What are Auto Chess games? Like MOBAs and battle royales before it, auto chess is a new genre born from a PC mod scene. Starting with Drodo Studio’s Dota Auto Chess mod, and now leaping to official modes for Dota 2 and League of Legends, these games have players fight in round-based matches using a team of drafted characters. The trick is that you don’t control the characters directly. You craft your roster and then watch as they brawl with your opponent. The strategy is in building teams of characters that synergize together for extra bonuses. The question now is which to play.
It looks like we’re calling this genre the autobattler, and that’s probably good, because it doesn't really have much to do with chess. With Valve and Riot getting into the game, the Auto Chess-inspired autobattler genre is poised to be one of 2019’s biggest trends.
Want a deeper understanding of how the hell Auto Chess works? Check out our guide to how to play and how to win.
So here’s a guide to what’s going on with autobattlers. Right now, there are really three main contenders—two if you’re a serious PC-only type. Dota Underlords, from Valve, is a standalone sequel to the original mod. Teamfight Tactics is Riot’s League of Legends-themed adaptation. Meanwhile, Auto Chess is the full, standalone version of the original mod, recreated without the Dota elements, but it's only on iOS and Android until it launches on the Epic store at a later date.
For the truly curious, you can get the original mod from the Dota 2 arcade. Otherwise, there are a few interesting looking Auto Chess games on mobile platforms, like Arena of Evolution, but they’re almost entirely forgettable clones. You’re better off sticking with the big three below, and we'll help you figure out which is right for you.
Released: June 20, 2019 (Beta) | Developer: Valve | Official Dota Underlords Website
Play this one if: You like Dota. You like a simpler UI and less randomness.
Dota Underlords is Valve’s Dota-universe sequel to the original Auto Chess mod. It’s slightly expanded and streamlined from the original's clunky mod interface, making it more suitable for both mobile and PC play. It's available free on iOS, Android, and PC.
If you’ve already played the Auto Chess mod and like it, this is probably the best place to go—it’ll be very familiar, with only a few changes. Likewise if you already play Dota 2 and know the characters. Underlords also makes it easy to build your character synergies, providing more tools for understanding which are easiest for you to achieve and how they’re affecting the output of your team.
Underlords’ real highlight is the decreased amount of frustrating randomization, though. Whereas other autobattlers reward items randomly, or not at all, Underlords standardizes item gain every set number of rounds. What items you can choose are still random, but you’re at least guaranteed something.
Expect matches to last about 40 minutes, though Valve is looking into a "turbo" mode for shorter matches. Dota Underlords is in beta, and it's lacking some of the personality of the original mod, like different playfields to keep things visually interesting. Valve has already said new progression elements, cosmetics and the like are on the development roadmap, and the team is working fast.
For a more detailed look at Dota Underlords, read this. You can find Dota Underlords on Steam.
Released: June 26, 2019 (Beta) | Developer: Riot Games | Official Teamfight Tactics Website
Play this one if: You know League of Legends already. You like a simpler, faster tactical game.
Riot Games’ League of Legends-themed autobattler, Teamfight Tactics, is distinguished by being the simplest of the three. It's obviously the go-to intro to the genre, especially if you’re already familiar with League’s champions. Though it might sound like a bad thing, simplicity is a boon here. Teamfight Tactics has a simpler draft pool composition, making it easier to combine multiple heroes into a stronger form and build an early strategy that keeps you in the game.
Matches of Teamfight Tactics are also much shorter than the other autobattlers (expect 25-45 minutes), as player-on-player damage ramps up over time. The other big difference is the drafting system, which serves as a catch-up mechanic for those with the lowest health points. A random selection of champions will walk in a circle, and the last place players will have first pick over which one they want to add to their hand.
This simplicity does have a few drawbacks, though. The playing board is smaller than others, so the key mechanic of positioning your characters before they engage is emphasized less. Ranged characters also have a big efficiency advantage compared to other autobattlers. And Teamfight Tactics is more random than Underlords. Sometimes you get powerful items, sometimes you don't.
Teamfight Tactics is simpler and therefore easier to get into, but it’s also the roughest around the edges in its beta form. You will get hit with some frustrating, game-losing bugs.
For deeper impressions on Teamfight Tactics, check out this article.
Released: TBA (PC); April 18, 2019 (iOS) | Developer: Drodo Studio | Official Auto Chess Website
Play this one if: You like waiting (for the PC version, and during long matches). You have a lot of mobile game time.
The true heir to the original Auto Chess mod, from mod creators Drodo Studio, Auto Chess is due to come to the Epic Games store some time later this year. Right now, however, you can play what one assumes is a pretty much complete version of this game on iOS and Android under the name Auto Chess: Origins.
The developers let players transfer their accounts from the mod to the mobile game, so Auto Chess on PC may also use the same accounts when it launches. If you want a jump start on cosmetics you could start playing on mobile to build an account history.
This is the autobattler as it was first created, in its entirety. It has complex synergy and item strategies that really want you to plan turns ahead. At the same time, it’s frustratingly random, with a big pool of combinable heroes and items. It’s long, too: Matches clock in at 40-60 minutes if you’re in the top three.
It is also extremely cute compared to the others and has adorable Chinese voices. This may or may not appeal to you.
You can sign up for the Auto Chess PC alpha right here. You can see the official listing on the Epic Games store here.