Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Clash of Clans.  No, it’s not that crappy looking game that Kate Upton has been hawking lately.  It’s the one that had the best Super Bowl commercial this year.  At first glance, it’s got all the makings of a typical mobile game.  It’s free to play, there are long timers that you can pay to speed up, there are leaderboards, etc.

But what makes Clash of Clans popular to the tune millions of dollars per day?  I’ve spent some (read: way too much) time playing it so I’ll try to break it down.

Build, attack, defend.  Why is this so damn addicting?
Build, attack, defend. Why is this so damn addicting?

  • TL;DR: Addictive mobile game with a fantastic learning curve and non-forced real money transactions
  • Platform: Android
  • Score: 9.3
  • Hours Played: I lost count a long time ago.
  • What I Played: The game as a whole, both farming and wars.
  • Recommended?: If you like strategic combat and have good battery life.

Clash of Clans is basically a real-time strategy game.  You start off with a town hall, which acts as your headquarters, and a few builders.  Once you build a few gold mines and elixir collectors, you’ll be able to build things like cannons, archer towers, barracks, and base camps.  Filling the base camps with soldiers from the barracks will allow you to take your show on the road and attack other players in an attempt to steal their resources.  Other players can also attack you, though, so a good defense is just as important as a strong offense.

Resources come in three flavors: gold is used for building and upgrading your defenses, elixir is what makes your army tick, and dark elixir is used for powerful units later on in the game.  Gathering, stealing, and defending your resources is the most important thing in Clash of Clans.  Any collectors you have are really filler to the main way of gathering — attacking other players.

This might be just a me thing, but I don’t usually associate deep strategy with mobile games.  Clash of Clans has an incredible amount of strategy on both offense and defense.  While attacking, it’s important to note what units will do differently from each other.  Barbarians and archers, the dime-a-dozen infantry units, will attack anything in sight.  Giants are tanks that can soak up large amounts of damage and will target defensive structures like cannons over all else.  Goblins are cheap, fast units that do increased damage to resource collectors and storages, while Wizards live up to their name with a typical low health, high damage build.  Later in the game, you’ll get access to spells and powerful units like Dragons and Golems along with hero units, the Barbarian King and Archer Queen.  You have a finite amount of housing space that your army can take up, so mixing and matching an army for your current goal is vital to success.

This part.  This is the really fun part.
This part. This is the really fun part.

Attacks are deemed successful if you get at least one star.  There are three stars to earn per attack: one for destroying 50% of a base, one for destroying the enemy town hall, and one for destroying 100% of a base.  Gaining and losing stars in attacks and defenses will impact your trophy count.  There are different leagues with ranges of 200 trophies each that give progressively higher bonuses for successful attacks.  Winning an attack in the Gold III league is a bonus of 8,000 gold and elixir while a Gold II attack nets you 11,000 of each.  You are matched up with players near your trophy count, so finding the balance of bases you can successfully attack with armies you can defend against is a balancing act, but not a perfect one.  It’s easy to be in the same trophy range as someone two or three town hall levels above or below you, which is a frustrating waste of time when you’re trying to find a base to attack.

On the flip side of attacking, of course, is defending.  When you start off in Clash of Clans, you’ll have access to some basic defensive structures like cannons and archer towers.  Soon, you’ll be able to build mortars, wizard towers, and air defenses.  There is also an array of traps to build that attackers can’t see until they are standing right on them like bombs, air mines, and lightning-powered tesla towers.  If crafting the right army for the job is key to attacking, the spacing and coverage of buildings and traps is key to a successful defense.

Clash of Clans isn’t all about simply creating units and buildings, though.  You have to upgrade to stand a chance.  Troops can be upgraded in the laboratory with elixir to increase their damage, health, and cost to build.  Unfortunately, you only have one laboratory building and it can only upgrade one thing at a time.  Buildings and traps are upgraded in-place with gold to increase their damage and effectiveness but are unusable while they are being upgraded, meaning your base may have a giant, vulnerable hole in it.  Both units and buildings change appearance when they are upgraded.  Knowing what each level of each defensive structure looks like is a huge leg up when attacking.

Having the strongest unit in the game at max level would be the biggest of legs up.
Having the strongest unit in the game at max level would be the biggest of legs up.  Maybe someday.

I mentioned earlier that Supercell, the creator of Clash of Clans, makes millions (with an “s”) of dollars per day.  If the game is free to play, how do they do it?  With microtransactions, of course!  If you feel like opening up your wallet, you can buy gems which will instantly finish any building upgrade, troop upgrade, or troop creation.  Gems can also be used to boost the gathering rate of resource collectors or the troop creation rate of your barracks.  The gem cost of something is a function of how much time it has left until it would complete normally.  Clash of Clans does a great job of luring you in with the first few sets of upgrades taking minutes and hours, which quickly turn into days and even weeks (see above).  You can also complete achievements to get gems, another way to hook you onto the idea of spending $5 here, $10 there.

I don’t think using gems is necessary in any sense.  It’s more about how impatient you feel like being.  Maybe you’ve got 200 gems lying around and you can finish something now for 100 gems and put that builder to use before you go to bed.  Maybe you want to go on a bit of a farming rampage and boost the output speed of all your barracks.  Gems aren’t required to play, but an available luxury depending on how quickly you want to progress.

Flu-uuuuush with ca-aaaash.
Flu-uuuuush with ca-aaaash.

I haven’t even mentioned the most fun part of Clash of Clans yet — clan wars.  Clans are groups of players that go to war against other clans.  Wars can be fought with at least 10 members and last for two days.  The first day is a preparation day intended for players to view opposing bases, discuss strategies, and build their armies.  The second day is battle day where each player can attack up to two times, but can only attack any given target once.  Each enemy gives a war loot bonus which you will get with at least one star.  If your clan wins the war, you’ll get your full loot bonus.  If your clan loses the war, you still get a portion of your loot bonus.

The strategic element of Clash of Clans really ramps up to 11 with clan wars.  Discussing attack strategies and watching them unfold in real time is just plain fun.  Clan members can also donate and receive troops from one another which can be deployed in normal attacks or defend your base if attacked.  Trying to anticipate how enemies will attack a base and filling the clan castle troops accordingly is important to success.

I’m only just starting town hall level 8, so I can only speak up to that, but Clash of Clans is surprisingly well balanced with one glaring exception.  Dragons are incredibly powerful as soon as you unlock them.  Before I had dragons, my war attacks were carefully crafted between giants, wall breakers, wizards, etc.  Ever since, it’s simply been which spells to bring to war and where to place my dragons.  I’m looking forward to getting back to more tactical war attacks.  One last nitpick is the upgrade time of air defenses.  They seem to take a lot longer than other similarly-leveled buildings.

My newly minted clan, Level 1 Archers, is off to a rocky start.  We'll be on Twitch in no time, though.
My newly minted clan, Level 1 Archers, is off to a rocky start. We’ll be on Twitch in no time, though.

Clash of Clans does everything just about perfectly.  It leads you by the hand to start, only giving you a few units and defenses at a time.  It’s paced perfectly, unlocking new things just when you’re ready for something new to learn.  Attacking can be as brute force as a few hundred archers surrounding a base or as tactical as pinpointed troop placement for maximum destruction.  War is where it’s really at, though.  Planning, attacking, watching others attack and defend — it’s just plain fun.  If strategic combat is something you like, you should definitely give Clash of Clans a shot.

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