So you’ve heard a lot about this “auto chess” stuff and don’t know how or where to start. Auto Chess, which originated as a mod for Dota 2 called Dota Auto Chess back in January of this year, blew up like crazy, spreading like wildfire and taking over the front page of Twitch by storm. The Dota Auto Chess mod stood toe-to-toe with Steam’s top games at the time of its release, boasting an impressive 100,000 concurrent players, making it Steam’s fourth highest-played game at the time. Big companies were quick to catch on, and now both Valve and Riot Games have released their own official versions of the mod. An official standalone Auto Chess game is due out later this year on the Epic Games Store, too. All of this happened in just under half a year!
The “autobattler” genre is unlike anything else out there, taking the best parts of real-time strategy games, MOBAs, and card games to create a highly addictive new experience. Because it’s a new thing, people understandably have a lot of questions about it, and this guide aims to answer any questions newcomers may have and help ease them into this new genre. With introductions out of the way, let’s get started.
What is Auto Chess?
Auto Chess is a bit of a misnomer. The genre is really a whole lot of “auto” and not a lot of “chess.”
The game pits eight players against one another in a series of rounds in which each player faces off against a singular opponent. It’s essentially four 1v1 matches happening simultaneously each round. Each of these one-on-one encounters is entirely self-contained and doesn’t affect the other players’ matchups in any way. Combat is entirely automatic. Players place units onto the board in front of them, and then those units duke it out against the opponent’s team. The owner of the losing team takes damage, and once their health reaches zero after multiple losses, they’re out. The last person standing is crowned the winner.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, there’s actually a lot of complex stuff going on under the hood in your typical game of Auto Chess. You can expand your army by purchasing new units, but the units offered to you each round are completely random. The shop shuffles available units each round, and you’ll have to bend your strategy around what the shop gives you. Certain units synergize with one another. Having two units on the board with a certain trait may give them increased attack speed, for example. Units can also be leveled up by combining three of the same unit into one stronger unit. Three level one units will create a level two unit, and three level two units will create a level three unit. Choosing which units to buy and managing your money is the core of every Auto Chess game, and you’ll have to act quickly, because each round is on a timer.
How you spend your money will be the greatest indicator of your success in Auto Chess, and smart spending can easily keep you ahead of the curve. The shop can be rerolled for a small fee if you don’t like any of the units for sale, or you can put some money towards leveling up, which is crucial because the number of units you can have on the board at once directly corresponds to your level. In a typical Auto Chess game, you’ll repeatedly find yourself asking if you should push your luck and reroll the shop to get a third unit so you can create a level two unit, if you should invest toward your next level up, or if you should hang onto your cash in case an expensive unit becomes available next round. All of this will be running through your head as your units carry out your battle plan automatically against whichever opponent you’re matched up against that round.
The inner workings of Auto Chess are a lot to take in, but if you’re willing to put in some time, you can get really creative with team compositions and strategies and end up having a ton of fun along the way.
Where Can I Play?
So right now, there are three major players in the Auto Chess market, with a fourth slated for later this year.
Dota Auto Chess is the original game that sparked the whole autobattler craze. It’s a custom game mode for Dota 2, which is free on Steam. Once you’ve got Dota 2 installed, head on over to the Steam Workshop page for Dota Auto Chess and download it from there. Unless you really want to see how everything started, there’s not really that much of a reason to play this over Valve’s official offering.
Dota Underlords is Valve’s official Auto Chess game, and it’s free-to-play on Steam. Underlords plays almost like a carbon copy of Dota Auto Chess, and it has the benefit of being its own standalone title in your Steam library rather than a custom game within Dota 2. Underlords handles items a bit differently than other Auto Chess games. Rather than dishing out items at random, three items are presented after certain rounds, and you can choose whichever of the three you like. It adds another layer of strategy and control onto a game where control is sorely sought after.
Whether you choose to play Dota Auto Chess or Dota Underlords really comes down to preference, but Underlords will be easier for beginners to get into thanks to a number of quality of life improvements like a cleaner UI. Underlords also has the benefit of being available on iOS and Android devices as well as PC, making it the autobattler with the widest reach.
If League of Legends is more your style, then you can check out Riot’s Auto Chess game, Teamfight Tactics. Teamfight Tactics plays similarly to Underlords on the surface, but there are a lot of welcome changes that make the game more enjoyable.
The most obvious change is that the other players are actually present when you fight them. In other Auto Chess games, you only fight what is essentially a copy of your opponent’s team. You can be taking on someone’s team on your board while they battle someone else entirely on theirs. Teamfight Tactics eliminates this issue by having players teleported to their opponents’ boards each round, and each fight happens in realtime around the game space. You can pan the camera around and see everyone else battling it out, and if you’re playing with friends, you can see exactly what they see.
This makes Teamfight Tactics the go-to Auto Chess game for playing with friends, and it’s my personal favorite of the bunch. Another nice touch is the shared draft, which occurs at the start of every game and periodically throughout each game. At the beginning of every game, a bunch of units are placed in the middle of a ring, and then players race to grab whichever unit they desire, first come, first served. When players return to draft again, they go in turns depending on their position on the leaderboard, with those in last getting first dibs on powerful units to help them catch up.
What’s Next For Auto Chess?
The future of Auto Chess is uncertain. Because it’s only been a thing for a couple of months at this point, it’s hard to tell where it will be a year from now. Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics have only recently launched, and those are the first two official games to follow the mod. A standalone game called Auto Chess is due out later this year from the team behind the original Dota Auto Chess mod, but other than that, we don’t know of any other Auto Chess games. Underlords and Teamfight Tactics will no doubt continue to be updated, and I’m sure they’ll always have a fanbase because of how unique the Auto Chess experience is.
Whether Auto Chess will fade into obscurity and be remembered as a fad or maintain a healthy amount of success like battle royale remains to be seen, but for now, it seems like a lot of people just can’t get enough of it. Auto Chess skyrocketed in popularity practically overnight, and that momentum currently shows no signs of slowing down. I wouldn’t be surprised if an Auto Chess game made its way to consoles sometime within the next year or so. Auto Chess is a whole lot of fun, and I hope it continues to grow and evolve as a genre.