Within the span of minutes, towers are built and destroyed, dragons roast an army of goblins, a giant skeleton carrying a bomb deposits his suicide-payload at the enemy base, and knights, princes, and hog riders clash in the center of a two-lane battlefield. This is Clash Royale, an incredibly fast-paced strategy game from the makers of the wildly popular mobile title Clash of Clans, and it’s another winner – as far as gameplay goes. The megamix of a trading card game, real-time strategy, and even lane-pushing multiplayer online battle arena elements make the core game addictive and exciting.
Players form decks of various units, buildings, and spells, then face off in 1v1 matches against other players in real time, earning trophies to move up in ranks, levelling up units, and finding new cards as they move through arenas. More powerful cards cost more elixir to play. A player’s elixir gauge caps out at 10, so this forces the action, as you don’t want your resources to go to the waste.
Basic strategies are obvious, like putting tank units up front on a push and you damage units behind them as you move down the two-lane game toward the opponent’s base, watching for when your opponent has played expensive units and then using that window to attack a vulnerable location, or simply using anti-air units on that incoming dragon. As you play, you get the hang of far more interesting combinations, strategies, and counterstrategies, like placing units behind the Giant Skeleton so they don’t get destroyed by his dropped bomb, or throwing some chaff in front of the charging prince in order to take the edge off his devastating first attack.
An additional layer of strategy calls out a ton of nuance in timing, positioning, attacking and counter-attacking, and it makes for an amazingly deep game even within the mere-minute format. It’s impressive, and speaks to the future of the waning real-time strategy genre by stripping away the resource gathering and letting the players duke it out quickly and concisely with their tailored armies.
Experimenting with card swaps on your main deck or exploring new ones completely is great fun, and the clan system promotes interaction with clanmates, allowing players to gain gold and experience by hooking up friends with cards. Players can also easily share replays with their clanmates and watch highlighted matches from the title’s top players, which I highly recommend. While I didn’t have access to some of the insane cards the top players on the ladder had, they absolutely showed me the value in some cards I was underrating, like the powerful single-target damage musketeer or the beefy-but-understated knight.
While there are no stamina walls or energy timers, the progression system prods players into either coughing up cash or waiting for hours while their hard-earned chests unlock. This makes it a wonderful choice for players who only want to play a few minutes to a half hour each day, but if you’re looking to become a top-ranked trophy king or make meaningful progression from hours of gameplay in a single session, you must deal with gated progression through chest unlocking, gold, and experience acquisition.
If you can handle the game in small doses and just want to play extra games because they’re fun, test new strategies, or perfect your old ones, that’s fine – but the wait timers are the barbarians in the room that are impossible to ignore. While it’s possible to rank up and compete as a free-to-play player especially through the early ranks or with a few months of play under your belt, the top ranks will likely continue to be dominated by big-purchase players. The progression system puts a massive damper on an otherwise incredible title, an impulse-driven Skinner box that’s so prevalent in the mobile market.
Clash Royale is a fun, fast, and surprisingly strategy-oriented mobile title that successfully combines multiple genres in an extremely satisfying way, but the progression systems that bear over it take the wind out of its genre-mixing sails. If you can handle popping in and out just a few times a day to crack your chests, collect some crowns, and summon some archers, you’re in for a great time.