The Best (And Worst) Auto Chess Games on Android and iOS25 Nov 2019 4
Dota Auto Chess is being heralded as “the next big thing” after its meteoric rise back in January 2019. While It hasn't quite managed to surpass the Battle Royale craze just yet, its potential has yet to be fully realised. Just as we saw with the Puzzle, MOBA, and Battle Royale genres in the past; clones, copycats, and tributes are quick to spring up across gaming landscape.
We've gone through the best and worst Auto Chess variants mobile has to offer right now, and we're ready to give some recommendations (and some hard passes). And you needn’t worry about price. All 'Auto-Battler' games (legitimate or otherwise) are Free-to-Play. These things make their money through cosmetic micro-transactions like board skins and avatars – there’s nothing we’ve found so far that lets you spend real money to have an in-game advantage, which is the way it’s meant to be done.
Those that don’t follow this model gain swift admittance into our 'Ones to Avoid' section.
The first genuinely new Auto Chess game to arrive since the craze kicked off, Battlegrounds blends the basic belt-and-braces design concepts of the Auto Battler genre, with the DNA of Blizzard's main CCG Hearthstone. Gone are animated minions that jump and weave across a grid arena - instead you're presented with the main Hearthstone aesthetic. You still draft minions in the same way, although things like minion costs and the economy in general are wildly different. There's also a lot more combos and active planning, as not only do you need to draft cards that synergise well together, their order in your line up is also important, as it will control who attacks (and, just as in important - who dies) first.
It's definitely different and inventive and I've got a lot of time for using cards and card games as a platform, the only drawbacks is that Battlegrounds is just as susceptible to the bonkers combo plays that the main CCG suffers. Stat buffing particularly is integral to the meta right now, and it can be hard to keep track and predict where your opponents are going to be in terms of relative power. It makes it a less predictable game, which combined with the built-in RNG of the format can make the experience more stressful than it needs to be. On the bright side - dealing damage to your opponent can scale quite quickly, so if you do make a mistake you won't have to suffer for it for too long.
In an unusual display of vigour, Valve have been anything but lax in getting their own, 'official' Auto Chess take out the door and into the hands of players. Available in beta across all platforms, Valve have essentially built on the original Dota Auto Chess mod and put their own unique spin on things. From little changes like bench size and how the various synergies work, to their own take on monetisation, ranking and an offline mode, Dota Underlords sports a fully functional tutorial, robust AI play, as well the ability to seamlessly transition a game between PC and Mobile.
While it's still early days yet, this is our favourite mobile version of the Auto Chess games so far, mainly because Valve have put a lot of thought into addressing many of the usability and quality of life issues the original game had on both PC and mobile (although, Drodo isn't slouching there either). It's really the offline play that cinches it - not only can you play against different difficulty levels, you can completely disable the round-timers so that you can take your time as you learn the ropes of Valve's blend of Auto-Battler. Anyone who's been wary in getting caught up in knock-offs or clones may also feel starting here a safer bet, before looking at some of the others below.
Auto Chess: Origin
If you were quick to the scene on Android and assumed Auto Chess by Dragonest to be nothing but a Chinese copycat, you'd be forgiven. It happens with website domains all the time. But in actuality, this is the ‘OG’ Auto Chess game that started it all. It comes from the same developers - Drodo. Washing itself of its Dota roots, Auto Chess (or Auto Chess: Origin as it’s now known on iOS) is the real deal.
Separating from its Dota foundation means Auto Chess: Origin no longer has access to familiar assets like sounds and models. So, while you might recognize its logo from the original PC version, you’ll find a pretty different looking game when you fire it up, with humour that might seem a little too juvenile for some. If you can get passed that, you’ll find a mobile replacement almost exactly the same as the PC version minus the obvious (and better suited) touch interface. It's added new pieces since first launching, and is also now starting to experiment with new game modes to try and stand-out from the competition.
Developer: Match Set Games
Platforms: iOS Universal, Android
This is another recent newcomer, Arena Allstars is as innovative as it is kinda lazy. 'Optimised for mobile' returns as a selling-point, although in this game's case it's basically true - quicker matches, a vertical UI and lots of information on hand to help you figure out what's what. You'll notice on the screens everything from front-and-centre synergy guides, and you can even tap on your income to get a breakdown as to whether it's all coming from (Notice Interest makes a return in this game). Levelling up is also nice and seamless, and space concerns are addressed by allowing you to stack the same pieces together (provided they are of the same tier).
Other than that though, you'll kind of recognise all the playing pieces. Even that ability that fires a ship made of water at your opponents is in there. It's also got the typical back-end progression and monetisation offerings that most of the others have. I'd say despite it's laziness some of the quality of life features make it worth a potential migration, or at least checking out.
Tencent being one of the 'big names' in Chinese videogame publishing, it makes sense that they'd try and push out their own version of Auto Chess - which makes the partnership with Drodo over OG Auto Chess a bit odd. Come to think of it, Imba are also partnered with Drodo, and they've got their own game on this list as well. The Auto Chess Wars are weird. Anyway, Chess Rush might as well be a carbon copy clone of Auto Chess: Origins. It's got pretty much all the same features, and the heroes are very similar in a lot of respects apart from extra/different types and synergies. It's also got a slightly more in-your-face free-to-play economy in the sense that it keeps throwing free resources at you but it's largely harmless.
