Clash of Clans is a mobile gaming app for iOS and Android devices that doesn’t cost a penny to play. You can download it to your phone and tablet and play for nothing.
Zero. Zip. Nada.
Um, well, unless you count the cost of the time spent messing around with the thing. Or the cost of purchasing gems that buy back some of that valuable time before you actually spend it.
Confused? Let me explain.
I’ll start by saying that this handheld game is a well-designed strategy title. It’s fun and colorful. But if you boil the gaming action down to its simplest terms, you’re essentially building and defending your own goodies while trying to break down and steal everybody else’s stuff.
You start out with a tiny village-like place with a few tiny buildings, a tiny cannon and a tiny army. And then you work to make them all bigger. Much bigger. For this is a world of marauding hordes of goblins and vast attacking multiplayer clans. So tiny clearly doesn’t cut it here. You’ve got to build, my aspiring chieftain. And quickly. To do that, you’ll need two substances: virtual gold and elixir.
Gold purchases the construction of important let’s-get-bigger buildings. And it also helps you bulk up your growing kingdom with defensive necessities such as walls, cannons, archer towers and the like. Elixir, then, is the stuff that trains up and maintains your troops. Archers, barbarians and giants flesh out the first tier of fighters, and then you can upgrade your battler ranks to skeletal wall-breakers, goblins, bomb-dropping balloons, dragons, flying imps, Valkyries, witches, golems and even immortal heroes. A motley assortment to be sure, but they do know how to pillage and plunder.
Where does all that gold and elixir come from? Well, if you build the proper machines and gold mines, you can get both right out of the ground. That’s really convenient. And by convenient I mean horribly inconvenient. Because your own dig-and-pump facilities work at a painfully slow pace. So the “best” way of getting those valuable commodities is to do a little marauding and attacking of your own, stealing somebody else’s hard-earned stashes.
There’s no blood and mess in those battles, so it’s more about the morality of it all than the actual execution, you might say. Raiders yell and scream and bash away at walls and buildings, while mortars, cannons and other blasting defenses try to put them down. When a tiny character’s life bar is extinguished, his spirit rises in ghost form and his body becomes a little tombstone.
There’s another chink in Clash‘s casual-gaming-for-fun armor. And it has to do with that “painfully slow pace” I mentioned.
Just about the time this game hooks you with its quirky cartoon troops and try-to-outfox-the-defenses strategy challenges, you realize that all of your dreams of “bigger and betterness” require some major time investment. Once they’re beefed up a bit, your troops are no longer developed in mere seconds; they now take several minutes (read: many, many minutes) to train. And the bigger barracks and buildings start demanding literal hours of construction time. Why, you’d have to check in every half hour all day long to be able to really keep track of your community’s real-time development.
And some people are doing exactly that.
Others will take advantage of something called a gem to accelerate things. You can use gems to fill up your gold coffers and elixir vats, too, if you want. And with the right number of gems you could build an incredibly well-defended kingdom and field forces of amazing power. You start out with a small pile of those precious pretties and get several more every time you reach a certain achievement level. But you don’t get enough. Not nearly enough. And not nearly fast enough.
So if you really want to get moving you’ll need to buy gems with real-world dollars—investing, say, $4.99 for 500 or up to (gulp!) $99.00 for 140,000.
Suddenly your freebie casual game isn’t either one of those things. If you’re very skilled and have months and months of uninterrupted time to spend, well, you won’t need to worry about such things as mere money. But it’s been reported that Clash of Clans generally rakes in somewhere between $1.5 million to $5 million per day from the impatient phone gamers among us. That’s a haul that puts this title at the very top of the mobile game charts and nets gamemaker Supercell profits of well over a billion dollars a year.
Money. Moments. Morality. Turns out Clash of Clans isn’t just a fun little trifle. It can be either an addictive time-sucker or voracious wallet-gobbler. You choose. But you’ve been warned.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.