Clash Mini Interview: Fan Fang and Vlad Perge discuss the upcoming beta and creating an accessible strategy game

Clash Mini Interview: Fan Fang and Vlad Perge discuss the upcoming beta and creating an accessible strategy game

Clash Mini is heading into beta soon in Canada and the Nordic regions, meaning a few lucky folks can get their hands on these adorable miniatures before making them do battle. With this casual strategy game, Supercell Shangai is looking to create the most accessible Clash game to date in a whole new genre.

We recently had a chance to chat with Game Lead/Designer Fan Fang and Community Manager Vlad Perge. We discussed various aspects of the gameplay alongside the studio's desire to create the most accessible game. We also touch on Clash Mini's thriving social media community and whether the team expected such a positive response before anyone had played the game.

How would you sum up the gameplay style of Clash Mini for those unaware? Is auto-chess a term you're trying to avoid?

Fang: I think, for myself, I always call it a casual strategy game because a lot of strategy games give people the feeling of hardcore and stress where you have to think and learn a lot. We want to do something different. We think some strategy games can be very easy to play and stress-free, so that's our idea. It just happened to be automatic fighting because it's a cure. It's a solution to solve complexity issues.

Can you tell us about the star upgrade system and how that works?

Vlad: The star system is basically there to incentivise players to differentiate their playstyle with the exact same Mini that they have already in their deck. You unlock the Mini just by playing the game and doing quests, all that kind of stuff. And then you get the Mini at zero stars, and that's the basic version. As you unlock more copies of it, you're going to get the first star, second star, third star over time.

Those stars basically mark a milestone at which they get upgrades or new abilities. Once you unlock a star, when you bring that Mini into the match, you can choose which upgrade goes next if you want to stack the Minis on top of each other. You don't have to either, because, if you drag the same unit over another, it will automatically upgrade it. But if you want to have more depth in the game, you can choose the order as long as you've unlocked it.

That's been really exciting for the development team to do. We did experiment with automatic upgrades and also manual upgrades. Originally, it was all manual, and people had to make a choice, but then we also wanted to address the accessibility and ease of use. So that's been a cool experiment for us to try out.

Fang: The other reason for designing the star system is that we don't want to have a traditional stats system. Because a lot of games use stats and ask players to pay and get more power. But as a PvP game, if Vlad gets more power, I have to, and then we are equal again. So it's like a trick of getting the player to get more power, but in the end, they are the same.

We wanted to do something different where you don't need to get a higher level to be competitive. So the star system is something players collect outside of the game, but within a single game, they still need to spend resources to activate a star upgrade. So in-game players are the same because we have to use the same Elixir we are given, which is fair.

Similarly, could you explain what the special tiles are and some of the variants?

Vlad: The tiles are tied exclusively to the maps that we have, so the boards, which you unlock just by going through the ladder. And you unlock them very quickly. You don't have to be a super pro player to unlock all the boards. We make them really accessible. The first two maps you unlock are Healing Temple and the Electro Valley.

Healing Temple has a healing tile that you put a unit on top, and when the battle commences, that unit is going to get healing over time for a certain number of seconds. That is extremely strategic because you can position a DPS unit or a tank unit there depending on your strategy. Then on Electro Valley, you have the Energiser, which basically increases the Super Bar of a unit. But with that one, you need to be careful because you need to put a Hero or Mini with a Super Bar.

The last one is the Banquet Hall, the Countess map and that one has the Mirror tile, which doubles any unit into two but with halved HP. So you can either double your tanks or your DPS, or whatever you need to react to your opponent. The good thing is we're also randomising these tiles every round. So you cannot just fortify yourself in one position and just go for it. You need to move around and adapt.

Fang: The reason we designed this is because we want the game to be stress-free and accessible. So, the gameplay itself is super simple, you just drag things to the board, and they fight. But the problem with that is that the game depth is not there, and the game would become really boring because players all do the same [thing]. So we need other things to differentiate players and game one from game two. We implemented this system to keep the accessibility but also have some depth there.

