-star your equal, go lower until you are confident.
  3. Evaluate your target.
  4. Always attack with maximum number of troops, spells, and clan castle.
  5. Select your army carefully. Focus on tank troops (Giants, Golems, Lava Hounds) and damage troops (Dragon, Wizards, PEKKA, Balloons).
  6. After war starts OPT-OUT again (this won’t remove you from the current war).

Some things to look for:

  • Possible layout of bombs (if wanting to use Hogs)
  • Wall intersections that connect compartments (use Earthquake spells instead of Wall Breakers)
  • Layout of Air Defenses (use LavaLoon)
  • Poor Air Defenses (zap one with Lightning Spell then use all-Dragons)
  • Hybrid attacks that use kill squad to eliminate enemy Archer Queen and War Castle troops before starting main attack.