Unlike many other people on the internet, the fact that game companies want my money doesn't make me angry. I know there are a lot of Free2Play games out there which I can play reasonably well either for free, or for a limited amount of money which roughly corresponds to what I would have bought the game for. I know other games require tons of money, and unless I want to experiment with that concept, I just stay away from them. But what still makes me angry is when these games have bad game design. Thus I'm writing about Clash Royale, the latest SuperCell game with a huge advertising budget.
First things first: Battles in Clash Royale are fun. It's PvP without the toxicity, that is chat only has predefined phrases and emoticons. Basically Clash Royale is a 2-player version of DOTA / MOBA games, with two lanes. Every player slowly accumulates elixir, and can spend that elixir to play cards with units, which then automatically trundle down those lanes and attack the enemy and his towers. The player who destroys more towers during the 3-minute battles wins. There are enough different units with enough different properties so that choosing which unit to play when and where really makes a difference. And then the design breaks down between games.
Many people hate the typical energy system of a Free2Play game with a passion: You know, the system where after playing several games you need to either wait for hours for your energy to recover, or to pay to play on. Clash Royale manages to make that system worse: Every win gains you a chest, and chests take at least 3 hours to open, better chests even 8 or 24 hours. And you can only have 4 chests in your inventory. So while you *can* play on after 4 wins, you can't get any chest rewards for winning any more. You still can win and earn trophies. And if you do that, the full horror of bad game design becomes apparent: Clash Royale punishes you mightily for winning games!
Every win earns you trophies. I don't know how the system works at higher levels, but at the start a win gives you like 30 trophies, while a loss only costs you 10, so you don't need to be winning very often to accumulate trophies. And for about every 400 trophies you earn, you get "promoted" to the next higher arena. Each higher arena adds 6 news cards to the card pool. Chests from higher level arenas don't contain more cards, but a wider variety of cards. But you can only take 8 cards into battle. And cards level up by accumulation: If you found one knight card he is level 1, find another and he becomes level 2, find 4 more and he becomes level 3, find 10 more and he becomes level 4, etc. So getting more different cards means you will have lots of low level troops. A wider card pool is not an advantage, but rather an obstacle to leveling your troops up.
I just started a battle in Clash Royale, but I'm not even watching the screen, I'm writing this paragraph instead. My goal is to lose trophies repeatedly and get back to arena 1. Then when I have space for more chests I can a) easily win because the other players in arena 1 have lower level troops than I have, and b) get chests with a random selection from a smaller pool of cards, thus more likely to improve my troops. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out that throwing games like this is an optimal strategy for Clash Royale. Arena 1 is easier to win and gives better rewards than higher arenas. I've already met other high level players in arena 1 not playing a single troop, and I guess that will become more and more common. Why go for trophies, if the game punishes you for having them? Now that is bad game design!
If that doesn't convince you yet that Clash Royale sucks, I might mention that of course you can open chests for money, and you can even buy chests for money without having to win games. $15 gets you a "Super Magical Chest" with 180 cards, of which 6 are guaranteed to be epic, and 36 guaranteed to be rare. That's a lot compared to the typical silver chest you win in a battle, which takes 3 hours to open and just has 3 cards with no guaranteed rarity. Buy a "Mountain of Gems" for $99.99 (and no, I didn't), and you'll get 1,500 cards, so you'll easily smash those free players who would need 1,500 hours to get that many cards and then still end up with less good ones. And there is a "TV Royale" showing the matches of the top ranked players already showing them playing with level 12 cards, which cumulatively required over 8,000 cards to level up. They must already have spent thousands of dollars to get there. Purest Pay2Win! I am sure that this is another game that will earn SuperCell millions.