I'm recommending this one because it's a prettier looking alternative to Auto Chess: Origin - the production values are actually surprisingly good, with nice visuals, and a neat little intro into every match. I suspect Tencent have more resources to draw on than Drodo does so if you're looking for something that's likely iterate and polish at a decent rate, this might be an alternative. It's currently experimenting with a 4x4 mode, after having just introduced Co-op to the game, and is proving to be a bit quicker in terms of pushing out iterations and new ideas.
Arena of Evolutions: Red Tides
Now this is what we're talking about. A grittier, more sci-fi take on the Auto Chess formula. With some moody splash artwork and even a full-fledged opening movie to boot, our first thought when firing up this game was just how quickly the company must have got the ball rolling when Dota Auto Chess originally broke onto the scene.
Everything about Arena of Evolution: Red Tides screams respectable production value. If you're trying to avoid being called out as a clone, this is the way to do it. The units don't always match the space war vibe the opening movie sets up (thank you, kung-fu panda), but there's a nice variety of unique characters to pick up and play with. If you're not into multiplayer, AI brawls will still give anyone but the pros a decent (and welcoming) challenge. If you're looking for a more mature Auto Chess experience, this is a solid recommendation over the official counterpart. Everything from the chess board – which is less a board and more a stone battlefield – to the crude iron fence separating the brawl from your bench screams quality in the face of what comes next.
Auto Chess Legends
This one was down for maintenance when we first tried to test it out. It wasn't a good look, and we honestly thought the game was just dead on arrival… Turned out we were wrong! It fired up without a hitch the next day and was a pleasant surprise. There's a clean UI and most of the of the details you'd come to expect from a game of Auto Chess, but without an AI mode after the initial tutorial, it might scare off newcomers looking to practice before diving into the real thing. It's a little sparse of the extra game modes, but at least the developers found the time to offer micro-transaction goodies, right?
While it starts off looking like one of those cheap mobile ads on a dodgy website, Auto Chess Legends is one of the better made alternatives out there. Nowhere near the same level of depth and detail of the above games, but enough to avoid the bucket list below.
Avoid These Auto Chess Games At All Costs
We're not going to call out the lack of direct competition on the app stores right now. After all, Auto Chess isn't even a year old. But what we will call out are deplorable cash grabs siphoning the Auto Chess name and bewildering any curious mind that dares search for the next big thing. These games aren't vying for your time at all – just your money. They function mostly the same as any other Auto Battler game would, albeit for once little thing – they're all pay to win. Avoid these unless you're looking for the quick and easy route to learn the fundamentals of the game.
Heroes Auto Chess
Developer: Tap2Play LLC
The first of the lot we tested out, Heroes Auto Chess is one of the better efforts of the bunch – but it's still pretty gnarly. Its low-poly art-style is reminiscent of old Steam shovelware riding the 'voxel' hype train. Hop into a match, however, and the quality starts to rapidly deteriorate further. It's a very basic take on Auto Chess, with no notable polish. Units lack personality as they're absolutely mute, while battles are nothing more than a slight wiggle animation with a cheap stock sword clash sound playing out every second or two.
Then comes the worst part – you can forgo any need for actual strategy by watching an ad to re-roll and buy additional units in the shop. Not cool. With only three slots on the bench, there's very little actually strategy to be had here, anyway. Without the ads, we could let Heroes Auto Chess slide as a decent way to introduce the game to a far younger audience. Accept donations or charge for skins by all means, but don't nullify the whole point of your game just to make 1c on an ad click. You're better than that.
Developer: Phoenix Mobile/Chengdu Phoenix Electronic Arts Co. Limited
We wanted to like this one, but it flops out of the gate a little too soon. AutoChess War looked promising – and actually could be if development keeps up – but what little it does is quickly soured yet again by in-game ads. A unique Adventure mode is a nice little touch. It doesn't really add much to the Auto Chess formula (aside from the horizontal board), but it does separate the game into bite-sized rounds you can drop in and out of at will, making the game more commute-friendly. When you're at home, the Endless Challenge mode can be a good way to test out some strategies. But you'll need to play another game entirely to actually execute them against another player.
Auto Chess Defense
Developer: Phoenix Mobile/Chengdu Phoenix Electronic Arts Co. Limited
The first thing I noticed is that this one calls itself Auto Chess Mobile in game. Looks like someone paid for a logo a little too soon. Diving deeper, Auto Chess Defense (Mobile?) feels like a game you would have found on the original iPhone. The first app of its kind. While that would have been a glowing recommendation back in 2007, it's the worst kind of criticism you can have in 2019. We appreciate the option to skip straight into battle rather than waiting on a laborious timer, but, again, the ads creep in the sour the experience.
Seen any other games worthy of people's attention, or ones they should definitely avoid? Let us know in the comments!