I was reflecting the other day on the fact that leadership is hard. This wasn't, thankfully, because anybody had put me in charge of anything. I had simply glanced at my phone screen during an idle moment to see two crowns glancing back at me from different app icons, and I realised that neither app made me feel particularly kingly. The apps are Reigns, a sort of monarchy simulator that is also, almost inevitably, a sort of monarchy satire, and Clash Royale, a top-down CCG, tower defence thing that is so astonishingly popular on mobile that a bunch of lesser apps have sprung up around it like eager courtiers. Both of these games, I think, are saying that leadership is hard.
Reigns is saying it the most consistently. This is Game of Thrones reworked as Tinder, or so I'm often told. You're a newly minted ruler tasked with leading your nation to greatness while balancing four key concerns: the church, the general population, the military, and your finances. These show up as little icons at the top of the screen, while below them you work your way through a series of cards that represent the requests or decisions you're faced with. Swipe left for no, right for yes. It's entertaining stuff. But here's the thing, the demands upon you are unceasing, and those four key concerns are all utterly, hopelessly entangled. Say yes to a request from the military, and your standing with the church may take a hit. Say yes to a request from the church, and you may end up out of money. It's quite interesting to play Reigns during an American election, because its central message comes down to the fact that it's almost impossible to pursue any goals or ideals once you're in power. Once you're in power, leadership is about firefighting, compromise, and the struggle to survive. Being in power is about staying in power. Strategy games know this, I suspect, which is why they're willing to give you the terrible, soul-destroying top jobs. Action games tend to place you a bit lower down in the food chain, where things are simpler and the routes to heroism at least seem clearer.
How about Clash Royale, then? Clash Royale is an action game and a strategy game, an online single-screen affair in which you look after three towers at the bottom of the map and your enemy looks after three towers at the top. The gist of this, of course, is that you're each trying to reduce the other side's holdings to rubble, and you do this by playing cards that double as your warriors and other attacks. Let's say my enemy sends goblins wandering over to my tower. I can counter his goblins with fireballs or arrows, say, and retort with a bunch of archers.
Except I already know that's the wrong thing to do. You have to learn quickly in Clash Royale, because even against the low-level players you're matched with at the start, the user-base has been doing its homework. This isn't just about getting the right cards in your deck and levelling them up until they're insanely powerful. It's about knowing when to use a big gun and when to sit back and let your towers deal enough damage to see off the foe.
So far - and this is all Chris Bratt's tutelage - it's about countering rather than leading an attack. You wait for them to spend their mana - it's called elixir here and it regenerates in real-time - on an early salvo of cards, and then you see them off and chuck in your own cards while they're powerless to respond. Get a giant up front and some archers behind him and then march all your way to victory. It is nail-biting stuff, and the game of chicken that seems to start every match at the moment only adds to that. The clock's ticking down, but nobody's moving. Are your starting cards good enough? Have you already lost?
So, compromise, panic, self-torture and waiting to be attacked so you can maybe get in a counter. Leadership really is hard.