AutoChess is the mobile game we deserve, but not the game we need

By Joe Robinson 03 Jun 2019 2

One of the great things about going away on holiday is that it gives me time to catch up on some mobile gaming. The curse of writing about videogames means that, despite getting to try out a wide variety of titles, you rarely get the chance to enjoy anything for any great length of time. Time away from the daily grind lets me actually play what I want, as opposed to what I have to.

My recent go-to game has been Star Traders: Frontiers, which is an excellent sandbox RPG set in space that’s really easy to drop-in/drop-out of. I figured that I’d spend most of my time playing that… until I heard that AutoChess was in beta on android.

Auto Chess Mobile 1

I’ve been aware of the DOTA 2 mod craze since everyone started talking about it at the start of the year. We’ve covered it a fair bit on Strategy Gamer, with Ian writing up an excellent tips guide that we’ve been maintaining. Before last week, I’d never really given it a go myself- I found the concept interesting, but I don’t play DOTA 2 and I was being a bit lazy in not jumping through the hoops to explore it myself.

Just as I was settling into my holiday, Ian tells me the rumoured mobile version was actually available via beta on Android.

If you’re still not really sure what AutoChess is, let me try to break it down:

  • The game has nothing to do with chess, other than the fact that you play on a chess board and different classes of pieces have movement algorithms that imitate the different movement patterns of real chess piece.
  • Calling them ‘pieces’ probably doesn’t help, but there you are.
  • The meat of the game is purchasing units, and then deploying them on the board during the ‘Preparation’ phase. There’s then a battle phase where you’re pitted against a random opponent, and the pieces you’ve both put on the board then automatically fight each other according to the pre-set tactics that piece is designed to use. This will include things like movement pattern & speed, target priority, ability triggering and so on.
  • Units will fight until only one side remains. Loser loses HP (I forget the formula) and will be eliminated when their HP reaches 0 (you start at 100).
  • Units/pieces have a race and a class and come in different rarities. Three pieces of the same unit can be combined into a 2-Star, more powerful version of that piece. Three 2-stars combined to become a 3-Star.
  • You are offered five randomly generated units per round to choose form, which cost money. Money is earned through winning and playing rounds. Losing too, I think? You can also spend money to refresh your options.
  • Fielding multiple units of the same class and/or race will confer bonuses, some for the whole team, some just on other members of that class/race. These need to be different units though – duplicate pieces on the board don’t count.
  • The number of units you can field is controlled by your level. You get 1 XP per round fought, and you can spend money to increase your XP by 4. You can stored up to 9 pieces In your off-board area.
  • There is also loot.

Simple, right? Once you get your head around it things are actually quite simple – the fact that you don’t need to also fight with your pieces is what makes this game oddly alluring and in theory an excellent mobile experience. I imagine this is what people who enjoy Football Manager et al experience when they’re playing those types of games.

Auto Chess Mobile 2

I've had a lot of fun slowly learning the various strategies in play, both in terms of team composition but also in terms of economy. Money’s only really scarce in the early rounds, but even when you possess a reserve you will need to be making short-and-long terms decisions with what to do to it. Do you buy that more expensive piece, or hope you can collect more cheaper ones to level up your pieces? Do you pour money into levelling up, or into refreshing the list to cycle through more options?

While some of the nuances can be a little tricky (took me a while to realise there even was a 3-Star tier), the basics of the game are explained quite well in a tutorial where you play against some bots. The English translations are a little mangled in places, but the basic information comes across fine. I’ve started playing ranked and while I initially did quite well, I’m starting to make it into the top 4 less and less at the moment, so perhaps I need to spend more time in casual.

At the moment, I’m really trying to pay attention as to what bonuses are worth going for, and how each unit behaves. Assassins by and large will jump towards the back of the enemy’s formation, but you can have both melee and ranged assassins (as you can have melee and ranged of several different unit type) so taking this into account is key. I’m also trying to learn when to scale up my units in terms of power; learning when to let go and move on to better pieces seems important.

Auto Chess Mobile 3

Despite my current infatuation with AutoChess, as a mobile game it’s currently lacking in several key, potentially deal-breaking areas, all connected via a similar theme:

  • Matches are played out in real-time, and they are long – upwards of 25-30 mins. Even if you’re the first one eliminated, you’re looking at a good 15 minutes.
  • There’s no pausing and, and even if you minimise the app to do something else, the action continues without you (plus if you miss an action phase you won't be able to see what happened for the purpose of tweaking your strategy).
  • While mid and even late-game comebacks are possible, a lot of the time I released quite early that my strategy was poor. I also quite often wasn’t really sure what to do about, which meant even with a strong start I had to watch myself slowly but surely lose ground for 15 minutes until knocked out. It’s like watching a train-wreck in slow motion.
  • Experimenting is hard because you’ve got to play out a whole match and the RNG means that being ‘scientific’ about it is quite challenging.

While there’s no denying the strength of the core theme, I would very much like to see the developers experiment with different versions of the game that are more mobile friendly. Enabling people to drop-in, drop-out out matches I think is paramount, although failing that It’d be interesting to see how robust the game would be with everyone on, say, 50HP instead of 100.

Auto Chess Mobile 5

Really though, considering you only need to spend 30 or so seconds (the Preparation phase has a time-limit) making the real decisions, I’m pretty sure an asynchronous mode would work. One could log-in, watched a replay for the last round, and then play out their next Preparation phase the moment they’re ready. Like other asynchronous multiplayer games, there would need to be a limit on how long to wait between submitting the next round.

If you’ve yet to try out AutoChess I’d highly recommend jumping on board and checking it out, even if you only play a couple of matches. It’s easier to do on Android, just search for ‘AutoChess’ by Dragonest Game. iOS players have a few more hoops to jump through. I’ll be keeping a closer eye on this going forward, and we’ve heard rumours of other similar games already on the market, so we’ll probably check those out as well.

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