I've noticed there is a Sudden Death feature if the timer runs out. What does this involve?

Fang: So, when the timer runs out, the game goes into a Sudden Death mode, and all Minis start to lose HP at the same rate and whoever has the last surviving Mini wins the game. Basically, we don't want the game to go too long. We don't want the Minis to fight endlessly. It all goes back to accessibility. Because the fights are automatic, if they are the same, people will get bored. So we have to cut the boring game before players get angry about the repetitiveness.

Clash Mini is a new take on the familiar Clash characters. They have a new look and personality. Why did you decide to take this approach?

Fang: It goes back to accessibility again. I keep going back to accessibility because we are a group of Chinese developers, and we know at the bottom of our hearts we know we are more hardcore than our audience. So, we keep reminding ourselves whatever we do, we should be extra focused on accessibility. Otherwise, we are making something too hardcore for our players. So the art style is the same.

If the characters looked too real or too human-like, it does not make sense for them to not listen to me. In most games where we control human-like things, we actually control them. They listen to you, but in our game, they don't. So, we need to explain why they don't listen to you. It's because they're not smart enough to know. They are not human. They kind of have their own personalities, they want to do things on their own, and they can't communicate with us. So we wanted to use that to explain why it's automatic fighting because we want the game to be accessible. That's why they are toy-like.

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The other thing is we want them to be recognisable, but we also want them to be simple. So we trimmed down a lot of the unnecessary detail and only kept the most iconic part of them, so they were easy to recognise. That's why we ended up having this art style. For players, it's cute, but for us, because we want to communicate the gameplay to players and make the game accessible.

Vlad: Yeah, a lot of art styles in other games are very detailed, and it's really hard to differentiate things if there's a lot of visual effects and graphics everywhere. In our game, we're trying to minimise that and only focus on very specific moments.

In the advertising for the game, you often present the Minis being played with by the regular-sized Clash characters. Is that official lore, or is it just to emphasise how tiny these Minis actually are?

Fang: That's a great question because we've been back and forth on this for so long. We're like okay, so now we have these Minis. Do we need to explain to players who they are? At the start, we thought it's a board game that's being played by the characters in the Clash universe, and we've been doing this for the entirety of the development of this game.

It wasn't until very late we realised that a lot of players just like the Minis themselves. These guys are cute enough. Bringing a different art style, bigger guys [into the game isn't needed]. Maybe for Clash players, it's fun, but for other players, they are just fine with the Mini world. It's a new thing because we need to consider players familiar with Supercell but also new players. So, for new players, it would kind of confuse them. So, in the end, yes, in the lore, we all know that it's a board game within the Clash universe, but we don't put the big guys in the game itself.

Which of the Minis or Heroes is your favourite?

Vlad: Okay, so when we started our community, the first custom emoji we had was Bowler. He has these two white teeth that are sticking out, and that's it. It's like a little grin that he has constantly and these big black eyes that are just staring at you, and it's hilarious. So, I love him. I am absolutely a fan of his design.

Fang: To me, it is Miner because when we first introduced this game to Supercell as a new team, they were excited about the China speed like you guys can make a game very fast. But is the game fun? Can you guys make a fun game? And Miner kind of answered that question. He dives under the ground and comes out on the other side. So, how do you place Miner? How do you use Miner? It really gave people a feeling of mastery and excitement. When we showed Miner to the company they were like 'Oh, suddenly this game has become fun. You guys can make fun games not just [make them] fast.' So, I think Miner changed the perception of this game and team, which is why I like Miner the most.

Similarly, what is your favourite combination of characters?

Fang: For me, I like Miner and Archer because Archer's special thing is that she aims the furthest instead of the closest. All the other Minis targets the closest enemy. But if you combine Archer and Miner, the Miner goes to the back, Archer goes for the furthest, so together they can get rid of the enemy's squishy backline before your frontline gets killed. With this, you can surprise a lot of new players and get a lot of wins, so I like this company. It's simple, straightforward, and very effective.

