Auto Chess Tips & Tricks

By Ian Boudreau 18 Jun 2019 0

Dota Auto Chess has been gaining popularity since it appeared at the beginning of the year - the Dota 2 arcade mode now boasts more than five million subscribers and has kick-started a new arms race to capitalise on the latest fad. Auto Chess itself has con solo, creating a stand-alone version that's had the DOTA IP removed - it's available on mobile and will be coming to PC via the Epic Game Store later this year. Valve meanwhile have announced DOTA Underlords, their own 'official' version of the game, and even Riot Games are getting in on the action with the new Teamfight Tactics mode that's coming to League of Legends soon.

Auto Chess is a misleadingly-named game of drafting, placing, and upgrading pieces on a chessboard. You do this along with seven other players, each of you hoping to outlast the others. There’s very little chess involved in the game - in fact, you don’t have to know anything about chess to play. Hell, you don’t even have to know anything about Dota. It’s a game about handling probability, managing your economy, and keeping an eye on your opponents, because you’re all pulling pieces from the same pool. 

There’s a lot going on in this mode, and it can be a bit disorienting when you first fire it up so we felt we could help fill the gap. So here’s everything you need to know to start playing Dota Auto Chess.

Preliminaries

Firstly, you’ll need to install the gamemode if you want to play it on PC. On Mobile it's available for on both the Google Play store, and the Apple App Store (called Auto Chess: Origins) as standalone apps, but on PC you'll need to first install Dota 2 through steam. Once done, launch the client, head to the Arcade tab. Near the top, you should see the entry for Dota Auto Chess. Click install, and you’ll be ready to go. You can also install the mod through the Steam Workshop by clicking Subscribe.

To join a match, just click Play from the Auto Chess page in Arcade. Click Accept when a match pops up, then wait while everyone loads in. You’re ready to play.

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You’re a Donkey

The first thing to know about Dota Auto Chess is that you are represented on the gameboard by a donkey - one of Dota 2’s couriers. This is important, because you’ll need to physically walk your donkey around in order to move pieces from your reserve to the board and equip them with items. Each of these actions is associated with an on-screen button, which in turn are bound to Dota 2’s ability keys: Q, W, E, D, and F. I prefer using the keyboard shortcuts, since you’re working with limited time between rounds. If you don’t like the default Radiant courier, you can buy alternative couriers from the Auto Chess store with candy you earn from placing in the top three.

How a round works

Dota Auto Chess is played in rounds, and each round has an order of events that take place the same way each time.

First, you’ll collect your income in gold pieces. This is the beginning of the Strategy Phase, during which the game will draw five pieces for you to pick from. These are Dota 2 heroes, and they’ll act as your “chess” pieces throughout the game. There are 20 copies of each hero in the pool that all players draw from. You can choose to buy whatever pieces you can afford, and during this time you’ll also have the opportunity to place your pieces on the board, equip them with items you’ve picked up, and combine pieces into more powerful versions. You’ve got 30 seconds to work with during the Strategy Phase, and you’ll have to use that time wisely.

Next is the Combat Phase, which is completely hands-off: Your formation of pieces will face off automatically against a copy of an opponent’s formation, or during specific rounds, against a group of neutral creeps or monsters. The opponent you draw each round is determined randomly, and it’s important to remember that this is a copy of an opponent’s board - the player you’re facing in any given round could be (and probably is, particularly in the early game) fighting someone else that round.

If you win, you’ll collect a gold bonus, and if you lose, the enemy pieces that remain on the board will do damage to your donkey. Once your donkey’s HP reaches zero, you’re out.

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Your pieces and how to draft them

Your job in Dota Auto Chess is to put together the strongest army you can. You do that by drafting pieces with the money you earn, and collecting three of any piece allows you to fuse them into a single, more powerful version of that hero. So, you’ll fuse three level one heroes into a single level two hero, and three level two heroes into a level three hero.

