In today’s mobile game market, it’s hard to imagine a breakout new game that might make a dent in the top grossing categories. A quick look at the analytics provided by AppAnnie will tell you that games like Clash of Clans, Game of War, and Candy Crush have been dominating the mobile charts for the past few years and continue to do so. Their 2015 retrospective shows that Supercell, the creators of Clash of Clans, Boom Beach, and Hay Day, remains the highest earning mobile game company. While games like Crossy Road or Trivia Crack did manage to generate high numbers of downloads, neither could compete with the sheer volume of revenue reported by the Finnish company. So, to the surprise of no one, their brand new game Clash Royale has already managed to hit the number one spot on the top grossing chart in the U.S. after just three days.

Clash Royale resembles a cross between two very popular genres, card combat and MOBA. If you have played Clash of Clans, the style is instantly recognizable. The characters, sound, and art style are mostly retreads and have been repurposed to fit the new style of gameplay. Each session is played synchronously with another real-life player, both sides having two towers plus their king’s tower. The goal is to break all towers to collect crowns by summoning units. The first person to get three crowns wins the game, and breaking the king’s tower instantly grants you three crowns. If you have played any kind of MOBA at all you will feel right at home.

The units are played similarly to a card combat game. All units are actually cards that you deploy onto the battlefield and will transform into either units, buildings, or spells. Each player has a rechargeable bar of ten elixir points which allow players to deploy their cards based on the cost on the top right of each card. Deploying the units is as easy as dropping and dragging; after that, they will fight on their own. The card that you will draw depends on how you build your battle deck. Cards can be swapped or upgraded prior to battle, and there is even a nifty indicator to help you balance the average cost of your cards. If you played Hearthstone, again, this will be a piece of cake. Battles only take a maximum of three minutes, perfect for testing out new decks and strategies immediately.

Besides the deckbuilder, there is also a replay feature called “TV Royale” where you can watch the top players battling it out. The integration is relatively seamless, similar to how you can watch replays of Dota 2 in the client. This is a very cool feature as it not only provides you with a preview on how powerful your units can get, but also with a useful tool to learn about common strategies and to observe the performance of different units against each other. Between playing the game and watching these replays, you can develop your own strategy and figure out how to build a better deck.

(See Also: Appreciating Dota 2’s almighty weapon: The Divine Rapier.)

I have to say that Clash Royale is really, really fun. I want to like it, I really do, but more often than not, it feels like the game itself is not allowing me to play, unless I fork over some serious cash. Which brings me to the progression system. You upgrade your cards by collecting the same type of cards and paying gold, which will net you some experience points. However, the only way to get these cards in through treasure chests gained by winning a match. You get four slots for your treasure chest and to open them, you have to wait. For a long time. The smallest chest takes three hours to open with the bigger ones taking up to 12 hours or more. If you want to open them instantly, you have to spend gems, which is the game’s premium currency. Sure, you can play your matches any time, but other than improving your rankings on the leaderboard, you do not gain anything. There are daily chests which you can open for free stuff, and also the occasional crown chest which rewards you after collecting ten crowns from battles, but again, waiting for these chests will take hours of your time. I have no issues with the free to play model with in-app purchases, but this one feels unnecessarily steep.

Supercell has developed their monetization of free to play games down to a science, and it has been studied again and again by other developers. Clash Royale will likely follow their standard strategy. It has all the elements of a mobile hit: a popular mesh of genres, competition support, collectable items, fantastic production value, and streaming potential. But the fast-paced battles combined with the glacial speed of opening the chests feels extremely jarring and uneven, demanding that you pay up to play as soon as the tutorial is over. If you are looking to squeeze some value without paying anything, you have to enjoy the battles for what they are without any noticeable progression. But I warn you, the temptation is strong. If you can afford to spend some cash, just keep an eye on your wallet. There is even a guide explaining the expected value of the gems and chest to make sure that you get the most out of your game, so I recommend reading that before you begin to budget. While I personally would like to see a more gradual progression of monetization, it is hard to demand that from a company that clocked a daily revenue of $5.1 million in 2014, and likely a considerable increase over that today.

You can download Clash Royale from Google Play and the App Store for free and see what all the hype is about.

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