One of my goals this year is to play more games and extract some tips on good game design along the way. This is my sixth review in this series called “50 games”.

A game I’ve been playing a lot since its launch two years ago is Clash Royale, a very successful mobile game made by Supercell.

Normally I stay far away from games where in-app-purchases give you an advantage, so why do I keep playing Clash Royale?

I think it’s simple: they have finely tuned the balance between the advantage making purchases can give you vs skill. The game is essentially a reverse-tower defence style 2-player game with many, many units - and each unit can be permanently upgraded by cards unlocked by chests, which you gain regularly but also through in-app-purchases.

Now, even with a maxed set of units, you need some tactical skill to win a game. There are natural counters and combination of units that can be utilised to get a tactical advantage, so building a deck is very much part of the gameplay.

Of course, sometimes you are matched with someone who just has better cards and enough skill to essentially make the task impossible, but crucially this is rare enough for the game to still be fun (and sometimes you are matched with players a level below who probably think you’ve spent all your savings on the game).

I think the short games (around 3 minutes) is also a strong factor in making the game fun - it’s something to do in those moments in between things, and there’s usually rewards for completing daily or weekly missions which gives a sense of accomplishment.

So what lessons can I take from this game from a gamedev and game design point of view?

  • Managing multiple units and balance is a constant work as players find new combos and counters
  • Short, competitive gameplay lends itself well to mobile games (although I kind of miss a single player element for when internet is unavailable)
  • It’s possible to keep a fair balance between pay-to-win and free-to-play - I have not paid a penny for this game, and I don’t feel at a disadvantage.