Things get tricky, though, because you have a population cap to worry about. This increases naturally as you compete in rounds and gain experience, but you can also trade gold for experience to speed up the process - and this will become important to do as you strive for the highest levels, 8-10.

Being that they’re all heroes from Dota 2, your pieces each has a species and a class. So for instance, everyone’s favorite red, hirsute bodybuilder Axe is an orc warrior. He creates synergies with other characters who share either his species or class: Fielding two orcs increases friendly orc HP by 250, or by 350 if you have four. If you have three warriors in play, they’ll all get an 8-point armor buff.

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Maximizing your army’s potential involves drafting heroes who work well together, and synergies are how that happens. When you pick your first hero, think about how you’ll build out - if you start with Drow Ranger, who is an undead assassin, you’ll want to try to pick up someone like Bounty Hunter, a goblin assassin, or Necrophos, an undead warlock, in the next rounds. Each hero you pick is unique, and each species and class has its own particular affinity buffs. And depending on which heroes you see your opponents drafting and what you have available to you each round, you’ll soon be able to narrow down the number of heroes who will help your roster rather than just take up slots.

Just like with Dota 2, learning each hero’s strengths is part of the fun, and now there’s a handy Wiki to help get a handle on what’s available. Since this guide was first published, more pieces from Dota 2’s hero roster have been added, and there are more on the way, so keep this wiki page on Auto Chess’ roster close at hand. But to get pieces on the board, you’ll have to master the other side of things: Your income.

Auto Chess Economics

Your gold income determines how much you can do each turn and what pieces you’ll be able to afford, and it can be used to increase your experience and thereby raise the population cap - how many creatures you can have on the board at a time. So it’s important to understand how Dota Auto Chess calculates your gold gain each turn.

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You’ll earn gold for winning rounds, which is simple enough. But the game also considers your streak: you’ll earn up to three extra gold per round based on your winstreak or your loss streak. As redditor u/growling-bear points out, your income will be hampered if you flip between wins and losses, and it can be beneficial sometimes (usually in the mid-game) to throw a round or two if it continues the streak, particularly if you’re trying to maximise your cash flow.

Another consideration is that you’ll earn interest on the gold you have banked. For the first few rounds, while your population is less than six pieces, you’ll probably want to spend as much gold as you can. But as you move into the mid-game, it can become wise to leave enough gold in your bank to provide another boost to your income each turn.

By the later rounds of the game, you’re going to want to have multiple tier-3 creatures on the board, and you (usually) need a total of nine tier-1s for each of these. You can sell creatures you don’t want, but after once they’re at tier-2 or above, keep in mind you’ll be losing money, since tier-2 creatures are worth 2 gold on refund, and tier-3s are worth 3. Rarer, more powerful tier-1 creatures will cost more than a single gold piece, too - these are only going to be worth 1 when you refund them, though. The takeaway here is to refund pieces that are going to help you (with the E key or eliminate command) as early as possible.

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Army composition and positioning

The formation you place your pieces in can give you a major edge over your competition - or, if badly done, it can delay or even prevent your best pieces from using their powerful special abilities. The ideal formation is going to best take advantage of who you’ve drafted, so let’s take a moment to go through some basic army compositions.

Perhaps the most basic and easily-managed army is a gang of warriors, buffed by orcs’ species ability of extra HP. Warriors are straightforward melee damage-dealers who tend to have lots of health. Axe is a good starting unit, and Juggernauts “spin to win” special ability does lots of damage to multiple enemy units - he can make short work of the minions summoned by enemy shamans, which are often a major pain in the neck. There’s no real trick to using warriors: line them up in front of everyone else so they can charge straight in and start cracking skulls. Once you’ve got three warriors on the field, you get a nice +8 bonus to their armor, and if you can find six, that’s another +10, for +18 total. That additional armor will keep them on the field doing damage for extra time, which can make all the difference between a win and a loss. Magic damage from mages can become an issue for most warriors later in the game, so look to supplement them with naga characters who can provide a buff to compensate for the increased vulnerability caused by a full team of enemy mages.

