When it comes to auto chess games and autobattlers things can get very confusing. Dota Auto Chess started the trend with a Dota 2 custom game which then split into Dota Underlords and Auto Chess. Then there’s also Riot’s Teamfight Tactics, which obviously borrows the main ideas from the original auto chess mod but adds more than a few of its own, and of course features League of Legends lore instead of Dota lore. Then there’s the totally not just renamed Dota lore found in Auto Chess, and Hearthstone Battlegrounds throwing its cards onto the table. No doubt this is just the start, like with MOBAs a few years back you can probably expect every publisher to try and get in on the auto chess, or autobattler, genre in the coming months and years.
But for now there are four main auto chess games for you to get your hands on, all of which already have massive player bases and are all free to play, however, they all do things slightly differently.
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One of the biggest differences between Dota Underlords and other auto chess games is the Dota Underlords items system. Rounds one, two, three, ten, and every fifth round after that are creep rounds that grant you a choice of three items – their quality dependent on whether you beat the preceding creep round or not.
The ‘Big Update’ introduced a novel innovation for autobattlers, the presence of an Underlord on the battlefield fighting alongside our units. Currently, you can choose from Anessix, who buffs healing, and Hobgen, who does fire based damage. These Underlords have talents you can choose from every five rounds, but they’re not all available to you until you unlock them through play.
The update also introduced Duos, which allows you to share heroes and gold with a companion as you face off against seven other teams of two, but your health is also shared, so it’s in your best interests to ensure you’re both fighting fit and coordinating your Dota Underlords alliances to prevent you from competing for the same units.
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Dota Underlords is also highly polished, with a mobile version which seamlessly allows you to switch between PC and mobile during the same match. Valve is constantly making adjustments, and with different heroes available every day due to the new ‘jail’ system, Dota Underlords keeps you on your toes and never settles into a stale meta for long.
Riot’s take on auto chess is Teamfight Tactics, and is certainly the autobattler with the most significant differences to its competition. The basic loop of playing is the same, but where Auto Chess and Underlords both stick to the original Dota Auto Chess formula, TFT changes some things up, and of course it’s based on League of Legends and so features very different champions.
Matches are typically shorter than other auto chess games, and feature one of the coolest comeback mechanics in all of auto chess. The drafting carousel rounds see a load of champions circle round the board, each one holding an item. Players who are at the bottom of the standings will be released onto the board first, and have the first chance to grab the champion of their choice, then other players are released going up the standings to make their pick. It means those in last place gets to choose the best option for them without having to worry about it being taken away.
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If you can stick around long enough to reach the later carousel rounds then you can grab some game-changing items that could win you the game. TFT also features item recipes, with each champion able to hold up to three TFT items, which means you can properly build a champion to be a ‘carry’ like in a typical MOBA, which is a big difference to the other games.
TFT still feels a little rough around the edges, but is generally more forgiving to newer players than Underlords. You won’t have to go reading thousands of words about every ability interaction to truly understand the game, but there’s still plenty to master, especially when it comes to TFT item recipes. It almost feels lazy to say this, but it does very much feel like the difference between LoL and Dota 2 when it comes to TFT vs Underlords, Riot’s option is more accessible and lighter for newcomers, but Underlords is generally a little more complex.
For the auto chess purists out there Auto Chess will probably be the free PC game for you, now available on the Epic Games Store. This is the game that comes from the original team of Dota Auto Chess developers, and while it has ditched the Dota lore pretty much all of the units you are going to be placing down on the board can be traced back to their Dota counterparts. As a result, Auto Chess feels very similar to Dota Underlords.
When it comes to learning the game, the tidiness of its UI, and the general level of polish – if you didn’t play the original mod then this isn’t a great way to learn the genre. As in TFT, units can hold multiple items and you can upgrade them by combining certain items, but the item pool is random, and one mistake in placing an item can be catastrophic.
However, when it comes to actually battling on the field and working with the alliance bonuses Auto Chess can get pretty deep. With more units and alliances, known as races and classes here, you can get some pretty complex plays going on, even more so in comparison with the many possible Dota Underlords strategies, and figuring all that out is great fun.
The latest contender to the autobattler throne, Hearthstone Battlegrounds, draws on the rich lore (and healthy player base) of Hearthstone – one of the best card games on PC – and the Warcraft universe.
The bare bones of Battlegrounds are similar to the other autobattlers; you choose from a random selection of minions to recruit, and pit them against seven other players – your tavern rivals. The mechanics are a little different; each minion always costs three gold, but will only sell for one, meaning you can’t afford to chop and change as much as with other autobattlers. You also don’t earn interest in Hearthstone Battlegrounds, instead having to manage your economy in a similar way to normal Hearthstone. The cards attack from left to right, attacking random targets unless they encounter one with taunt, making optimising your card order very important, but unlike other auto chess games you can’t peek at the boards of other players between rounds.
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The game is still a little wobbly when it comes to balance, though that’s to be expected from any new release, and we expect frequent tweaks as the game settles in. If you want to know what’s in right now, check out our guide to the best Hearthstone Battlegrounds minions. For the gameplay basics, see our guide on how to play Hearthstone Battlegrounds, and when it’s time to pick your hero, use our Hearthstone Battlegrounds tier list to help you make that crucial decision.
So now you have your four choices – you may already feel inclined towards the autobattler that incorporates your favorite MOBA champions, or swear to stick with the original Auto Chess developers out of loyalty, but we’d encourage giving them all a try, especially as they’re free to play.