Vlad: Yeah, I'm a full-on DPS kind of player, so I like Dart Goblin and Healing Ranger when she increases the speed. So, if you upgrade the Healing Ranger, she has the ability to increase the speed of the units, and the Dart Goblin is literally a machine gun at that point. If you keep him alive for ten seconds, he will take down a bunch of Minis in a row.

Fang: Because he gains attack speed whenever he attacks. He starts very slow, but in the end, he's like a machine gun.

Vlad: Yeah, he ramps up, and it can look really crazy. I have created a bunch of videos for the community where I am cherry-picking the most overpowered looking scenes, so everyone is judging them by that video and thinking everything is overpowered. So, if everything is overpowered, then nothing is, so, therefore, we've got the balance right.

Clash Mini has been described as more accessible than the other Clash games. Was that a deliberate choice, and why was it the path you decided to take?

Fang: Everyone who joins Supercell here in China wants to learn the Supercell secret sauce. We all know that we are not good enough to design something simple and beautiful. We know how to make really complicated, crazy big, deep games. So, we knew that we needed to make something accessible.

It's hard to make something simple and fun. It's always easier to make something complicated so that you have more tools to use. So for us, it's like, the first game we're making at Supercell Shanghai, we may fail. Nobody has any expectation of us, so we better learn the hardest thing so that we can use this chance of people having low expectations of us to grow as much as we can. So, how can accessible can we go?

Vlad: Coming back to the Supercell culture, our mission is to create games that are played by as many people as possible for many years to come. Our goal is always long-term accessibility, with every game. So, our challenge was to create the most accessible game. It's always the goal, a mission for us. If you don't make an accessible game, not many people in the world are going to give it a shot.

Clash Mini is a free-to-play game. Can you tell us a bit about how the game will be monetised?

Fang: We talked about monetisation very late because our goal is to build a successful game. So the game didn't have any progression for the longest time and realised it probably needed some for players who don't care about competitiveness and just want to feel like they're getting stronger every day. That's also important to keep them playing. We want players to feel they're getting stranger rather than making money from them.

So we have a very simple progression system. You can collect Minis, and you can collect Heroes. The Minis will get more star levels, and a Hero will get stats, but they are really low. You can play the game for free for one month, and you will have on maxed out Hero and be almost at the peak of the power of the game. Everything else is just variety. But in terms of power, playing the game for one or two months, you get the peak.

In the future, we are going to create more cosmetic content. So, players who want to support us, like the game or want to make their characters look cooler, they can spend some money. But if they don't, they don't have to pay anything.

The Clash Mini Twitter account is incredibly active, and the game already has a fan base dedicated to creating fan art and skin concepts. Did you expect this level of engagement, and how does it feel to know people already like Clash Mini enough that it inspires their creativity?

Vlad: No, I did not expect it. I worked previously on a bunch of beta games. Before people can get their hands on something that's tangible, it's really hard to engage and get their attention. But, I think the game's packaging, the way we announced it, the way we talk to players and were approachable is extremely valuable, and people react to that.

A lot of betas keep everything tight, everything quiet until they have major announcements. But by the time they announced something, the excitement has gone, and you have to reignite everything again. But with Mini and its unique art style, the team being excited, me being behind the scenes in the dev team trying to produce content to show the progress, you can really see visually how the game improved and evolved.

So it is very telling for the players to be like 'Oh, this is shaping up. This is really exciting. We're getting somewhere.' I personally didn't expect to have so much fan art, but then once I saw it let's make Mini Mondays a thing, so we've kind of incentivised that. And that's amazing because people organically come and love it, and I am here for it. I'll wake up at like 2 or 3 am and just check the Clash Mini Twitter account for fun, which is not something people do generally. I just simply enjoy going on Discord and Twitter and having fun with people. I'm hoping that's going to go 10x when we enter beta.

Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen Gregson-Wood
Stephen brings both a love of games and a very formal-sounding journalism qualification to the Pocket Gamer team.