Over the past couple of months, I've been putting some serious time into Supercell's iOS free-to-play tactical PVP and city builder Clash of Clans.
Supercell is an established team full of industry veterans, and it's been aggressive about bringing 3D console-quality graphics to free-to-play tablet gaming.
It's this vision, combined with strong player versus player gameplay - something that many people (including me) think is the future of the mobile industry - that originally attracted me to the game during its Canadian beta.
It's also kept me playing since the game went live globally in early August.
What's new pussycat?
In my two previous hands-on articles, I dealt with the game's basics and then started discussing the clan element.
Now I'm bringing everything together with this report about the PVP aspects and the game's longevity - after all I've put over 20 hours and spend around $50 so far.
Okay, so let's deal with those in-app purchases first.
I originally spent $10 to buy some gems, which are used to speed up base construction, or which can be converted to gold or elixir.
That's real money
Gold and elixir are the game's two soft currencies.
Gold is used for levelling up most buildings, while elixir is used to upgrade buildings that create units and the units that make up your army.
Life and taxes
As I've previously stated, I think Clash of Clans is fairly light in terms of forcing you to spend cash. There are some chokepoints however.
The key one revolves around the Builder's Hut.
1000 gems is £6.99/$9.99
Builders are required to build or upgrade any structure.
You always have enough builders to keep things ticking over, but if you want to maximise the speed of growth of your city after the game's initial phase, there's a strong incentive to buy additional huts. These can only by bought using gems, and that means real world cash.
The other reason you might spend real money is that after about 20 hours of play, upgrades can take 2 or 3 days to complete and cost hundreds of thousand of gold or elixir.
For example, at the moment, if I want to upgrade my level 6 cannon, it will cost me 576,000 gold.
Given that a level 10 gold mine produces 2,500 gold per hour (I currently have six, giving me 15,000 gold per hour), this will take 38 hours - and that's assuming I'm actively collecting my gold through that period and no one attacks me and steals my gold.
On that level, maybe I'm happy to spend $10 for 1,000 gems, which can be converted to around 1.5 million gold.
Taking the offensive
Nevertheless, as a level 40 player who plays fairly defensively, I'm not typical of most Clash of Clans players, so let's not get too worried about money.
Instead, we'll consider the game's player versus player aspects.
Clash of Clans has a single player mode, consisting of 30 levels, but this more about providing a practice environment. My gut feeling is that most players ignore it. Certainly having started on PVP, I've pretty much given up on the single player mode.
The reason is your Trophies score.
While you also have a level (based on XP), Trophies are what really matters if you're an attack dog because it's based on how many enemy cities you've destroyed.
Victory and 31 Trophies
For each victory, you get awarded a higher score, depending on the level of the other player and how completely you've destroyed their city. Conversely, if your city is trashed, your Trophies score is reduced, but if your defences repeal the attacker, your score is increased.
Basically, your Trophies score is always in flux. If you want to keep it going up, you need to be constantly attacking.
Attacking players is very simple - just hit the Attack! button and the automatical matchmaking system will provide a target. You don't have to take that target. You can reject it and spend another 250 gold to get another option.
But, of course, before attacking you must have built up an army.
You unlock and upgrade different units as you level up your laboratory. Each unit has its own attributes. For example, the barbarian is the basic grunt - cheap and weak - while the archer is similar in terms of cost and robustness, but provides a ranged attack.
Specialist units such as goblins are great for stealing resources but useless for combat, while wall breakers (my favourite) do what you'd expect - blow up walls to allow other troops to stream in.
Getting deeper in the game, you can also unlock balloon troops, who float around and drop bombs, fire-throwing wizards, and dragons. Oh, yeah. Dragons.
My balloons will strike from above
For most players, however, the common-or-garden giants provide the best bang for buck. These automatically target enemy defences, making them ideal shock troops to overwhelm, before you unleash the more vulnerable specialists.
As I've previously explained, Clash of Clans isn't a precise strategy game. It's more about massed assaults because you don't have any control over the path finding of the units, over-and-above what their AI-led primary target is - which may be enemy defences, walls or resources.
At best, you sort of direct the first wave assaults in terms of where you place your wall breakers, but after that it's pretty much a free-for-all.
The best form of attack?
Of course, the opposite of attack is defence, and this is perhaps a more interesting discussion - at least for players like me who have spent time and money trying to build a secure city.
In many ways, this doesn't really matter as if you spend time attacking others, your Trophies score will likely always be on the up. But I have a certain personal satisfaction in building a good city with strong walls, interlocking firing arcs in terms of my cannons, mortars and archer towers.
This is my base; not too shabby
So, even though as a player, I don't take any active role in defending my base - attacks can only occur on cities in which the player isn't online - I enjoy seeing that an enemy's attack was repulsed when I next log into the game.
However, building a strong city is expensive. You have to think carefully about placing your defences, ensuring they are protected by walls (of which you only have a limited amount). Walls also quickly become expensive to upgrade.
This isn't my base. It will have cost $100s to build
Ultimately then, you have to be pragmatic because it's almost impossible to build a perfect base (or at least, very, very expensive), so your city will be trashed multiple times.
Emotionally this may hurt but the game regenerates your buildings in a matter of seconds so all you will have lost is some gold and elixir and these are fairly quickly harvested again.
As for my continued time with Clash of Clans, I'm not sure how much further I'm going to go.
Look out for my definitive review, however, which will go into more detail in terms of balancing the good and the bad and thoughts about the game's monetisation strategy.
In the meantime, you can get a good idea of the action in Supercell's trailer for the game.