What are these “auto-thing” games and why is everyone talking about them?
Autobattlers came out of nowhere and skyrocketed in popularity as the rising video game genre of 2019. A few months after a Dota 2 fan-made mod called Dota Auto Chess found success in the genre, it died to give birth to two other titles, Auto Chess and Dota Underlords. Riot Games’ League of Legends mode Teamfight Tactics then appeared to fight them for players.
Here’s a brief explanation of what autobattler games—also known as auto chess games— are and how they gained so much popularity this year.
What are autobattlers and autochess games?
Autobattlers are tactical strategy games with drafting elements from card games.
Matches feature eight players and take place across several rounds. Players fight each other in one-vs-one matches defined at random.
Players fight each other by placing a set number of units on a board as they wish. These units, or pieces, fight each other automatically when a round starts. The player who defeats their opponent’s whole squad is declared the winner of a round, and when the round is over, all units on both sides are reset to their previous position to get ready for the next round.
When you lose a round, you lose points represented by the health of your tactician, not your units. The more opponent pieces alive after a round ends, the greater the damage you’ll take. Players who reach zero health points are knocked out of the match regardless of which round they’re in. The last player with their tactician standing is declared the winner of an autobattler match.
The most popular autobattler games today are Drodo’s Auto Chess, Valve’s Dota Underlords, and Riot’s Teamfight Tactics.
What does chess have to do with it?
Auto chess and autobattler are two terms for the same game genre, though autobattler is becoming more accepted by the gaming community than auto chess.
The term “chess” came from the first autobattler game to become popular, Dota Auto Chess. Its creators probably put “chess” in its name because the playing field is a checkered board with 64 squares arranged in an eight-by-eight grid. Also, each unit moves in a different way just like chess pieces, but that isn’t as important as it is in chess.
In autobattlers, players can arrange units as they wish on their half of the board, unlike chess.
What are the pieces in autobattler games?
If we continue comparing autobattlers to chess, we see that both have very little in common. Unlike in chess, players don’t start an autobattler game with their board full of pieces. They instead build their boards across rounds with pieces they can buy, upgrade, and sell every round.
These pieces are called units, heroes, or champions, depending on the game you’re playing. In Teamfight Tactics, for instance, units are League of Legends champions like Garen or Gnar, while in Dota Underlords, they’re Dota 2 heroes like Queen of Pain or Lich.
Players start autobattler games by placing only one unit on the board. To get this unit, they must buy it from a five-unit pool by spending gold they earn through playing rounds. The pool resets every round, and players can also spend gold to force a reset and get five new units there. While players have limits to how many units they can have on the board, they also have a bench where they can put pieces they want to use later. The more you play, the more pieces you can place on the board until the usual limit of 10.
Each individual unit usually belongs to two classes, which receive different names across all games. Placing units on the board that share the same class will activate offensive, defensive, or various bonuses that will increase their power and make your board stronger. These are called synergies, and they’re key to winning any autobattler match.
Buying three copies of the same unit will combine them into a single, more powerful unit.
Is that it?
Beyond that, all autobattler games have their own characteristics, rules, and mechanics. If you want to learn more, Auto Chess, Teamfight Tactics, and Dota Underlords are all free games, and most of them are available on mobile platforms. Download and check them out to pick your favorite.