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You’ll inevitably want to experiment with other core builds. The easiest synergies to build are with species and classes that have the most characters, so look at elves, humans, goblins, and beasts for species, and assassins, mages, and warriors for classes. A risky move is to try to go for a goblin/mech combination - six goblins on the field give each other increased armor and hitpoint regeneration, and just two mechs also provide HP regen for their comrades - it’s an insanely frustrating build to find yourself up against, but it’s a ton of fun if you can pull it off.

Druids can be built up very quickly, since if you have two (different) druids on the board, you only need two tier-1 druids to create a tier-2 druid. Once you’ve got four, that rule will apply to upgrading to tier-3 - meaning a total of four tier-1 druids will grant you a top-level piece. That’s a very convenient way to push out a lot of early-game power, so if the opportunity presents itself, make sure you’re ready to take it. Look for Enchantress in the early rounds, and snap up higher-level druids like Treant Protector and Furion as the match goes on. Be careful though - there aren’t many druid characters, and you’ll need four different druids to take advantage of their fusion discount.

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Once you’ve survived a few rounds, you’ll start seeing more expensive heroes show up, and these are high-risk, high-reward pieces to consider. Demons like Doom and Shadow Fiend in particular are powerful additions to your formation, but keep in mind that demons’ species trait - which gives them a big +50% to attack damage, only works when you have a single demon on the field. That means these are tricky pieces to synergise with, and fielding them can cost you opportunities for the rest of your army.

In terms of positioning, much depends on the characters you have available to you. Generally, you want to put your beefy tanks in a line abreast formation in your front row, with the squishier ranged characters behind them. Assassins will immediately leap to your back row, so watch out for vulnerable spots in your formation - characters like Bounty Hunter can shut down and quickly kill characters like Enchantress and Sniper if they’re left unprotected, so try to position these along the back row, with protection on their sides.

The best advice I’ve found so far is to think of your formation less as a series of chess pieces and more like a rugby scrum. Each piece has its own unique moveset, and it’ll take a while to learn how these work, and the timings they use. Warriors will naturally charge forward immediately, while some assassin characters will wait for the first moves to complete before making theirs.

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Use Your Items

During the rounds you face off against ‘creeps,’ you’ll have a chance of earning equipment for your characters. They’ll drop as brightly-wrapped birthday presents, and you’ll want to go pick them up with your courier. These are usually pretty straightforward: A stout shield provides +10 armor, while Robe of the Magi will add a -10% magic resistance debuff to the unit’s target. Pay attention to what these do and consider where they’ll have the most impact. A good rule of thumb for items is to use them where they’ll enhance what a unit is already good at, rather than trying to make up for an area where it’s weak. Obviously, magic-focused items won’t do any good if you give them to Axe or Juggernaut, and while you won’t be penalized for giving armor to mages, you’re not really doing your job well if you’ve got your mages in positions where they’re taking a lot of physical damage.

Most important when it comes to items: Use them! Don’t leave them in your courier’s inventory or on the ground behind your reserve units. It can be tough to get everything done in the 30 seconds you have to work with between rounds, but remember that you can keep equipping items even after a round begins. And don’t worry too much about giving items to creatures you’re not sure you want to keep - if you wind up selling a piece you’ve given items to, you’ll get them back when the sale is completed.

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Go forth

Naturally, there’s more to learn about Dota Auto Chess than a single guide can teach you, but there’s enough here to get your started - and hopefully, interested - in this hot new Dota 2 mode. With new characters being added regularly, the Auto Chess metagame is in a state of constant flux, and so right now, the game feels very fresh and experimental. We imagine focus may shift to the stand-alone version (which sports lots of UI and quality of life improvements over the original mod, not to mention a completely new, yet familiar, roster), so this guide will probably get an overhaul in the future.

If you’ve found some helpful tips about builds or drafting strategy in Dota Auto Chess, let us know in the comments.

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