Tobold's Blog
Monday, July 22, 2019
DotA Underlords - Auto Battler

I recently discovered that there is a new “genre” of games called Auto Battlers. It started with a mod of DotA 2 called Auto Chess, which is funny because DotA itself started as a mod, so this is technically the mod of a mod. And like with multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games, the same formula evolved in several separate games. The most user-friendly of which is DotA Underlords, available on Steam and mobile platforms. I’m playing the iOS version, but the game is cross-platform, so it doesn’t really matter.

So what is an auto battler / auto chess game? Well, apart from some versions having an 8x8 squares board, it has nothing to do with chess, so auto battler is probably the better term. An auto battler is a game for 8 players in which each player recruits various heroes (often from the MOBA the game is based on), places those heroes on a board, and then watches his heroes battle enemy heroes or monsters. The game is organized in rounds, there are usually around 40 round until there is only one winner left. Between rounds the players can buy heroes from a random selection and rearrange their board. Every player gets gold every round, but you get more gold if you won, have a winning or losing streak, and if you have gold saved you also collect interest. Apart from heroes you can also spend your gold on xp for your player level, which determines how many heroes you can take into battle, or on rerolls, which gives you a new selection of heroes to buy. During battle players do absolutely nothing, there isn’t even chat, and so this is a multiplayer game in which players don’t interact with each other. It’s the least toxic multiplayer game I know. :)

DotA Underlords can be played not only against other players, but also against bots. Which is great for a mobile version of the game, because otherwise it is difficult to interrupt a half-hour game. DotA Underlords even allows you to gain player status xp and levels, which are purely cosmetic, while playing against the highest level of bots without the pause function. For your first games I’d recommend that pause function, because the game is rather complex, and the normal timer assumes you already know what all the heroes do.

Although the different versions of auto battlers have different sets of heroes, the game rules are nearly identical. There are minor variations on drafting heroes, but otherwise each game uses the exact same formulas for earning gold and xp, and the same heroes tier structure. So if you learned how to play one of them, you know how to play them all, you just would need to learn a new set of heroes. I guess most people will just stick to a single auto battler.

If you play without the pause function, which is the only way to gain player status, you have a limited time between rounds to make decisions. But this is in no way a twitchy game, and if that is still too fast for you, the paused version is as much fun. So this is really a strategy game, and well suited for older players with slower reflexes. Furthermore every game starts at zero, there is no “progress” carried over from previous games, so you don’t need to worry that you’ll never catch up to the people that started earlier than you. But the games have a lot of variety due to the chance involved in what heroes are offered to you, and making the best mix of heroes with their synergies determines the winner. So the battles aren’t always the same, and that keeps the game interesting.

I have no idea how the game companies will ultimately make money with these auto battlers. DotA Underlords is still in “pre-season” and not only is free to play, but there isn’t even a shop yet. I assume at some point you will be able to buy cosmetic stuff. So this is safe for you to try out, at least for your money, not your time. :)

Playing the LoL version, Team Fight Tactics, and agree that it's very much a strategy game vs a twitch game like a MOBA is. Also its just incredibly fun.

In TFT, you can spend money on fluff. Right now that's limited to your avatar that is around the battlefield to collect champs in the carousel or pick up items, but my guess is battlefield skins and maybe even champ skins might come later.
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